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The best sci-fi movies on Max right now

Two men look at a monster in Leviathan.
MGM

It’s become clear that while Max has some truly stellar sci-fi movies, it’s also heavily reliant on much older films to fill out this category. That’s why so many of the films on our roundup of the best sci-fi movies on Max come from the 1980s. But it would be a mistake to downplay the greatness of Aliens, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the underappreciated gem Leviathan.

The most recent addition to our picks is 9, an animated sci-fi movie from 2009 that’s visually dazzling and definitely deserves to find a wider audience in its digital afterlife. Keep reading for our complete lineup of the best sci-fi movies on Max. They’re not all from the ’80s!

In need of some more streaming recommendations? We also have guides to the best movies on Max, the best shows on Max, and what’s new on HBO and Max that are worth looking through. 

9

The Stitchpunk named 9 in the movie that shares his name.
Focus Features

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Director: Shane Acker

The movie 9 is an animated sci-fi story that’s been largely forgotten in the 15 years since its release. The story takes place in the future, as a soulless creation called the Fabrication Machine has decimated humanity and the entire world. The Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) who created the machine realizes that only creations with a soul may stand a chance against it. So he creates nine stitchpunks that each carry different aspects of his personality and soul.

9 (Elijah Wood) is perhaps the most humanlike of all the stitchpunks,who also include 7 (Jennifer Connelly), 2 (Martin Landau), 5 (John C. Reilly), and 6 (Crispin Glover). However, 1 (Christopher Plummer) declares himself the leader of the stitchpunks, setting up a conflict with 9 even as the Fabrication Machine sends its own lethal creations to destroy them all.

Aliens

Ellen Ripley, gun in hand, bracing herself for a Xenomorph ambush in Aliens.
20th Century Fox, Brandywine Productions

Year: 1986
Runtime: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Director: James Cameron

If The Terminator didn’t convince Hollywood that James Cameron was a great director, then Aliens sealed the deal. The original Alien by Ridley Scott is regarded as one of the all-time great sci-fi horror movies. Cameron not only topped it, but he made Aliens one of best action films as well. Nearly six decades after her encounter with a single xenomorph, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is despondent when she discovers that she missed her daughter’s entire life during her journey home in suspended animation.

Because of Ripley’s experience with the xenomorphs, she is recruited to accompany the Colonial Marines to a colony world called LV-426. By the time they get there, LV-426 is already overrun by numerous xenomorphs. The only human survivor is a young girl named Rebecca “Newt” Jorden (Carrie Henn), and Ripley will face any danger to get Newt out alive.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner star in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Paramount / Paramount

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Director: Leonard Nimoy

“My friends, we’ve come home.” If you haven’t seen Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, that line won’t mean much to you. But in context, it’s one of the most perfect Star Trek scenes of all-time. The rest of the movie is also exemplary, even though the comedic tone does come very close to making it a farce a few times. After rescuing Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew prepare to go back to Earth and face the consequences of their actions in Star Trek III.

What Kirk and company discover is that Earth is already facing its own deadly peril, and the only solution to this problem lies in the past. Thanks to Spock’s calculations, the crew arrives in 1986 with a mission to save the future by finding a pair of humpback whales and bringing them back to the 23rd century.

Leviathan

Amanda Pays in Leviathan.
MGM

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Director: George P. Cosmatos

It would be hard to get a more ’80s cast than Leviathan‘s leading players, who include Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, Amanda Pays, and Daniel Stern. Some reviewers referred to this film as “Aliens underwater,” and that’s a fair assessment. Weller plays Steven Beck, the latest addition to an undersea mining crew that includes Elizabeth “Willie” Williams (Pays), Justin Jones (Hudson), Buzz “Sixpack” Parrish (Stern), and Dr. Glen “Doc” Thompson (Richard Crenna).

After finding a disabled Russian submarine called Leviathan, the crew members gradually realize that a deadly experiment that was started on that sub has come over to their ship as well. And the monster in question uses the flesh of its victims to take the form of something new and terrifying.

RoboCop

Peter Weller in Robocop.
Orion Pictures / Orion Pictures

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Director: Paul Verhoeven

The original RoboCop strikes a balance between serious sci-fi and truly hilarious satire that never veers into farce. Director Paul Verhoeven pulled that off with the help of his leading man, Peter Weller, who still manages to convey RoboCop’s humanity with just the lower half of face for most of the movie. In the near future, the corporation OCP is in charge of Detroit’s police department. When OCP Senior President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) stumbles with his brutally lethal ED-209 law enforcement robots, his rival, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), sees his chance to push the RoboCop project.

