Netflix’s September lineup may have primed you for Halloween season with films like Train to Busan and Resident Evil: Afterlife, but this month we’re looking at a choice roundup of choice movies and television shows at the collision of sci-fi and horror.
If you’re hankering for a taste of tomorrow this October and some ghoulish frights, here are 11 of the best science fiction shows and movies available to stream on Netflix, with a focus on whatever’s new, original, or leaving soon.
Let’s get this must-have addition out of the way first: Spike Jonze’s modern sci-fi classic, Her, finally returns to Netflix after a two-month hiatus. (It was removed from the Netflix library in late-July.) It stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lovesick nerd named Theodore who falls in love with an A.I. voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
There’s nothing really spooky about Her; It’s just damn good science fiction. Samantha (the A.I.) learns at an exponential rate, and the way she evolves over the course of the film to fill the emotional void in Theodore’s life is a fascinating cautionary tale about the increasing complexity of technology — and how it can be more trouble than it’s worth when it only serves to isolate humans from each other. Her won Best Original Screenplay at the 86th Academy Awards, and with good reason.
Her returns to Netflix on October 1.
Here’s another beloved movie that definitely did not win any Academy Awards, and with good reason. At the collision of dark gothic horror and strange science fiction is the Underworld series, chronicling the millennia-old conflict between vampires and werewolves. There’s some rich lore at play, but the whole thing is overacted and campy to excess. But at least the action is exciting! The vampires even make silver nitrate bullets that really mess up those werewolves.
The vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is ironically the lone wolf type who hunts werewolves, aka Lycans, while the other vampires in her coven sit around being rich. After she falls for a special human being hunted by the Lycans for reasons unknown, she questions everything she knows. Underworld so desperately wants to be The Matrix with vampires, and it falls very far short. But consider giving it a watch before it melts in the sun on Halloween.
Underworld and two of its sequels will leave Netflix on October 31, 2020.
The totally bizarre Unfriended, which arrives on Netflix October 16, falls squarely within the realm of supernatural horror, and yet the entire thing is presented as a computer screen film recorded via a MacBook screencast. Without giving too much away, the whole thing does wind up feeling more sci-fi than you might thing.
A group of high-schoolers chat over Skype but are plagued by the ghost of a dead classmate who committed suicide after years of bullying from them. It’s a familiar story told in an unconventional way as things get progressively more harrowing. Particularly at a time when we’re all video chatting more than usual, Unfriended presents a particularly gripping meditation on online socializing.
Unfriended will be added to Netflix on October 15, 2020.
A 2016 BAFTA-nominated thriller adapted from an award-winning novel, The Girl with All the Gifts is a must-watch zombie film that’s very unconventional — but only because every zombie film has to be these days.
It focuses on a girl who’s one of many second-generation children born into a zombie apocalypse who retains their intelligence after being infected. She and a host of other children are being studied in a facility run by desperate scientists hoping to find a cure before traditional humans go extinct, but things go bad very fast.
The Girl with All the Gifts draws obvious inspiration from previous science-heavy zombie movies like 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, and Dawn of the Dead in its world-building and overall execution, but the core idea of a zombie girl struggling to retain her sense of empathy despite an overpowering hunger is compelling and novel.
The Girl With All the Gifts will stumble away from Netflix on October 31, 2020.
It Comes At Night is a devastating post-apocalyptic film from 2017 in which a high contagious disease has devasted the planet. While it may feel a bit too topical these days, it still makes for gripping horror.
A family living in seclusion deep in the woods encounters another family that they reluctantly agree to live with, but when it’s impossible to know who’s infected, suspicions abound. What ensues is a startling examination of what people will do to survive when all of humanity seems lost.
To say anything else would give too much away. For what it’s worth, A Quiet Place is a far better movie with a similar premise, but that’s not on Netflix right now, is it?
Perhaps the best animated feature film of the last decade, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an absolute must-see triumph in which several alt-reality versions of Spider-Man team up to save the day. Our hero is the young Miles Morales, a half-Black, half-Puerto Rican teen from New York City who’s bitten by a radioactive spider and gains superpowers on the same night that Wilson Fisk rips open a hole in space-time.
