Science fiction has become one of the most popular and enduring movie genres, especially since Star Wars first demolished box-office records back in 1977. Five years after the movie’s release, only one other film — another sci-fi film, as it turned out — had made anywhere close to Star Wars’ box office total.
And if you look at the largest domestic grosses today, the top 10 is dominated by sci-fi movies – everything from The Hunger Games to the No. 1 spot, the 3D spectacle Avatar. And sci-fi-focused superhero films are providing more candidates every year, like 2012′s The Avengers.
The point being: People like sci-fi movies.
And whether you want to supplement this summer’s crop of sci-fi flicks (like X-Men: Days of Future Past, or the upcoming Edge of Tomorrow), or just catch up on some old classics, Netflix has you covered.
Here are some of the best action sci-fi movies on Netflix:
The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Before James Cameron directed the highest-grossing movie to date, he directed a couple of time travel films about the struggle between humans and robots.
And they were good.
Time travel is a staple of sci-fi movies, and the Terminator series offers one of the definitive takes on the trope. The first film in the series — 1984′s The Terminator — is a good film in its own right (and also available on Netflix), but the sequel really took action sci-fi movies to new heights.
Terminator 2 stars Linda Hamilton as a woman determined to save her son and the rest of humanity from the oncoming robopocalypse. It co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as an older terminator — a bad-guy-turned-good with an inexplicable Austrian accent. Some of the special effects look a little dated (though surprisingly few, considering how old the film is), but the action sequences are spectacular, and the pacing drives the story forward with powerful momentum.
And, like all the best sci-fi films, Terminator 2 is about more than just special effects. At its core, it’s a moving tale about what it means to be human, and the things that can cost us our humanity.
Stream both films now; thank us later.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Star Trek is one of the foundational franchises in science fiction history. The original 1966 TV series was a groundbreaking show that spawned even more shows and a dozen feature films. So it’s well worth checking out for any fan of sci-fi movies.
Star Trek Into Darkness follows the 2009 reboot that redefined the USS Enterprise and its crew, without ignoring the franchise’s long history. Into Darkness might be a bit disappointing to longtime fans of the show and movies, due to liberal recycling of older plots. But for anyone who just wants an entertaining, exciting sci-fi romp, Into Darkness certainly delivers.
Oh, and Netflix denizens will likely appreciate Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch’s performance as the villain of the film.
The Fifth Element (1997)
Full disclosure: The Fifth Element stars two of my favorite actors in a film directed by the guy who made The Professional, so I was always going to love it in spite of its flaws. And while it does have plenty of flaws, it’s still an entertaining movie, and worth your time.
The film stars Bruce Willis as an ex-special forces taxi driver who gets dragged into a war for Earth when a great evil threatens the planet. Backing up Willis is the reigning queen of kick-ass, Milla Jovovich, who manages to steal every scene as the “supreme being” and last remaining weapon against evil.
Gary Oldman is at his over-the-top best as Zorg, working alongside the ultimate villain.
The whole film is filled with campy fun, with costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and old-school creature effects that worked so well in the original Star Wars films. If you don’t mind the general over-the-top attitude, The Fifth Element makes for one of the most fun sci-fi movies on Netflix.
Adam Benjamin is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace and longtime science-fiction fan.