But for a man to become a machine, he has to die first. And it’s not long before Officer Alex Murphy (Weller) is murdered by one Jones’ criminal underlings, Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). Upon his revival as a cyborg, Murphy is initially the perfect candidate to be RoboCop. Yet soon enough, Murphy remembers who he was and how he died. This sends Murphy on a quest for justice that he may not be able to finish by himself.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek II.
Paramount Pictures

Year: 1982
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Director: Nicholas Meyer

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has been called the film that saved the franchise, and it was a vast improvement over Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Director and uncredited screenwriter Nicholas Meyer rediscovered Star Trek’s inherent humanity by giving Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner at his very best) a lot to dwell on even before his old enemy, Khan (Ricardo Montalbán) returns. Kirk is really feeling his age, and he’s later dismayed by the fact that the son he barely knows, David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), hates him.

Kirstie Alley made her screen debut as Saavik in this film, and she’s absolutely terrific as a Vulcan who shows more emotion and vulnerability than most. But this film also belongs to Leonard Nimoy, who gets some of the best material he ever had to play as Spock realizes that saving his friends from Khan will require a sacrifice. The conclusion of the story is truly moving, and a reminder of just how great the franchise can be.

Predators

The cast of Predators.
20th Century Studios

Year: 2010
Runtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Director: Nimród Antal

The first two Predator movies withheld a lot of information about the titular threats from another world. Predators shed a little bit more light on the creatures, including some deadly class divisions. But as before, the human characters are at the forefront. Adrien Brody stars as Royce, a mercenary who finds himself trapped on an alien planet alongside other survivors including Edwin (Topher Grace), Isabelle (Alice Braga), and Stans (Walton Goggins).

When the group encounters Noland (Laurence Fishburne), he explains that the Predators have been using this world as their personal hunting grounds … and they always hunt as a trio. Getting off this planet may require an unconventional alliance, if the humans can trust each other long enough to free a sympathetic Predator.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

The cast of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Orion Pictures

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Director: Stephen Herek

Strange things are indeed afoot at the Circle K as the sci-fi comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure introduces Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) to their future selves, courtesy of their mentor from the future, Rufus (George Carlin). Because Bill and Ted are destined to change the world for the better, Rufus lends them his time machine to help them create a history report that they need to ace to graduate high school.

However, thinking isn’t necessarily Bill and Ted’s strong point, as the dim-witted duo causes havoc throughout the time stream while bringing several historical figures to the present, including Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri), Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron), and Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David).

Mad Max: Fury Road

Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Roadshow Entertainment

Year: 2015
Runtime: 2 hours, 1 minute
Director: George Miller

If you were expecting a smooth transition from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome to Mad Max: Fury Road, then you’re going to be disappointed. But you won’t be disappointed by Fury Road itself, which may be among the best action movies ever made. Tom Hardy takes over the leading role of  “Mad Max” Rockatansky from Mel Gibson, and he immediately loses the spotlight in his own film to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who will be featured in the upcoming prequel film Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Max and Furiosa don’t necessarily get along – much like the strained relationship that Hardy and Theron reportedly had on the set – but they do have a common enemy in Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a warlord who sends his forces after this unlikely duo as they attempt to escort Joe’s estranged wives to safety.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

The cast of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.
20th Century Studios

Year: 2015
Runtime: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Director: Wes Ball

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Love Actually‘s Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the other survivors from The Maze Runner are back in the sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. After being evacuated from the Glade, Thomas and his friends accept shelter from Janson (Aidan Gillen) at his facility as they learn more about WCKD and the deadly Flare Virus that devastated humanity.

However, Janson’s sanctuary isn’t what it seems, and Thomas is forced to lead his Gladers into danger once again as they cross through the wasteland known as the Scorch. But Janson and WCKD aren’t about to let their human experiments escape so easily, which forces Thomas’ group to elude WCKD troops while navigating the deadliest areas of the Scorch.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Elle Fanning and Alex Sharp in How To Talk To Girls At a Party.
A24

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Director: John Cameron Mitchell

From the title alone, it would be difficult to guess that How to Talk To Girls at Parties is a sci-fi film. But that was part of the surprise behind the original short story by Neil Gaiman (The Sandman). For awkward young men, talking to members of the opposite sex might as well be like speaking to aliens. In this case, the girl Enn (Alex Sharp) falls for at a party is an alien named Zan (Elle Fanning).

One of the reasons that Enn and Zan appeal to each other is that they’re both rebelling against their elders. Enn has embraced the punk movement, and Zan just wants to know more about life on Earth. Their burgeoning romance has unexpected consequences, leading to a showdown between the punks and the aliens.

