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10 best sci-fi TV shows of all time, ranked

Spock and Captain Kirk in "The Man Trap."
NBC

The sci-fi genre owes much of its evolution to a myriad of television series that have shaped and redefined it over the years. These influential shows underscore the power of the small screen to captivate audiences, particularly through sci-fi’s distinct combination of innovative storytelling and ambitious visuals. Whether viewers are fans of futuristic technology, extraterrestrial encounters, or dystopian futures, there’s something for every kind of sci-fi lover among the genre’s best entries.

From the groundbreaking brilliance of Star Trek to the modern masterpiece Black Mirror, the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time have expanded the genre’s horizons and left an indelible mark on pop culture in the process. They promise worlds beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, with the mind-bending journeys they depict ending up being some of the most unforgettable adventures ever seen on television.

10. Black Mirror (2011-present)

Jon Hamm in Black Mirror's special episode, "White Christmas."
Netflix

A modern classic created by Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror is an anthology sci-fi series that explores the potential dystopian dark side of mostly existing technology. Almost all of its episodes are set sometime in a near future where one particular piece of technology has become advanced and resulted in sinister consequences for society.

Whether it’s social media actually dictating social standing and power in Nosedive or augmented reality tech that can be used to record every single moment and replay it for others in The Entire History of You, Black Mirror‘s best episodes often feature its most familiar and frightening storylines. While the show’s sixth season has drawn more criticism than usual for Brooker’s divisive attempt at ditching the futuristic for the supernatural, the Netflix series is overall still a treasure trove of acclaimed episodes that fans can dive into.

9. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)

Neon Genesis Evangelion Netflix
ADV Films

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a groundbreaking sci-fi anime series set in a postapocalyptic world where beings known as Angels are causing cataclysms around the planet. Pilots called Evangelions are tasked with controlling giant mechas to go against these enemies, and in the process, they hope to learn exactly what is causing these disasters. One pilot in particular, Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata), reluctantly joins the fight at the request of his estranged father. Shinji’s emotions and experiences soon reflect what other Evangelions go through as they brave increasingly difficult battles.

Hailed for being an ambitious deconstruction of the popular mecha anime genre, Neon Genesis Evangelion set itself apart for its philosophical and existential perspective that invites viewers to think about its complex characters. Many fans were frustrated by its highly anticipated finale, which delivered an abrupt and confusing ending. Fortunately, the demand for a better conclusion would lead to one of the best anime movies of the 1990s, Neon Genesis: The End of Evangelion.

8. Lost (2004-2010)

The survivors in the forest in Lost.
ABC / ABC

A captivating sci-fi drama that took fans on a wild adventure, Lost is centered on the experiences of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 after it crashes on a mysterious island in the South Pacific. When no help arrives, they realize they have to adapt to their new surroundings, which just so happen to have terrifying secrets. For six riveting seasons, the survivors must deal with inexplicable supernatural events, turmoil within the group, and the possibility that they’re not alone on the island.

Key characters like Dr. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly), Hugo “Hurley” Reyes (Jorge Garcia), and more would become fan favorites worth rooting for at every bizarre turn. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Lost became a cultural phenomenon, with countless fans tuning in every week to see what answers each new episode would bring. There would often be more questions than answers, though, and Lost would, in the eyes of most, lose its way until it reached its polarizing finale

7. The Mandalorian (2019-present)

Grogu sits inside his Jedi pod in The Mandalorian season 3 episode 4.
Lucasfilm

Set five years after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, The Mandalorian follows a lone bounty hunter who accepts a job to capture a mysterious asset known only as “The Child” and affectionately referred to as Baby Yoda by fans. As the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) prepares to deliver the Child to those who want him, he hesitates when they form an unlikely bond. This connection soon draws him into the larger conflict between the remnants of the Empire and various other factions.

Contemporary entries in the Star Wars franchise have been inconsistent, to put it mildly, but The Mandalorian proved the saga had the potential to dominate the small screen. As the first live-action Star Wars series, it had a lot to live up to, and the space Western exceeded expectations and had fans hooked on the reluctant protagonist and his adorable companion. With a feature film titled The Mandalorian & Grogu (that’s Baby Yoda’s real name) in the works, it’s unclear if fans will ever actually get a fourth season of the widely beloved show.

6. The X-Files (1993-2016)

David Duchovny in The X-Files.
20th Century Fox Television

The X-Files is a pop culture touchstone that would entertain numerous fans with more than 200 episodes released over 25 years, making it the longest-running science fiction series in the U.S. The show follows FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), a believer in the existence of aliens and the paranormal, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a skeptical scientist assigned to debunk his theories. The duo would investigate unsolved and often inexplicable cases known as the X-Files, which involved paranormal phenomena, extraterrestrial encounters, or government conspiracies.

