Need a break from the real world? Want to travel to unknown lands, meet otherworldly characters and witness adventures that involve scenarios far far removed from your day to day life? Looking at the news right now, we can’t really blame you for wanting an escape if only for a little bit. That is why we’ve compiled a list of science fiction and fantasy films that will transport you to places you couldn’t ever have visited even if you weren’t already sheltering in place. So if you’re stuck at home looking for more ideas of what to watch to find a brief reprieve from all the COVID-19 info overwhelming your social media feed, take a dive into our picks for some of the best science fiction and fantasy from the last two decades (aka the ones that are readily available to be watched online nowadays).
From modern dystopian classics like Children of Men and fantasy fables like El laberinto del fauno to more obscure films tackling everything from dreamy soccer players, spy kids, future queer sects and immigrant cyberlabor, our list is chock-full of recommendations that are sure to fulfill any kind of streaming mood you’re in. Better yet, as we’ve looked beyond Netflix and Amazon, some of the titles below are available to stream for free!
La región salvaje
Streaming on Amazon
In this eerie film, Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante has crafted two halves of a hypnotic whole. One half is a family drama about Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and her ultra macho husband Angel (Jesús Meza), whose outward homophobia is actually masking the affair he’s having with his wife’s brother (Eden Villavicencio). The other is a body horror flick centered on a mysterious woman whom Alejandra meets and who will allow her to access the inner strength she didn’t know she had. Set in Guanajuato, its fog-ridden imagery adds to the sense of danger and fear that lurks under this seemingly straightforward narrative that just gets wilder and, yes, more untamed as it unfolds.
Videofilia (y otros síndromes virales)
Streaming on Vimeo
Fernández’s film is a psychedelic and hallucinogenic trip into the world of a group of young men and women in the suburbs of Lima. When Luz meets Junior online, she finds someone she can connect with. Junior, who’s obsessed with Mayan prophecies of the end of the world and online porn, eventually meets up with Luz in person kicking off a series of dystopian sequences that suggest the world as we see it may soon be coming to an end. The film mirrors the increasingly warped vision of the world through Luz and Junior’s eyes, with its pixelated and video-based visuals, offering the viewer a chance to experience this apocalyptic image of the modern world.
El laberinto del fauno
Firmly set in the harsh reality of Franco’s iron-clad dictatorship in Spain, El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) uses fantasy to take flight from the horrors of the real world and into the mystery of the fantastical one. Kickass Mexican director Guillermo del Toro uses the classic fairy tale format with a fresh spin to tell the story of a Spanish girl and the three wishes granted her when she meets the mythical Pan. Del Toro is a big believer in and master of the fantasy format, something hard to do well and believably, but his incredible visual style, uncanny CGI world, and gift for a particular style of storytelling knock this out of the park. Turning from the harshness of her life with her evil stepfather (an officer under Franco), 11-year-old Ofelia retreats into the labyrinth of Pan, which, despite its unusual and sometimes scary inhabitants and challenges at every turn, still seems to be a better maze to get lost in than the horrible one she must wake up in. Settle in for a mind-blowing, enchanted evening, but don’t bet on a fairy tale ending.
Children of Men
Based on P.D. James novel of the same name, Children of Men is set in a not-so distant future where there is a global infertility epidemic: no one has been born in over 18 years. Cuarón and Lubezki’s masterful kinetic cinematography guides us through the radicalized United Kingdom which has a furiously successful anti-immigration stance and which our hero, Theo (Clive Owen) will have to navigate if he’s to help humanity’s one chance at salvation: a young pregnant girl called Kee.
