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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Series Available On Netflix Instant, Watch Them Before The Company Collapses

We’re living in a golden age of television viewing. Not because of what’s airing on network or cable television right now, most of that’s reality programming crap, but because of all the great, older content that’s available with the touch of a button thanks to the genius of Netflix Instant Watch.

Unfortunately, this golden age may be woefully short lived. Netflix is in trouble. Greedy content providers have seen dollar signs and in response all that on demand content currently available in one spot is on the verge of being pulled out of circulation to be scattered to the four winds of the internet, or in some cases buried in a deep vault somewhere hidden until the rights holder can squeeze a few more dollars out of some other content provider. Maybe Netflix could find a way to survive that, but other recent business decisions made by the company seem destined to doom them entirely (Qwikster? Seriously what are they thinking?).

Maybe they survive but just in case they don’t, now is the time to maximize your Netflix Instant Watch usage to catch up on great science fiction that, unless you were willing to pay top dollar for a box set on Amazon, there was just no convenient way to watch before. Because getting TV shows one DVD at a time in the mail just won’t do, these are the best science fiction series available on Instant Watch, right now.

Battlestar Galactica

Both the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica television series and the new, Ron Moore shepherded version are online, but unless you’re some kind of purist there’s probably no reason to watch the old ones. Stick with the Ron Moore version which, in spite of a somewhat unsatisfying ending, is still one of the best television experiences of all time. The show follows a group of humans from a far off civilization fleeing their own creations, human-like robots who have destroyed their world leaving only a handful of survivors. Those survivors are on a quest to find a new home on a lost, mythical planet known as Earth. In the end their destination doesn’t actually matter so much, BSG is as much an exploration of the human soul as it is a journey across the cosmos. Prepare to be changed by it.

# Of Eps Available: All 73 episodes which originally aired over four seasons between 2004 and 2009.

Doctor Who

Like Battlestar both the older and new versions of The Doctor are on Instant Watch. I’d recommend sticking with the new version, unless you have some nostalgic attachment to the classic episodes. For the uninitiated, old Doctor Who just doesn’t hold up well. New Doctor Who though, is brilliant. You’ll have to slog through the sort of mediocre first season with Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor to get to it, but it’s so worth it. Once you get to the second season with David Tennant the show utterly soars, becoming a deeply moving adventure show about an ancient man who travels through time and space, conquering evil with science, romance, and sheer intelligence. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be better for having watched every single second of it, even the dumb parts in season one where Eccleston battles a bunch of mannequins with machine gun arms. Hey, nothing’s perfect. Side note: Don’t miss the Doctor Who mini-movies which are in some cases available only separately on Netflix. “The Waters of Mars” for instance, is deeply haunting.

# Of Episodes Available: 69 episodes which originally aired over five seasons between 2005 and 2010.

Farscape

Maybe the best television series in the history of medium. That’s how I describe Farscape when anyone asks about it, and I still feel like I haven’t said enough good. Somehow, despite the effusive praise of everyone who’s been lucky enough to spend time on Moya, Farscape still flies under the radar. Make sure you give it at least five episodes before you make a decision on whether it’s for you. The thing is Farscape, like life, is complex. Not in that sci-fi, brain-bender way that so many genre shows are, but in the way it builds relationships between the characters involved in what’s going on. It’s the story of an American astronaut named John Crichton, sucked through a wormhole and stranded in a different galaxy on a ship, a living ship, with a group of escaped prisoners. They hate each other first, they can’t get along, they’re all aliens after all… but over time these characters become a family. A family you’re a part of, a family lost in a deadly and dangerous galaxy written by some of the best storytellers in the history of television. For those of you who’ve already seen it, you know what I’m talking about. When you re-watch it on Netflix (and you will), clicking play on those old episodes feels like coming home.