Featuring a mix of standalone “monster-of-the-week” episodes and overarching mythology arcs, The X-Files had a knack for keeping fans coming back and eventually cemented its legacy as one of the most famous shows ever. Its gripping mysteries and two main characters who had opposing views about them would perfectly align with societal shifts that encouraged conspiracy theories and lack of faith in governments and institutions.

5. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)

Gaius Baltar raises his hand as he is sworn in as President in the Battlestar Galactica episode "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2"
Universal Pictures Television

Battlestar Galactica is a reboot of the far less successful 1978 series. Syfy’s Peabody-award-winning sci-fi show centers around the crew of the Battlestar Galactica, a powerful warship led by Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos). Its inhabitants are among the only survivors after a devastating attack by the robotic Cylons. As humans on the last military ship, the Admiral and his crew must navigate space in search of survivors while evading and surviving the relentless pursuit of the Cylons.

Part of the reason why the reimagining of the series was so successful is its much darker tone, with Battlestar Galactica‘s best episodes using the threat of the extinction of the human race to propel its riveting story. There had also been significant improvements in special effects by that time, which meant the modern series’ visuals were less likely to distract from its well-written plot that would unfold over just four seasons.

4. Doctor Who (1963-present)

David Tennant in Doctor Who.
BBC

Over 60 years ago, the first episode of Doctor Who would premiere and change British television and sci-fi as a whole. The show follows the adventures of the Doctor, a Time Lord who travels through time and space in the TARDIS, a spaceship disguised as a British police box. The Doctor, often alongside a companion, encounters various alien species, historical figures, and futuristic civilizations on his trips. Always trying to help or save others, the Doctor sometimes dies, but no worries, a new face always takes their place and continues the epic story.

Doctor Who is currently the longest-running science-fiction TV series ever and is particularly popular among viewers in Britain, though it enjoys a loyal following around the world, too. It has become an iconic part of popular culture and is endlessly referenced and parodied by other shows. While its seasons vary in quality depending on when they were released and who was playing the titular character, numerous arcs are worth revisiting or discovering for the first time today.

3. Stranger Things (2016-present)

The cast of Stranger Things 4.
Netflix

Certainly among Netflix’s most successful flagship series, Stranger Things is a sci-fi horror drama that uses nostalgia to its advantage. Set in the 1980s in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, the show initially depicts the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), which soon leads to the discovery of a girl with psychokinetic abilities named Eleven (Damsel‘s Millie Bobby Brown). As Will’s friends continue to search for him, they encounter a parallel dimension known as the Upside Down, which is full of terrifying creatures.

Stranger Things appeals to audiences of all ages, drawing younger viewers in with relatable teen drama and attracting more mature fans with its nostalgic homage to 1980s pop culture. There are several references to classic films, music, and video games, with the well-known series credited for revitalizing interest in the hit songs of yesteryear like Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. That’s not even mentioning its genuinely intriguing sci-fi mystery with a hint of the supernatural. Now, fans are hoping it will stick the landing with its fifth and final season that is set to premiere sometime in 2025.

2. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

Three people huddled in a corner in The Twilight Zone.
Paramount

The Twilight Zone is a legendary anthology series that showcased a blend of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy in its suspenseful episodes. Created and hosted by Rod Serling, each episode presents a unique story full of unexpected twists, with characters finding themselves in strange and unsettling situations as they enter “the Twilight Zone.” There’s almost always a surprise ending in store for viewers, as well as a lesson that’s often a hard truth about the human condition.

The pioneering show would inspire future series that would adopt a similar format and approach to storytelling, with a notable modern example being Black Mirror. The Twilight Zone also highlighted how well-written narratives could tackle political and social issues, with the show taking a cynical perspective of the then-current and future state of the U.S. This would clearly resonate with countless fans and critics, many of whom have hailed the series as one of the greatest TV shows ever made time and time again.

1. Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek: The Original Series
NBC

“Space: the final frontier.” These words would become familiar to countless fans as this sentence is uttered in the intro of every new episode by none other than Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) himself. Star Trek: The Original Series revolves around Captain Kirk’s crew on board the starship USS Enterprise as they embark on missions to explore new worlds, seek out new life and civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before.

It would be hard to find any fan of pop culture who hasn’t at least heard of the original series, which is as one of the most popular and influential shows of all time. It would go on to spawn a thriving Star Trek franchise. Released in 1966, Star Trek would eventually be celebrated for its diverse cast and innovative approach to addressing weighty subjects such as racism and diplomacy through allegorical narratives set in space. Its underlying concept alone was groundbreaking, as it presented a hopeful vision of humanity’s future, which sees a society that has overcome its differences and is united for the common good.

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Hannah Saab
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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