We could all do with a little bit of hope right about now. The last time I wrote an article on Science-fiction films & series to stream here, it covered the entire spectrum – from the dystopian, to the utopian. This time around, we look at the top 10 science fiction shows and films you can stream during this lockdown, that are bound to instil you with optimism and hope, if not happiness.
2016 | Netflix
The critically acclaimed Arrival is based on a short story, “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. The movie follows Amy Adams, a linguist attempting to communicate with extra-terrestrials who have arrived on Earth. Their sudden arrival also leads to tensions amongst nations that could easily escalate into a global and “inter-species” conflict.
The above plot summary, however, doesn’t do Arrival and its core premise much justice, for it is so much more. Arrival mixes science-fiction; ‘linguistic study’ accuracy, geopolitics and the concept of time into a deeply reflective movie on what makes us human.
Backed by a powerful and nuanced performance by Amy Adams, Arrival dives into the existential with tact and care. The movie ensures that you think of the bigger questions, like the ones we seem to be asking right now – and leaves the audience with just the right amount of answers, and a sense of optimism for humanity’s future.
2005 | Amazon Prime
Any list for science fiction series will always be incomplete without Doctor Who. From the older series from the 60s, to the new revival series that’s been on since 2005 – the adventures of the beloved Time-Lord from Planet Gallifrey and his companions have enthralled people all over the globe. The legacy and storylines of Doctor Who are so vast and diverse that it is nearly impossible to encapsulate their highs or lows in a couple of paragraphs. However, one thing remains constant throughout the series – when faced with inescapable, apocalyptic problems, the Doctor’s approach remains on the side of the angels. He always opts for the most compassionate solution, even when facing the might of genocidal races like the Daleks or Cybermen. These factors were critical in elevating Peter Capaldi’s brilliant yet underrated run as the 12th Doctor (yes, the doctor regenerates into new versions, because, SCIENCE!) and remains at the core of Jodi Whittaker’s current avatar.
If catching up on the vast mythology daunts you, then just catch all the Christmas Specials first, they are the best jump-in points into the series and are usually canon neutral and very, well, Christmassy.
The Good Place
2016 | Netflix
Now we can get into an argument as to whether The Good Place qualifies as science fiction. But it has won two Hugo Awards, and everyone’s favourite character from the show, Janice, is an AI based higher being, so there.
The show follows its protagonists in the “Good Place” – a heaven–like afterlife to which humans are sent based on their lifetime moral score. But there is something amiss. Eleanor is not someone you would classify as “worthy” of this heaven, given her nature and deeds in her life.
Without revealing too much of the show’s brilliant twist, The Good Place can claim the crown of one of the smartest comedies of this generation. Visually stunning, hilarious and sometimes downright bonkers, the show tackles science fiction, theology and philosophy concepts with ease and brilliance. Its diverse protagonists are hilarious yet accurate reflections of everyday people like us, and that’s why the show’s unassuming message of hope and goodness makes it more important in today’s times. Oh, and it’s only four seasons…
2017 | Hotstar
Sure, I could have mentioned Star Trek first, but we will obviously get there. The Orville is Seth MacFarlane’s love letter to the Star Trek mythos, and its reverence for its source, mixed with MacFarlane’s timing and humour make it such a joyful watch. The show that initially started out as an awkward parody of Star Trek, has evolved not only to be a great show in its own right; but also the best spiritual successor to Star Trek so far, even more so than some of Star Trek’s own sequels. The future, according to The Orville, is bright, kind, optimistic and compassionate. However that future takes work to build and maintain, and can get messy, since we’re all human after all.
Star Trek (Original Series and The Next Generation)
1968, 1993 | Netflix
It’ll be a crime if I were to pick one above the other when it comes to the two-original series of Star Trek; they both deserve their own spots in the top 5. However, since I do not have the luxury of space, I’ll commit the crime of clubbing both onto one entry. Gene Roddenberry’s enduring vision of a humanity that not only saved itself and built a better world, but also managed to unite and lead the ‘Federation’ with races across the universe; is truly one worth aspiring to for us as a species. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since before the lockdown, you’d have already felt the cultural impact that Star Trek has had over the past five decades. Again, I feel deeply under-qualified to elaborate upon why you should be watching Star Trek; however, if you want to start your binge, I can give you a small tip. I’d recommend starting with the Next Generation first, moving to the movies based on the Original Series and then on to the complete Original TV Series!
Now that we’re done with the top 5, here’s a quick rundown of the other shows and movies you can catch up on while the lockdown lasts, arranged by how quickly you can binge through!
2008 | Hotstar
Wall-E is both a cinematic and animation masterpiece. In the first half hour of the film, you see a dumpster bot deliver a performance so nuanced, that if it were human, it would have probably received an Oscar nod. If you haven’t seen Wall-E already, given the times and the urgency that we now face, you should. The film’s message of hope, of redeeming an Earth made lifeless through consumerism and inaction, is an important one. Also, Wall-E and EVA are like super-duper adorable.
Children of Men
2006 | Netflix
Children of Men is a cult classic and Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece. A dystopian chase thriller movie based upon a contagion wiping out humanity’s ability to reproduce, is probably not something you expect to see on the optimistic sci-fi movie list. But, Children of Men’s beauty is that the underlying message has always been more obvious than its apparent nihilism. Clive Owen’s brilliant performance drives in that fact, and underscores that there’s always hope, even in the gutters, as long as you’re willing to see it and fight for it.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1978 | Netflix
This is Spielberg at his prime. Close encounters of the Third Kind skilfully takes on and subverts familiar science fiction tropes that we are used to when it comes to alien encounters, abductions and standard governmental responses. Meticulously made and visually brilliant – Close Encounters of the Third Kind provides a hopeful glimpse into the promise of technology and humanity in the face of a ‘first contact’.
2008 | Amazon Prime
When Fringe initially came out in 2008, it was dubbed as the poor man’s X-Files. Fringe’s protagonists investigated various mysterious phenomenon using ‘Fringe Science’ in a mystery of the week format. Sounds as generic as it gets, yes, but as Season 2 progressed, Fringe found its own distinct voice, one that has turned it into a beloved cult classic. With powerhouse performance from Anna Torv and John Noble and some spectacular guest appearances from the likes of Leonard Nimoy – Fringe treaded a fine, and an oft human line, between horror, mystery and fun; without compromising its emotional core. Even in the face of the apocalypse, the show finds a way to grasp at optimism, hope and compassion, right from the fringes.
I’m sure you have some of your favourites too, which we may have missed out on. What are those? Sound off in the comments below and till then, happy binging and chin-up, intergalactic warriors!