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The 20 Best Sci-Fi TV Shows on Netflix

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The 20 Best Sci-Fi TV Shows on Netflix

Netflix’s commitment to fans of sci-fi shows can be seen in the fact that three of the best sci-fi TV series on the streaming service are Netflix originals, Stranger Things, The OA and Sense8. But if you like your sci-fi old school, there’s Twilight Zone, five different Star Trek series (including the original) and tons of shows from the ’90s. Joss Whedon fans can enjoy both his foray into the Marvel universe with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the under-rated Dollhouse, which found its footing in the second season after Fox finally allowed the showrunner to explore a more serialized arc. Sure we’d love the return of Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica to Netflix, but what we have is a pretty deep catalog of sci-fi TV shows to enjoy.

Here are the 20 best sci-fi TV shows on Netflix:

20. Continuum

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Creator: Simon Barry
Stars: Rachel Nichols, Victor Webster, Erik Knudsen, Stephen Lobo, Roger Cross
Original Network: Showcase

I’m starting to grow suspicious: Do Canadians plug into the walls at night? Orphan Black has made its mark in the U.S. (with Tatiany Maslany finally winning an Emmy), but it’s far from the first noteworthy Canadian sci-fi import. Continuum rises above both the usual fare we find on Syfy and on network television. The show follows the efforts of Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) to thwart the ambitious and destructive terrorist group Liber8. The hook: Cameron and the terrorists are accidental transplants from the year 2077, where corporations subsidized global debt with the subordination of the world’s governments. The collision is not about the obliteration of one perspective, but the slow formation of compromised strengths. The political disconnect encourages us to remain impartial. The show’s character development can come in waves, but Nichols remains capable of carrying whatever material she’s handed to evocative, substantial places. Plus: She takes down do-badders towering over her like ogres more convincingly than any other actress on television. —Kyle Burton

19. The 100

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Creator: Jason Rothenberg
Stars: Eliza Taylor, Eli Goree, Thomas McDonell
Original Network: The CW

This post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama is set 97 years after a nuclear war wiped out almost all life on Earth. Survivors are living in a space station orbiting the Earth, hoping to one day return to their home. As resources on the ship become scarce and oxygen levels enter critical condition, the leadership decides to send 100 juvenile prisoners to Earth to see if the land is inhabitable. The “Lord of the Flies”-esque drama series follows these teens as they uncover surprises of what is left of mother earth. If you’re a thrill-lover, The 100 will keep you pressing “next episode.” —Jane Snyder

18. 3%

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Creators: Pedro Aguilera
Stars: Bianca Comparato, João Miguel, Michel Gomes, Rodolfo Valente
Original Network: Netflix 

U.S. shows have long been a part of Netflix’s offering in foreign countries, and the streaming service has brought a handful of foreign TV shows to America. But 3% is Netflix’s first original Brazilian production. Set in a dystopian future where only 3% of the population is chosen to live in a Utopian society, while the rest of humanity struggles in destitution, the show follows a group of 20-year-old candidates competing to be among the chosen, some of whom may be part of a revolutionary group called The Cause. Part pyschological thriller, part sci-fi morality play, the eight-episode series is full of characters on both sides of the test, struggling to win a chance at a better life without abandoning their principles. —Josh Jackson

17. Dark Matter

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Creators: Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie
Stars: Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr., Jodelle Ferland, Roger Cross, Zoie Palmer, Marc Bendavid
Original Network: Syfy (U.S.), Space (Canada)

Based on the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name, Dark Matter kicks off as six people wake up on a spaceship with no memories of who they are or how they ended up there. What follows are three seasons of adventures that gradually ratchet up the stakes while still focusing on glorious character development. Because when you don’t know whether you’re a hero or a villain, you have to redefine your identity. Dark Matter also boasts three kickass female protagonists, including one of the most endearing Androids on television. So it was disheartening when Syfy recently made the shortsighted decision to cancel the show. We need more three-dimensional leading ladies interacting on our screens, and Dark Matter has them in spades. Luckily, you can still binge every season on Netflix. —Frannie Jackson

16. Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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Creator:   George Lucas  
Stars: Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane
Original Network: Cartoon Network/Netflix

Contrary to popular belief, Lucasfilm did manage to create an engaging storyline set in the “prequel” universe. Enter Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Acting as a bridge between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the show finds Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, along with new character Ahsoka Tano, battling against the forces of Dooku and General Grievous. What started as a series full of fun, exciting space battles, however, soon grew into a much deeper and richer story that explored the complications and brutality of war. Moreover, The Clone Wars did more to set the stage for Anakin’s inevitable turn to the Dark Side than any moment in the films. While the show’s brand of photo-realistic animation may not be for everyone, there are few who will deny that the sophisticated storytelling on display would not have been greatly welcome in the traditional Star Wars movie universe. —Mark Rozeman

