With the highly-anticipated release of TriStar Pictures’ latest sci-fi outing District 9 set for an Aug. 14 release, there’s been a lot of talk around the digital water-cooler about the best sci-fi dramas of all time. Big or small screen, new or old, we’re here to take a look at the best of the best to come out of the sci-fi genre since film first started rolling.
Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined take on the campy ’70s series "Battlestar Galactica" may not have sounded like a good idea at first, but what began as an underdog remake grew jet engines of its own and set a six-year course for unprecedented sci-fi success. Digging into religious, philosophical and sociopolitical issues that mirror those of the present day while setting new standards in the way the genre is approached onscreen, this sci-fi drama has everything – brains, brawn, beauty…. and some terrifying goddamn robots that want to destroy humanity. Television at its finest.
Far and away the longest running sci-fi show in television history (at least according to the Guinness Book of World Records, who tend to know a thing or two about stuff like this), this infinitely renewable and reworkable series has enjoyed a massive, loyal audience for over four decades.
How could a dozen different actors play the same role on the same show throughout its duration? Why, regeneration, of course! This ridiculous little show about a time-traveling, wise-crack alien from the planet Gallifrey happens to be the longest running Sci-Fi series of all time, and one of the most popular television shows in BBC history. The U.S. is slowly catching on, and who knows? Maybe by the 19th Doctor those of us on this side of the pond can actually make sense of what the hell is happening.
Star Trek (Original Series)
Despite NBC’s cancellation of the show just three years after its 1966 debut, "Star Trek" set fire to the fuse of a million imaginations in ways never before caught on film. Starring the iconic William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, the U.S.S. Enterprise’s "mission to boldly go where no man has gone before" was cut short, but the baton was picked up by a late-blooming success that birthed a cultural phenomenon, resulting in a barrage of spinoffs, an animated series and a dozen films, the most recent of which was arguably the best – meaning we’ll be seeing a lot more Star Trek in the future.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
To say that "Star Trek: Next Generation" had high hopes would be a bit of an understatement; the Sept. 1987 pilot drew an audience of 27 million viewers and went on to become the most-watched of all the Trek series – and easily the best overall. With cinematographic special effects and far more complex, magnetic characters than the original series, "Next Generation" triumphed over seven seasons, claiming 18 Emmys and spawning three films, as well as an entirely new generation of trekkies, for better or worse.
The X Files
"The X Files" was the #1 sci-fi TV show of the 1990s. Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), the believer and the skeptic, do their best to subdue the love story as they spend each episode investigating the most bizarre of paranormal cases. A couple of films followed, but ultimately most will remember the series for bringing aliens and conspiracy theories to the mainstream.
The Twilight Zone
Easily the most clever series of its time, "The Twilight Zone" managed to fly beneath the radar of oppressive social and political standards during its run from 1959-64. Rod Serling’s compulsion to explore the underbelly of society was never widely accepted, but Serling outwitted his detractors with bizarre science fiction tales that contained morality overtones and subtle, metaphorical anti-establishment messages. The result was a twisted thriller that looked like a bunch of disturbing cognitive dissonance to the unenlightened eye, but was commonly a subliminal assessment of the world at the time.
War of the Worlds
H G Wells’ visionary story, adapted and broadcast as news bulletins by Orsen Wells a full generation later, convinced thousands that an alien attack truly was imminent, and all-out hysteria ensued. The film (we’re talking about the original 1953 version, not the modern-day Tom Cruise glitterfest spectacle) brings one of the best sci-fi books ever to the big screen, terrifying and thrilling a new generation of sky-watchers.
The Empire Strikes Back
Far and away the best film of the Star Wars saga, and arguably George Lucas’ finest work. The film’s central placement in the trilogy allows for intensified focus on character development and relationships. We see Han Solo’s reactions to carbonite freezing, we watch Luke discover the horrors of his origin and finally grasp the destiny before him, and we’re finally given a brief glimpse into the humanity behind the mask of Vader. Put simply, Empire is the best part of an epic space opera that our grandkids will be quoting someday.
Harrison Ford stars in this wildly popular futuristic film-noir detective story about a private eye on the hunt for a group of android replicants in Los Angeles of 1999. It’s a nightmarishly gloomy, dystopian metropolis filled with hover cars, gaudy floating billboards and lots and lots of rain. The androids include the beautiful, insanely batty Sean Young and the devil’s own private actor Rutger Hauer, who portrays Ford’s final nemesis in the film.
While the original version included noir-style narration by Ford and an entirely disappointing happy ending, the 1992 director’s cut version fixed that silver lining, keeping things nice and dark.