If Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that humanity is destined to venture among the stars. Whether as an act of exploration or defense against global disaster, interstellar travel remains the great fantasy of both big-budget blockbusters and inexpensive science fiction films alike. So, where better to start your space travel movie marathon than Netflix, especially since the streaming giant has made our solar system -- and the stars beyond -- the basis of several of its original features?
Whether your ideal space movie is a family-friendly starship adventure or a rocket trip straight to the outer layers of Hell, you can probably find something on this list to satisfy your mood on any movie night. But be warned: the crews in these movies may be small, but the body counts are disproportionately high. In space, the odds of survival are despairingly low.
Indian Science Fiction Film Cargo Finds The Joy In Living — And In Dying
The best way to describe "Cargo," the debut feature from Indian filmmaker Arati Kadav, is "Pushing Daisies" on a spaceship. Prahastha, a demon astronaut who helps process humans for reincarnation, has spent a century alone on his spacecraft, speaking only with his handlers back on Earth. When he is assigned a new demonic assistant near the end of his campaign, Prahastha is forced to reintegrate himself into society. He must also address the loneliness that bubbles just beneath his unflappable exterior. Think a workplace comedy with a heavy layer of fantasy, and you're right there.
This premise might've ended up too cute by half in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Kadav quickly proves herself a masterful hand at comedy. We never tire of watching Prahastha and Yvishka process new souls -- as well as the charming cutaways depicting the moments leading up to the new arrivals' deaths -- but, thankfully, Kadav keeps coming back to the demons' individual growth. Space is a lonely place, and even friendly demons are not meant to spend this much time away from their loved ones.
When to Watch: You need a little brightness in your space movies, and are okay with having a movie's theme song -- in this case, "Forget Me Not" by Megha Ramaswamy -- stuck in your head for days.
Doom: Annihilation Is An Earnest Attempt At Recreating A Blockbuster Video Game Franchise
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who prefer Andrzej Bartkowiak's 2005 "Doom" and those who prefer Tony Giglio's 2019 "Doom: Annihilation." The former has a reputation as one of the all-time biggest video game movie disappointments, wasting a cast that included Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, and Dwayne Johnson, the ultimate space marine. By contrast, Giglio's adaptation's limited budget may be obvious, but the movie also comes with lower expectations, delivering for audiences who prefer flawed passion projects over middling studio fare.
All of the pieces necessary for a "Doom" adaptation are in place: soldiers, monsters, and the dark void of space. In its best moments, "Doom: Annihilation" recalls some of Neil Marshall's best work, with inventive creature designs that will remind you of films like "Dog Soldiers" and "The Descent." And when Giglio goes for broke in the final minutes, dumping his main character onto a planetary hellscape that puts her in direct contact with the monsters of "Doom," we get a glimpse of what someone with real vision could bring to this franchise.
When to Watch: You have a fridge full of beer and a Friday night to kill, and you're ready to make some questionable movie-watching decisions in the name of curiosity.
Jason X Proves That Even Outer Space Is No Match For Jason Voorhees
In electing to send slasher icon Jason Voorhees into outer space, director Jim Isaac and writer Todd Farmer inadvertently made the perfect cinematic time capsule: "Jason X" perfectly captures the spirit of turn-of-the-century science fiction and while showing just how absurd long-running Hollywood franchises can get. There's even a cameo from David Cronenberg at the film's outset. "Jason X" is a movie that begs to be watched by both horror and fandom scholars alike.
There are times when the special effects make "Jason X" look more like a late-90s SyFy series than a big-budget horror film. Still, true fans will gladly look beyond those flaws, and should appreciate the movie's inventive kill sequences and self-reflexive humor. "Jason X" understands both its horror roots and the spectacular, nonsensical path the franchise has taken. This begs the ultimate question: Is "Jason X" a perversion of the "Friday the 13th" franchise, or is it the series' final form? If you are someone who has advocated for the "Fast and the Furious" franchise to head to space in its last entries, then you already know the answer to that question.
When to Watch: Gather some friends for a low-key movie night, and jokingly tell everyone that they have to watch the preceding nine films to "truly understand" the events of "Jason X."
Thanks To Melanie Laurent, Oxygen Is Claustrophobic Science Fiction At Its Finest
French director Alexandra Aja made his name on gory horror fare like "High Tension," "The Hills Have Eyes," and "Crawl," but he doesn't need blood to tell a thrilling story. Nowhere is this more evident than in 2021's "Oxygen," a claustrophobic horror film starring Mélanie Laurent ("Inglourious Basterds") about an amnesiac trapped in a cryogenic pod that is quickly losing air.
"Oxygen" may not offer many surprises -- once the puzzle pieces start coming together, it only takes a small leap of the imagination to see the film's ultimate destination -- but that's part of the movie's appeal. The real intrigue comes in watching how Aja and Laurent build a cohesive story out of only a few elements, and in enjoying the craft of a simple concept executed to perfection. Laurent's performance and Aja's direction make it look deceptively easy to build narrative momentum in a set devoid of physical space. Even in 2021, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a simple idea done right.