15. Colony

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Creators: Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal
Stars: Josh Holloway, Sarah Wayne Callies, Peter Jacobson, Amanda Righetti, Tory Kittles
Original Network: USA

Josh Holloway. Need I say more? Okay, fine. Holloway stars as former FBI agent Will Bowman. He and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies of The Walking Dead) live in Los Angeles, where aliens have invaded and now occupy the city. Nothing can be done without their knowledge. Will and Katie were separated from their son at the time of the invasion and now must decide what lengths they are willing to go to in order to get him back. From executive producers Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Ryan Condal, the series plays on the tension between protecting your family and rising up against oppressive invaders and what happens when husband and wife find themselves on different sides of that line. —Shannon M. Houston

14. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Creators:   Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Stars: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennett, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki
Original Network: ABC

Nothing in S.H.I.E.L.D. ever stays the same for long. It is this vital characteristic that allowed the show to endure a series of early rough patches that not even Phil Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) flying car could avoid. This element would also end up making the series unique. A re-watch of the beginning of the show’s first season almost feels like the launching point for a different series. Each week found Coulson and his team of agents going on a wacky new spy-laden adventure. Though intended to be fun and lively, the show reached a little too far over the top, resulting in an awkward feeling of camp (think Roger Moore’s Bond films) that simply didn’t mesh with the world the Marvel films established. Then, in 2014, as the show’s first season began its final arc, Captain America: The Winter Soldier happened. The events of the Captain America sequel tied in heavily with the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, and it finally felt like it belonged within the MCU instead of being relegated to the outside looking in. Ironically, H.Y.D.R.A.’s attempt at destroying S.H.I.E.L.D. proved to be the show’s saving grace. The series often turns on a dime, but the viewer never feels whiplash. An impressive accomplishment given the multitude of times this show could have easily veered off the rails. Always remaining in a state of reinvention, no two seasons are alike. Revolving team lineups keep the character dynamics fresh, and the audience can never fully guess which direction the series is going to head next. This sense of ballsy exploration keeps the narrative from ever becoming stale, resulting in a show that is both criminally underrated and underappreciated. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. absolutely belongs in the upper echelon of Marvel’s catalogue, be it works from the small screen or the silver one. —Geoff Miller

13. Black Mirror

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Creator: Charlie Brooker
Original Network: Channel 4 (UK)

There are probably times in most of our lives when we see our technological world as more of a dystopia than a utopia. The way it curbs our freedom, diminishes our privacy, and subjects us to anonymous attacks can feel like an unforgivable violation. But the worst part is, we’re complicit—we’ve accepted the intrusion, and in some cases, or even most cases, we’ve become addicted. The ubiquity of technology is a reality that we can’t fight against, and to maintain our sanity, we have to accept it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth questioning, which is exactly what Black Mirror is all about. The title is nearly perfect, as explained by creator Charlie Brooker: “The black mirror of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” The job of this show is to reflect our society in an unflattering light, and they do it with a new cast and a new story in each episode. This is not fun watching—it’s mostly horrifying—but even if our brave new world is inescapable, the show represents a kind of protest that feels more necessary than ever. —Shane Ryan

12. Sense8

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Creators: The Wachowskis, J. Michael Straczynski
Stars: Tuppence Middleton, Brian J. Smith, Doona Bae, Aml Ameen, Max Riemelt, Tina Desai, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Jamie Clayton, Freema Agyeman, Terrence Mann, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah
Original Network: Netflix 

There is no bigger WTF TV show in the world right now than Sense8. This globe-trotting and glitzy sci-fi series, created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski (co-directors of The Matrix trilogy) and former Babylon 5 showrunner J. Michael Straczynski, drops us into a world where eight strangers in different parts of the planet are somehow psychically and emotionally linked. Through the first season’s 12 episodes—and the recent Christmas special follow this assortment of confused and beautiful people as they try to understand this connection, use their newfound abilities to help one another, and engage in not one but two blissfully queer orgies. As wacky and over-the-top as Sense8 can often get, the series remains important as it deals with issues of sexuality and gender identity through the work of trans actress Jamie Clayton and performers Miguel Silvestre and Alfonso Herrera’s portrayal of a gay couple in Mexico City. —Robert Ham

