HBO Max is quickly becoming the most competitive streaming service when it comes to feature films, boasting an impressive library of Warner Bros. classics, contemporary favorites licensed through their cable service, new releases fresh from theaters, and a sampling from the Criterion Collection. No slouch in the science fiction department, HBO Max is currently home to some of the greatest films in the history of the genre, as well as some cult favorites. Our picks for the 11 best sci-fi movies currently streaming on the site run the gamut from cerebral social satire to bombastic action-adventure, as well as some films that are a little of both. Whatever your tastes, we hope you’ll find something to your liking.
Updated on September 28, 2021: As HBO Max changes its selection, we’ll keep this list updated to reflect the changes in its streaming catalog. Be sure to check back each month for films that will spark your imagination, as we’ll be keeping this list current with the latest and greatest sci-fi films to hit the app.
Could the advent of practical space travel jumpstart humanity into the next phase of its evolution? In this meditative journey through time and space, witness three quantum leaps in the history of consciousness — one by our primordial ancestors, one by an artificial intelligence, and one for the generations of human beings to come. And in addition to the film’s Oscar-winning special effects (which still hold up to this day), “2001: A Space Odyssey” features one of cinema’s all-time villains and some of the trippiest visuals you’ll ever see in a sci-fi film.
The delicate balance of the Cold War is upset when a ranking American officer goes hopping mad and orders a first strike on the Soviet Union. Unbeknownst to him, the Soviets have equipped a doomsday weapon that will automatically retaliate with equal force. There may still be a slim chance of avoiding a total nuclear holocaust, but it depends on the competence, delicacy, and benevolence of the president of the United States and his military brain trust. In short, we’re all doomed. Well, except moviegoers, who get to revel in the film’s ice cold satire while watching comedy legend Peter Sellers play three wildly different (and just plain wild) characters.
Seven years ago, the starship Event Horizon vanished while testing its experimental wormhole drive. Now, it’s reappeared, and the crew of the rescue ship — along with the Event Horizon’s designer — have been sent to recover it. They find no survivors, but something is wrong with the Event Horizon itself. Could it be … haunted?
A bloody mash-up between space sci-fi and gothic horror, “Event Horizon” was mercilessly panned upon its release but has since become a cult classic. Critics praised the film’s effects but found its wild twists and shocking gore to be a bridge too far. Ironically, contemporary fans have the opposite opinion — the early computer-driven effects haven’t held up terribly well, but “Event Horizon” simply goes for it in a way that modern sci-fi movies don’t.
Nuclear weapons testing has reawakened a giant prehistoric monster that now threatens life in post-war Japan. The beast, Godzilla, lays waste to coastal cities, immune to conventional weapons and indifferent to human suffering. One scientist may have found a way of putting a stop to Godzilla’s rampage, but can he justify bringing yet another weapon of mass destruction into the world? Find out by witnessing one of the all-time great monster movies, which also happens to be one of the best critiques of nuclear warfare and an iconic film that launched a legendary franchise.
Dominic Cobb is a corporate spy who uses advanced technology to enter his targets’ dreams and extract their secrets. Now, he’s been tasked with doing the reverse — to dive into someone’s mind and plant the seed of an idea so deep in their subconscious that they believe it to be their own. To do this, he’ll need to put together an elite team of dream thieves and to defeat the demons hiding in his own dreamspace. The result is a cerebral thriller set in the malleable reality of imagination, boasting uniquely cool visuals and action.
Architect Cecilia Kass becomes certain that her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrian, the world’s leading innovator in optical technology, is secretly sabotaging her life and relationships. But how can that be if Adrian is dead? “The Invisible Man” is grit-your-teeth, dig-your-nails-into-your-kneecaps tense, led by a stunning performance by Elisabeth Moss as a woman whose life is being willfully unraveled. “The Invisible Man” doesn’t waste time teasing the audience regarding wonder or not Cecilia is in real danger — you’ll know even before she does. What makes this film so terrifying is that the viewer is the only one who believes her, and there’s nothing you can do to help.
“Jurassic Park” is a milestone in both digital and practical creature effects, depicting dinosaurs both large and small through a lens of awe, wonder, and terror that’s yet to be matched even by its own sequels. As for the plot, geneticists in the employ of industrialist John Hammond have discovered how to clone dinosaurs from fossilized DNA samples. Hammond wants to share this miracle of science with the world at a new island attraction, Jurassic Park, and invites a group of experts (plus his own grandchildren) to be its first visitors. Soon, they’ll learn that when you mess with nature, nature tends to mess right back.
The Earth is a cracked, ruined desert ruled over by warlords who hoard water, oil, and human subjects. Unwilling to participate any further in the atrocities of the despotic Immortan Joe, Imperator Furiosa smuggles the dictator’s five enslaved brides out of his territory in her armored 18-wheeler and leads his forces on a high-speed chase across the post-apocalyptic landscape, all the while accompanied by Max Rockatansky — the guilt-ridden and nearly mute road warrior. “Mad Max: Fury Road” isn’t just a thrilling two-hour car chase, it’s an emotionally and philosophically rich journey and one of the greatest film productions of all time. But, yes, it’s a thrilling two-hour car chase. Buckle up.
“Fury Road” hits HBO Max on September 9.
A computer programmer who moonlights as the criminal hacker Neo suspects that there’s something intrinsically wrong with the world in which he lives. His search for answers leads him to Trinity and Morpheus, soldiers in a revolution against an invisible but omnipresent system that has enslaved humanity — a system that Neo himself may be the key to dismantling. To save the future, Neo will have to learn to fight on a battlefield where all rules, even the laws of physics, are made to be broken.
The result is one of the most groundbreaking sci-fi films of all time, a movie that gave us cinematic techniques like “bullet time,” incredible quotes like “I know kung fu,” and some of the best shoot-outs and martial arts battles you’ll ever see. Take the red pill, and check out “The Matrix.”
Astronaut George Taylor becomes stranded on a planet ruled by a society of intelligent apes who treat humans like mindless beasts of burden. Captured, imprisoned, and rendered mute by their abuse, Taylor must now depend on a pair of sympathetic apes to either help him escape bondage or to convince his simian captors that he and his fellow human beings are people.
“Planet of the Apes” won makeup artist John Chambers an honorary Oscar for his amazing effects work, and the film — with a screenplay co-written by Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone” — features one of the greatest endings you’ll ever see. Plus, if you’re a fan of the first film, it’s just the beginning of a philosophical, timey-wimey, action-packed franchise.
Psychologist Dr. Kris Kelvin is dispatched to a space station orbiting a strange ocean planet to investigate an apparent mental health crisis among the crew. At first, Kris believes that the scientists living there in isolation are having hallucinations of loved ones, but soon, he’s confronted by a lifelike apparition of his late wife, Hari. What does her appearance mean, and what does it have to do with the planet below? Can their love be real, even if she’s not? Widely hailed as one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, “Solaris” is a strange and fascinating journey into the heart of the genre and one of the finest films from the Soviet Union.