When to Watch: You are curious to know how a simple writing prompt -- "woman trapped in a box" -- can succeed as 101 thrilling minutes of science fiction.
Prospect Is A Science Fiction Standout In Desperate Need Of Rediscovery
If you prefer your space movies with more of a lived-in feel, then you should consider Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl's "Prospect". The film stars Sophie Thatcher and Pedro Pascal as a pair of prospectors stuck on an alien planet. After a gunfight leaves each person without their crew, the two must learn to work together to secure off-world passage or risk being stranded when the orbiting transport heads home.
For most people, seeing Pedro Pascal do his best Han Solo impersonation is enough of a sales pitch. But once you dive into the worldbuilding proper, the film's production design makes "Prospect" singularly memorable. "Prospect" is the perfect example of retrofuturism on the big screen, a mode of science fiction that takes inspiration from the '50s' dated visions of what the future might look like. What seemed revolutionary then is cheekily archaic now. Thanks to production designer Matt Acosta, however, "Prospect" offers its audience a uniquely low-fi future, one that will stay on your mind long after the credits roll (or the next Netflix auto-play feature starts).
When to Watch: You are working on your Pedro Pascal backlog and are in the mood for a science fiction romp that would feel at home in the "Star Wars" universe.
Skylines Proves That, Against All Odds, The Skyline Franchise Just Keeps Getting Better
Sometimes, noteworthy franchises come from the most peculiar places. "Skyline," a 2010 film from special effects gurus The Brothers Strause, might have been a modest success, but no one could've expected that it would spawn two sequels that, incredibly, push the franchise into new and exciting directions. Surprise Netflix hit "Beyond Skyline" added action stars Frank Grillo and Iko Uwais to the series and brought an intergalactic war to the mix. 2020's "Skylines" upends the formula again, maintaining continuity with the previous two films but skipping a few years into the future, riffing more heavily on James Cameron's "Aliens" than established alien invasion tropes.
If anything, it seems like franchise co-creator Liam O'Donnell has started to use the "Skylines" films as his private sandbox, making his directorial debut with the second installment and ramping up the action in the third. And with a scrappy cast -- star Lindsey Morgan is a smart piece of casting -- and a knack for production design that keeps these movies punching above their weight class, the Skyline films promise to keep the good times coming for years to come.
When to Watch: You are in the mood for something action-packed and aren't afraid to spend a few minutes on Wikipedia getting up to speed on the previous films.
Space Sweepers Is The South Korean Answer To Star Wars
Have filmmakers forgotten that space can be funny? Many science fiction films use the crushing void of space to play up existential dread of what it means to be human, but sometimes, you just want a movie with talking robots and thrilling starship chases. South Korean filmmaker Jo Sung-hee isn't afraid to get silly, peppering "Space Sweepers" with quips and slapstick comedy, and giving his godlike Steve Jobs analogue a few fart jokes.
Equal parts "Star Wars" and "Elysium," "Space Sweepers" follows a group of destitute freelancers tasked with cleaning up the debris that orbits our dying planet. When they stumble across a young robot with a bounty on her head, their get-rich-quick scheme gets them stuck in the middle of a battle between a group of rebellious climate activists and a government that's building a new utopia for the super-rich on Mars. Goofy and more than a little broad at times, "Space Sweepers" is a grand space opera for fans of all ages. It's also an excellent introduction to international cinema for people who might be reluctant to watch a subtitled feature.
When to Watch: You want something filled with heart that the entire family can enjoy, and you absolutely, positively cannot watch "Star Wars" one more time.
Stowaway Is The Epitome Of Science Fiction For Grown-Ups
In most space movies, humankind's trips to the stars are cautionary tales. Every once in a while, though, science fiction comes with a dash of humanism, telling stories about people coming together to solve impossible problems through collaboration and ingenuity. These days, the world may be too cynical for a film like "Apollo 13," but the success of Joe Penna's "Stowaway" shows we still have an appetite for uplifting space stories.
In that way, this 2021 feature is something of a throwback: a film centered on a deadly space catastrophe without any of the infighting or backstabbing we often see in similar movies. Anchored by a standout cast, including a much-deserved leading role for Daniel Dae Kim, "Stowaway" is more interested in humankind's tenacity than its failures. Sure, the science might be a little suspect at times, but Penna and his cast create a group of survivors you want to root for -- especially during one of the most anxiety-inducing spacewalks you'll ever see on film.
When to Watch: It's been a few years since you watched "Gravity," and you've deluded yourself into thinking that you don't stress cry during space dramas anymore.
The Cloverfield Paradox Is So Much More Than Just Its Super Bowl Release Date
Most of the time, it's hard to identify cult classics when they first arrive, but every now and then, the future seems obvious. Such is the case with "The Cloverfield Paradox," a movie that might have generated a more positive fandom if not for Netflix's gimmicky launch strategy.
