In the streaming wars, it’s hard to find a service that’s still reliable in regard to genre films. Excessive original content and franchises have rendered the biggest names generic when viewers try to find something of value, and some of them aren’t that extensive in content. After HBO evolved to Max, we were afraid the change was going to have a negative effect on what titles they offered in the past.
That’s why we went through the MAX catalog and picked some of the best science fiction titles you can stream today. It’s one of the most popular genres out there but ironically, the catalogs are constantly fed with fantasy and horror as cousins of science fiction. Even so, we were able to find great sci-fi gems for you to watch.
Updated on August 8,, 2023 by Sean Shuman: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information aboutthe best science fiction films currently streaming on Max.
27 Signs (2002)
Signs is a movie that feels eerily appropriate, given how aliens have seen a resurgence in the news cycle. Originally released in 2002, this M. Night Shyamalan venture sees Mel Gibson play a former priest living on a rural Pennsylvania farm. He and his family seem to have an idyllic life. That is until a group of crop circles makes themselves known in their cornfield. From there, the family’s paranoia grows as evidence of extraterrestrial life starts to invade their home.
Despite focusing on aliens, Signs shows great restraint in making the space-faring threat visible. It preys on the audience’s imagination, painting a terrifying picture of an all-encompassing invasion. When our little green men do show up, you may not be ready for it.
26 Innerspace (1987)
Directly inspired by Fantastic Voyage, 1987’s Innerspace is a fantastic time. Dennis Quaid stars as a struggling Navy aviator named Tuck Pendleton who volunteers himself for a special project. Before he knows it, Pendleton is crammed into a submersible and is shrunken down to microscopic size. But, when the lab is attacked by a nefarious force, Pendleton awakes in a precarious position: he’s now floating inside the organs of a human being, forcing Pendleton and his host to work together in order to ensure their mutual survival.
Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins) and executive produced by Stephen Spielberg, this bite-sized adventure through the human body balances compelling drama and oddball comedy perfectly. It would also be the film that eventually led to the marriage of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, who also plays a leading role.
25 Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009)
An HBO and BBC co-production released in 2009, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is an underrated sci-fi gem in Max’s streaming library. Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) and Dean Lennox Kelly (Shameless) star alongside Marc Wootton in a unique take on time travel. When our trio spends a regular evening in a typical British pub, someone arrives from the future to fix a “time leak.” What follows is a mess of crossed timelines and jumbled realities as the three just try to set things straight.
Time travel is always a tricky thing to get right. Thankfully, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel keeps its internal logic consistent. Being a comedy film as well, you can also expect oodles of jokes in between the jumps in time.
24 A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A Trip to the Moon is arguably one of the earliest examples of science-fiction film-making. Released more than 120 years ago, this brilliant short film directed by Georges Méliès follows a group of astronomers who undergo a dangerous journey. Their curiosity takes them to the moon, where they’ll undergo a brief adventure filled with strange creatures, fantastical set designs, and early examples of cinematic trickery.
A Trip to the Moon is a landmark film in the medium’s brief history. Aside from being an early example of fantastical science fiction, its usage of theatrical set designs, paintings, and lavish costumes racked up an incredible production budget for the time. If you’re at all interested in the history of film, A Trip to the Moon is an essential pick in Max’s science-fiction library.
23 Godzilla (1954)
The one and only Godzilla is a prime example of the kaiju genre. Originally released in 1954, this science-fiction classic starts with an investigation into a set of ships missing at sea, with large military vessels meeting a similar fate. Obviously, we all know who’s really behind it all. Sooner or later, our titular radioactive monster rises from the depths, towering above the islands of Japan. If the beast isn’t stopped soon enough, it may just set its sights on the rest of the world.
Directed by Ishirõ Honda, Godzilla is the center of a monstrous media franchise encompassing dozens of films and multimedia projects. However, this beast’s first outing is no slouch in the entertainment department. A technical marvel during its original release, Godzilla is still an exciting time for science-fiction fans everywhere.
