The Netflix algorithm, which decides what films appear on your recommendations, home screen and when you search in different film genres, is an incredibly smart machine that is always learning and updating. However, it would be impossible for Netflix to display its entire library of films to you and so that inevitably means that there are some films that will go under the radar for audiences.
In the case of the sci-fi genre, Netflix offers some great films that may have flown under the radar for audiences but are certainly films that sci-fi fans should try.
1. Another Earth (2011)
On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, the lives of two strangers become irrevocably intertwined after tragedy strikes. Rhoda Williams is a bright young woman who aims to study the cosmos at MIT’s astrophysics program and John Burroughs is an accomplished composer who is about to have a second child with his wife. Beginning an unlikely affair, the two must decide which path to choose when one of them is given an opportunity to travel to the other Earth.
Mixing realism with sci-fi, Another Earth is a film where the gritty realism of day to day life and the consequences that can come with it are intertwined with a vividly sci-fi element. As the audience watches the two different characters’ lives implode in different ways, proceedings are grandly watched over by the other Earth – always visible in the sky, a stunning image which gives a deeper meaning to everything that unfolds. In fact, the visuals are highly appealing in this and particularly striking in their comparisons – the dreariness of the rundown house and candid shots captured guerrilla style compared to the other Earth which looks awe inspiring.
Another Earth is a philosophical, soulful and thought-provoking film which explores grief and responsibility in a really intriguing way.
2. The Endless (2017)
The Endless was a film of almost mythic qualities before it was released to a wider audience, with rumblings of an amazing low budget sci-fi film that sci-fi fans were going to love – if only they could find a way to watch it. Luckily, the film was then released on to streaming services.
The Endless follows two brothers, Justin and Aaron, who are struggling to find closure after escaping from a UFO death cult called Camp Arcadia ten years earlier. Their recollection of the events differs greatly, with Justin believing that the cult was dangerous whereas Aaron remembers the group as a friendly commune. When they are sent a cryptic video message, they are inspired to revisit the camp. As the camp members prepare for a mysterious upcoming event, the brothers try to uncover the truth behind the camp.
The Endless is a film that is really impressive from a filmmaking perspective – made on hardly any money, the directors wrote, starred in, filmed and produced the film. The passion and commitment behind the film is admirable, and they will certainly be filmmakers to keep an eye on in the future.
The Endless is an example of a low budget sci-fi film which has a really cool premise and demonstrates how low budget does not have to mean low quality. This is also a film which is also baffling at times, weird, strange and even slightly Lovecraftian, and it will provoke discussion and debate amongst anyone who watches it.
3. Circle (2015)
Fifty strangers awake to find themselves trapped in a large, mysterious room. Organised into a circle, they quickly realise that one of them will be executed every two minutes or if they attempt to leave the room. Soon, it becomes clear that the group can control who will die next and alliances begin to form based on their judgements of those around them.
Circle is a sci-fi film with a very simple concept and yet it is intriguing, engaging and incredibly thought provoking. Circle presents the audience with impossible questions – if faced with your own mortality, could you choose someone else to die? And on what basis would you choose them? Are there people that are more deserving to live than others? The audience cannot help but think about what they would do in the same situation and this makes the film thrilling throughout.
Circle, for the most part, is a one location film. Though this location is a darkened room, it still feels futuristic and appealing. Circle is a film which successfully marries together topical and current moral dilemmas and ideas with a sci-fi concept, and the result is a compelling film which shows that sci-fi films do not need to be filled with action to be really watchable.
4. I Am Mother (2019)
After a catastrophic event, a futuristic bunker is automatically activated to help repopulate earth. Inside it, a robot named Mother grows a human embryo. Years later, a teenage girl is being raised in the bunker by Mother. They have a special bond, but that bond is soon threatened when a stranger from the outside arrives, throwing everything that the girl believes is true into doubt.
I Am Mother is a thought-provoking film that aims to compete with its big budget counterparts and does so admirably. The production design is particularly noteworthy, and every scene is interesting and engaging.
Newcomer Clara Rugaard more than holds her own next to Academy Award winner Hilary Swank, and will be someone to look out for in the future. The film only has three characters and uses these characters well – they are not given big action sequences rather they rely on the narrative and dialogue to carry the film, something that big blockbuster sci-fi films often fall back on.
I Am Mother is the debut feature from Australian director Grant Sputore, and it is an impressive first feature. The film is ambitious, and the premise is intriguing. I Am Mother is definitely a film for sci-fi fans who enjoy slightly more nihilistic films, especially those focused on technology.
5. The Unthinkable (2018)
In 2005, Alex lives with his mother and father in a small village. He only has one friend, a girl named Anna who he is secretly in love with and he frequently has to withstand verbal attacks from his overly aggressive father. Ten years later, Alex is living in Stockholm when a series of explosions rock the city. Soon, it becomes clear that Sweden is in imminent danger and Alex finds himself returning to his home village in search of Anna and to try and make amends with his father before it is too late.
This Swedish thriller disaster film is filled with muted tones and an often-grey palette, so even though it is categorised as a big disaster film, actually The Unthinkable is more reminiscent of a Nordic noir in style and tone.
The Unthinkable was one of the most successful crowdfunded films of all time, raising just over $2 million and is one of the Swedish film industry’s biggest film exports.
The Unthinkable begins in a very understated, quiet and solemn way. It revolves around family and family dynamics and it feels very serious and thoughtful. There is minimal dialogue and sweeping aerial shots of the Swedish countryside in the midst of winter. Then the film switches gears, as the disaster elements start to happen and these build up and up, resulting in some incredible action sequences and visual effects. The visual effects are even more incredible when you consider the film’s budget and they could easily rival a Hollywood blockbuster.