11. Dollhouse

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Creator:   Joss Whedon  
Stars: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman, Olivia Williams
Original Network: Fox

Between Buffy and The Avengers, Joss Whedon had a habit of creating good shows that got canceled too soon. Dollhouse was no Firefly, but after a weak first season that focused on singular missions from Eliza Dushku’s character, it expanded into a fascinating sci-fi universe. The premise of the show was that brain-wiping technology could allow the techs of the Dollhouse to install different personalities and skills in their blank-slate agents. In the first season, this just felt weirdly exploitative for the viewer, but the sweeping arc of the second season began to question the ethics of imagined technologies and turn the first season’s plotlines on their heads. And the payoff was huge with an epic two-episode apocalyptic flash-forward that ended each season, starring Felicia Day as a survivor of the Dollhouse technology gone viral. —Josh Jackson

10. The Flash

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Creators: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
Stars: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh
Network: The CW

Over the past five years, the CW, born from a merger of The WB and UPN in 2006, has taken full advantage of its close ties with Warner Bros. to hand over much of its primetime slate to DC superhero shows, and it’s one of the most fun line-ups on television, especially with Barry Allen zipping around National City in The Flash, taking out bad guys with a quip and a smile. The Flash has tackled everything from the classic Flashpoint storyline about alternate realities to the giant, super-intelligent Gorilla Grodd, and fans are eating it up. At heart, comic books were designed as a fantastical distraction from everyday life. That doesn’t mean they can’t tell meaningful stories that push us to reexamine our world, but it’s taken time for the balance we see on the page to make the leap to the screen. With big-screen superhero stories becoming so bruising, both mentally and physically, small-screen comic stories are now a light-hearted oasis for fans just looking to have a good time, with a little angst thrown in for good measure. —Trent Moore

9. Mystery Science Theater 3000

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Creator: Joel Hodgson
Stars: Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt, Jonah Ray, Baron Vaughn, Hampton Yount, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Michael J. Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, Patrick Brantseg
Original Networks: KTMA, The Comedy Channel, Comedy Central, Sci Fi Channel, Netflix 

The funniest sci-fi show of all time (apologies to both Futurama and Red Dwarf), MST3K was as good as the movies it parodied were bad;meaning it was very, very good. The movie theater on the Satellite of Love was more ruthless than a cage of Klingons when it came to savaging B-movies. Netflix now offers 20 classic episodes from the series’ original run, as well as the revival, MST3K: The Return, which arrived in April to carry on the show’s legacy. —Josh Jackson

8. The OA

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Creators: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling 
Stars: Brit Marling, Jason Isaacs, Scott Wilson
Original Network: Netflix 

The sci-fi, supernatural web television series follows the story of Prairie Johnson, a young woman who resurfaces after having been missing for seven years. Prairie, who was blind as a child, comes back to her hometown miraculously with her vision restored and now calls herself “The OA.” The season takes you through her mysterious past and mystical adventures as she tries to go back and save others who are missing as well. —Jane Snyder

7. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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Creator: Rick Berman, Michael Piller
Stars: Avery Brooks, René Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor, Michael Dorn, Nicole de Boer
Original Network: Syndication

Deep Space Nine was an experiment in a different type of Star Trek property, one not built around a spaceship/warship traveling and exploring the edges of the known universe. Rather, DS9 was an advanced but static outpost where emissaries of various alien races came to congregate, trade and conduct business. The show featured the first and still only black commander-in-chief as lead protagonist and was noted for the diversity of its alien cast and their well-defined characters. It also tackled topics of religion more effectively and extensively than any of the Star Trek series to date, as the Bajoran Wormhole near DS9 was integral to both the series’ plot and the religious beliefs of the Bajoran people, several of whom served as crew. It was never quite as popular as Next Generation, but that was a tough assignment to follow. —Jim Vorel

6. Star Trek: The Original Series

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Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig
Original Network: NBC

The original Star Trek introducing a broad audience to the joys of science fiction and providing a more optimistic view of the future at the height of Viet Nam, the Cold War and the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. Gene Roddenberry’s vision saw the Earth united with a multi-cultural crew, including a Japanese helmsman, a Russian ensign and a black communications officer. Despite its cancellation after just three seasons, it’s the most influential TV show on this list, popular in syndication throughout the 20th Century and now available on Netflix so that we can cherry pick iconic episodes like “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “Space Seed” and, of course, “The Trouble With Tribbles.” —Josh Jackson

5. Lost

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Creators: J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof 
Stars: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Andrews, Michael Emerson, Terry O’Quinn, Josh Holloway, Jorge Garcia, Yunjin Kim, Daniel Dae Kim
Network: ABC