High Life

Robert Pattinson in High Life.
A24

Year: 2018
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Director: Claire Denis

High Life is a film that requires a great deal of patience because it’s not the kind of sci-fi movie with thrills or a lot of action. Instead, it’s the story of a doomed spaceship in space that is staffed by prisoners who would have otherwise faced death sentences on Earth.

Robert Pattinson stars in the film as Monte, one of the few inmates on the ship who is relatively well-adjusted. That’s why Monte captures the attention of Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a deranged scientist on the ship who uses his DNA to create a child with another prisoner named Boyse (Pearl‘s Mia Goth). But as the ship continues on its one-way trip to oblivion, Monte may be the only person who can give his child some semblance of a life.

Dune

Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Dune.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Year: 2021
Runtime: 2 hours, 36 minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve

Impatient viewers may have a hard time with the modern adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune because it really takes its time getting to a cliffhanger ending for the upcoming sequel. Unlike David Lynch, director Denis Villeneuve had the room to space things out, so to speak. The result is one of the most lavish sci-fi epics in decades.

Timothée Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, but a good deal of this film belongs to Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). Despite his suspicions that he was sent to Arrakis to fail, Duke Leto genuinely believes he can improve the lives of the native Fremen and bring peace to the most important planet in the universe. Unfortunately for House Atreides, their enemies have already made plans to destroy them, and Paul may be the only one who can keep his family line alive.

Upgrade

Logan Marshall-Green in Upgrade.
Universal Pictures

Year: 2018
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Director: Leigh Whannell

Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is not a violent man in Upgrade, but he soon will be. Before Grey and his wife, Asha Trace (Melanie Vallejo), were attacked, they were happy and content. In the aftermath of that incident, Asha is killed, and Grey is left paralyzed and despondent.

Billionaire Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers Grey a chance to regain his mobility via implants powered by the artificial intelligence known as STEM (Simon Maiden). Grey soon discovers that STEM can offer him much more than mobility. It can give him the revenge he desires as long as Grey is willing to let STEM take over his body.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Caesar leading his army of apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
20th Century Studios

Year: 2014
Runtime: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Director: Matt Reeves

Before he went on to helm The Batman, director Matt Reeves took over the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy with the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In this installment, a decade has passed since Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Caesar (Andy Serkis) has set up an ape colony near San Francisco. Despite tensions with a new colony of human survivors, Caesar comes to trust and befriend Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the first man who truly tries to reason and coexist with the apes.

However, one of Caesar’s followers, Koba (Tobey Kebbell), is willing to betray Caesar for the chance to kill the humans. And on the other side, the human leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), is preparing for war with the apes. The battle lines have been drawn, and the oncoming tragedy may be inevitable despite the best efforts of both Caesar and Malcolm.

Avatar

Neytiri and Jake in Avatar.
20th Century Studios

Year: 2009
Runtime: 2 hours, 42 minutes
Director: James Cameron

Avatar is still the reigning worldwide box office champion, and it’s back on Max. In the film, director James Cameron took audiences to a distant world called Pandora, where humanity is attempting to take the natural resources from the native people, the Na’vi. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) replaces his late brother on a mission to Pandora that allows him to inhabit a Na’vi-like body to befriend the Na’vi and gain their trust while working for Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Jake quickly bonds with a Na’vi woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who takes it upon herself to teach him about life on Pandora. But the more time Jake spends on Pandora, the more he realizes he’s on the wrong side. Unfortunately for Jake, it may already be too late to save the Na’vi’s world from Quaritch and the colonizers from Earth.

Spaceballs

The cast of Spaceballs.
MGM

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Director: Mel Brooks

Spaceballs is more of a Star Wars spoof than a real sci-fi movie on its own terms. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun science fiction story! Mel Brooks takes aim at all of the big franchises of the ’80s and also co-stars in the film as both Yogurt the Wise and the evil President Skroob of Planet Spaceball. Skroob, Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), and Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) plot to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and steal all of the air from her planet.

The ones who can save the day are the roguish mercenary Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his alien sidekick, Barf (John Candy). This story plays out in very familiar ways, but it’s also relentlessly funny and it never stops being silly. If you’re willing to laugh at your favorite genre, then this is the movie for you.

Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson as an alien in Under the Skin.
StudioCanal

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Director: Jonathan Glazer

Asteroid City‘s Scarlett Johansson stars in Under the Skin as an alien woman who seduces men and feeds them to some kind of alien void. This film stands out because Under the Skin refuses to explain its premise in simple terms, and Johansson’s character never even gets a real name.

