It’s been sixteen years since Firefly was canceled, and we’re still mourning the loss of this near-perfect Western space opera. Now a cult classic, Firefly has since spawned a feature length film (Serenity), as well as a series of comic books, both of which have helped Browncoats get a little closure and fill in the blanks on some of the stories that were left unfinished when the series ended.
Sadly, it seems like we won’t be getting any more Firefly in future. Star Nathan Fillion has said that one season was ‘enough’, and despite the popularity of revivals right now (just look at Gilmore Girls), it seems that Firefly isn’t on the table. Luckily, there are lots of other movies, TV series, and comics that will satisfy that craving for more space-faring adventures and nerdy humor – and we’ve got fifteen of the best for you bored Browncoats.
18 Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog
Really, any other series in the Whedonverse is worth a watch for fans of Firefly, because they all have that inimitable Joss style. From the heavy hitters like Buffy and Angel, to the lesser-known (but still brilliant) Dollhouse, any show with Whedon at the helm is going to be reminiscent of Firefly in some way, shape or form. Our favorite, however, is the lesser-known musical mini-web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.
Starring Firefly’s captain, Nathan Fillion, this three-episode series follows the adventures of aspiring supervillain Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) as he faces off against the arrogant hero Captain Hammer (Fillion) and attempts to win the affections of Penny (Felicia Day). It’s sweet, charming, and absolutely hilarious, and the writing is Whedon at his best. The fantasy elements are superheroes rather than science fiction, but it’s just the right kind of escapism all the same. It’s also short enough to leave fans wanting more, which is certainly going to give fans that Firefly feeling!
17 Logan's Run
This classic ‘70s sci-fi is a must-watch for anyone who loves seeing a charismatic rebel fight to survive in a dystopian future. The barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland that lends itself so beautifully to the style of old Westerns is used to wonderful effect here, but it’s not just the setting that makes Logan’s Run such a great option for Firefly fans.
Set in 2274, the film takes place in a high-tech utopia, with only one major flaw – at the age of thirty, all citizens are terminated (and allegedly renewed). While most accept their fate, some become Runners, determined to find a way to escape the city and live out the rest of their lives. The central dynamic of charismatic rebel vs oppressive and sterile authority has more than a few clear parallels with the world of Firefly, although there is no thriving outworld society in this version of the future. Hugely entertaining, if a little silly, it’s got the same combination of fun and danger that we love seeing Captain Mal and his crew face.
16 The Dark Tower
For Firefly fans who were drawn to the series’ blend of classic spaghetti Westerns with more fantasy elements, Stephen King’s Dark Tower universe is sure to appeal. Originally created in the novel series of the same name, and now being made into a film starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, King’s gunslinger fantasy has also been brought to the world of comics with an extensive graphic novel series.
Written by Robin Furth and Peter David, the first few books retell the story of Roland of Gilead as told in the novels, before later books explore different tales in the Gunslinger’s long life. Some truly gorgeous artwork brings King’s world to life, and the series is a fantastic read for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves a little more fully in this fascinating universe. Sci-fi elements and fantasy tech exist here, too, although the Western elements are far more prevalent, and there is plenty of horror to appeal to gore-hounds as well. There's a reason the film adaptation is one of our most anticipated movies of the year, folks.
One of the biggest new series of 2016, the freshman season of HBO's Westworld has been taking the small screen by storm. Like Firefly, the series combines shiny sci-fi technology with a classic Western aesthetic, albeit it in a very different way. Where Firefly created a whole new world with a blend of the two, Westworld takes place in two settings – a Western theme park populated by advanced robots, and the gleaming facility where the park is maintained.
Westworld isn’t quite as lighthearted as Firefly, although it has its moments, and it's much more of an intense thriller. The cast is both vast and relatively diverse, with the same kind of powerful and complicated female characters that Whedon is known for. This intricate and beautiful series captivates the audience, and while it isn’t the same kind of ensemble adventure that we see in Firefly, it’s a totally different way of blending fantasy technology with six-shooters and Stetsons. We can’t wait to see what happens in season two.
14 Southern Cross
This creepy murder mystery is a great read for fans of the horror elements of Firefly, with plenty to keep you up at night. Set in a dystopian future (like most on this list!), Southern Cross is set on an interplanetary tanker to the refinery moon of Titan. Alex is traveling to collect her sister’s remains and try to uncover the secrets surrounding her death, but there are plenty more secrets to discover on the journey there.
