For decades, TV viewers have loved sci-fi shows. When it comes to the science fiction genre, the ability to dive into the most creative parts of the human brain allows for nearly endless ideas and storylines.
Ever since televisions began to appear in North American homes, the entertainment industry has consistently shown hundreds of different sci-fi shows. Some have faded away without much fanfare, but others have become iconic franchises that are firmly embedded in our pop culture lore.
Best Sci-Fi Shows of All Time, Ratings
After exhaustive discussion in our offices (also known as we once had a falling out over lunch), we narrowed it down and ranked 15 of the best sci-fi shows in television history (in our opinion). Enjoy!
Until the very end of Lost, he captivated audiences for six years, telling a strange story about a group of plane crash survivors who ended up on a mysterious tropical island that had polar bears and a deadly smoke monster for a season.
Lost has been a critical favorite since its inception, winning numerous awards, including 11 Emmy Awards and Golden Globe for Best Drama Series (2006). What’s more, the show featured well-written characters and a series of mysteries that drove internet detectives crazy as they scoured every frame for clues and hidden meanings. SPOILER WARNING:
It turns out everyone was dead this whole time, and the island was sort of Limbaugh in the afterlife. Or something like that. The ending was pretty confusing.
The Hundred was originally created as a drama for young adults but quickly turned into a true sci-fi masterpiece. This CW show, which is exclusive to Netflix in some regions, follows a group of teenagers who were punished by expulsion from a vast space habitat that saved humanity after a nuclear apocalypse.
They are tasked with being the first humans to return to Earth, only to find that some humans did survive the end of the world, but have changed dramatically in the 97 years since the disaster. All characters are damaged in their own way, and the series itself raises various questions of ethics and morality, especially when it comes to saving a life.
Fringe borrowed heavily from the X-Files series, which will appear later on this list, as it featured an FBI peripheral. (get it? Fringe!) investigation of crimes with mysterious, unexplained, or paranormal circumstances.
The show, starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, and John Noble, lasted five seasons and gradually transformed from a mystery of the week format to a more widely serialized one.
The show, partly produced by J.J. Abrams, explored every aspect like parallel universes and alternate timelines. For example, in one universe, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York did not bring down the buildings of the World Trade Center, leaving them intact to be part of the show.
12. Orphan Black
One of the newest shows on this list (Orphan Black is still on top after four seasons) and also one of the most unique. Tatiana Maslani plays Sarah Manning, but also plays several other personalities who happen to be cloned. The show is well worth watching to see how Maslani seamlessly morphs into multiple characters.
Overall, however, Orphan Black is a dark sci-fi thriller that explores the ethics of human cloning, complete with an Illuminati-like religious conspiracy group that the series refers to as Spans.
At the moment, the series has five seasons and 50 episodes. The series has won numerous awards, most notably the Canadian Screen Awards, as the show is filmed and produced in Toronto, Ontario.
11. Black Mirror
The series originally aired on the BBC in the UK but gained an even larger audience when Netflix bought out the rights and started producing more episodes. Black Mirror succeeds because it crosses a fine line between fiction and reality, showing us how society can end if we continue to let technology rule our lives.
For example, one episode tells how the world begins to discriminate against anyone with a low rating on social media. The other has an implant that allows people to replay every moment of their lives in their head (or on TV), essentially eliminating all secrets. Disturbing stuff, but spectacular to look at.
10. Stargate SG-1
Stargate SG-1 isn’t the first TV series on this list to start out as a moderately successful film. The original Stargate movie was released in 1994, but by 1997 a whole series had been developed. The show focuses on the Stargate, an ancient alien device that offers immediate transportation to unknown (and dangerous) locations across the galaxy.
The show was unique in that it used earthly mythology, especially Egyptian, Greek, and Norse. Like many other franchises on this list, this first Stargate show spawned many side effects (Atlantis Stargate and Stargate Universe), movies (Ark of Truth, Continuum), cartoons (Infinity Stargate), and several video games. and comics.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Who would have thought that taking a moderately successful film about a Valley girl chosen to kill vampires and turning it into a television series would be such a hit? Apparently Joss Whedon. After seeing his screenplay for a female hero turn into a bubblegum comedy, Whedon will take over Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV in 1997 and never look back.
The series ran for seven seasons. He even spawned the spin-off series Angel, which ran for five seasons. Buffy is commonly referred to as one of the best TV shows of all time, especially when it comes to those that take place in high school. Since the show ended, the series cannon has been expanded with a series of novels and comics.
