Greetings, Polygon readers! We’re officially halfway through April, the fourth month of the futuristic-sounding year of 2023. This month, we’re widening the playing field of our best sci-fi movies on streaming, reaching out beyond the terrestrial bounds of Netflix to explore previously uncharted corners (and streaming platforms) of the universe.
Our April selections include contemporary fare and eccentric cult classics, from the 2014 time-loop sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt to David Lynch’s unfairly maligned 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Read on to get the lowdown on the very best sci-fi movies on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max (soon to be renamed “Max”), and more.
Let’s get into it!
Run time: 2h 28m
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elliot Page
Whether you think Inception is overrated or whether you think Christopher Nolan’s intricately plotted, painstakingly rendered dream-inside-dream heist flick is the bee’s knees, you can agree on one thing: Inception is among his most influential films, if only for being the reason every trailer now has to go BWAAAAAAHHH.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elliot Page, and Tom Hardy play thieves who steal secrets from the dreams of their targets, hired by Ken Watanabe’s businessman to do the opposite: implant an idea in a rival’s mind without him ever realizing that he didn’t come up with it in the first place. Someone’s past (literally) comes back to haunt their dreams, and complications ensue. —Susana Polo
Inception is available to stream on Netflix.
Run time: 2h 17m
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Francesca Annis
Of all the so-called unfilmable classics of science fiction and fantasy, Frank Herbert’s Dune might be the most tantalizing. But it wouldn’t be half so intriguing of a challenge if not for David Lynch’s Dune — a fascinating, masterful absolute disaster.
The experience of watching Dune is the experience of ping-ponging between some of the weirdest things you’ve ever seen compellingly rendered on screen and some of the most baffling choices you’ve ever seen outside of experimental film — sometimes from scene to scene. And yet you must watch Dune, starring Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Patrick Stewart, Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, and many other actors absolutely committing themselves to the work. If only so you can see the movie that turned Lynch off from Hollywood forever. —SP
Dune is available to stream on Criterion Channel.
Edge of Tomorrow
Run time: 1h 53m
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Tom Cruise stars in this time-loop sci-fi action movie as Maj. William “Bill” Cage, a public affairs officer who is arrested and subsequently conscripted to fight on the front lines against the Mimics, a invasive race of amorphous extraterrestrials vying to destroy human civilization. With no prior combat experience, Bill dons a high-powered mech and gets killed — only to find himself miraculously resurrected back to the day he first arrived to cover the war effort.
Working alongside Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a decorated soldier with a similar affliction, Bill must live, fight, die, and repeatedly come back from the dead again and again in order to devise a plan of defeating the Mimics once and for all. Here’s the elevator pitch: Aliens meets Top Gun meets Groundhog Day. Doesn’t that sound cool— Hey, what’s up? What do you mean you want me to explain the premise of Edge of Tomorrow? You don’t already know? OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one before… —Toussaint Egan
Edge of Tomorrow is available to stream on HBO Max.
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro
Dan Trachtenberg’s 2022 prequel to the Predator franchise is not just one of the best films to come out of the series since… well, 1987’s Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers, but also one of the best movies of 2022 full-stop.
Set over 200 years before the events of the original film, Prey follows the story of Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman who aspires to earn her place among the warriors of her tribe. While undertaking her rite of passage, Naru crosses paths with an otherworldly warrior from another world, one who has journeyed across the vast gulf of space to hunt the planet’s apex species (i.e., humans) for sport. To save her people, Naru must fight alongside her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), to find a way of killing this mysterious creature once and for all. Light on dialogue and heavy on gorgeous imagery and gory violence, Prey delivers on the potential of the Predator franchise like no other. —TE
Prey is available to stream on Hulu.
Run time: 1h 36m
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Beef, the new Netflix drama about two lonely, sad people who get in a road rage incident and set out to ruin each other’s lives. The only reason it isn’t in our list of the best shows of 2023 is that I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m sure it will be soon. Steven Yeun and Ali Wong are fantastic as the two leads, but Justin H. Min also excels as Edwin, a local church leader who comes into contact with Yeun’s Danny.
Many people may know Min from his role as Ben on Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, but he also starred in one of the best movies of 2022: After Yang. After Yang and Prey couldn’t be more different, as far as 2022 sci-fi fare goes, but they both excel at their respective aims.
In After Yang, director Kogonada weaves together a moving and beautiful portrait of a family of four: father Jake (Colin Farrell), mother Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and AI helper/older brother figure Yang (Min). When Yang’s system fails and the family has to bid an unexpected early farewell to him, they grieve their loss and reflect on the impact he had on their family unit. While it’s a quiet and thoughtful movie, don’t mistake it for a downer — the opening dance number is fun and rousing, and the beauty of Kogonada’s images and of the actors’ performances helps make After Yang an absolute delight. —Pete Volk
After Yang is available to stream on FuboTV, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Run time: 1h 48m
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, I’m Thinking of Ending Things), Michel Gondry’s quirky sci-fi romantic drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as a dysfunctional couple who arrange to have all memories of each other erased following a messy breakup. Despite this, they inadvertently meet each other again, blissfully unaware of their shared past.
When they’re confronted with this revelation, they are forced to face not only the question of what they mean to one another, but also whether it is better to love and know heartache or never to have known such a love in the first place. With a beautiful score composed by Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine is a whimsical, surreal, and moving ode to the persistence of love in the absence of memory and presence of grief. —TE
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is available to stream on Peacock.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Run time: 2h 16m
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen
Based on the long-running French pulp sci-fi comic Valérian et Laureline, Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is really just an excuse for the director to create a science fiction future even lusher and more surprising than his own cult hit The Fifth Element. Is kind of wondrous? Yeah! Is it good? Ehhhhhhhhhh.
It’s a movie of contrasts. On the one hand, there are some alien cannibals that definitely skirt the bounds of good taste. But there’s also a hedgehog that poops spaceship fuel, and Rihanna, and an all-time use of “Space Oddity” in the opening sequence. —SP
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is available to stream on Prime Video.