While this film does take place in the wintertime and not Halloween, a movie with tons of characters in wild costumes feels suited to Halloween season. As an added bonus, a different version of Miles Morales will soon star in his own video game releasing alongside the Sony PlayStation 5. So it’s a great time to revisit this modern classic that’s heavy on the sci-fi.
Imagine getting trapped inside a virtual reality MMORPG where the only escape is to beat the game, and death in-game means death in real life. That’s the basis of Sword Art Online, in which 10,000 players are trapped inside such a game. Players battle within and explore Aincrad, a 100-floor floating castle, and use swords and different abilities to survive. That’s the setup for the truly excellent first season, which is nothing short of incredible in the first 10 episodes or so.
Subsequent seasons take place in different online games where the protagonist Kirito becomes a consultant for the government who investigates different conspiracies within and beyond these worlds. Ostensibly a high fantasy epic in most episodes, the tech-heavy backdrop makes for some heady science fiction exploring transhumanism and how our digital personas reflect who we truly are.
Sword Art Online: Alicization will be added to Netflix on October 1, 2020.
While more accurately described as a gritty dark fantasy where slack-jawed nude giants do everything in their considerable power to devour regular humans, Attack on Titan is a wildly entertaining anime that explores some truly bonkers pseudoscience which qualifies as sci-fi in my book. Ostensibly a mashup of the kaiju and zombie genres, Attack on Titan is perfect viewing during the Halloween season.
Young Eren Yaeger has had is fair share of trauma: Both his parents seemingly died in an attack from Titans when he was just a boy, so he enlists in the military whose job it is to protect the walled city from harm. During a dramatic battle, however, he discovers that he has the ability to transform himself into an even bigger Titan that’s far more dangerous than the average monstrosity. Can he harness this dangerous power? Or will the pressure destroy him?
Attack on Titan is incredibly entertaining, particularly in the first season or two before it begins to mine deeply into the lore of this universe — and it has some gore-filled action that might make you sick to your stomach, maybe in a good way?
I really enjoyed Enola Holmes recently, in which Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown plays the much cooler younger sister of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) on a rowdy, charming adventure. Particularly given the Lovecraftian horror tones of Stranger Things and the Halloween season, there’s no better time to revisit the show that launched Brown’s career.
The sensational first two seasons which both take place in the fall of 1983 and 1984, respectively. In particular, the second season kicks off in the days leading up to Halloween. Now, more than ever, it might feel like you’re there.
After a local boy goes missing in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, a group of Dungeons & Dragons fans meet a mysterious girl with telekinetic powers while searching for their lost friend. They uncover a government conspiracy that ripped open a hole into an alternate dimension they call the Upside Down. There are nightmarish monsters, cool superpowers, and enough synthwave to give Boomers a bonafide flashback to better times.
Netflix’s strange horror-comedy sitcom in which Drew Barrymore plays a suburban mom who becomes a zombie is charming and fun if you can stomach all the cannibalism. (Can you call it cannibalism if she’s a zombie?)
Joel and Sheila Hammond are real estate agents in Santa Clarita, California. Their lives are forever changed when Sheila one day just sort of becomes a zombie. The show captures the tone of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil mixed with the suburban irreverence of The Good Place in a way you can’t help but love. But the exhaustive way it explores Sheila’s metamorphosis into a new type of being feels scientific enough to call this one sci-fi.
“This is my design.”
Unnerving, macabre, and devilishly fun, NBC’s Hannibal is an underloved series from Bryan Fuller about the titular cannibalistic serial killer you might remember from Silence of the Lambs. While this presents a totally distinct continuity when Hannibal is still a practicing psychiatrist, the way it unfolds feels an awful lot like Mindhunter.
FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is recruited to join a special task force devoted to hunting down serial killers — except he sort of has a superpower. Graham has “pure empathy” that, when coupled with his own neurosis and overactive imagination, allow him to mentally experience what killers have done. Through just observing the evidence, he’s able to visually deduce precisely what happened. It feels pretty sci-fi, and so do many of the bizarre murders that occur throughout the series.
It’s the perfect chilling watch this October.