This list is dedicated to all the amazing sci-fi movies not on Instant, like Sunshine, Attack the Block, and Moon. Get your shit together, Netflix.
10) Antiviral / Troll Hunter
Yes, I will start this list by cheating and putting two films, because I want you to never feel secure in my authorly presence. Wildcard, bitches! Yeeeehaw! Brandon Cronenberg’s (progeny of David) Antiviral and André Øvredal’s Troll Hunter are both solid, inventive films: The former’s about a future in which average Joes and Janes infect themselves with viruses of infected celebrities in order to feel close to them, and the latter’s a found footage mockumentary about… guess. While I enjoyed both of them, neither ever quite clicked for me. Antiviral got bogged down by its heavyhanded commentary on celebrity culture, and I honestly found Troll Hunter a bit dull. But Caleb Landry Jones turns in a great lead performance under Cronenberg’s direction, and I think most people who saw Troll Hunter like it better than I did. So they’re there if you want to try them out.
9) Upstream Color
Shane Carruth’s more famous Primer, a big ball of time travel WTFery, is not available on Netflix Instant anymore, but Upstream Color, is. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, because I literally couldn’t: Any explanation would just be a lot of shrugging and “I dunno”s. But I will say this: One of the things that made Primer cool is that, though it appears at first that the plot makes no sense, the time travel shenanigans of its main characters actually can be unravelled with repeated viewings. So when I started watching Upstream Color I thought that it, too, would be “figure out-able.” It’s not. It’s much more impressionistic than Primer. Just go with the flow on this one. You’ll save yourself a whopper of a headache.
8) Iron Sky
I love indie sci-fi, because I can write a list about it that follows up a blurb about an artsy-fartsy intellectual movie like Upstream Color with one about space Nazis. Because that’s what Iron Sky is: Space Nazis The Movie. Udo Kier’s in it. It’s a perfect movie to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you have a bunch of popcorn and alcohol that you need to get rid of. Into your mouth.
This is the movie that got director Gareth Edwards his Godzilla gig, and watching it, you can see why. Edwards reveals himself here as filmmaker who’s able to make a quality monster movie on an extremely low budget (seriously, miniscule—”way under $500,000”) because he prioritizes story over special effects for their own sake. Don’t get me wrong. The special effects in Monsters were still really solid. But given how often Hollywood prioritizes flash over substance, a knowledge of how to make the whizz bang serve the story instead of the other way around is a great thing to have. There are aspects of Monsters that I don’t like. The acting’s pretty poor. And I don’t want to spoil you for anything here, but there are certain things that I expected to see that I didn’t, and I understand why they weren’t there (see: no money), but it still felt like a cop-out. That said, when you watch Monsters you really feel like you’re seeing the birth of a new filmmaking talent out of the primordial ooze of prosumer cameras. Star Wars is in good hands.
6) The Host
Is this blurb an excuse for me to talk about how great Snowpiercer, the newest film by The Host director Bong Joon Ho, is? Hahahahamaybe. I saw Snowpiercer a few weeks back, and you can expect a fuller post from me on the film closer to its 6/27 US release, but suffice to say Bong Joon Ho is an amazing director who directs amazing, amazing movies that you should all see. One of those is The Host, a South Korean monster movie chock-a-block full of metaphors about the relationship between South Korea and the American military that I probably missed most of the intricacies of. Occasional heavy-handedness aside, it’s still a monster movie that’s fun without being fun-dumb.
Oh, the good things Darren Aronofsky was doing before he was making a Biblical movie with a buncha white people. Pi’s high place in this list might be the result of bias: I saw it when I was in high school, and it was one the first movies that made me sit up and appreciate film as art, not just entertainment. Granted, now I acknowledge that many of the films I saw earlier in my youth were just as artistically valid, and I just didn’t pick up on it. Like Beavis and Butthead Do America, the second movie I remember ever seeing in a theater. What a masterpiece.
4) Safety Not Guaranteed
The sci-fi-itude of Safety Not Guarnteed kind of sneaks under the radar. At its core, it’s a comedy about growing up and deciding who you want adult-you to be. Maybe this is just the fact that I only have a few months left in my 20s talking (God, no), but I found it a particularly poignant film. The fact that there’s a dude in it who claims to have invented a time machine is just a bonus (if a big one, because holy hell time machine).
3) Donnie Darko
I wonder at times whether my love of Donnie Darko stems from a particularly teenage part of my psyche that’s changed too greatly since I first saw the movie for me to appreciate it as much now as I did then. But then I remember this is the movie that made Patrick Swayze a washed-up motivational speaker with a “kiddie porn dungeon.” I have no second thoughts about how high up on this list I am putting it.
2) The Europa Report
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting all that much out of Europa Report. “Ugh, found footage again?!,” I scoffed a few minutes in. “A small crew trapped on a spaceship as they embark on what’s in all likelihood a suicide mission? I saw that already. It was called Sunshine.” But Europa Report quickly won me over. It has less of the creeping horror of Sunshine and more of the wonder and majesty of space travel, which is something at I think we need more of in film. (“Space is scary! So scary! Yes. And it’s also awesome.”) For all that the trials of our main characters—a group sent out to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, to discover whether there could be life here—make for a suspenseful story, it’s also strangely optimistic.
From the youngest movie on this list to the oldest. Look, Metropolis is a classic, and there’s a reason for that. It’s a stunning movie, and one that’s surprisingly modern for being nearly a century old. Brigitte Helm’s weird facial expressions and funky dance moves have no expiration date. And the version on Netflix, Metropolis Restored, even has that new footage that was found in Argentina. Everyone should see it at least once.
Yell at Rebecca on Twitter. Or don’t. No, don’t.