Tito e os Pássaros
Tito loves helping his scientist dad, Rufus, with his inventions; Tito’s mom, though, always a skeptic, worries that something will go terribly wrong while the two are experimenting. When Rufus’s latest invention, a machine that can understand birds, starts smoking and sparking, Tito is injured and his mom decides that, for Tito’s safety, they should live apart. Years later, people start falling ill and the epidemic begins to spread: the cause, Tito determines, is fear. Recalling his father’s research, Tito knows that the cure must be in understanding birdsong. In order to save others, Tito must resist falling victim to his own fear. Relying on his friends, Sarah and Buiú, he sets out to find his father and complete the research before it’s too late. Created using oil painting, digital drawing, and graphic animation, Tito and the Birds is brought to life through richly textured and vibrant images that add to the storytelling. It’s like every background is its own character.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
Robert Rodriguez family-friendly spy adventure comedy expanded its world with this 2002 sequel. OSS having a full-blown child spy section meant that 13-year-old Carmen Cortez (Alex Vega) and 10-year-old Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) became full agents like their parents. Their mission in the film ends up taking them to an island full of genetically modified animals. Joining this kickass CGI-enhanced film cast, which already included Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, were Holland Taylor and Ricardo Montalbán as the kids’ grandparents.
Streaming on Amazon Prime
In the lugubrious future (a breezy 2040), Earth is abandoned for interplanetary colonization and only the disaffected remain. Too bored to travel and immunized from the need to sleep, they lounge languidly in ornate interiors, whiling away the hours with hookups. This confident first feature brims with vibrant ambiance and lush cinematography, taking its time to reveal the namesake cult and its rituals, which run just this side of Kenneth Anger. It’s Kubrick by way of Coppola (Sofia, that is) with a dash of Ozon to keep things queer.
When he misses the big goal on the world’s largest stage, chiseled fútbol star Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) flees the public eye; no longer able to conjure the giant fluffy puppies that guided him to superstardom, he is rendered a vessel without a purpose. And thus begins an unexpected journey toward love and enlightenment that involves cloning, the CIA, a Syrian refugee, and Diamantino’s nefarious twin sisters. A perversely pleasurable sendup of Brexit, genetic science, and the ongoing refugee crises, this dazzlingly original feature from longtime collaborators Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes skewers its subjects with loving cinematic gusto.
La obra del siglo
Streaming for free on Tubi
As relations thaw between Cuba and the U.S., Quintela’s striking film suggests that, from a Washington perspective, certain elements of Soviet influence will be harder to eradicate than others. That legacy is evident in the abandoned concrete hulk of the Ciudad Nuclear reactor, first conceived in the 1960s, but whose construction was terminated following the breakup of the Soviet Union. This relic forms a looming backdrop to the daily existence of local communities living in its shadow. Quintela focuses his film on one such family, who across three generations have observed the life cycle of a project that represents the fluctuating aspirations and challenges of post-revolution Cuba.
Uma História de Amor e Fúria
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Luiz Bolognesi’s animated sci-fi flick follows Indian warrior Abequar who is imbued by the gods of his tribe with immortality to protect his people forever. Alive for more than 600 years, Abequar’s story starts in 1566 A.D. while embroiled in pre-colonial Brazilian tribal war, and ends in a futuristic Rio de Janeiro where natural resources are dwindling and water has become a luxury for the rich and powerful. As he reincarnates throughout the centuries, Abequar transcends life and death while relentlessly searching for the soul of his one true love, Janaina. Adapted and dubbed into English as The Immortal Warrior, the 2019 version boasts the voice acting of Rodrigo Santoro and Selton Mello.
Thomas Mathews (Isaiah Washington), an investigative journalist whose world is turned upside-down when his son disappears, is sent to Brazil to investigate close encounter sightings. An American-Brazilian co-production Area Q takes its name from the place where Matthews is sent to investigate possible extra-terrestrial activity: the towns of Quizada and Quixeramobim. But when such sightings begin providing clues to his own son’s death, Matthews will have to reevaluate his entire life’s work.
Directed by Peruvian-American filmmaker Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer is a sci-fi flick set in a future, militarized world marked by closed borders, virtual labor and a global digital network that joins minds and experiences, where three strangers risk their lives to connect with each other and break the barriers of technology. The film stars Luis Fernando Peña as Memo Cruz, a tech whizkid from Santa Ana del Rio, Oaxaca who ends up losing his family and needing to find a “coyotek” to help him find work as a “sleep dealer” — one of many laborers who are connected to the very robots who have seemingly taken over the manual labor. Tackling issues of immigration, this globalized dystopia about cyberlabor is a timely parable for our times.