The sci-fi selection on Max (formerly HBO Max) includes classics from throughout film history as well as recent blockbusters. Here are 10 of the best sci-fi movies to stream on Max.
Update, 5/31/23: Because Colossal, Moon, and Tenet all left the Max platform, we’ve replaced them with new recommendations.
Men in Black
2001: A Space Odyssey
Adapting Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune has been a nearly insurmountable task in the past, but director Denis Villeneuve gets it here, capturing the grandeur and the weirdness of Herbert’s world. This Dune adapts the first half of the novel, set thousands of years in the future on a harsh desert planet.
Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, a royal heir who also may be a prophesied leader of the planet’s native people. Villeneuve immerses the audience in a beautiful, forbidding world full of mysterious characters, setting up an epic battle to come.
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Filmmaker Alex Garland deconstructs the allure of sexy female androids in Ex Machina. Tech mogul Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) creates just that kind of android, then invites employee Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) to his remote compound to meet and interact with Ava (Alicia Vikander).
Vikander makes Ava both enticing and intimidating, and Garland gives the entire movie a tone of ominous dread. Ava is just intelligent and manipulative enough to be dangerous, even as the arrogant humans always think they have control over her.
City-stomping giant lizard Godzilla became a bit of a pop-culture punchline over the years, but the original 1954 Japanese Godzilla is a serious and effective disaster movie. The movie takes on the still-fresh legacy of the atomic bomb, presenting Godzilla as a literal manifestation of the dangers of unchecked nuclear proliferation. There’s a real sense of menace as the monster rampages through Tokyo, and while Godzilla himself may look a bit silly, the movie is anything but.
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A showcase for Oscar-nominated star Sandra Bullock, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity offers a master class in suspense, as Bullock’s astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone must find a way back to Earth after space debris damages her space shuttle. George Clooney co-stars as Lt. Matt Kowalski, a more experienced astronaut who puts Stone’s safety above his own.
Gravity is as much a survival drama as a sci-fi movie, emphasizing the harsh desolation of the vacuum of space, where even the slightest miscalculation can be instantly fatal. Cuarón brilliantly conveys that vast, unforgiving emptiness.
Leave it to Christopher Nolan to turn the surreal, mysterious world of dreams into a setting for an elaborate, painstakingly planned heist. The dreams in Nolan’s Inception may be a bit more orderly than actual dreams, but Nolan impressively melds his intricate, detailed narrative approach with a realm that defies logic and coherence.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays the leader of a covert team that can invade people’s dreams and extract information from their minds, attempting to pull off their riskiest—and most visually dazzling—job yet.
Synthesizing influences from cyberpunk, anime, martial-arts movies, existential philosophy, and more, The Matrix revolutionized both sci-fi and action movies, and it remains extraordinarily influential more than two decades after its release. From its revolutionary special effects to its questions about the nature of reality, the Wachowskis’ film is consistently dazzling and mesmerizing.
It’s a fast-paced thriller about humans battling against the control of all-powerful machines, a love story between freedom fighters played by Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, and a marvel of sci-fi world-building.
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Men in Black
A buddy-cop comedy in which the cops are chasing aliens, Men in Black is a highly entertaining fusion of two familiar genres. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play mismatched partners at the agency responsible for keeping track of aliens living on Earth. Smith’s brash rookie and Jones’ world-weary veteran team up to stop an insect-like alien determined to destroy an entire galaxy.
Vincent D’Onofrio is amusingly repulsive as the villain in human form, and director Barry Sonnenfeld presents a creative array of oddball aliens to interact with the charismatic main characters.
Russian cinema master Andrei Tarkovsky delivers a stark meditation on human existence with Solaris. Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris takes place on a space station above a mysterious planet. A psychologist is sent to investigate the strange behavior of the station’s inhabitants, and he discovers that they’ve been encountering apparitions of their dead loved ones.
Solaris features haunting imagery and performances as the characters struggle to understand the planet’s effects on them as well as to discern what’s real—and whether that even matters.
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Later franchise installments expanded into a complex sci-fi world, but the original The Terminator is a sleek, streamlined thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives one of his best performances as the title character, making the unstoppable cyborg from the future into something like a horror-movie villain as it stalks unsuspecting waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
Sarah is destined to give birth to humanity’s future savior in its war against the machines, and filmmaker James Cameron brings larger themes of fate and responsibility into his gritty, relentless movie about a killer robot.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is a fascinating mix of intellectual challenge and trippy mind-bender. The movie starts at the dawn of man with primates discovering tools, before zooming into the future to show a self-aware computer slowly turning on its human masters.
Kubrick asks questions about the nature of existence and also takes a psychedelic journey into the cosmos. Killer computer HAL 9000 is chilling, but the movie is most unsettling in its abstract, inexplicable finale.
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