Greetings, Polygon readers!
This month marks a brave new year, with an exciting new slate of sci-fi releases on the frontier. Dune: Part Two, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, and Mickey 17 are all primed to be among 2024’s biggest releases, not to mention a new Alien movie from Evil Dead director Fede Álvarez and the latest installment in the Planet of the Apes franchise.
You won’t have to wait long in order to get your speculative thrills, though. We’ve pulled together a list of the best sci-fi movies available on Netflix this month, from post-apocalyptic adventures to present-day parables of scientific hubris.
Let’s dive in and see what this month has to offer!
Editor’s pick: Gravity
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
More than a decade since it was first released in theaters, Alfonso Cuarón’s survival thriller about a woman stranded in the most inhospitable environment known to humanity is still as visually and emotionally spectacular to watch in 2023. Sandra Bullock stars as Ryan Stone, a medical engineer and mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Explorer, who is sent tumbling into space when the ship is bombarded with a shower of debris from a nearby satellite. Rescued by her crewmate Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), the pair must find a way to reestablish contact with Earth and do the impossible: return home with no functioning shuttle or hope for rescue.
Inspired by Cuarón’s childhood love of space travel, Gravity was applauded by both critics and scientists for its stunning visuals, captivating lead performances, and scientific accuracy. The innovative “lightbox” rig technology used to capture Bullock’s and Clooney’s performances and simulate the 360-degree zero-gravity movement of the film’s cinematography was a breakthrough in entertainment technology akin to the motion-capture technology in 2009’s Avatar or the “bullet time” effect in 1999’s The Matrix. Cuarón’s film is not only a captivating portrait of human perseverance triumphing over adversity, but a genuine milestone in the history of filmmaking. —Toussaint Egan
Bird Box Barcelona
Directors: Álex Pastor, David Pastor
Cast: Mario Casas, Naila Schuberth, Georgina Campbell
Netflix’s Bird Box Barcelona suffered from premiering too close to season 1 of the narratively similar The Last of Us series, but seen with more distance from that series, it lands better and hits harder.
Set in the world of Netflix’s hit horror movie Bird Box, but featuring different characters dealing with the same alien invasion, it tracks a Barcelonan man, Sebastián (Mario Casas), traveling with his daughter Anna (Alejandra Howard) through a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters whose visual appearance causes human witnesses to kill themselves. Navigating an alien-filled world while blindfolded is rough enough, but Bird Box Barcelona puts a lot more problems on the table for survivors, one of them being Sebastián himself. It’s a movie full of shocks that builds on Bird Box’s world with just enough new information and narrative wrinkles to keep viewers guessing without spoiling the mysteries the original chose to leave unanswered. —Tasha Robinson
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
You’ve almost certainly seen Jurassic Park. A ’90s gem, and a standby of kids everywhere since the moment it was released in theaters, Steven Spielberg’s first dinosaur movie is a fondly remembered classic. But here’s the thing you might not know if you haven’t watched it recently: It’s way better than you remember.
There are good blockbuster movies, there are great blockbuster movies, and then there’s Jurassic Park. One of the best-paced and best-executed movies ever, Jurassic Park is a genuinely perfect crescendo. From the movie’s elegant but exposition-heavy opening, it proves that dinosaurs are wondrous and awe-inspiring creatures, and also that half of them would almost certainly kill you in a heartbeat.
Spielberg’s deftness in jumping from childlike wonder to absolute terror on a dime is so seamless and slick that it’s easy to take it for granted. The sheer fun of the movie and the propulsiveness that it has from scene to scene means you might not notice just how many genres Jurassic Park manages to work into two extremely entertaining hours. When people say that they don’t make movies like Jurassic Park anymore, they’re sort of right. But only because there really are no movies like Jurassic Park. —Austen Goslin