"The Cloverfield Paradox" will always be remembered as the film dumped on Netflix as part of a wild Super Bowl LII promotional campaign. But given the film's talented cast and outrageous premise -- a series of fusion particle tests accidentally knock an international space station into a parallel universe -- there is also plenty of time for the next generation of horror and science fiction fans to rediscover Julius Onah's bizarre little movie. By accident or intent, "The Cloverfield Paradox" operates entirely on its own goofy wavelength; give it a few years, and those scenes with sentient arms and oddball quantum physics will feel right at home within the broader "Cloverfield" cinematic universe.
When to Watch: To recreate the authentic experience, you can only watch "The Cloverfield Paradox" immediately following a major sporting event.
The Midnight Sky Finds Grace In Humanity's Final Hours
In the hands of anyone else, "The Midnight Sky" might be tossed aside as an expensive mess. In the hands of star director (and star-director) George Clooney, "The Midnight Sky" is, well, still a mess, but one that refuses to be forgotten. When an ecological disaster wipes out humanity, a dying scientist races against time to warn an interstellar survey team not to return home from their mission. Meanwhile, the crew of the ship must survive an increasingly dangerous route back to Earth in order to have a chance to learn the truth.
Not everything in "The Midnight Sky" lands, but when it works it's an effective elegy for both humankind and the planet we have thus far failed to protect, and as a director, Clooney manages to tap into some of our biggest existential fears. In addition, "The Midnight Sky" finds a tiny shred of hope as it honors both those the characters lost and those who go on, adding a welcome note of optimism to an otherwise heavy feature.
When to Watch: You want a space movie with some Oscar vibes ("The Midnight Sky" was nominated for Best Visual Effects, and was projected to be competitive in several categories, although that didn't exactly pan out).
The Wandering Earth Is Chinese Blockbuster Filmmaking At Its Finest
In the future, the sun has begun to expand. So, the world's governments come together to build giant rockets inside the Earth's crust in order to fly the planet to another solar system. Still with us? Then you might be the target audience for Frant Gwo's "The Wandering Earth," a 2019 Chinese blockbuster that thrives by building a series of escalating disasters for humanity to escape. Light on plot but long on spectacle, "The Wandering Earth" feels like a love letter to Hollywood of the '90s, when producers like Jerry Bruckheimer ushered in an era of big-screen splendor that would set the standard for event movies for years to come.
If you've developed a healthy skepticism of second-tier Chinese blockbusters and worry that the visual effects in "The Wandering Earth" won't carry the monumental story, you have nothing to fear. Even on his best day, Michael Bay would need to work hard to top something like this. If you are the sort of person who likes to bring up that "Armageddon" is in the Criterion Collection, then you would do well to seek "The Wandering Earth" out immediately, ideally on the biggest screen available to you.
When to Watch: Your life has taken on a little too much stress, and you need to retreat to the organized chaos that only a big-budget space spectacle can offer.
Total Recall Is A Timeless Treatise On Corporate Greed And Chest People
At this point, what is there to say about Paul Verhoeven's science fiction masterpiece that hasn't already been said? With "Total Recall," "RoboCop," and "Starship Troopers" on his filmography, Verhoeven's reputation as one of our great sci-fi satirists is forever secure. Besides, you know the broad points by now: memory wipes, armed revolution, and more Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners than any single film can hope to contain. Even those with only a passing knowledge of "Total Recall" could probably pick Kuato out of a lineup, thanks to three decades' worth of pop culture references and loving spoofs.
Unsurprisingly, time has been kind to "Total Recall" -- maybe a little too kind. With water futures now being actively traded on Wall Street, it seems like Verhoeven's only mistake was to pretend that the conservation of natural resources would be overtly evil instead of just blandly capitalist. At any rate, "Total Recall" remains a highlight in a career of highlights for both its star and its director. And the 2012 remake (which, sadly, isn't on Netflix) has its moments too, if we're being perfectly honest with each other.
When to Watch: You are ready to get your ass to Mars.
Zathura Is The Kid-Friendly Science Fiction You've Been Looking For
From the original film to its two surprisingly successful video game-inspired sequels, no franchise continues to surprise as much as "Jumanji." And although "Zathura" is more overtly a children's movie than its predecessor -- Robin Williams had a habit of aging up his projects -- it comes packing a pretty heartfelt message of brotherly love. We never split the party, no matter how frustrating its members might be.
Those who appreciate director Jon Favreau's place as the next Robert Zemeckis -- they're both directors with an eye for family entertainment and an appetite for technology -- will find a lot of value in "Zathura." In terms of Favreau's career, the film serves as the pivot point between "Elf" and "Iron Man," and similarities to both movies can be seen throughout. For everyone else, the film is a solid entry in the loosely-defined "Jumanji" universe, with admirable pre-fame roles performances from both Josh Hutcherson and Kirsten Stewart. Just shrug off some of the weird reveals regarding Dax Shepard's character (you know the ones).
When to Watch: You need something for the entire family but still want a little bit of space adventure on your Thursday evening.
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The post The 12 Best Space Movies You Can Watch on Netflix Right Now appeared first on /Film.