It’s March, Polygon readers. As the calendar turns toward spring and the temperature starts to heat up a bit, what better way to spend the season than watching some quality science fiction?
Each month, the curation team at Polygon selects five great sci-fi movies on Netflix for you to enjoy at home, prioritizing those that are the best fit for that month. This time around, we have movies from exciting filmmakers attached to fun new projects, movies led by actors with recent theatrical releases, and two can’t-miss anime selections good for any time of the year.
Let’s dive into it.
Run time: 1h 35m
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Cast: Gerard Butler, Logan Lerman, Michael C. Hall
Over the past few years, I will often suddenly sit straight up and ask aloud, “What the hell are Neveldine and Taylor up to?” Finally, we have a bit of an answer.
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were a groundbreaking filmmaking duo who embraced chaos cinema, using frenetic editing and visual excess to create unique sensory experiences like the Crank movies, the criminally underrated Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and, of course, the Gerard Butler-led video game movie Gamer. They haven’t worked together since Spirit of Vengeance, but Taylor directed most of the Christopher Meloni show Happy! and, most recently, is attached to the upcoming Hellboy movie (which seems to have the potential to actually be good). That’s exciting news for those of us who like the particular visual flair he brings to his projects (or those of us who like Hellboy).
Back to Gamer — it’s a movie not without its flaws (some of the attempts at social commentary with regard to our obsession with virtual worlds miss the mark, especially the movie’s odious relationship with fatness), but it’s a unique visual experience that anticipated many upcoming trends in how we interact in a digital world. Set in the near future, Gamer’s world revolves around two virtual reality video games: Society (kind of like Second Life) and Slayers (kind of like Call of Duty). The twist? Players’ avatars aren’t virtual, but real people. Society’s avatars are “willing” (read: largely lower-class) participants who get paid for the use of their bodies, while Slayers’ body pool comes from death row inmates.
Slayers is also a popular television event akin to a live sport (but with much more blood and mayhem). The most famous participant is John “Kable” Tillman (Gerard Butler), on an unprecedented winning streak under the control of annoying rich teenager Simon (Logan Lerman). Together, Kable and Simon are contacted by an underground resistance hoping to expose the corrupt inventor of the games (Michael C. Hall) and attempt to break free of the system they are trapped in. With that new Hellboy movie coming up at some point, it’s a great time to sate your anticipation with more Taylor (and Neveldine) chaos. —Pete Volk
Run time: 1h 46m
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Cast: Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Sora Amamiya
Tsutomu Nihei is a household name for any avid anime and manga enthusiast who counts themselves as a fan of dystopian sci-fi worlds with an emphasis on post-human characters and Giger-esque monstrosities. Nihei’s 1997 sci-fi manga Blame! is considered the ur-text of this particular brand of Japanese cyberpunk fiction, one which imagines an enormous megastructure that has become so vast it has practically consumed the entire planet in a mass of towering black spires and a web of utility wires. Director Hiroyuki Seshita’s 2017 adaptation does an admirable job of abbreviating the central storyline of the original series to fit into a feature film, and although its art style can’t really compare to the distinctive monochromatic and maximalist aesthetic of the Nihei’s manga, it still manages to look pretty impressive by its own merit.
Set in a distant future, the Earth has been reshaped by an advanced technological “virus” that has resulted in multi-level city blocks of machinery spanning outward across every inch of the planet’s surface. Most of what we would call “humanity” has died out, replaced by descendants who are neither entirely human nor entirely machine. Killy, a mysterious android wanderer armed with a powerful hand-cannon, rescues a village of these sorta-humans and asks them for their help in finding a mysterious McGuffin known as the “Net Terminal Gene.” Much like the manga, the story isn’t really the point of Blame, nor is it the root of the film’s appeal. There are two primary reasons to watch Blame, which are (a) to gawk at vast, ominous-looking megastructures and vistas populated by terrifying robot creatures and (b) watch Killy get into sick-ass fights with said robot creatures and even more terrifying sentient hostiles. If that sounds like something you’d be into, I highly recommend you give this one a watch. —Toussaint Egan
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway
Run time: 1h 35m
Director: Shuko Murase
Cast: Kensho Ono, Junichi Suwabe, Reina Ueda
“How do I get into Gundam?” is a question often asked by avid anime enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Part of the reason why it’s such a common point of discussion is because over the roughly 44 years since series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s original anime first aired on Japanese television, the Gundam franchise has grown to encompass several different sequel series and offshoots relegated to their own respective continuities. The question naturally evolves into one of these four prompts: Do you start with the original continuity that started it all (“Universal Century”; 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam)? Do you start with the first offshoot that drastically revamped the tone and style of the original (“Future Century”; 1994’s Mobile Fighter G Gundam)? Do you start with the continuity widely cited as popularizing Gundam in the West (“After Colony”; 1995’s Mobile Suit Gundam Wing)? Or do you start with one of the other innumerable continuities that have spawned out of the franchise in the years since (2015’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, 2022’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, etc.)?