# Of Episodes Available: All 88 episodes which aired over four seasons between 1999 and 2002.

Firefly

Firefly had the potential to be the next big science fiction franchise, but the Joss Whedon created space adventure series was cut short by short-sighted executives. There may not be many episodes, but what’s there is worth your time. It’s the story of a crew of smugglers and almost pirates in a far off future where the galaxy has been colonized by man but things aren’t going very well. It takes the whole idea of a space western pretty seriously, imagine the crew of the Firefly class ship Serenity as a group of generally well-meaning bandits roving from one frontier town to the next stirring up trouble and you’ll get some inkling of what you’re in for, if you’ve never seen it. Though the series was cut short, there is Serenity, the feature film which followed and incidentally, made my list of the best space operas of all time, to sort of sum it all up. Firefly is undeniably great, but given time it could have been so much more. Watch it, fall in love, and wonder what might have been.

# Of Eps Available: All 14 plus Serenity the feature film which followed the show’s cancellation.

Futurama

Futurama could have been a show which just makes fun of science fiction, but in the process of doing that, Matt Groenig’s piece of clever, animated hilarity often ends up being pretty great science fiction itself. Sci-fi fans can watch and get all the in-jokes, noobies tune in to watch Bender drink beer. You can’t really go wrong with Futurama, particularly in the show’s first couple of seasons when things really seemed to be firing on all hyperspace engines. Futurama’s back on the air now with new episodes, but these older ones are just better. It’s about a pizza delivery boy from our time, frozen and awakened in a far off future where he works for an inter-galactic delivery service run by one of his ancestors, becomes best friends with an alcoholic robot, lusts after a Cyclops woman, and eventually defeats a bunch of invading brains while riding a Scooty Puff Jr.

# Of Eps Available: 75 episodes which aired irregularly on different channels from 1999 – 2009. There are also some direct to DVD movies, but I’d skip those if I were you.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Back in the late 80s one smart and funny man by the name of Joel Hodgson had a brilliant idea: produce a show that is mostly a re-airing of truly horrific b-movies from film history, but do it with commentary.  The conceit is simple, the execution hilarious, and the result is Mystery Science Theater 3000, a cult show that ran for 11 years and is one of the most beloved sci-fi series of the past two decades.  Two mad scientists launch a janitor into space to force him to watch B-movies; there’s a reason but it doesn’t matter.  Joel Robinson (played by creator Joel Hodgson) creates four robots to help maintain his sanity.  With them, mainly Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, fans were treated to what are ostensibly the first mass market produced movie commentaries.  The only difference between what you find on a blu-ray today and what MST3K started over 20 years ago is that Joel (and eventually Mike Nelson, who replaced Joel on the show in the early 90s) and his robot buddies spent the entire episode making fun of the films.  You don’t go to MST3K to learn how they did the makeup for Hobgoblins, you’re there to hear Tom Servo analyze a film by saying, “They must have spent ten dollars on this.”  

#Of Eps Available: Dozens, but not categorized as a season set. You’ll have to pick them out one at a time.

Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap was one of the smartest television shows of the 90s and back then in its own way, even a little edgy. It remains one of the best, most accessible pieces of science fiction ever to make it on television. It’s the story of a man named Sam Beckett who, in some not so far off future creates a machine which sends not his body, but his consciousness leaping through time. Every week he leaps into the body of a new historical figure, some famous, some utterly unfamous. In order to get home he has to keep leaping into someone else, and in order to leap he has to set right whatever’s wrong in the life of the person he’s leaped into. His only companion is the hologram of a man named Al, projected from the experiment in the future as a guide and mentor. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Sam’s “oh boy” persona almost instantly and the chemistry between he and Al is the stuff television icons are made out of. Whether tackling heady political issues or getting preachy with religion and mired in the nature of the human soul, Al and Sam’s relationship keeps Quantum Leap grounded. Whether Sam’s breaking the sound barrier or giving birth in an elevator, Quantum Leap is almost perfect.