When the woman begins feeling empathy for one of her victims, she flees her fellow aliens and attempts to determine if she has an identity of her own. However, she has no true concept of what humanity is really capable of. And she’s about to find out the hard way.

Strange Days

Ralph Fiennes is held by Angela Bassett in a scene from Strange Days.
20th Century Studios

Year: 1995
Runtime: 2 hours, 26 minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Director Kathryn Bigelow and her ex-husband, The Terminator‘s James Cameron, collaborated on Strange Days, an underrated sci-fi classic from the mid-90s. In the near future, memories recorded on SQUID devices have become the drug of choice in Los Angeles. Ex-LAPD officer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) turned his back on the law to deal in memories, much to the chagrin of his friend, Lornette “Mace” Mason (Angela Bassett).

But when Lenny comes across a memory recording of Iris (Brigitte Bako) being raped and murdered, it thrusts him deeper into the dangerous criminal underworld.

Avatar: The Way of Water

Jake Sully in Avatar: The Way of Water.
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

Year: 2022
Runtime: 3 hours, 12 minutes
Director: James Cameron

Disney’s gain is apparently also Max’s gain. Through a content-sharing deal, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water is streaming on Max, and it might be the last new 20th Century Studios release to do so. The Way of Water picks up 16 years after the original film, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), live peacefully on Pandora while raising a family, including their adoptive daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver).

When humanity re-invades Pandora, Jake learns that his old adversary, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), lives on through his recorded memories in a cloned Avatar body. To protect themselves from Quaritch’s vendetta, Jake and Neytiri take their family into hiding and attempt to make new allies among the Na’vi. But they can’t hide forever…

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Year: 2014
Runtime: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Director: Bryan Singer

Inspired by a classic comic book storyline with the same name, X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the few superhero movies that works as a straightforward sci-fi film as well. In the present, mutants are on the verge of extinction, and things are so bad that even Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) are working together to survive. In a desperate plan to change the past, the X-Men send the mind of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the ‘70s to change the past.

Once his present-day mind inhabits his younger body, Wolverine recruits the younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to find Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). If they fail to stop Mystique from killing Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), then their future is doomed.

Monsters vs. Aliens

The cast of DreamWorks Animation's Monsters vs. Aliens.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Directors: Conrad Vernon and Rob Letterman

On her wedding day, Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is transformed into a giant and thrust into the bizarre world of DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens. Alienated from her old life and renamed Ginormica, Susan is forced to live and work with other creatures, including B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), and The Missing Link (Will Arnett).

When aliens attack Earth, Ginormica and her newfound friends are offered their freedom if they battle the invaders on behalf of humanity. But if the monsters want to save the world, they must overcome the alien overlord, Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson).

2001: A Space Odyssey

An iconic scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Year: 1968
Runtime: 2 hours, 23 minutes
Director: Stanley Kubrick

The word “masterpiece” tends to get thrown around a lot in film criticism. But 2001: A Space Odyssey more than lives up to the hype even decades later. director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke crafted an unforgettable sci-fi epic that is told more through visuals than anything spoken aloud.

Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood star respectively as Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole. Together, David and Frank are part of a deep space mission to investigate a massive alien monolith that may be connected to the origins of humanity millions of years earlier. Unfortunately for David and Frank, their onboard artificial intelligence, HAL 9000, is developing some very dangerous and paranoid tendencies that may threaten more than just their mission.

Ex Machina

The cast of Ex Machina.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Year: 2015
Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Director: Alex Garland

You’ll find that machines turning on humans is a common theme in sci-fi, and so too is the idea that machines can be almost indistinguishable from humans. Ex Machina plays with both notions by giving the AI known as Ava (Alicia Vikander) a human face and a very feminine demeanor. Ava is also a lot better at being human, or at least pretending to be human, than her creator, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) suspects.

Domhnall Gleeson also stars in the film as Caleb Smith, an ordinary employee of Nathan’s who is invited to examine Ava to determine if she genuinely has a humanlike consciousness. Almost immediately, Ava manipulates Caleb and tries to turn him against Nathan.

The Matrix

Trinity and Neo in The Matrix.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Year: 1999
Runtime: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Director: The Wachowskis

The Matrix was such a game-changing film that it’s surprising that none of its sequels are anywhere near as good as the original. No one can tell you what the Matrix is, and it’s worth the surprise on the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a hacker by night and a lowly programmer by day.

After years of searching for the hacker known as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), an enigmatic woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) arranges for Neo to finally meet the man he has been looking for. And the choice that Morpheus presents to Neo remains one of the greatest surprises in cinema history … especially if you don’t know what’s coming.