April 13, 2024

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The 5 best sci fi movies to watch this month

Happy September, Polygon readers!

Summer is finally over, and a slate of exciting new films is just on the horizon. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two might’ve been pushed back to next year, but the future is still looking bright, with Gareth Edwards’ The Creator as one of the most anticipated films of the year. We’ve still got a week or so before that (and more) releases, so why not peruse the best sci-fi movies on streaming that Hulu, Max, and more have to offer?

Each month, we pick five science fiction movies for you to watch at home. This month, we have a kaiju classic, an excellent blockbuster from George Miller, Jordan Peele’s latest hit, and much more.

Let’s get into it!


Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack

Godzilla biting the neck of King Ghidorah with a ruined city in the background and Mothra flying towards them.

Image: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Year: 2001
Run time: 1h 45m
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Cast: Chiharu Niiyama, Ryudo Uzaki, Masahiro Kobayashi
Where to watch: Pluto TV

There’s one breathtaking moment in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack where the camera zooms out from a man in a bathroom to Godzilla crushing the house he’s in with his foot, moving from a full-size set to miniatures without breaking the shot. The movie does this multiple times, transitioning to miniatures with clever masking techniques for maximum impact and jaw-dropping scale, and the joy in the movie’s formal approach energizes it.

GMK is a delightful throwback to the early era of Godzilla movies, especially in its use of miniatures and rejection of a CG Godzilla for the classic “man in a suit” approach. Like many of the best movies in the franchise, it also balances tones very well. It’s funny — in the first 90 seconds, it references both the original movie and Roland Emmerich’s 1998 entry, humorously dismissing the latter’s potential status as canonical — but also very tense in the destruction sequences.

There are few guaranteed good times out there like a quality Godzilla movie, and GMK certainly fits that bill. And with a new Toho entry in the franchise on its way later this year, there’s no better time than now to catch up with an underappreciated Godzilla movie. A note: Hulu only carries the dubbed version, because Toho had the movie dubbed for international release. The dub is very solid, though, with the voice actors leaning into the sincere (and at times silly) tone of the project. —Pete Volk

Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom Hardy wears a facemask at the head of a vehicle in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Image: Warner Bros.

Year: 2015
Run time: 2h
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Where to watch: Hulu

There are action movies, and then there’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic world of his 1979 debut is epic in every sense of the word. Eight years since its initial theatrical release, it remains one of the most impressive late-career comebacks ever produced by a major Hollywood studio — an explosive spectacle of blood, sweat, and roaring chrome.

Set in a world marred by ecological and societal collapse, Miller’s film follows Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a lone survivor haunted by the memories of his lost loved ones, who is defeated and kidnapped by a roving band of scavengers. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the trusted lieutenant of the warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), rebels against her master and steals away his harem of female prisoners, her quest for freedom inadvertently forces her into a partnership with Max as they race across the desert with Immortan Joe’s army in hot pursuit.

What follows is a thrilling adventure filled with jaw-dropping pyrotechnics, perilous stunt work, and moving performances. The long-awaited prequel Furiosa, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth as younger versions of Furiosa and Immortan Joe respectively, is scheduled to premiere next year, so now is as perfect a time as any to prime yourself with a rewatch of the modern masterpiece that is Fury Road. —Toussaint Egan

Nope

A farmhouse dripping with blood and viscera under the shadow of an ominous circular object raining down water in Nope.

Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Year: 2022
Run time: 2h 10m
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun
Where to watch: Prime Video

Not everyone is hot on Nope.

Which is totally fair, considering how utterly strange its premise is and moderately alienating (pun intended) its allegory for the corrosive power of spectacle can be at times. For me, though, Nope stands out as one of the most memorable sci-fi horror films in recent memory, from a director capable of building a career out of bold and original horror concepts that command both critical respect and commercial success.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer deliver standout performances as OJ and Emerald Haywood, the children of a Hollywood horse wrangler, who attempt to capture footage of an alien life form that has begun to stalk their home in the desert hills of California. That life form, nicknamed “Jean Jacket,” has one of the most spectacular creature designs I’ve seen in the past decade: a pulsating, ivory-colored iris camouflaging itself between masses of clouds before unfolding into a nightmarish swath of floating tendrils that feels both angelic and utterly horrifying to behold. Seeing that in action alone makes Peele’s film worth watching, as is the satisfaction of witnessing a talented director leveraging his commercial clout to craft a big-budget horror film that is at once indebted to Hollywood’s past and yet entirely distinct on its own. —TE

Under the Skin

A black humanoid creature holds a human face in their hands in Under the Skin.

Image: A24

Year: 2013
Run time: 1h 48m
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Pearson, Dougie McConnell
Where to watch: Max

Jonathan Glazer is a director’s director. Transitioning from his accomplished career as a commercial and music video director, Glazer has helmed only three films since his scintillating 2000 debut Sexy Beast, with his latest work, The Zone of Interest, slated for a theatrical release later this year. What better time than now to watch Glazer’s most recent masterpiece, the eerie sci-fi horror drama Under the Skin?

Scarlett Johansson plays a carnivorous extraterrestrial masquerading as a human. Stalking the streets and countrysides of Glasgow, she draws her prey in with equal parts guile and lustrous provocation before sapping them of their life in a liminal void of sickly black ichor. It’s a beautiful slow burn of a movie, as evocative as it is unsettling, packed with images and scenes that are as perplexing to behold as they are devastating when understood. Halloween is right around the corner, so why not slip on Glazer’s moody waking nightmare of a film and see how it feels? C’mon, it’s not gonna bite. —TE

After Yang

Justin H. Min as android “big brother” Yang looks after Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) in an orchard in After Yang

Image: A24

Year: 2021
Run time: 1h 36m
Director: Kogonada
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min
Where to watch: Criterion Channel

Kogonada’s tender, soft-spoken sci-fi drama about familial loss and grief is a profound story whose impact can only be understood in hindsight. Set in an idealistic future, After Yang follows the story of a small family and their attempt to repair their unresponsive robotic companion, Yang (Justin H. Min). As the situation grows more dire, each member of the family is forced to grapple with not only the nature of their own understanding of Yang, but what it might mean to move on without him.

While asking the essential sci-fi question of what it means to be human, Kogonada’s film probes deeper at what happens when artificial beings transcend being mere commodities and instead become sentient individuals, capable of cultivating their own interiority and perspective. Colin Farrell delivers one of his most moving performances as Jake, the proprietor of an artisanal tea shop and Yang’s owner, whose personal journey to understand Yang forces him to reexamine his relationship with his wife, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and his adopted daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Through carefully calibrated dialogue, beautiful visuals, and stirring performances that belie oceans of humanistic depth and emotional nuance, After Yang is a unique sci-fi parable that taps into the vital essence of what it means to be alive and what it means to grieve. If you’re looking for a sci-fi film that is unlike anything else on this list, Kogonada’s sophomore directorial effort is the one for you. —TE