# Of Eps Available: Most of the 98 episodes originally aired over five seasons between 1989 and 1992.

Red Dwarf

Red Dwarf could have just been a show in which people cracked jokes about how much Lister loves curry, but in between all the curry humor it’s also surprisingly smart. Alright you’ll mostly tune in for the comedy but the story of the last human in the galaxy trapped alone on a giant ship billions of years into the future is bound to have some good ideas once in awhile. Actually the whole thing is kind of like Mystery Science Theater 3000, except without the movies and with British accents. Dave Lister is utterly alone on the lost mining ship Red Dwarf, except for a smeghead hologram of his dead roommate, the ship’s computer, a life form which evolved from the ship’s cat, and a later on in the show a robot with a cleaning obsession. They keep him sane by irritating the hell out of them, and in return Dave gets back at them by generally not caring about basic hygiene. The story basically goes completely off the rails in later seasons but, well, Red Dwarf is always at its best when it’s completely off the rails anyway. It’s funnier and weirder than you can imagine, and even though most of the special effects are terrible, well that terribleness is somehow all part of the charm. I’m pretty sure it’s all intentional.

# Of Eps Available: All 47 episodes originally aired over 8 seasons from 1988 – 1999 (they take their time about these things in the UK) plus three newer episodes randomly created and aired in 2009 for some smegging reason.

Star Trek

There’s not much left to be said about the original Star Trek, except to re-iterate that unlike just about any other piece of science fiction produced in this era, it holds up. It’s still the greatest science fiction series ever created and the stories, even the one in which Kirk and Uhura pull off television’s first black kiss, are still incredibly relevant. Great writing based on ideas bigger than the show itself have helped keep it that way, along with iconic, unforgettable characters. The dynamice between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy has never really been duplicated anywhere else, not even in that 2009 movie they did where they brought in a bunch of kids as replacement actors. It’s Star Trek. If you’ve seen it, watch it again. If you haven’t seen it… at least watch the one with the tribbles. It’ll be no tribble at all.

# Of Eps Available: All 82 original episodes which originally aired over 3 seasons between 1966 and 1968.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Not quite as good as the original Star Trek, but so close to as good that it almost doesn’t matter, The Next Generation holds up pretty well too. In retrospect the show’s attempt to be more politically correct than the original now just seems sort of naïve. I maintain that Kirk’s shoot first and ask questions later approach to exploration was probably the right one. Still, brilliant acting, amazing stories, and a truly hopeful outlook for humanity kept this true to the spirit of Rodenberry’s original Trek dream. Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise are also available on Instant Watch but… much as I love Trek I can’t recommend them. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is worth your time, is the only Star Trek series not currently available on Netflix Instant Watch. Work your way through Next Generation and hopefully, by the time you’ve finished, Netflix will have DS9 on instant watch, right alongside it, where it belongs.

# Of Eps Available: All 178 episodes which originally aired over 7 seasons between 1987 and 1993.

Comments

  • Yem

    Nonsense! The first season of Doctor Who (and Eccleston) was awesome

    • JT

      It has its moments but I think it’s really, really tough for new people to get through.  Wheras the later seasons are brilliant in every way.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZIF64JNS6QLME4V6FSNJYYMQA john b

      Eccleston was really coming on his own when he decided to give up the role, and i always wonder what could have been if he had stated for 3-4 years. Tennant  is the guy who most people under 30 associate with Dr Who. Matt Smith has brought new energy while he isnt as broody as past Doctors. I will always remember Eccleston for the episode with the kid with the gasmasks and at the end every one ended up living and just the joy he brought to it.

      • kara

        The Hollow Child is probably the best ep of the new incarnation. Anything from the Tom Baker years is better than the stuff Moffat has been spewing out. Matt Smith is just weird.

  • http://www.cannibalmidgets.com Shogun

    Stargate Universe was really good. I was never a big fan of the Stargate shows but I discovered SGU when it showed up on the instant view last year. While it may not be of Battlestar or Firefly quality it’s easily as good as some of the other shows on this list. While it does carry over a little from the previous series you don’t need to have watched them to enjoy it, I didn’t. Unfortunately it was canceled before it was able to finish.

    • JT

      I like Stargate Universe.  It’s not better than any of these shows.

  • Fuckya

    the fuck is the second page?

