Ten years ago, fans of sci-fi had to wait a week to see the next episode of their favorite show. If they were lucky, they got their hands on DVDs that would let them watch a bunch of episodes at once. And then came the game-changer: Netflix and the binge watch. Today it’s all to easy to spend an entire day watching episode after episode of an addictive TV series. You wake up in the morning, put on an episode with breakfast, and then, suddenly, it’s dark out and you’ve watched eight episodes. That’s a binge watch.
Between The X-Files, Doctor Who, and Star Trek, there are no shortage of great science fiction shows to occupy your time. But what if you’ve seen all the well-known ones, but still need to your weekly allotment of aliens, time travel, and distant worlds? Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve prepared a list of the 15 best science-fiction shows to binge watch. We’ve tried to pick series from multiple sub-genres of sci-fi, so hopefully there’ll be something to everyone’s taste.
15. Stranger Things
One of the more recent entries on this list, but one of the best. Stranger Things has been described as a love letter to classic ’80s movies such as E.T. and that is certainly true. But even if you aren’t feeling the ’80s nostalgia, Stranger Things still has plenty to offer. In fact, variety is one of the reasons Stranger Things is such a great show. It’s part conspiracy-driven mystery, part science fiction, and even has a touch of horror thrown in.
We can’t talk about Stranger Things without mentioning the cast, specifically the child actors involved in this. Given Hollywood’s penchant for casting 20-somethings as teenagers, it’s really refreshing to see actual children in these roles. It also helps that they feel authentic. A lot of times writers don’t write children well, but these kids feel natural. In fact, the whole show as an air of authenticity to it.
We mentioned Doctor Who in the intro, but this spin-off is bit less well-known. Whereas Doctor Who is known as a family friendly affair, Torchwood was aimed at an older audience. In fact, despite being set in the same universe and sharing some of the same characters, the Doctor never makes an appearance, though the Torchwood team does appear in an event for Doctor Who.
Torchwood followed Captain Jack Harkness as he takes command of the Torchwood Institute, an organization that’s tasked by the with defending England– and the world– from alien threats. The show managed to successfully balance action and character drama in a way that few shows do.
The show never reached the same heights of popularity as Doctor Who and was cancelled in 2011. Despite this, it’s still well-worth watching if you’re a fan of the Doctor. Plus, Jon Barrowman, who played Harkness, has announced he’s in talks to bring the series back.
13. The Man In The High Castle
The only Amazon original on this list, The Man in the High Castle is an interesting one. General audiences normally associate science fiction with aliens or spaceships, but there’s plenty more to sci-fi, like alternate history. “What if” stories about America losing WWII are fairly common, but Philip K. Dick’s novel detailing life in a United States divided between Japan and Germany was one of the first. In fact, if you’re a fan of sci-fi at all then you probably know Dick’s work and don’t need any more persuasion to give this one a try.
Dick’s world building is really one of the best parts of this series. The US is divided into three territories: one part ruled by Nazi Germany, one by Japan, and one neutral zone. The show manages to make each area rather grim, but still unique. This isn’t show isn’t escapist fiction, but if you enjoy darker subject matter then it’s a great one.
12. Red Dwarf
Who says science fiction has to be serious? Not us and certainly not the makers of Red Dwarf. The British are known for their dry sense of humor, but Red Dwarf manages to balance the dry comedy that Britain is known for with a heavy dose of pure slapstick. Admittedly, it’s a bit of an odd mixture, but it works rather well in this particular case.
Dave Lister is a low-ranking repairman who accidentally ends up in suspended animation for three million years. He wakes up to, of course, find his crew dead and the Earth destroyed. Thankfully, he’s not alone. He has the hologram of his annoying partner Arnold Rimmer, Holly, the ship’s now senile AI, and Cat, who evolved from the children of Lister’s pregnant cat to keep him company. The show is both absurd and utterly brilliant and if you enjoy sci-fi or British humor then you owe it to yourself to check it out.
11. Stargate SG-1
Space travel is a staple of science fiction. Some shows, such as Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek, place a lot of emphasis on the time it takes for a crew to go from point A to point B. We certainly enjoy those shows, but we can understand why some viewers might not. If you prefer to spend less time on travel and more time exploring strange worlds, then Stargate might be more up your alley.