8. Battlestar Galaktika
Battlestar Galactica is one of the longest-running sci-fi franchises in existence today. The original series debuted in 1978 and was rebooted in 2003-2012. Along the way there were movies, miniseries, webisodes, prequels, video games, comics, and even a board game.
The series focuses on the last remaining humans struggling to survive against the Cylon attacking alien race. An interesting plot twist is that humans seek out the long-lost Thirteenth Colony known as Earth. The show even invented a new curse – the holy tailcoat!
7. Very Strange Things
It might not be worth listing the new series as one of the greatest sci-fi dramas of all time, but after watching the first three seasons of Stranger Things, we’re still happy with that choice.
The original Netflix series came out of nowhere in 2016 to capture the imagination of millions as it blends perfectly with 80s nostalgia, borrowing elements from E.T., Goonies, and Alien to form an amazing hybrid of science fiction, horror, and adventure genres.
Succeeding mostly on the backs of child actors (although several adult roles were also very interesting, especially Winona Ryder), Stranger Things tells the story of a small town in Indiana, on the outskirts of which is a mysterious top-secret government facility.
When some human experiments go wrong, the superpowered child Eleven escapes, but a window to Up also opens, allowing Demogorgon to enter the real world and demand sacrifices.
Futurama has the distinction of being the only animated show on this list, but it definitely deserves its place. The multi-year series, created by Matt Groening (The Simpsons), is pushed 1,000 years into the future and includes everything you’d expect from a sci-fi series – spaceships, amazing new technologies, fully autonomous robots, alien species, and global government.
It is also written by incredibly smart people who use real scientific and mathematical theories as part of the plot. And for all her nervousness, Futurama is deeply emotional – perhaps her most impressive feat of all.
Oh, what could have been! Firefly was a one-season wonder story from writer and director Joss Whedon, and fans have begged for it back ever since it first aired in 2002.
Often referred to as the “space western,” the series focuses on the nine-man crew of the Serenity spacecraft, a firefly-class ship. It was established in 2517 and is a global mega-government made up of the United States and China.
Unfortunately, Fox canceled the show after only one season (14 episodes). Whedon continued the story in the 2005 film Serenity, but sadly it now seems like the show is dead forever.
The X-Files may have had its ups and downs like the show, but it was a true pop culture phenomenon during its initial launch in the 90s. As Mulder used to say, “We want to believe.”
The show began as Monster of the Week but quickly evolved into longer storylines that allowed the characters to grow and viewers to fall in love with them. The series spawned two feature films and even revived Fox in 2016 with a tenth season – a full 14 years after the first ended.
And fans of The X-Files were delighted to know that 2017 is approaching the 11th and final season, which has received very positive reviews from both critics and fans.
3. Twilight Zone
Young people of today who have never been to the “Twilight Zone” consider it a classic version of “Black Mirror”.
The anthology told different stories in each episode, and new characters constantly dealt with some form of paranormal or disturbing event. Most of the episodes included the “moral of the story” or an unexpected ending, or sometimes both.
The show debuted in 1959 and ran for five seasons, but also spawned an entire franchise (and this catchy theme song). The series was first resumed in 1985, then again in 2002.
A feature film was shot, although it is best known for having one of the most horrific incidents on set in film history, in which three people died.
2. Doctor Who
Doctor Who has been in existence in one form or another for over 50 years and continues to be one of the UK’s top TV export products. Over the years, 13 different actors have played the legendary Time Lord on the popular BBC science fiction series.
The series has amassed a large following over the years as the Doctor travels the universe in his TARDIS, helping random strangers and fighting off a huge roster of enemies. Every Whovian has a favorite Doctor and companion. The series is the perfect blend of adventure, science, drama, and mystery.
1. Star Trek
Let’s be honest, there was no other option for # 1 on this list. Star Trek has been a huge part of science fiction culture since its first debut in 1966 and continues to be relevant half a century later. We’re not going to differentiate between generations (The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, or Discovery), although some are definitely better than others.
But overall, Star Trek is a vast universe of people and places and has been entertaining Trekkies for decades.
originally created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek has historically had the ability to predict the future or even solve real-life social problems, such as disguised as a space exploration show. The franchise has also spawned 13 films (so far), as well as a long list of novels, comics, and video games.