  • Treed38

    Sorry, but how did Stargate SG-1 or Atlantis or SGU not make this list? SG-1 ran for ten seasons, ten fantastic seasons, longer than any other single science-fiction series and it survived changing networks three twice. Atlantis ran for 5 seasons, which were solid. SGU didn’t last as long, and honestly it didn’t have the quirky charm of the previous two series, but come on! 

    • JT

      This isn’t a longevity list. 

      How many of these shows have you seen?  They’re all better than any of the Stargates.

      • Nast33

        Yeah, SG-1 was actually great during it’s run, expect the last 2 seasons where Richard Dean Anderson “retired”. It definitely deserves a spot on the list.
        But still, that’s just like, your opinion, man.
        I think It’s apples and oranges to compare things like MST3K to the real sci-fi shows.
        I am a fan of Firefly, but 3 or 4 episodes were not good. The last one I still remember, with the bountyhunter, just cringingly bad. Also, River Tam was annoying at times.

        • JT

          True, but it’s a good opinion based on an intimate knowledge of all the shows involved and 30 years of watching, reading, and breathing science fiction.

          There’s a reason no one takes Stargate seriously at all outside SG fan circles. It is what it is. Fine if you like it, but let’s not put it on a pedastool and pretend it’s something it is not.

          Lot of shows like that I love, which I wouldn’t put on this list. I’m a big fan of Earth 2, for instance, but no way does it belong on this list over any of these shows.

        • Cracky0979

          River was a total badass, especially in Serenity, you should be sent to a hell where you’re stuck in a time loop, and are forced to experience variations of the same 15min in which you’ve dropped the soap…It’s Groundhog Day meets Oz.. Jack Ass

  • http://www.facebook.com/KrazyJoe Joe Fiore

    You can most certainly recommend Star Trek: Enterprise. That was an excellent series. 

    Voyager????  Not so much.

    • JT

      Enterprise is watchable but there’s no way it deserves to be on this list over any of the shows currently on there. 

    • kara

      ST: Enterprise was a great show until they found out they were being cancelled. The series finale is an insult to all fans of the franchise.
      Voyager is watchable. The formulaic “they almost got home but then they didn’t” aspect of the show should keep it off of Best Of lists everywhere.

  • Anonymous

    All 98 episodes of Quantum Leap are not available. Many of the episodes are DVD only, which is almost as lame as this comment.

    • JT

      Ah really?  I wasn’t aware that Netflix had done that.  That’s extremely lame.  I hate when they pull lame trick.  I’ll update.  Thanks for the heads up.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t think it’s Netflix so much as music licensing. It’s too bad that petty copyrights on twelve seconds of music can keep so many movies and programs from being seen.

        • JT

          In some cases… in other cases I’ve heard it’s the content provider trying to force people into buying the DVD while also still getting cash from Netflix for streaming. Either way, it’s greed over customer satisfaction mentality that’s the problem. It’s companies taking the short view, instead of the long one.

  • http://www.bopo.net bopo

    Next Generation did not have 40-episode seasons. It had 178 total episodes, not 286.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation

  • Dailysciencefiction

    Thanks for this. very useful. Fantasy series include the BBC’s Merlin and Starz’ Camelot.

  • KT

    DS9 will be available on Netflix in October.

    • JT

      Unless Netflix collapses before then.

  • Crankyoldman

    I must digress about DS9.  I watched four seasons of nothing happening at all — enough to lose interest.  MAYBE it got much better in the bearded years, but I saw it going nowhere.

    • kara

      It got SO much better when Ron Moore came on board. The final years of the show are all connected in a single story arc that was great.

  • Guest

    Babylon 5, Stargate SG 1.. I think you’re missing a few.

    • JT

      Babylon 5 is not available on Netflix Instant Watch, sadly.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZIF64JNS6QLME4V6FSNJYYMQA john b

        Yes it is, or was.

