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40 Best Science Fiction TV Shows of All Time

From superhero shows and space operas to creepy anthology series, the greatest small-screen sci-fi of all time

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It’s odd to think that, once upon a time, a TV show set in space — one that declared, in its opening narration, as the cosmos being the “final frontier” — was considered the pop-cultural equivalent of an unwanted party-crasher. Yes, a concept like Star Trek was both of its time and clearly ahead of it; history has more than vindicated Gene Rodenberry’s notion of boldly going where no man had gone before. But given the number of top-notch shows set in the far reaches of the galaxy and that used genre for pulpy and profound purposes over the last 30 or so years, it seems crazy to think that one of the most groundbreaking SF series was a network pariah and a ratings dud. Today, there’s an entire cable network devoted to this kind of programming. You can’t turn on your TV/Roku/cut-cord viewing device without bumping into spaceships, alien invasion and wonky sci-fi food-for-thought.

Science fiction has been around in one form or another since the early-ish days of television, both here and abroad, and its legacy now looms larger than ever. So what better time to count down the 40 best sci-fi TV shows of all time? From anime classics to outer-space soap operas, spooky British anthology shows to worst-case-scenario postapocalyptic dramas, primetime pop hits to obscure but beloved cult classics, here are our choices for the best the television genre has to offer — submitted, for your approval.

40; Best; Sci-Fi; TV; Shows; Star Trek; The Twilight Zone; The Flash; Max Headroom

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25

‘Jessica Jones’ (2015-Present)

Melissa Rosenberg's Marvel sleeper hit works precisely because it lacks the bells and whistles of other superhero tales. There's nary a cape nor a clean white hat to be found in the Netflix show's morally gray universe, and super powers almost feel like an afterthought for the titular heroine. It just so happens that Jessica (Krysten Ritter), a world-weary, hard-drinking P.I., happens to have advanced reflexes and an out-of-this-world strength, and that she's squaring off against a mind-controlling megalomaniac (David Tennant). It’s a gritty fiercely feminist noir with just a dusting of sci-fi around the edges — which ends up being the perfect combo to hit a genre fan right in the gut. JS

40; Best; Sci-Fi; TV; Shows; Star Trek; The Twilight Zone; The Flash; Max Headroom

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24

‘Life on Mars’ (2006-2007)

One of the damnedest cop show that's ever been, this British series concerns a comatose Manchester cop who's slipped through time — or is perhaps just hallucinating — and finds himself solving crimes in 1973. Like the best speculative fiction, Life on Mars features a hero who questions what's happening to him and why, all while exploring a strange alien world. It's just that this exotic locale isn't the Red Planet so much as a smoky gray city from the recent past, where violent bigots decide what's right and wrong. (Warning: Avoid the U.S. remake, which misses the flavor and context of the original, and changes the ending to something mind-bogglingly stupid.) NM

40; Best; Sci-Fi; TV; Shows; Star Trek; The Twilight Zone; The Flash; Max Headroom

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23

‘The Flash’ (2014-Present)

You can keep your cinematic universes: The best comic-book adaptation of all time is going into its third season on the CW. Although Grant Gustin's scarlet speedster gets his powers from a particle-accelerator meltdown, the show's perfect mixture of giddy adventure and heart-tugging drama feels less like a matter of science than magic. It's grown-up enough to realize there's nothing juvenile about enjoying comics' lighter side. Let's face it: The movies have their dark knights and stoic avengers, but if you're craving a hyperintelligent telepathic gorilla, there's only one place to get your fix. SA

40; Best; Sci-Fi; TV; Shows; Star Trek; The Twilight Zone; The Flash; Max Headroom

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22

‘Space: 1999’ (1975-1977)

When Star Trek became a belated hit in syndication, smart producers set out to capitalize on the "space is the place" trend — which is how "Supermarionation" mavens Gerry and Sylvia Anderson ended up making this stylish, high-toned live-action series. Their highly Trek-esque plots saw Earth’s human-inhabited moon hurtling through the universe after an explosion and getting embroiled in interplanetary conflicts. Today, fans love the show for its snazzy disco uniforms and elaborate spaceship models — both of which resemble a certain blockbuster motion picture that was still in production at the time. If only the show had stayed on the air just one year longer, it could've ridden that Star Wars wave to bigger glory. NM

40; Best; Sci-Fi; TV; Shows; Star Trek; The Twilight Zone; The Flash; Max Headroom

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21

‘Quantum Leap’ (1989-1993)

Who among us hasn't wished we could go back to the past and set things to right? And who wouldn't want a charming, funny holographic companion for buddy-comedy shenanigans along for the ride? These two elements constitute the core appeal of Quantum Leap, in which Dr. Sam Beckett leaps through time and inhabits people's bodies to fix the mistakes of the past, egged on all the while by his advisor Admiral Al Calavicci. Starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, two of the genre's most endearing actors, it made its high concept work with down-to-earth heart. STC