22 Predator (1987)
The original Predator film is revered for a reason. Originally framing itself as a macho action flick, a group of mercenaries led by Arnold Schwarzenegger are sent to the jungles of Central America on a typical gun-toting rescue mission. But, after the mission’s completion, something goes terribly awry. Something is watching them as members of the team are picked off one at a time. Originally chalked up to more nefarious guerrillas, the mercenaries soon realize that they’re being hunted — and that whatever is doing it is not of this earth.
From the same director of Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, this octane science-fiction thriller seamlessly blends horror, action, and tension into the start of the monolithic Predator franchise. It certainly helps that it’s endlessly quotable, with most of the film’s memorable lines attributed to an increasingly-manic Schwarzenegger.
21 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The first of what would become multiple remakes, the 1978 edition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is easily the most recognizable of the bunch. Directed by the great Phillip Kaufman, this sprawling invasion film sees the town of San Francisco targeted by a series of mysterious plantlike pods: when Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams investigate these pods, they discover a horrifying plot to replace the world’s population with cloned, listless “pod people.”
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is timeless. While this film would examine the ending of the counterculture movement, as well as directly critique consumerism at the time, the concept of a subtle, growing invasion manifesting itself with “pod people” can be applied to just about any cultural issue you can imagine. Though it certainly helps that this version of the film is particularly iconic, with the film’s final shot being memorably terrifying.
20 Under the Skin (2014)
Leaning more towards experimental horror than high-concept sci-fi, Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson in a significant departure from her typical work. Prowling the streets of Scotland, a woman walks alone in search of isolated targets. Underneath the guise of human flesh, however, is a being not of this Earth. Under the Skin is a brilliant film that’s open to interpretation, with abstract sequences, minimal dialogue, and a lack of exposition forcing you to fill in the gaps yourself.
Under the Skin isn’t for everyone: it may be a little too “out there” if you’re looking for a more straightforward film in general. However, there’s something incredibly captivating about Under the Skin’s candid cinematography, its bizarre effects, and otherwise surreal moments. Director Jonathan Glazer spent over a decade conceptualizing and developing the film, leading to a final product that’s sure to mystify.
19 Armageddon (1998)
Directed by Michael Bay, this 1998 disaster film still holds a firm place in many people’s hearts despite its mixed critical reception. Armageddon sees a group of individuals sent by NASA into the depths of space, in an effort to prevent a giant asteroid from colliding with Earth. How can this be done? It’s simple: all they have to do is drill a deep hole in the asteroid, and plant a nuclear bomb inside.
Contemporary opinions of Armageddon jump all over the place. Some feel that its absolutely brilliant moments are capped off with the same kind of Michael Bay tropes you’ll find in his other films. Others, however, have declared Armageddon as the absolute peak of Bay’s career, with the film’s sentimentality heavily working in its favor. Combine that with big names like Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, and Liv Tyler, and you have a dazzling sci-fi disaster flick.
18 Fantastic Planet (1973)
Originally released in 1973, Fantastic Planet is an experimental animated film directed by the late René Laloux, and it’s easily one of the most visually-striking films in Max’s vast catalog. Taking place in the distant future, humanity is nothing more than a set of playthings for the “Traags,” a race of gigantic, blue-tinted humanoids with vivid red eyes. It focuses on the relationship between an orphaned human, Terr, and their caretaker, Tiwa, as a newfound exchange of knowledge may lead to a cultural and technological revolution between the two groups.
Considered to be an allegorical story about the rights of human beings and animals, Fantastic Planet is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s a film that perfectly captures the eerily alien experience of being in an unfamiliar world. Even if you’re not a huge science-fiction or animation fan, it’s still worth watching just for the beautiful animation on display.
17 Dune (2021)
We’ll start right off with one of the best sci-fi films in recent years, Dune. Don’t pay attention to its detractors. This is a science fiction movie that managed to capture the spirit that many deemed impossible to film.
Denis Villeneuve’s epic is only the first chapter of a series of movies about a young warrior who must participate in the galaxy’s war for a precious substance. Do yourself a favor and see this one on the biggest screen you have, with the sound mashing down your brain.
