Happy February, Polygon readers and sci-fi fans! This month, we’ve got five (inter)stellar sci-fi movies for you to check out on Netflix as the weather warms up and we head into spring.
Our February selections include science fiction offerings from South Korea, China, Australia, and the U.S. We’ve got a new animated project from celebrated live-action director Richard Linklater (School of Rock), a new live-action project from celebrated animation director Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan), one of the highest-grossing movies ever made, and plenty more to dig into!
Let’s dive in.
Run time: 2h 4m
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough
Before Joseph Kosinski took Tom Cruise to the skies in Top Gun: Maverick, he took him into the grim future of 2077 Earth in 2013’s Oblivion, which is the kind of the movie best experienced without reading anything about its story first. Suffice to say that Cruise starts the story as a survivor of a planet-devastating apocalypse, left behind alongside partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to guard a series of planetary energy generators. But there’s a sense of ominous threat hanging over him and his interactions with his space-dwelling boss, Sally (Melissa Leo), and before long, the threat pays off in new information that changes everything. Like Maverick, Oblivion is a glossy, tech-driven movie with a blockbuster sense of pacing and plenty of action. Unlike Maverick, it’s also a series of unfolding and engaging surprises, well worth experiencing unspoiled. —Tasha Robinson
Run time: 1h 38m
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Kang Soo-yeon, Kim Hyun-joo, Ryu Kyung-soo
The latest movie from modern sci-fi master Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan, Psychokinesis, Hellbound), JUNG_E is set in a climate change-ravaged future where warring bands of human space colonies have been fighting it out for decades. The movie follows a scientist (Kang Soo-yeon) who has been tasked with cloning the perfect AI soldier from the brain of her comatose mother, a legendary mercenary in her time.
A great example of staging a small conflict within a larger one, JUNG_E thrives on its intricate designs of the tech and robots on display. The mechanical whirs of the machines bring life to the movie, as does the moving performance of Kang Soo-yeon in the lead role. While touching on many old sci-fi staples around artificial intelligence, the presence of data collection in the movie presents a new twist on a classic sci-fi question. —Pete Volk
The Wandering Earth
Run time: 2h 5m
Director: Frant Gwo
Cast: Wu Jing, Qu Chuxiao, Li Guangjie
A big-budget science fiction project out of China, The Wandering Earth was a mega box-office hit. It is the fifth highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time (the four above it have all been released in the past decade as well), and a sequel is currently out in theaters.
That sequel is reason enough to check out The Wandering Earth this February, but it’s an interesting movie on its own merits.
Adapted from a short story by Liu Cixin (best known for The Three-Body Problem), The Wandering Earth takes place in the year 2058. With disaster looming in the form of an expanding sun due to explode soon, the leaders of Earth decide to propel the planet far away to safety.
Director Frant Gwo has said 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator 2, and Interstellar are his three favorite sci-fi movies, and that they had a big influence on the production of The Wandering Earth. It’s big-budget spectacle with one of the world’s biggest movie stars (Wu Jing, who starred in both of the top two highest-grossing Chinese movies of all time as well) — perfect for a bucket of popcorn on a February night. —PV
I Am Mother
Run time: 1h 53m
Director: Grant Sputore
Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank
Where M3GAN is the goofy, audience-pleasing take on modern AI horror, 2019’s I Am Mother is the darker and more personal side — it’s a movie that unfolds with all the claustrophobia and rigor of a single-set stage play, but with cinematic effects and chilling visuals. A teenager with no name but Daughter (Clara Rugaard) grows up in a shelter, raised by a robot named Mother (Rose Byrne), and rebelling in typical teenage ways — until a wounded stranger (Hilary Swank) comes to their door, begging for assistance and upending their tenuous relationship. It’s a taut, small, immersive thriller, heavy on character dynamics and careful reveals, but it has all the tension of a Terminator movie, as it becomes clear how strong and implacable Mother is, and how potentially merciless. —TR
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Run time: 1h 37m
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Milo Coy, Jack Black, Lee Eddy
Richard Linklater’s animated memoir about growing up in Texas in the 1960s may not entirely feel like science fiction — at times, it’s almost more like a documentary about a particular era and area of American life, mixing the universal and the highly specific. (Linklater’s very large family makes for a lot of home-life accommodations that may boggle viewers’ minds if they didn’t come from similar dynamics.) But Linklater’s avatar — Stanley, a fourth grader in 1969 during NASA’s push to put people on the moon — also indulges in fantasies that Linklater puts directly on the screen, as NASA recruits him for a secret astronaut mission that melds his real life, the history going on around him, and his wildest dreams of being exceptional. It’s a strange, sweet, inviting film — and a beautiful, visually driven one, rotoscoped in a calmer version of the computerized rotoscoping Linklater used in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. The space scenes stand out, both as good straight-faced comic fun, and as immersive, detail-driven adventure. —TR