        • JT

          It’s not now. Or wasn’t when I wrote this.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZIF64JNS6QLME4V6FSNJYYMQA john b

    Not a bad list, but Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy is available on instant view, and I also believe Cowboy Bebop, and many great sci-fi anime series are available. The Tom Baker Dr Who is just as brilliant as the latest Who, and many others even some of the old Black and White have their moments.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZIF64JNS6QLME4V6FSNJYYMQA john b

    I do want to thank you for putting Red Dwarf on the list, it gets so overlooked because few Americans are familiar with the show, its funny, and rarely takes it self to seriously.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Hupp/1452720715 Joshua Hupp

      I only enjoyed the first 2 seasons. I lost interest pretty quickly on season 3 and never came back, but I recommend the first 2. Hilarious, inane, and some actual, funny sci-fi stories (like Star Trek on LSD.)

  • http://mrgeekynerd.blogspot.com Mr. Geeky Nerd

    No Stargate. All three series are there in thier entireity. Parsonaily I prefer SG-1, but all three are worth your time.

  • Marronzack

    LOSTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Captain Beaky

      Lost is about as Scifi as an episode of Eastenders….

      • scott

        Scifi = science fiction… Tell me, why in the hell wouldn’t lost be science fiction? Did the whole time travel thing only happen in my mind? Because if it did then maybe the show wasn’t as bad as I thought.

  • Scott Davis

    Babylon 5 would be a good inclusion. I liked Stargate Universe, but that might just be me.

  • IHateNetflixSuggestions

    HELLO? WHAT ABOUT STARGATE? Obviously the BEST show EVER to be made in human history. Farscape and Firefly both sucked.

    • kara

      I cannot begin to fathom your opinion that Firefly sucked. It is the best SciFi show ever… better than Star Wars, Star Trek or even Dr Who.
      I’ve watched some Stargate in all the incarnations, but SGU was the only one that could hold my interest. The others are just too silly to be really enjoyable.

      • kara

        Did I just say Star Wars was a “show”? duhrrr.

      • James12345

        lol@firefly being good. Show was terrible.

  • Ckdjunk

    It appears they have DS9 on Instant now.

  • pj

    Oh, and no more Red Dwarf.

    Not a fair trade, if you ask me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/APFSDS Dave McLeod

    seen a lot of Farscape and thought Browder overdid it to often

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chip-Strong/779551319 Chip Strong

    Spaced.

    • Captain Beaky

      YES! THIS!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Deus.Incarnum James Austin

    There’s no mention of two of the better ones, Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, personally I like them a great deal more than a few of the ones listed.

  • guarg

    you know the guy is a bad writer when he has to start off with ‘this show could have been’. Instead of then giving us a review he just pulls from his keister. As for the list, how does Red dwarf make it but B5 does not. Quantum Leap? That was just sci-fi for middle aged female soap opera fans. Sliders was far superior in that era.

    On a side note, I wonder if the author ever watched the original BSG. With the exception of Star Trek he seems to hate anything pre 1985. The first season of BSG was amazing. Just ignore the second.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3QMWJK5QVUYZFRDFRFQTZ54REQ Elbereth

    DS9 is **still** not available? Dang.

    • katiecareen

      ALL EPISODES OF DS9 ARE ON NETFLIX UNDER STAR TREK

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Angelo-Suppa/100000499899286 Angelo Suppa

    My opinion is battlestar galactica,firefly, sg1, sgu,caprica just because it ties into Bg which is my favorite dam thing ever on tv and i hope soon battlestar galactica blood and chrome gets a home on netflix or somewhere cause it look so sweet!

  • bibleverse1

    I agree with all of these except Mystery Science Theater

  • Jay

    How on earth can you miss sliders?

  • Danielle

    I think Doctor Who should go on for ever. I watched every season and every episode non-stop. Christopher Eccleston was really great, and for a while I couldn’t accept that he was gone. But after a while I started to like David Tennant better the Christopher Eccleston. Matt Smith is not who I was looking forward to. David Tennant has the best character, and is the best looking out of all of the other Doctors.

  • Sarah Kolb-Williams

    That moment when you see this headline and really, really look forward to discovering something new and exciting and worthwhile to watch on Netflix, and you realize you’ve seen every last one of them