Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
About a year ago Horror Head Writer Sommer dropped a list on the Top 5 Horror Movies that became Awesome TV shows. So when I wasn’t able to complete my Doctor Who list for Sci Fi Saturdays (still have a bunch of episodes left to watch) I thought a good backup would be to do a science fiction version of that list. And here we are.
Now the imaginative worlds presented in Sci Fi films are fertile ground for the TV treatment, and here are five series that did justice to their movie source material. And I’ll be ranking them based solely on their longevity as I have enjoyed each for various reasons. Let’s do this!
#1 Alien Nation (1989)
Now this is a franchise I have not thought about in forever. It began with a 1988 film which saw screen veteran James Caan as LAPD officer Matthew Sykes who receives a new partner named Sam “George” Francisco (Mandy Patinkin from The Princess Bride, Homeland and Criminal Minds). George is from a race of aliens dubbed the Newcomers (real name Tenctonese) who crash landed on Earth after fleeing slavery under a cruel Overseer race. The film is a fantastic blend of sci fi and buddy cop police drama, and has a great message about bigotry and acceptance.
In 1989 Fox made it into a TV series with Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint taking over the roles of Sikes (it’s spelled with an “i” in the series) and George respectively. And it was a pretty fun and unique police procedural series that, while less action-packed than the film, did well to explore and expand the themes of racism and the treatment of minorities. Graham and Pierpoint had superb chemistry and I loved learning about the Newcomer culture via George’s super sweet family. But even back then Fox was the king of cancelling sci fi content so the series only lasted one 21-episode season, though it did return for five TV movies. I would love to see a reboot though because this is a world worth revisiting.
#2 Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)
The massive Terminator franchise easily peaked with the Sci Fi action masterpiece that was Terminator 2: Judgment Day but Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles showed there was still some life in it. I seriously never get tired of talking about this amazing and criminally short series (freaking Fox again!). It aired from 2008-2009 and tells the story of Sarah and John after the events of T2. They meet a mysterious female Terminator named Cameron (a post-Firefly Summer Glau), battle Terminators, and try to stop Skynet. Glau’s Cameron is a wonderfully stoic character and a pre-Game of Thrones Lena Headey is magnificent as strong, protective Sarah Connor. Thomas Dekker is decent as young John Connor but is somewhat overshadowed by Glau and Headey.
The series delves deep both into the mother/son relationship and the post-apocalyptic future. It also explores complex and thought-provoking themes. And the action is fantastic! Sadly, like Firefly and the abovementioned Alien Nation, Fox pulled the plug early and TSCC ended after 31 episodes and on a Season 2 cliffhanger. Even so, this sleeper series is a must watch for any fan of the franchise or just good Sci Fi television in general.
#3 Westworld (2016-2020)
Back in 1973 future Jurassic Park author and ER creator Michael Crichton wrote and directed Sci Fi thriller Westworld about androids at a Wild West-themed amusement park who malfunction and start murdering guests. It was an entertaining time and spawned the 1976 sequel Futureworld and a short-lived 1980 series Beyond Westworld on CBS (which I didn’t even know about until I began researching this article).
But when HBO got their hands on the franchise they took a simple Sci Fi thriller and turned it into an Emmy award-winning dystopian series that examines the themes of identity, morality, nature versus nurture, and destiny. And oh yes, some sweet and bloody action set pieces as well! As with the original film the series follows the titular Western-themed theme park where guests interact with android “hosts”. But, surprise surprise, the hosts begin to revolt and all hell breaks loose.
The series features an all-star cast including Thandie Newton, who in 2018 copped a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Actress for her portrayal as host madam Maeve Millay, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth, Ed Harris, and Academy Award-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins. There have been three seasons and 28 episodes so far, with each season expanding the world and the setting. A fourth season has been announced and if you haven’t yet, it’s a perfect time to find out why these violent delights have violent ends.
#4 12 Monkeys (2015-2018)
The 1995 science fiction film 12 Monkeys stars Bruce Willis as a man travelling from a post-apocalyptic future to prevent the release of a deadly virus and it was a wonderful mind-bending adventure. The film, which was based on the 1962 French science fiction featurette La Jetée, received the television series treatment by Syfy Channel in 2015 and it was just mind-blowing. Seriously, a show based on a movie really had no right to be this good (I ranked it second on my Smartest Time Travel TV Shows list).
Aaron Stanford (X-Men and X2, Nikita) takes over as James Cole and leads a brilliant cast including Amanda Schull as virologist Cassandra “Cassie” Railly, and Kirk Acevedo (Fringe, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Arrow) as his best friend José Ramse. The series follows the main plot of using a time travel machine to try and prevent the release of a deadly virus created by the enigmatic “Army of the 12 Monkeys”, but adds so many twists that it would make your head spin, though in a good way. The series ran for four seasons and 47 episodes, and remains a wonderfully acted, fantastically scripted, and thrilling series. You definitely need to hang out with these 12 Monkeys.
#5 Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)
When the sci fi action film Stargate came out in 1994 it was action-packed adventure with some cool visuals. But when the tv sequel series Stargate SG-1 came out three years later it marked the beginning of one of the best Sci Fi shows of all time and a massive media franchise.
The series tells the story of a military unit that travels through the eponymous wormhole to different planets and protects Earth from alien enemies like the parasitic Gou’ald, the robotic Replicators, and the cult-like Ori. Led by MacGyver himself Richard Dean Anderson for eight seasons SG-1 (and then Farscape’s Ben Browder for the latter two) the series gave us unforgettable and lovable characters, pulse-pounding action, and imaginative story lines. The show spawned two sequel series of lesser quality: the still fun Stargate Atlantis and the overly serious but okay Stargate Universe. And there were also two direct-to-video movies The Ark of Truth and Continuum which wrapped up SG1 storylines.
Just the fact that it lasted an impressive 10 seasons and 214 episodes (you read that right) is testament to the staying power of this brilliant show. And with Star Trek currently in the midst of its own TV renaissance it is high time that we get a new installment of the Stargate franchise. The gate awaits!
So which of these is your favourite? And are there any other series you would add to the list? You can check out more awesome Sci Fi content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.