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Best Sci-Fi Franchises

Kickstart your education with the best sci-fi franchises of all time.

By James LizowskiPublished 6 years ago 10 min read

The best sci-fi franchises are often based on imagining what problems and solutions future technology will bring us, unlike fantasy, which is largely based on a magical reimagining of a medieval-type world. Where fantasy is conservative, instructing us to learn from the past, science fiction is progressive, asking us to look to the future for answers. This often makes the science fiction genre a challenging and liberal engagement with issues we currently face, issues we may one day face, and solutions that the future might hold. This makes the best sci-fi franchises all the more worth our careful consideration.

Star Trek

Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek began with a rejected pilot in 1965. Thankfully, NBC requested a second pilot and in 1966 the successful episode kick started the series. Star Trek was ahead of its time in a number of ways and this led in part to its initial cancellation. The concept of a space exploration show set far in the future and presented as highly realistic was almost unheard of at the time. But more importantly, Star Trek has always been groundbreaking. It was one of the first television shows to portray an interracial kiss and a lesbian kiss. The show also depicted a future of equality and peace where women and minorities held positions of power. Even today, Star Trek continues to push boundaries for the genre. In the latest movie, Star Trek: Beyond, it was revealed that Sulu is gay and he and his partner have a child.

However, Star Trek has had its fair share of ups and downs. In 1969 the original series was cancelled and the franchise did not return for a decade. It was only the enormous popularity that the original series received in syndication that allowed the franchise to return with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While commercially successful, this movie failed to gain critical success. Still, the return of Star Trek in 1979 allowed the continuation of what is today still one of the best sci-fi franchises.

Star Wars

George Lucas' Star Wars changed cinema forever in 1977. While initially envisioned as an epic space opera, Lucas' film managed to transcend the campiness of other films like it. This was likely a consequence of the universal appeal of the great battle between good and evil, the light side and the dark side of the force, portrayed by the films. Instead of fading away as yet another space opera, Star Wars brought widespread appeal to the sci-fi genre. While many fans will argue over which of the films in the original trilogy is the best, there's little disagreement that the low point of this franchise came in the form of the prequels. These films so devastatingly missed the point of the franchise that fans worried that Lucas would be unable to produce a trilogy of sequels that lived up to the original trilogy. Lucas eventually backed down from the possibility of working on further Star Wars films and in 2012 Disney bought Lucasfilm and soon promised to continue the franchise in a sequel trilogy and a series of anthology films. In 2015 the first film in this new sequel trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was released to critical acclaim. The franchise had returned to its roots and the story of Luke Skywalker and his family and friends could finally continue as it deserved to.

Doctor Who

Not only is Doctor Who one of the best sci-fi franchises of all time, it is also one of the longest running franchises. The series ran uninterrupted from 1963 to 1989, was unsuccessfully rebooted in 1996, and in 2005 the series was successfully rebooted and still airs today. Doctor Who is also unique in its brand of strange, fantastical, often whimsical sci-fi. This strangeness has not saved the show from accusations of being overly violent and of being inappropriate for children. Still, Doctor Who has embedded itself in British culture, even becoming synonymous with the term "watching from behind the sofa," referring to the terrifying show's appeal to children who would watch from behind the sofa in order to avoid seeing anything too frightening.

While other sci-fi franchises have some unusual premises, Doctor Who features a humanoid alien called a time lord who travels through time and space in a police call box or Time and Relative Dimension In Space (TARDIS). If you're looking for something a little more unusual with a hefty dose of nostalgia you can't go wrong with Doctor Who.

Back to the Future

Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future is nowhere near as big as some of the other franchises on this list. While other franchises spread across television, movies, books, comics, and other mediums, Back to the Future is predominately a franchise made up of a trilogy of movies. Back to the Future may not have the appeal of a franchise spread across numerous mediums, but it makes up for this with its consistent quality, widespread audience appeal, and combination of futuristic and past settings. For this reason, it deserves to be considered one of the best sci-fi franchises of all time. Michael J. Fox is loveable in his role and plays it perfectly. Back to the Future represents one of the early times that science fiction was presented in such a way that it appealed not only to a small group of loyal sci-fi fans, but also to the general public. This is at least partly a consequence of Fox's endearing performances throughout the series. This might have turned out entirely differently if the studio hadn't realized that Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty McFly, wasn't right for the role.

The Terminator 

James Cameron's The Terminator brought together the sci-fi genre and the action/adventure genre seamlessly. The franchise is compelling for its excellent action sequences but also for its subtle portrayal of time travel. In the first film both the terminator and a human soldier travel back in time in order to decide the fate of John Connor. This theme plays out over the franchise which portrays different attempts by Skynet to thwart Connor. The compelling details the film makes use of include Sarah Connor conceiving John Connor with the very soldier sent back in time by her son to rescue her, the genesis of a polaroid photograph of Sarah brought from the future, and the advancing tactics used by both sides to combat each other. The Terminator deserves a place on any list of the best action movies of all time and for this success across genres it also deserves a place on any list of the best sci-fi franchises.