Southern Cross is epically creepy and claustrophobic, layering mystery on top of mystery, all told with stunning artwork by Andy Belanger. Written by Becky Cloonan, the series has a phenomenal female hero, and is packed with homages to classic sci-fi horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and even The Fifth Element. While the series doesn’t draw from Westerns in the same way that Firefly does, it does blend elements of historical transports (cruise liners and oil tankers) with more futuristic tech for the same kind of nostalgic take on the future that is absolutely beautiful to read.
13 Star Wars
What would a list of ensemble sci-fi perfection be without Star Wars? It’s unlikely that many Firefly fans have got this far in life without seeing these epic films, but some may not have caught up with the latest installments in the universe just yet. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in particular captures the kind of rebellious team spirit that we love in Firefly (not to mention the heartbreak when it’s over!), but pretty much any of the Star Wars films will hit the spot. (Perhaps not the made-for-TV specials, though.)
Daring adventures in space, sexual tension you could cut with a lightsaber, brave rebels going up against a powerful, highly organized ruling body, and just enough humor to balance it all out – Star Wars has more in common with Firefly and Serenity than some might think! Add in brilliant, memorable characters and wonderfully quotable writing, and it’s the perfect bingeable franchise to fill that Firefly-shaped hole in our hearts.
12 Cowboy BeBop
If Firefly was an anime, it would undoubtedly be Cowboy BeBop. This 1998 space Western has so many of the same elements as the series that many have wondered whether Joss Whedon was inspired by Cowboy BeBop when creating his own Western space opera. It may be no more than a coincidence, but the similarities are definitely there, and that makes it ideal watching for fans of Firefly and anime.
The series centers around a group of licensed, interplanetary bounty hunters – outlaws and outcasts, including an exiled former hitman, an ex-police officer, a hacker, a con artist with amnesia, and a genetically engineered corgi named Ein. Through their adventures, we learn about the characters' histories and the dytopian future in which they live, as well as seeing them get up to no good in a huge range of different ways. If there is one series that has more in common with Firefly than any other, it would be Cowboy BeBop – and it even continues in a feature film.
11 East Of West
Another series from Image Comics (written by Jonathon Hickman), East Of West is a Western sci-fi set in a dystopian future and starring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This version of the United States is one where the Civil War continued, and only after centuries did the factions come to a new agreement – one that splits the land into seven territories.
Against this backdrop (with heavy Western influences), three of the Horsemen have been resurrected as children, and wish to bring about the Apocalypse, while the fourth (Death) has other plans. It’s a complicated and fascinating new world, and the story is engaging and novel. This is a whole new take on the classic Western, and one that absolutely deserves more attention. Although this doesn’t have the same space-adventure style as Firefly, the battles across a dystopian future and the frontier feeling are absolutely perfect for fans of the show.
9 Dark Matter
There are so many other science fiction series that can be compared to Firefly, and all of them deserve a watch at some point! From the major names like Star Trek and Stargate (which also continue onto the big screen) to the slightly well-known offerings like Farscape, Battlestar Galactica and Andromeda, to newer shows like Defiance and Killjoys, there are a vast number of standard sci-fi offerings that fans will probably enjoy.
One of the better, newer options that we’ve chosen to really highlight, however, is Space’s Dark Matter. The series begins with six people who wake up on a spaceship with no memory of who they are or how they got there. Slowly, they uncover surprising abilities, memories, enemies, and histories as they try to piece together what happened. A fantastic ensemble show with an interesting take on the future and an engaging mystery at its center, Dark Matter is definitely worth watching, and will be premiering its third season later this year.
8 Bitch Planet
Orange Is The New Black meets classic sci-fi in this dystopian series set on a prison planet for non-compliant women. The series plays on traditionally exploitative portrayals of women in sci-fi, poking violent, in-your-face fun at sci-fi tropes. The story weaves back and forth between the present day on the prison planet and stories of the wider world and how the various prisoners ended up where they are.
For Whedon fans who enjoy his feminist approach, Bitch Planet takes that and cranks the dial up to a hundred, along with more diversity in skin color, size, and background. As the core group of inmates come together to (literally) fight the patriarchy, we are treated to an aggressive, R-rated adventure. Expect lots of nudity (without overt sexualization) and a surprising amount of fun for such a message-heavy story. Bitch Planet is perfect for feminist Firefly fans who want a very different style of comic.
