The best sci-fi movies on Max right now

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Are you looking to get your sci-fi fix in these hot summer months? While Max doesn’t quite have the robust selection that HBO Max once had, it does have access to many of the classic sci-fi movies from the Warner Bros. library, as well as a few selections from other studios like Under the Skin and Strange Days. And the selections run the gamut from science fiction thrillers to thought-provoking drama.

For reasons that remain unexplained, Max has dumped its sci-fi and fantasy films together under the same category, which makes it harder to find what you’re looking for. Fortunately, we’ve already combed through the options and narrowed down the choices to the best sci-fi movies on Max right now.

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. 

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. The reason that this film stands out is that 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.

Ready Player One

Tye Sheridan's Wade Watts looks up to Olivia Cooke's Art3mis in Ready Player One.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Year: 2018
Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg

In the future world of Steven Spielberg‘s Ready Player One, the Earth is so screwed up that most people spend all of their time in the OASIS, a video game-like virtual world created by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Before Halliday died, he left behind a contest for players to compete in for ownership of the OASIS.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the best players in OASIS, and perhaps one of the few who has a real chance to win the contest Alongside his friends and allies, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), Wade dares to take on the malevolent Innovative Online Industries in an attempt to keep their virtual world for the players.

The Animatrix

An image from Final Flight of the Osiris in The Animatrix.
Warner Home Video

Year: 2003
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Directors: Andy Jones, Mahiro Maeda, Shinichirō Watanabe, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Takeshi Koike, Kōji Morimoto, Peter Chung

Why couldn’t the sequels to The Matrix have been as good as The Animatrix? The Wachowskis invited a number of anime filmmakers to expand their Matrix universe, and the result was a visually stunning anthology movie that explores the genesis of the war between humanity and the machines, unexpected stories of love and betrayal, and prequel tales that set the stage for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions

Even without the benefit of the tie-ins to The Matrix’s universe, The Animatrix is a terrific accomplishment in its own right. Don’t skip this one.

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.

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…

Demolition Man

Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man.

Year: 1993
Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Director: Marco Brambilla

The present is rapidly catching up to the future year of 2032, as seen in Demolition Man. And we still haven’t figured out how to use the three seashells. Sylvester Stallone stars as John Spartan, an LAPD sergeant who is known as “the Demolition Man” because of the property damage he leaves in his wake. When the psychopathic killer Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) frames Spartan for murder, both men are cryogenically frozen before Phoenix is awakened decades later. And Phoenix’s uncontrollable rampage is far too much for the future authorities to handle.

San Angeles police officer Lenina Huxley (as played by a very young Sandra Bullock) suggests that Spartan be freed as well to help take down Phoenix. But even though Spartan finds it very difficult to adjust to life in the future, he soon proves that sometimes the old ways are still the best options.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

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.

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 will have to overcome the alien overlord, Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson).

Limitless

Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper in Limitless.

Year: 2011
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Director: Shawn Levy

How far would you go if there was nothing holding your mind back? In Limitless, the new drug, NZT-48, gives Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) such a significant mental boost that he is basically the smartest man in the world while the drug is active. This gives Eddie a chance to attain the success and wealth of his wildest dreams and attracts the attention of a wealthy man named Carlos Van Loon (Robert De Niro).

But all of this comes with a heavy price for Eddie, which includes serious side effects and potentially his death. And when someone steals Eddie’s supply of NZT-48, he finds himself ill-equipped to handle the mounting threats against his life.

The One

Jet Li vs. Jet Li. in The One.

Year: 2001
Runtime: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Director: James Wong

Jet Li gets to play both the hero and the villain in The One, a multiversal adventure that beat Marvel and Everything Everywhere All At Once to the premise by over two decades. Former Multiverse Authority agent Gabriel Yulaw (Li) has figured out that he can become nearly all-powerful if he wipes out his counterparts in other universes. Now, there’s only one left: Gabe Law (Li), a Deputy Sheriff who is at a loss to explain his increase in strength as Yulaw’s powers grow.

With his former colleagues Evan Funsch (Jason Statham) and Harry Rodecker (Delroy Lindo) in pursuit, Yulaw travels to our universe to murder Gabe and become “The One.” And Gabe’s newfound powers mean that he may be the only one in the multiverse who can stand up to his equally strong counterpart.

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in Edge of Tomorrow.
Warner Bros.

Year: 2014
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Director: Doug Liman

It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a decade since Edge of Tomorrow hit theaters, but it remains one of the best modern sci-fi films. In the near future, Earth has been invaded by aliens that are steadily conquering the world. Cruise stars as William Cage, an officer who is demoted to private and sent into a doomed battle against the aliens. However, Cage soon discovers that exposure to the aliens’ blood has given him the ability to relive the same day over and over again. This often means that Cage has to die to reset the day, usually in painful ways.

The legendary warrior, Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), takes it upon herself to help Cage use this newfound ability to become a true soldier. But much to Cage’s horror, he and Vrataski are seemingly always doomed to die long before they can defeat the alien threat.

2001: A Space Odyssey

An iconic scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

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.

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.

District 9

An alien in District 9.

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Director: Neill Blomkamp

Neill Blomkamp’s debut film, District 9, was so good that it has overshadowed everything he has done since. Using an obvious metaphor for humanity’s racism, District 9 presents an alternate present where aliens known as Prawns have been living on Earth for decades in the slums of South Africa.

One of the Prawns, Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), has plotted for years to make his escape and find justice for his people. When a bureaucrat named Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) stumbles on Johnson’s plan, he finds himself slowly being transformed into a Prawn himself. And the only hope that Wikus has to restore his humanity is to help Johnson leave Earth.

The Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.
Orion Pictures

Year: 1984
Runtime: 1 hour. 47 minutes
Director: James Cameron

Terminator 2 is also on Max, and it is visually superior to its predecessor, but in terms of story, The Terminator blows it away. This was only James Cameron’s second theatrical film in the director’s chair, but it set the stage for everything he did after while also making Arnold Schwarzenegger into a star.

Linda Hamilton stars as Sarah Connor, an unassuming waitress who has no idea that she’s been marked for death by machines in the future. That’s why the relentless T-800 (Schwarzenegger) has been sent back in time to murder her. To save Sarah, a man named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) travels from his future to her present in order to keep the Terminator from altering history.

The Matrix

Trinity and Neo in The Matrix.

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 in 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.

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