16 Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
One of Tom Cruise’s films that doesn’t get talked about enough. 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow is incredibly good fun, and it puts Cruise alongside a fantastic Emily Blunt. They both play soldiers who gained the incredible ability to relive the same day in time over and over again every time they die or fall asleep.
Blunt’s character dealt with the time loop situation first, making her an expert in the field. Tom Cruise relived multiple days of training to be able to pull off his mission, though it doesn’t come without pain and hardship. The visual effects on this one are fantastic, and fans were left wishing for a sequel to live, die, and repeat once again.
15 Ex Machina (2015)
A great thriller film that’s shrouded by a fantastic use of science fiction, Ex Machina by Alex Garland is a film that gets better and better every time you watch it. The story is about a programmer who is picked by a computer wiz to do a Turing test on a robot.
We still can’t believe this was Garland’s first feature as a director, though he had worked on other films in that capacity before. Ex Machina‘s visual effects were mesmerizing, as were the performances from Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander.
14 Greenland (2020)
Greenland is a very underrated film released in 2020. This one’s more of a disaster film but we like to think it’s got some sci-fi elements, as the threat is coming from the sky. The story focuses on a family of three who become separated just as they’re picked for emergency sheltering. .
This is one of those films where characters are human above everything, and their actions are similar to what anyone would do when facing a crisis. Trust us, you won’t regret choosing this one today.
13 District 9 (2009)
Neill Blomkamp’s apartheid-themed District 9 is one hell of an original film. It tells the story of a government agent who becomes “infected” during a forced relocation task. The film’s dark and awkwardly funny tone allows the experience to be poignant and more relevant than we think.
Blomkamp’s debut snatched up a Best Picture nomination at the 82nd Academy Awards and the film seemed primed to launch the director’s career. Unfortunately, his follow-up films never had the same impact as District 9, and his most recent effort with Gran Turismo failed to impress critics or fans.
12 Donnie Darko (2001)
Some of us are still trying to find out what Donnie Darko is really about. Is it a psychological thriller? Is it science fiction? Is it a surreal drama about a sleepwalking teenager with the ability to know when the world will end?
In any case, it’s for you to decide when you decide to give a chance to the Richard Kelly film that features an extraordinary cast of familiar faces in a very bizarre genre film. But by all means, stay away from the sequel that follows his younger sister in a story that somehow made even less sense.
11 Ready Player One (2018)
Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is terrific. It doesn’t shy away from its fan servicing aspect, and it’s actually based on a compelling story. It’s got enough Easter eggs to make a drinking game out of it.
And even if you don’t care for its lead character, you will probably fall in love with the world he’s playing in. We still don’t know if Black Panthershould have won over this one in the Best Visual Effects category that year.
10 Solaris (1972)
Time to get weird. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is a science fiction classic with a theme that will surely get under your skin. It tells the story of a psychologist who travels to a space station to investigate the emotional breakdowns of the scientists that live there.
Soon he begins experiencing the same phenomena that the other men witnessed. The appearance of his wife on the station, when her presence was an impossibility, caused the psychologist to start opening up to the possibility of phenomena. Of Tarkovsky’s films, Solaris is one of the friendliest.
9 Stalker (1979)
And you thought it couldn’t get weirder. Stalker is also by Andrei Tarkovsky, only this time he takes us to the Zone, where your darkest desires can come true. Be careful when planning a double feature night and getting the two Tarkovsky films on the schedule.
You will probably need a new brain before going to bed. That is if you care to sleep that night while you think of Stalker‘s approach to existentialism. This one is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.
8 Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
James Cameron’s latest and the sequel to the 2009 film, Avatar: The Way of Water is a great cinematic experience. Its story may be divisive, but Cameron’s dedication to details is a gift we can’t help but surrender to.
In the second film, the Na’vi are forced to migrate to a land where water is the main element. Cameron raises the stakes as usual and achieves a beautiful film where physics is simply impossible. Try to see this one on the biggest screen possible. You won’t regret it.