Despite some low points, such as the cancellation of the Terminator television series aired from 2008 to 2009, which was popular with fans, and lackluster response to some of the latest films, The Terminator franchise is still a brilliant example of sci-fi that deserves your attention.


The Alien franchise might be the most terrifying franchise on this list. Originally conceived by Ridley Scott, this franchise has seen numerous installments of various quality. The franchise continues today with Prometheus (2012) and the upcoming Alien Covenant (2017). While Prometheus received mixed reviews from loyal fans, it was a box office success and received generally positive reviews from critics.

The real brilliance of the Alien franchise, and the reason it deserves to be considered one of the best sci-fi franchises, isn't just the horror, it's the incredible design work done by H. R. Giger and Moebius, which was largely planned for the cancelled film Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Everything, from the aliens to the spacesuits and ships, was completely original. This franchise introduced space as a dark, terrifying, industrial wasteland. Ships are not pristine pieces of futuristic technology. They are filthy industrial vehicles. Aliens are not polished animals like anything you've ever seen. They are horrifying and completely new. On top of this marvelous design work, the Alien franchise has, for the most part, been defined by remarkable writing. The spinoff Alien vs. Predator is definitely a low point in most measures, but the films that belong to the core of the franchise are all incredibly good.

The X-Files

Chris Carter's The X-Files has become synonymous with its cult status. With the rise of nerd and geek culture into the mainstream shows like The X-Files, which once enjoyed mostly a small but loyal following, now enjoy widespread success. The X-Files is not only one of the most important TV shows of the 1990s but it is also one of the best sci-fi franchises. The X-Files takes all the strange and paranoid things we associate with sci-fi and puts them at the forefront of an incredibly entertaining, dark, and engaging show that explores a plethora of themes. The X-Files is perhaps most successful because it uses its format and platform to explore so many interesting themes and subjects throughout its 10 seasons. While the show was revived in 2016, this is likely one of its lowest points. The revival failed to maintain the appeal of the original series despite its nostalgia. This season was not well received. Nonetheless, the first nine seasons stand not only as great sci-fi but as some of the best cult television aired. Take a look for yourself if you want to believe.

The Matrix

When the Wachowski siblings released The Matrix in 1999 it was somehow unlike anything mainstream audiences had ever seen. It was a deeply challenging and philosophical film that changed the rules of action movies by introducing bullet time, but also introduced an entirely new dystopian world unlike anything seen before. This world was ruled by machines, and humans were used as batteries, plugged into an artificial reality that was more attractive than the truth. This concept borrows heavily from philosophy and other franchises such as the graphic novel The Invisibles. Yet the unique combination of these themes, and their perfect execution in a film that made use of CGI nearly perfectly, introduced the world to one of the best sci-fi franchises of all time.

The Matrix franchise has had many iterations, though the core remains the trilogy of films. While the first film is unquestionably the strongest, the second remains very good. The final film, however, left most critics and viewers disappointed in the abuse of CGI and the weakness of the story. Nonetheless, more than many other franchises on this list, the trilogy at the core of this franchise deserves to be viewed in its entirety. The appeal of its philosophical and religious themes, along with its visceral action, is undeniable.

The Twilight Zone 

Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone has embedded itself in the public consciousness with its immediately recognizable intro. Each episode presents a weird, often terrifying look at a fantasy or science fiction trope featuring a twist ending. The Twilight Zone television show first aired from 1959 to 1964. It was revived twice, once from 1985 to 1989 and again from 2002 to 2003. Neither of these revivals came close to the success of the original series, yet they did little to tarnish the franchise. While there are many franchises that deserve to be on a list of the best sci-fi franchises, The Twilight Zone has earned its place for its creativity and its introduction of science fiction to a popular audience earlier than nearly any other franchise.

Battlestar Galactica

The Battlestar Galactica franchise, created by Glen Larson, is an incredibly creative concept that has resulted in two hugely successful television series as well as other television programs, films, books and comics. At the core of the franchise is the original series, which aired from 1978 to 1979, and its reboot, which aired from 2003 to 2009. Both the original series and the reboot dealt with the subject of humanity facing its own extinction at the hands of its robotic creations, the Cylons. Though the original show was cancelled, the cult following that it gained over the years led to various attempts at revivals. The most successful revival is unquestionably the 2003 to 2009 series that returns to the original characters and recasts them perfectly. One of the controversial choices in the revival was the casting of Starbuck and Boomer as women, a choice that enraged many fans. However, the incredible work by the captivating Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) demonstrates the mistaken judgement of many fans and the continuing progressive nature of some of the best sci-fi franchises.

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About the Creator

James Lizowski

Spends his days making his own Star Wars figurines. His craft has driven him to look towards the future, drawing inspiration from past technological advances.

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