Science fiction is one of the most enduring genres in pop culture media as evidenced by the likes of Dune: Part Two on the horizon, and Warner Bros.’s flagship streaming service has amassed a dense catalog of such movies. The fate of what HBO Max will look like within the next year or so might be shaky, given the recent corporate merger, but for the time being, the platform has an excellent selection of movies and shows spanning various genres.
But when it comes to sci-fi specifically, HBO Max has a healthy mix of movies from within the studio and out. From last year’s successful adaptation of Dune to Steven Spielberg’s ’90s prehistoric classic, the streamer has impressive depth.
Frank Herbert’s Dune novel is often cited as the grandfather of the sci-fi genre, as its success in storytelling and meticulous worldbuilding paved the way for many of today’s successful franchises. And it was because of the story’s massive narrative scope that it’s proven to be such a difficult tale to adapt theatrically.
However, sci-fi buff Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune proved to be a critical and commercial success, putting together a star-studded ensemble cast filled with the direction, acting chops, cinematography, and score fans are used to in a Villeneuve feature. It’s the first in a two-part adaptation of the original novel chronicling House Atreides and their entanglement in a political conspiracy and war.
Blade Runner (1982)
A movie that aged incredibly well to the point of being widely regarded as one of the best sci-fi movies ever, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was ahead of its time in 1982. It’s certainly among the best and most influential cyberpunk movies available, and another one of Harrison Ford’s iconic roles on top of Star Wars‘ Han Solo.
The story follows officer Rick Deckard as he’s tasked with hunting down a rebellious group of bioengineered humanoids called replicants. Blade Runner has since been critically acclaimed for using its sci-fi dystopia setting to delve into nuanced themes surrounding the human condition.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
It was decades in the making, but Dennis Villeneuve partnered with Legendary Pictures for the similarly praised sequel Blade Runner 2049. It achieved a strong critical reception despite being deemed a box-office disappointment, bringing back Ford with Ryan Gosling to play the new protagonist K, a replicant blade runner who hunts down rogue replicants.
From there, the plot unravels into a deeply conspiratorial conflict that could shake up society’s status quo. Blade Runner 2049 was well-received for its faithfulness to expanding the franchise’s mythos first put to screen by Scott in the ’80s, as well as its stunning visual presentation, compelling new cast, story, and social commentary.
Jurassic Park (1993)
More recent entries in the series have unfortunately made the franchise lose much of its identity, but Steven Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel is as timeless as ever. Jurassic Park is arguably a landmark movie in Hollywood history, for dinosaur movies, the sci-fi genre, and the use of special effects.
Following a scientific breakthrough by John Hammond’s team, the entrepreneur seeks to open a theme park with revived dinosaurs that predictably goes wrong. The mix of practical animatronics with CGI is still one of the best to date, breathing a majestic — and even terrifying — air into the dinosaurs depicted on-screen. It also manages to blend a thrilling popcorn sci-fi thriller with a dash of horror, as well as a poignant commentary on the folly of “man playing god.”
Aside from his revered The Dark Knight Trilogy in resuscitating Batman in the theatrical space, Inception proved in 2010 to be among the best and most rewatchable of Christopher Nolan’s movies. Spearheaded by an impressive ensemble led by Leonardo DiCaprio, the story revolves around a professional thief and his team who specialize in stealing information from peoples’ subconscious.
It’s an exciting premise on paper, and it works just as well with Nolan’s execution — mind-bending twists and all. Inception received a strong critical reception for its creativity, performances, and success as a gripping cocktail of science fiction and psychological thriller elements with an added touch of a heist.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The original movie isn’t currently available on HBO Max, but James Cameron’s lauded sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day is more than worth seeing on the platform. It’s one of Cameron’s greatest movies, and arguably even better than the first.
In this story, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic Terminator plays a more heroic role, as this version of the character is sent back in time to protect John Conner, the future leader of the human rebellion against Skynet. Terminator 2: Judgement Day succeeded critically and commercially in measuring up to its beloved predecessor, namely by giving its protagonist more emotional complexity along with the plot, action, and memorable visuals.
The Matrix (1999)
1999’s The Matrix is another beloved cyberpunk movie and a milestone one at that. While the special effects that bewildered and inspired Hollywood filmmaking in the late ’90s haven’t aged nearly as gracefully as Jurassic Park, it remains a nostalgic classic of its time. It takes place in a dystopian world where humanity has been unknowingly trapped in a simulated reality so that intelligent machines can siphon them as an energy resource.
Computer programmer Thomas Anderson uncovers the truth and joins a group to lead an uprising against their oppressors. The Matrix was a clever and entertaining combination of science fiction and martial arts, as well as thoughtful themes of philosophy, religion, and transgender identity.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
A cinematic classic regardless of the genre in question, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most celebrated Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi movies overall. The movie follows the grand voyage of a team of astronauts accompanied by their spacecraft’s sentient supercomputer to investigate an alien monolith discovered on Jupiter.
It’s perhaps one of the most subversive movies, as nothing from the cinematography, script, and score is considered typical in modern filmmaking. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a deeply cerebral experience, touching on bleakly apocalyptic subject matters like the direction of human evolution and the role of increasingly intelligent technology.
Ex Machina (2015)
Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s directorial debut, focusing on four key characters. Domhnall Gleeson plays a computer programmer named Caleb Smith, hired by a billionaire played by Oscar Isaac. The billionaire specifically tasks Smith with finding out if his humanoid robot Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, is capable of sentience.
The concept of technological sentience is popular within sci-fi works, and Ex Machina earned Garland’s debut critical acclaim for its fleshed-out and intriguing exploration of abstract ideas along with some visually striking cinematography.
District 9 (2009)
For a refreshing take on the “aliens among us” spin on sci-fi movies, District 9 is a must-see for fans of the genre. Neil Blomkamp’s sci-fi thriller takes place in an alternate 1982 when a group of malnourished aliens landed on Earth in South Africa. The government then confines them to an internment camp and slum known as “District 9.”
It’s an inventive premise, and the movie was met with strong reviews, thanks to the level of creativity, as well as merging extraterrestrial lifeforms with biting and satirical social commentary of real-world xenophobia and segregation.