Brad Pitt’s newest movie, Ad Astra, goes light on the really heavy sci-fi action and instead chooses to tell a more personal story. More a character examination set in space than ‘space movie’ it’s slower, introspective pace and incredible direction leaves you begging for more. And, unfortunately, it just opened so you’ll have to shell out for another ticket to catch it again. Lucky for you though, Def Pen has put together this list of 10 movies and shows you can stream RIGHT NOW to scratch that sci-fi itch Ad Astra left you with.
The First – Hulu
The First kind of flew under the radar when it landed on Netflix last spring. The series follows a group of astronauts in the near future as the race to become the first humans to step foot on Mars. Similarly to Ad Astra, the series is light on action and will likely be pretty hit-or-miss person to person. However, it’s got Sean Penn in a surprisingly endearing performance as one of the leads and an ensemble of interesting, varied characters. If the character moments and overall exploration of humanity’s obsession with space travel were your favorite moments in Ad Astra, be sure to catch this 8-episode series on Hulu.
The Expanse – Amazon Prime
Okay, so this series is about as far into the action genre as we get on this list. Originally airing on SyFy before being picked up by Amazon for its fourth season. The Expanse is billed by many as a Game of Thrones in space. Mystery, intrigue, violence, and (in the case of its upcoming fourth season) war abound in this series. Basically, if you loved Ad Astra first and foremost because it was set in space, this is the series for you. Of course, the early seasons’ CGI work is rough thanks to smaller budgets but, judging by the trailer we got for the upcoming Amazon-produced season, expect a major improvement from here on out. You can catch the first three seasons now on Amazon Prime Video, with the fourth season dropping on December 13th.
Love, Death, + Robots – Netflix
And rounding out our shows on this list is Netflix’s experimental anthology show Love, Death, + Robots. This one is hard to categorize because the themes, stories, and styles vary so much from episode to episode. However, as the name states, every episode has something to do with love, death, and/or robots. It’s a simple premise in theory but one that’s extremely interesting in practice. Like I said, every episode varies wildly with some featuring crazy realistic CGI humans while others are simple 2D cartoons. Not everyone will love every single episode, some of them get pretty wild, but there’s likely one in there for you so you can pick and choose what sounds interesting. And, considering most of them clock in under 20 minutes in length, its the perfect show to get a quick sci-fi fix without settling in for a 2+ hour movie or extensive epic series. The 19-episode first season is on Netflix now.
The Martian – Amazon Prime
Ok, first up on movies is The Martian the film that, in my opinion, most closely resembles Ad Astra. Mostly light on action and grounded in realistic science, The Martian relies mostly on Matt Damon’s performance. Overall, the film skirts a lot of heady sci-fi themes in favor of almost an indictment of the bureaucracy of modern human existence. However, it’s also a compelling tale of survival and the will of one man to achieve that survival. Surprisingly stacked with big names filling out the cast and the sure-handed direction of Ridley Scott The Martian is as thrilling as it is heartfelt. If for some reason you haven’t caught this already of just want more fun movie star space adventures, be sure to catch this one on Amazon Prime Video.
Apollo 18 – Netflix
Alright, so this may be a bit more of a stretch but hear me out. Flashes of otherworldly space horror show up in Ad Astra, mostly when Pitt’s McBride takes an ill-fated trip onto a research vessel that ends in tragedy. Apollo 18 is that, but for an entire movie. Released during the found footage craze following Paranormal Activity, Apollo 18 has a lot of flaws. But, it gets the horror of being trapped in space with and malevolent force just right. The found footage angle does surprisingly well at building tension and grounding the story in some semblance of realism. But, at the end of the day, it’s definitely more of a turn-your-brain off horror than anything else. If you wished that Ad Astra was more thriller than genre, you’re going to want to at least give Apollo 18 a try on Netflix.
