The modern era is a bounty of choice for fans of science fiction, with streaming services offering access to massive libraries of both classics and new productions. But as the industry splinters and contracts, you might be noticing that some things you want to watch are completely unavailable, at least digitally on demand.
Rights issues, budgets, and other impediments have turned these awesome productions into ghosts in the machine, with no way to view them except via physical media or seedy torrents. Here’s a list of 10 quality sci-fi movies and TV shows that aren’t available to stream.
Note that this list applies only to US residents (who aren’t being sneaky with a VPN) because of the impossibly complex issue of global rights management.
1. The Abyss
James Cameron is on top of the world right now, with the long-delayed Avatar 2: The Way of Water proving the haters wrong as it creeps up on $2 billion(Opens in a new window) in box-office earnings. That’s why it’s exceptionally strange that Cameron’s 1989 deep-sea movie The Abyss is not available to stream in the US. In the Caribbean Sea, a rescue crew seeks to recover a sunken submarine before a rival team of Soviets gets there. Down in the depths, they discover a hidden alien civilization. The movie was a modest success, but you can see a lot of Cameron’s future obsessions play out in it, and it really should be streaming.
2. The Immortal
This 1970 sci-fi series is deeply underrated and should be available on a streaming platform, but it just isn’t. Christopher George stars as test car driver Ben Richards, who looks young for his age and never gets sick. When he gives his boss a blood transfusion, doctors discover that coursing through his veins is a cocktail of antibodies that can cure any disease. Naturally, his millionaire boss wants Richards locked in a lab to fuel his life forever, so Richards goes on the run. In each episode, he eludes the rich vampires looking to exploit his blood while trying to find his long-lost brother, who may have the same condition.
3. Dawn of the Dead
George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead has passed into the public domain thanks to a copyright-registration screwup, so you can stream it basically anywhere. But Dawn of the Dead, the 1978 follow-up that’s widely regarded as just as influential as the first, is nowhere to be found. Following a group of four survivors as they hole up inside an abandoned mall, it’s a clever and gory send-up of consumerism that is still fresh today. You can stream the 2004 Zack Snyder remake, but that’s a pretty poor substitute. The original is available on all kinds of physical media, though, including the dope 4K Blu-ray version with three cuts of the film and the original soundtrack by Italian horror gods Goblin.
4. The Wizard of Speed and Time
Although streaming has enabled some great low-budget wonders to find new audiences, others are still falling through the cracks. The Wizard of Speed and Time was the passion project of animator Mike Jittlov, who used a dizzying array of 80s-era tricks and tools to create a film like none other. The titular Wizard (played by Jittlov) is a struggling independent filmmaker trying to get his dream project made, but this is something much weirder and wilder, a technologically ambitious spectacle rife with subliminal effects, cameos, inside jokes and more. Disney+ should pick it up.
This German movie released in 2003 seems prescient in how it tackles the ethical issues around human cloning, but we can’t prove that, because you can’t stream it anywhere. Franka Potente plays Iris, a concert pianist who is terrified that multiple sclerosis will render her unable to play. So she gets a scientist friend to clone her and raises the clone as her daughter, Siri. But when Siri discovers she’s a copy, the relationship between mother and daughter becomes fraught. It’s a unique and captivating film that should really be available online.
Though The X-Files is easily available to stream, this cult spin-off show is nowhere to be found. The brilliant Lance Henriksen stars as ex-FBI agent Frank Black, who signs on with a private firm called the Millennium Group and uses his preternatural—but not psychic—ability to see through the eyes of serial killers. Twisty conspiracies were the order of the day, and three seasons of Millennium delivered those in spades. Both Henriksen and creator Chris Carter have expressed interest in returning to the property, so maybe that’ll kick Hulu or some service into streaming the archives.
Recommended by Our Editors
Ron Howard’s 1985 sci-fi feature was a smash hit at the box office, so it’s deeply perplexing that it’s not streaming anywhere. The plot involves a group of residents of a Florida retirement home who swim in a pool that’s charged with a mysterious alien energy that restores their health and vitality. It features a great Wilford Brimley performance made even funnier by the fact that he was only 50 at the time. So why can’t you stream it? One theory is that rights issues over the movie’s music—a common problem in the modern era—have kept it off American platforms.
Woody Allen’s reputation these days is problematic, to put it gently, but you can’t deny that 1973’s Sleeper is a silly little sci-fi masterpiece. Allen plays health-food store owner Miles Monroe, who is cryogenically frozen by accident and wakes up 200 years later. The world of 2173 is an antiseptic police state run by an anonymous “Leader,” and Monroe is swept up in a daffy plot to overthrow the government, with cloning, robots, brainwashing, and more folded in. Other Allen movies are available on streaming platforms, but this one is curiously absent.
9. Liquid Sky
Slava Tsukerman’s 1982 film Liquid Sky is one of the most visually iconic movies of the decade, so it’s especially lousy that you can’t stream it. Set in a seedy corner of New York City, a cocaine-addicted model encounters aliens that feed off the endorphins released in the human brain at the moment of orgasm. Shot without permits on location, the movie’s cinematography overflows with surreal light and color, which is accompanied by a wild synthesized soundtrack. This is an essential film that needs to be added to some service’s streaming library.
10. Nowhere Man
The UPN network wasn’t notable for a lot of good programming, but 1995’s Nowhere Man stood out, earning critical acclaim even though it was canceled after one season. Bruce Greenwood starred as photojournalist ‘sThomas Veil, who wakes up to find that he’s been erased: His wife claims not to know him, his bank accounts are closed, his studio has a new owner. This identity theft is the work of covert elements in the US government seeking to punish Veil for a photo he took of war atrocities. Throughout the season, he travels the United States dodging FBI agents. The last episode twist is audacious. Too bad you can’t stream it anywhere.
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