Truthfully, the answer to this question is largely dependent on the individual asking it, their own respective taste, and what attributes first drew their interest to Gundam in the first place. For what it’s worth: I think the 1979 original series (and the reedited movie trilogy), 1996’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, and Mobile Fighter G Gundam are perfectly good entry points for the Gundam-curious.
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway, the 2021 feature film directed by Shuko Murase (Witch Hunter Robin, Blade Runner Black Out 2022) and adapted from Tomino’s 1989 light novel sequel to 1987’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, is admittedly not the best place for those looking to get into Gundam. That said, I will say that — despite the likely confusion that might come out of a lack of prior knowledge of the series’ pivotal events, Murase’s film remains a visually fascinating and narratively provocative espionage thriller by way of a mecha drama.
Set 26 years after the events of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway follows the story of Hathaway Noa, an environmental official who helps to thwart an attempted hostage situation aboard an Earth Federation shuttle perpetrated by Mafty, an anti-government ecoterrorist organization. In truth, however, Hathaway himself is the true leader of Mafty, exacting revenge on the Earth Federation for its destruction of the planet and his unresolved war trauma from fighting beside Amuro Ray during the Seven Year War. Piloting the experimental (and stolen) RX-105 Gundam, Hathaway must stay one step ahead of the Earth Federation officials tasked to uncover his identity while enacting his plan to dismantle the organization from the inside. If that sounds interesting to you, don’t let a lack of prior experience with Gundam put you off from checking out this awesome movie. You’ll be glad you did! —TE
Run time: 1h 42m
Director: Dean Parisot
Cast: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Galaxy Quest follows the story of the disgruntled cast members of the fictional canceled sci-fi adventure series Galaxy Quest, who are abducted by a race of aliens known as the Thermians who mistake the show for reality. Starring Tim Allen (Toy Story), Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Sam Rockwell (Moon), Tony Shalhoub (Monk), Daryl Mitchell (NCIS: New Orleans), and the late Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), Galaxy Quest is a loving parody of Star Trek and the series’ fandom, and even if somehow you’re not familiar with either one of those things, it’s a hilarious sci-fi comedy that’s earned its status as a cult classic among its own devoted fan base. —TE
Run time: 1h 46m
Director: Liam O’Donnell
Cast: Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic, Jonny Weston
In 2010, the Brothers Strause (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) delivered a new sci-fi disaster movie, Skyline, about an alien invasion in Los Angeles and the people who witness it happen. Starring Eric Balfour (24), Crystal Reed (Teen Wolf), and Donald Faison (Scrubs), it was a largely forgettable movie filled to the brim with TV actors of the era.
But that wasn’t the end for Skyline. Liam O’Donnell, who wrote the movie, took over the franchise and delivered two banger under-the-radar sci-fi sequels to follow it: Beyond Skyline and Skylines. The second and third entries in the franchise have almost nothing in common with the original (besides the general alien invasion premise — Beyond Skyline takes place at the same time as Skyline), and benefit greatly from O’Donnell’s love for filming action (and for giant prosthetic alien suits).
Beyond Skyline ditches the TV casting approach of the first movie and instead brings in some of the most compelling action stars of the planet, led by Frank Grillo as a detective who leads a group of survivors (including his teenage son, who he was picking up from jail when the invasion started) and supported by The Raid stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. The result is a fun and compelling sci-fi story with great action, and one that requires no knowledge of the previous entry. The third movie in the series, Skylines, is regrettably no longer on Netflix, but is the best of the bunch and definitely worth seeking out. O’Donnell has a lot of exciting projects in the works, including Skyline Radial, the fourth installment of the series, so there’s no better time than now to catch up with this one. —PV