About Time – Netflix
About Time is likely a surprising inclusion here as its marketing would have you believe it’s a romantic comedy. However, there’s so much more going on here. Domhall Gleeson stars as Tim, who learns on his 21st birthday that the men in his family have the power to travel back and forth in time to change their own life. It’s no doubt sci-fi-lite as it doesn’t bog the audience down with overcomplicated time-travel rules. But, the rules it does introduce are refreshing and different in all the best ways. And, attacks some interesting themes on life, romance, and fatherhood through Tim’s relationship with his father, played masterfully by the great Bill Nighy. It’s a wholly unique film that sits somewhere at the intersection of sci-fi, family drama, and romantic comedy. It’s also the only thing on this list I whole-heartedly endorse regardless of where you stand on Ad Astra. Seriously, it’s not perfect but, it’s a damn good watch and I promise you’ll find something in it that you like. Check it out on Netflix.
Prospect – Hulu
Following a young girl and her father in a future where the cosmos are plundering by prospectors in search of valuable gems. After the girl is stranded alone she’s forced to rely on the help of a mysterious stranger and the film picks up from there. Prospect is one of those films that snuck in and out of theaters thanks to a pretty limited release. But, it’s worth a watch as it melds the sci-fi and western genres in a really ambitious way. It’s slow, personal, and claustrophobic as it studies the motivations of varied, interesting characters trying to survive and make a little money while they do it. The film also features stellar performances from both Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher as the reluctant allies whose sense of distrust and unease permeates the entire film. It may not be as high-minded as other films and shows on this list but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a sci-fi buff with a Hulu account.
Starring Anthony Mackie and Margaret Qualley, IO tells the story of a young scientist desperate to save a dying Earth and a man who’s racing to catch the last shuttle off of Earth. IO doesn’t reinvent the wheel; to put it nicely, it’s nowhere near the best film on this list. However, Qualley and Mackie turn in decent, interesting performances regardless and the character exploration because of that is actually pretty good. It’s extremely slow and extremely polarizing because of that slowness though. But if you can stay engaged and interested throughout, you’ll be rewarded with a surprisingly interesting, and satisfying, conclusion for such a surface-level experience. Still, it’s shallow on overall themes and certainly won’t be for everyone. But, if Ad Astra gave you a hankering for more solemn, subdued character study and you’ve already caught The Martian, be sure to watch IO on Netflix.
Ex Machina – Netflix
Ex Machina tells the story of a reclusive CEO named Nathan who allows a young programmer named Caleb to spend a week at his secluded mountain home. Once there, Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava, the world’s most advanced AI, as Nathan wants her to learn more about humanity. Again starring Domhall Gleeson, Ex Machina goes for broke attacking big ideas and complex themes through a quiet and subdued narrative. And it mostly sticks the landing. Some awkward explanations and missed swings happen, as they do with any film. But thanks to stellar performances from Gleeson, Oscar Issac, and Alicia Vikander, any discrepancies are rendered too unimportant to matter. Flirting with the mystery, thriller, and horror genres throughout, Ex Machina explores what it means to human through the eyes of a robot. It’s challenging, slow-burning, and immaculately shot. If you want more of those heavy sci-fi themes that Ad Astra alluded to, check out Ex Machina on Netflix.
Aniara – Hulu
And finally, Aniara is without a doubt the weirdest film on this list. And I don’t mean weird and quirky fun, I mean WEIRD. Full stop. Firstly, it’s a Swedish film so, if you’re not a fan of foreign films you’ll want to stay away. And, if you are a fan of foreign films then you’ll know how weird those Europeans like to get so expect some wild shit. I don’t want to get too detailed and ruin some the film’s surprising and shocking moments. But, it follows a space-bound ark transporting people to Mars after the Earth dies. However, catastrophic failure causes it to be knocked off course and sent floating through space. It takes all the possible themes you could broach in a sci-fi film and turns things up to 11. It’s sprawling and ambitious while at the same time claustrophobic and atmospheric. You’ve really gotta be in the right mindset to catch this one and be ready to see some pretty distressing, if not outright disturbing, imagery. It’s on Hulu if you’re interested, you can also check out the trailer below to gauge your interest.