Having its origins in a 1994 movie of the same name, the Stargate franchises isn’t as old as Star Trek or Doctor Who, but it is one of the most influential. The original series, Stargate SG-1, follows a U.S. special forces team as they use Stargates to travel to new worlds and deal with alien threats. Despite being a relatively recent series, Stargate SG-1 is one of the longest running science fiction shows of all time. It’s 10-season run will give you 214 episodes of sci-fi goodness. Plus, if you enjoy it you can always check out Atlantis or Universe for even more Stargate adventuring.
10. Dark Matter
Six strangers wake up aboard a spaceship with no clue how they got there or even who they are. It’s a simple enough premise, but sometimes the simplest premises make for the best shows. Like all good mysteries, Dark Matter takes its time, letting you to get attached to its characters and learn more about the strange new world they’ve found themselves in. The show’s mysteries are slowly revealed, which makes it all the more satisfying for those of us who enjoy puzzling out a show’s secrets on our own.
While being primarily about the characters and their lives, Dark Matter isn’t shy about giving viewers plenty of action. Of course, that shouldn’t be too surprising considering Dark Matter is based on the graphic novel of the same name and comic books often do action scenes better than most other mediums. We haven’t had time to read the comic yet, but from what we’ve heard, it’s a fairly faithful adaption of the source material, which is always a nice bonus.
9. Orphan Black
One of the most unique entries on this list, the BBC’s Orphan Black is a show that defies genre conventions. At first glance it might seem like yet another show about clones, which is something sci-fi fans have seen plenty of. But Orphan Black does cloning a bit differently than a lot of shows do it. The biggest difference is that Orphan Black’s cloning is based on a more modern understand of the science behind cloning. Obviously it’s exaggerated, but it’s still realistic enough to make the show more believable than other takes on cloning.
Speaking of clones, Tatiana Maslany is brilliant as the entire “Clone Club”. Even Oscar-nominated actors struggle with playing twins or clones, but Maslany manages to make every character feel like a different person. This casting choice alone makes the show worth watching, simply because very few shows do the clones or twins well. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, Orphan Black is worth watching purely as a study in great acting.
8. Battlestar Galactica
Remakes have a pretty bad reputation. In general, they never hold up as well as the originals. But the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica surpasses the original in every way. This one is a lot more serious than the original, but to be honest, we never felt that the cheesiness of the original made sense considering the subject matter.
In addition to a compelling story with some intriguing, if occasionally mocked, plot twists, this show also had an amazing cast of characters. The breakout characters were Dr. Gaius Baltar and Starbuck, but all of the characters are well-written and the cast does a superb job of bringing them to life.
The great thing about this show is that it has a bit of something for everyone. Considering the show’s budget, the space dogfighting is great and led to some really tense moments. The Cylons and the mystery surrounding their human lookalikes gave the entire show a sense of mystery and suspicion.
It’s decision time. You’ve just been handed a technology that could change the fate of universe. An insane alien wants to take said technology from you so that he can use it to destroy an even more evil and dangerous race of conquerors before they succeed in their goal of enslaving all life in the universe. Simple choice, right? In short, that’s the premise of Farscape.
And if that premise isn’t enough to hook you then maybe the creature and set design will. The various aliens were brought to life by the legendary Jim Henson. Even if the show doesn’t hook you, it’s well-worth checking out simply to see the awesome design work that went into it. Visually speaking, it’s one of the more interesting shows on this list and if you’re a fan of old-school puppets and makeup work you should really check it out.
We can’t talk about binge watching sci-fi shows without discussing Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Before he hit it big with Marvel, but after hitting cult status with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Whedon took us to the frontiers of space in Firefly. Speaking of the frontier, a lot of the characters lives and backstories are inspired by the history of the old West.
And it wouldn’t be a Whedon show without a memorable cast of characters with their own repartee of infinitely quotable dialogue. Aside from being absurdly quotable, these characters are also interesting because they’re all human. Most shows set in space have at least one alien cast member so it’s rare for a show like Firefly not to have one. Some might argue an all-human cast would make the show dull, but Whedon pulls it off.
