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The 20 Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movies of Netflix Instant

January 7, 2013  |  9:06am
Nothing is better for instant escape than watching a spur-of-the-moment science fiction or fantasy film. We poured through Netflix Instant’s “Sci-Fi & Fantasy” category (along with films we thought should have been categorized that way) and weeding out the many stinkers. From superhero flicks to space dramas, time travel to fantastical rom-com, here are the 20 Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movies on Netflix Instant. (We’ll update this list as Netflix updates its Instant movie selection.)

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10. The Brother From Another Planet
Year: 1984
Director: John Sayles
During the ’80s, John Sayles established himself as a smart indie writer/director with a knack for social commentary. But only one of his films embedded said commentary into a zany sci-fi plot. The result is the story of a mute alien who looks like a black man with weird feet, who crash-lands in Harlem and meets and observes the people of New York City. Joe Morton gives a stellar silent performance that, like the film itself, seamlessly moves from comic to empathetic.—Jeremy Mathews

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9. Robocop
Year: 1987
Director: Paul Verhoeven
We’ve been following news and rumors of a Robocop remake for years now. But the only reason we care is that the original was so much fun. Sure it’s campy and ultra-violent, but it was also a prescient critique of mega-corporations and technology run amok. Plus, who can forget, “Dick…You’re Fired!”

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8. Batman: Under the Red Hood
Year: 2010
Director: Brandon Vietti
When a violent figure known as the Red Hood throws Gotham’s underworld into chaos, Batman must track down his connection to the late Jason Todd, who became Dick Grayson’s successor as Robin until being beaten to death by the Joker. The darkest and most intense of the DC animated films culminates with a three-way battle between Batman, the Red Hood and the Joker that evokes The Good, The Bad and the Ugly in its conflict between three comparably-matched opponents, each of whom embodies a different moral worldview.

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7. Serenity
Year: 2005
Director: Joss Whedon
We may have never gotten a Season 2 of Firefly, the much beloved alien-free space-travel show from Joss Whedon. But at least we got a movie. In Serenity, River Tam (Summer Glau) got to really stretch her legs, kicking the asses of all kinds of Alliance baddies. And Browncoats everywhere rejoiced.

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6. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Year: 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Evoking the most memorable anguished cry in cinema, Khan is Nietzschean nightmare. Ricardo Montalbán’s Khan is a science-grown Übermensch bent on causing interstellar calamity, and arguably captain Kirk’s most memorable adversary (Gorn included). What’s more scary than a villain designed to be better than you…at everything. Eleven movies in, including an admirable remake from J.J. Abrams, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is still the greatest of them all.—Darren Orf

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5. Being John Malkovich
Year: 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze’s true gift is creating moments of the truly unexpected. Just as he did in music videos like Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” where he got his start, Jonze proves that the true essence of wit is to never go for the obvious. And Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays follow that same mind-bending motto.—Tim Sheridan

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4. Metropolis
Year: 1927
Director:Fritz Lang
Though in hindsight the actual story proves pretty wacky, Fritz Lang’s last silent film—before his second masterpiece M—could be called the blueprint for all sci-fi films that followed it. Whether the groundbreaking special effects, the visual scope or the intricate set design, greats such as Ridley Scott, George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick have borrowed from it (Lucas modeled C-3PO directly after the Maria robot). Metropolis, heavily influenced by the books of H.G. Wells, also stands as the first dystopian film in history.—David Roark

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3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Year: 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Michel Gondry’s debut feature, Human Nature, was a whimsical dud, but his follow-up suggested a mature, disciplined director with his playful side intact. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind traffics in his signature sleights of hand, which serve two touching and tragic love stories: between red-haired Kate Winslet and a supremely sad Jim Carrey, and between headstrong Kirsten Dunst and a pining Mark Ruffalo. All of their performances—including Gondry’s—stay in your memory long after the credits have rolled.—Stephen Deusner

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2. Donnie Darko
Year: 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly was just 25 when he got funding for his first full-length feature, Donnie Darko, but it became a cult classic, thanks to mind-bending twists and a gigantic talking bunny named “Frank.”

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1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Year: 1991
Director: James Cameron
That rare sequel that trumps its predecessor, James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher Jr. crafted a near-perfect action-movie script that flipped the original on its head and let Ahnold be a good guy. But it’s Linda Hamilton’s transformation from damsel-in-distress to bad-ass hero that makes the film so notable. Why should the guys get all the good action scenes? This may not be the best film on this list, but it’s the best sci-fi movie. It hits the target it’s aiming for squarely in the bullseye.

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