When J.J. Abrams first marooned his plane-crash survivors on a remote island, no one realized the show’s name was a double entendre: It took crowd-sourced blogs to make sense of all the hidden clues, relevant connections, time shifts and intertwined storylines, and each season has given us far more questions than answers. But there’s something refreshing about a network TV show that trusts the mental rigor of its audience instead of dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator. Sometimes it’s good to be a little lost. —Josh Jackson

4. Futurama

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Creator:   Matt Groening  
Stars: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, David Herman, Frank Welker
Network: Fox

Totally underappreciated in its original run, which just caught the tail end of the ’90s, one gets the sense that Futurama at first suffered from misplaced expectations. Knowing it was coming from Matt Groening, perhaps people expected a futuristic version of The Simpsons, but Futurama is fundamentally different in quite a few aspects. Although it was similar in its satirical lampooning of modern (or futuristic) daily life and media, it was also capable of being surprisingly—even shockingly—emotional at times. Just ask anyone who remembers the end of “Jurassic Bark” or “The Luck of the Fryrish,” among other episodes. Likewise, its self-contained continuity was unlike almost every other animated sitcom, with events unfolding in both its first and second run on TV that fundamentally affected the viewer’s perception of earlier plot points. It’s now rightly recognized as one of the best animated comedies ever. —Jim Vorel

3. The Twilight Zone

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Creator: Rod Serling
Stars: Rod Serling
Network: CBS

It is, in the estimation of any sane person, one of the greatest science fiction series of all time without a doubt, with its myriad episodes about technology, aliens, space travel, etc. But The Twilight Zone also plumbed the depths of the human psyche, madness and damnation with great regularity, in the same spirit as creator Rod Serling’s later series, Night Gallery. Ultimately, The Twilight Zone is indispensable to both sci-fi and horror. Its moralistic playlets so often have the tone of dark, Grimm Brothers fables for the rocket age of the ‘50s and ‘60s, urban legends that have left an indelible mark on the macabre side of our pop culture consciousness. What else can one call an episode such as “Living Doll,” wherein a confounded, asshole Telly Savalas is threatened, stalked and ultimately killed by his abused daughter’s vindictive doll, Talky Tina? Or “The Invaders,” about a lonely woman in a farmhouse who is menaced by invaders from outer space in an episode almost entirely without dialog? Taken on its own, a piece of television such as “The Invaders” almost shares more in common with “old dark house” horror films or the slashers that would arrive 20 years later than an entry in a sci-fi anthology. —Jim Vorel

2. Star Trek: The Next Generation

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Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton
Network: Syndicated

Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton
Original Network: Syndicated
The only question is, great Star Trek series or greatest Star Trek series? The debate will always rage on endlessly, but I think time has been especially kind to peoples’ fondness for Next Generation, to the point where I expect it would be the winner of a poll of 1,000 Trekkies. And with good reason—TNG basically takes the original Star Trek’s exploration premise and goes further with it, expanding the boundaries of the universe and creating a richer, more compelling backdrop to the action. Everyone loves Patrick Stewart as the empathetic, cordial Captain Picard; the dude’s appeal is universal. Likewise, there are so many other fan-favorite characters, from good-guy Klingon warrior Worf to Brent Spiner as the charming android, Data. It’s probably the best pure cast in terms of acting talent that any entry in the series has ever had. Its reruns still draw good ratings—what other sci-fi show that started airing in 1987 can make that claim? —Jim Vorel

1. Stranger Things

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Creators: The Duffer Brothers
Stars: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine
Network: Netflix 

The only question viewers tend to ask about the quality of Netflix’s Stranger Things isn’t “Is this a fantastically entertaining show?” but “Does it matter that the show is so homage-heavy?” Our take: No. Since springing into the cultural consciousness immediately with its release a month ago, Stranger Things has been hailed as a revival of old-school sci-fi, horror and ‘80s nostalgia that is far more effective and immediately gripping than most other examples of its ilk. The influences are far too deeply ingrained to individually list, although imagery evoking Amblin-era Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper films drips from nearly every frame. With a stellar cast of child actors and several different characters whose hidden secrets we desperately want to see explored, Stranger Things hits every note necessary to motivate a weekend-long Netflix binge. As questions now swirl about the direction of Season Two, following the first season’s explosive conclusion, we’re all hoping that the same group of characters will be able to re-conjure the chilling, heart-pumping magic of a perfectly constructed eight-episode series. Please, TV gods: Don’t let Stranger Things go all True Detective on us. —Jim Vorel

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