If you enjoy westerns, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any of Whedon’s work then you owe it to yourself to check out Firefly. There are only 14 episodes, but if you enjoy them then you can also check out the movie Serenity, though even that probably won’t be enough to fill the hole in your heart.
We mentioned The X-Files in our intro and while it’s still the reigning king of investigative sci-fi shows, but Fringe is one of the rare shows that can rival and, in some ways, surpass the sci-fi classic.
At first glance, Fringe might appear to be little more than your standard “monster of the week” show, but the writing is what really sets this show apart from its competition.
Not only are the individual episodes intriguing, but the show’s main plot and mythology are very well-developed. Some shows might have a more unique mythos, but Fringe makes up for that by having a consistent mythos that rewards views over time.
Another benefit to Fringe’s clever writing is the plot holes– or rather, the lack of them. If something doesn’t make sense to you while watching then there’s a pretty good chance that it will make sense later on down the line.
4. 12 Monkeys
Ah, time travel and a plague capable of wiping out all life on the planet. That’s like the peanut butter and chocolate of science-fiction. Two great tastes that go great together. Syfy’s 12 Monkeys is based on the 1995 movie of the same name. In fact, it’s actually a remake of a remake, as the 1995 movie was based on 1962 short.
But enough about the show’s history, let’s discuss what makes it awesome and worth your time. James Cole is a time-traveler from the year 2043 who is sent to stop an organization called “The Army of the Twelve Monkeys” from releasing a plague that wipes out the vast majority of life on the planet. Or at least that’s the premise of the first season. The second manages to make things even more difficult for Cole and his allies, and season three promises to be the wildest one yet.
Aside from simply being a really good show, 12 Monkeys, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is testament to the fact that TV shows, despite smaller budgets, can tell bigger and better stories than their Hollywood counterparts.
3. Black Mirror
Anthology shows have a long and proud tradition when it comes to science fiction. The Twilight Zone was obviously one of the first and best known of its kind, but The Twilight Zone wasn’t purely science fiction. It was a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. For those looking for a pure sci-fi take on anthology then we recommend Black Mirror, currently available to stream on Netflix.
One of the things that holds some people back from binge watching a new show is the high level of commitment. A lot of serialized TV shows are meant to reward longterm viewers, but Black Mirror has a fairly low barrier of entry. Its first two seasons are made up of three hour-long episodes that each tell a complete story. This makes it easy to jump in give the show a try. If you do enjoy it– and we think you will– there are reports that Robert Downey Jr. is in talks to adapt one of the episodes into a full-length movie. There is also an American version in the works, but honestly the original is so good that we don’t really see the point.
2. The Expanse
Two-hundred years from now, mankind has taken to the stars, successfully settled on Mars, and have even established mining colonies on a nearby asteroid belt. Sounds totally awesome, right? Well, there’s just one minor problem. Mars and Earth don’t get along very well and are currently in the middle of a cold war that could erupt at any moment. Meanwhile those who live on the asteroid belts, commonly called Belters, are caught in the middle and being exploited by both sides, as well by the companies that run the colonies.
The political tension is the main driving force of the conflict, but like all good stories, it is the characters that really make the show worth watching. The characters are well-written, well-acted and, most importantly, feel real. We don’t want to spoil too much, but if you enjoy character driven drama mixed with a bit of politics then you really need to give The Expanse a watch.
A group of eight people discover that they have psychic powers and are linked to one another, allowing them to share thoughts and memories. The powers might be what drew them together, but even without them, we’d still watch a show about these eight charactesr. They’re simply that well-written and interesting.
Character drama aside, the action is the real draw of this show. You know you’re in for a well-choreographed treat when you have the Wachowskis, of The Matrix fame, behind you. Granted, a TV show won’t have quite the budget of Hollywood blockbuster, but since it’s on Netflix they don’t have to worry about toning down the action scenes. In addition to being well-choreographed, the show’s action scenes benefit from taking place all over the world, adding variety in terms of who and what is getting blown up.