This star-studded sci-fi thriller from 2014 is a fantastic option for Firefly fans who aren’t interested in overlooking the outdated FX in classic sci-fi. Another example of the charming rebel going up against the ruling elite, Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans as Curtis, a low-class passenger on a train that holds the only survivors of the human race. Set in a dystopian future where a climate engineering accident has plunged the globe into a new ice age, the passengers on the train are sharply divided into the elites and the scum, living in luxury or squalor with little opportunity for change.
As Curtis leads the revolution, he seeks the help of a young clairvoyant girl, a security expert, and his mentor and spiritual leader. Any sci-fi ensemble that can be described as a rag-tag band of rebels is going to invite some comparison with Firefly, and in this case, it absolutely works. The Western element is obviously missing, as the world outside the train is locked in ice and snow, but Snowpiercer is still a perfect choice for those Firefly fans who would have loved to see more active rebellion against the Alliance.
5 Red Dwarf
This classic British sci-fi comedy may have first aired in the ‘80s (1988, to be precise), but the humor is timeless, and recent revivals of the show have brought it bang up to date. The series stars Craig Charles as Dave Lister, the last human being in the universe. Trapped in stasis for millions of years after a radiation leak on board a mining ship, Lister wakes up to find himself lost in space and all alone… except for the rest of the Red Dwarf’s eclectic crew!
Lister may be the only human left, but he is joined by the ship’s computer, Holly (Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett), Kryten, a Service Mechanoid (Robert Llewellyn), a humanoid cat (Danny John-Jules), a hologram (Chris Barrie), and his crush from another dimension, Kristine Kochanski (Chloe Annett). As Lister attempts to find his way back home and navigate this strange new universe, hilarity ensues. It’s a madcap space adventure, and definitely one for Firefly fans who loved the comedy more than the action.
3 The Guild
Neither sci-fi, nor Western, this hilarious ensemble comedy will still appeal to many fans of Firefly for completely different reasons. Starring Felicia Day as Cyd/Codex, the series follows the adventures of a group of friends who meet in the virtual world of an MMO game. They travel to a convention instead of a new planet, and fight online rather than in bars, but the members of the Guild have the same kind of quirky chemistry that we loved in Firefly.
The series is created by Felicia Day who is a big member of the Whedonverse family (with appearances in Buffy, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog) and a real-life friend of Firefly star Nathan Fillion. (She also appears in Fillion’s recent Firefly-inspired project Con Man with Alan Tudyk.) Her love of all things geek and down to earth sense of humor shine through in the series, making it the perfect show to watch when you find yourself missing the lighter elements of the Serenity crew's adventures.
2 Blade Runner
Here's one last dystopian cult classic involving sympathetic rebels: Blade Runner. This complex noir sci-fi is definitely one of the darkest on our list, calling into question the nature of humanity and self-awareness. Set in a future version of LA, Blade Runners are officers who track down rogue Replicants who have come to Earth. Replicants, genetic clones that are used for scut work off-world, have short lifespans, but the same kind of self-awareness and personality that any other human does.
Starring Harrison Ford as Blade Runner Rick Deckard and Sean Young as the quasi-femme fatale Rachael, the movie plays with the idea of femininity, authority, and morality. Like Firefly, Blade Runner deals with much deeper themes than just shoot ‘em action (although there’s plenty of that to enjoy, too!), and it’s a must-watch for fans of the noir genre as a whole. It doesn’t have quite the same lighthearted plucky band that Firefly does, but there’s still so much to enjoy here.
Did someone say comic book space opera fantasy? Published by Image Comics and written by the great Brian K. Vaughn, Saga is an epic adventure through a galactic war, and it’s absolutely incredible. The core conflict is between two races – the technologically advanced Landfallians, and the magic-using people of Wreath. These two peoples inhabit planets that are in the same orbit, so to avoid their destruction during the war, the fighting is outsourced to other worlds, spreading the conflict across the galaxy.
Alana and Marco are lovers, one from Landfall and one from Wreath, and they are pursued across worlds for their transgression of loving one another. Throw in bounty hunters, aliens, ghosts, monsters, and wacky scenarios, and you have a fantastic series that will definitely appeal to Browncoats. It’s worth noting, however, that this is very much an R-rated comic, and there is quite a lot of sex and gore as well. It’s often described as ‘Game of Thrones meets Star Wars’, and with good reason! It's that good.
What other movies, comics, and TV shows do you think are well-suited for sci-fi fans? Let us know in the comments.