The 16 Best Sci-Fi Movies And TV Shows Of 2018
What were your favorite sci-fi movies and shows this year?
2018 was a weird year for science fiction. While there was plenty of decent sci-fi, there were few standout hits. And there was definitely nothing straightforward in the world of science fiction this year.
Take Maniac, one of our favorite sci-fi shows of the year. The Netflix series saw Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Justin Theroux, and Sonoya Mizuno exploring the effects of a drug that makes you relive the worst day of your life over and over until you overcome your trauma (or are consumed by it). It was a lot more fun than it sounds, but as far as science fiction as a genre, it definitely existed on the quirky fringe.
You can say much the same of our favorite sci-fi movie of 2018, Annihilation (minus the "fun" part). This thriller sent a group of scientists including Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson into a mysterious, alien zone where DNA from plants and animals gets mixed up and "refracted" until the two are interchangeable. It culminates with an alien encounter unlike any other ever committed to film, with elements of cosmic horror thrown in. Again, not your typical sci-fi fare, right?
But that's part of why we love the genre so much--it's more versatile than perhaps any other. And when it comes down to it, there was plenty of sci-fi we loved in 2018. In no particular order, these 16 movies and shows were our favorites.
What was your favorite sci-fi this year? Let us know in the comments below, then check out our lists of the top 10 movies and top 10 TV shows this year, the 30 best Netflix exclusives, and the 28 best performances of the year.
Maniac is one of the most complex, challenging shows of 2018. It's a sci-fi comedy drama, loosely based on a Norwegian show of the same name, with The Leftovers' Patrick Somerville showrunning and True Detective Season 1's Cary Fukunaga directing every episode. It's is set in alternative retro-futuristic New York, and stars Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as Owen and Annie, two damaged people who submit themselves to a mysterious pharmaceutical trial for different reasons. The trials involve the subjects entering hallucinatory states, and almost immediately Annie and Owen's start to overlap, suggesting some unique bond between these two strangers.
As the series continues we see them in a variety of imagined situations--from a 1940s heists caper to a Tolkien-esque land of elves and fairies. But the boundaries between reality and fantasy frequently break down, with dialogue, faces, music, and events occurring in different contexts and Annie and Owen attempt to traverse the inner worlds of their damaged psyches. And if that sounds like heavy going, it often is. But Maniac is also funny, sad, joyous, moving, exciting, and completely unlike anything on screens in 2018. Hill and Stone are equally matched by Justin Theroux and Sonoya Mizuno as the unhinged doctors leading the experiments and Sally Field as Theroux's mother, a bestselling motivational therapist who maintains a strange emotional hold over her son. Maniac is one of those shows where it's almost impossible to predict where each episodes is going to go next, but the 10-episode is so brilliant and unique you'll want to start it again the moment it finishes. -- Dan Auty
It's tricky to describe Annihilation in any way that does it justice. Part cosmic horror, part sci-fi thriller, part existential meditation on the nature of personhood, director Alex Garland took Jeff VanderMeer's experimental novel of the same name and pushed it to its absolute limits. With an all female starring cast made up of powerhouse actors like Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson, supported by Oscar Isaac doing his best trope-reversed damsel in distress, Annihilation is at once a minimalist art piece and robust creature-feature with tension to spare.
Ostensibly the story of a team of scientists setting out to explore the mysterious "Area X," an anomalous area of swamp land struck by what may or may not have be an alien artifact, Annihilation rapidly warps itself into a dream-like, surrealist painting where animals and plants have mutated into impossible hybrids. Worse yet, as the team soon discovers, the same phenomenon is happening to them--and there's nothing they can do to stop it. The end result is as bloody and as horrifying as you might expect.
Despite being more than a little challenging to watch at points for the squeamish among us, Annihilation never stops being beautiful, and never forgets its own desperately human core--even when that human element is rapidly transforming into something else entirely. -- Meg Downey
3. Altered Carbon
In our review of Netflix's Altered Carbon early in 2018, we called it "a new cyberpunk masterpiece." For sci-fi fans, its accomplishments are almost innumerable. It manages to establish a living future brimming with complexity, from AI poker games held in cyber space to the all important Cortical Stack, a spinal implant that's made society's upper crust all but immortal.
The narrative possibilities that come from these science fiction conceits are mind-blowing, but it still wouldn't be much of a show if it weren't for an engrossing story involving the mysterious temporary death of one of Earth's richest citizens, as well as gripping performances from lead actors including James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Chris Conner, Kristin Lehman, and especially Joel Kinnaman, who injects a surprising amount of feeling into a protagonist who in another actor's hands might have been just a beefed-up super soldier. Altered Carbon may go a little too far off the rails in its final episodes, but the world is so incredibly drawn that the journey is worth taking regardless. -- Mike Rougeau
4. Black Mirror Season 4
Since getting a new lease on life after being picked up by Netflix, Black Mirror continues to get darker and more twisted. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the show’s fourth season, which debuted at the very end of 2017. Despite balancing the season with “lighter” episodes such as Hang The DJ, Season 4 made waves with the gruesome Black Museum, as well as Crocodile, a cautionary morality tale about the impact of surveillance, which delivered some of the darkest moments in the show’s history. Season four also experimented a lot more with tone and format, with the black and white horror episode Metalhead, as well as the feature-length homage to Star Trek, USS Callister. It’s clear that series creator Charlie Brooker isn’t running out of ideas anytime soon, so we dare only dream of the horrors he’ll come up with for Season 5. -- Lucy James
While much of the best sci-fi is subtle and thought-provoking, Upgrade delivered the over-the-top B-movie action that is also a vital part of the genre. It's the directorial debut of Leigh Whannell, who is best known as the co-creator of the Saw and Insidious series, and he brings his clear love of horror to this wild futuristic revenge story. The plot focuses on a paralysed man who gains incredible strength and fighting powers after an experimental chip is implanted into his brain, and Whannell delivers some incredibly exciting, brutally violent action scenes, as our hero uses his new abilities to track down his wife's killers. Upgrade's trashier aspects might be more convincing than the drama, but Logan Marshall-Green puts in a strong performance as the man coming to terms with his new powers, and the movie is frequently darkly funny too. Upgrade is complete nonsense, but it's also hugely entertaining, fast-moving fun. --Dan Auty
6. The Meg
What does a giant shark movie really need? The Meg has it all, from a research station full of tasty, tantalizing scientists to the biggest shark ever seen on film. That really is all you need to know about The Meg: The shark is big, and it is hungry. Oh, and Jason Statham is completely doing a parody of himself at this point, and it totally works. The Meg delivers on everything you could reasonably expect from it, and you'll gleefully chomp it down. -- Mike Rougeau
7. Sorry to Bother You
On the surface, Sorry to Bother You sounds simple. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a much needed job as a telemarketer, where he quickly learns to adopt a distinctively funny "white voice" (played by comedian David Cross) to get ahead. He wrestles with his identity as a black man in the face of this success, especially as his co-workers revolt against the company's broken systems while he rises through the ranks.
But Sorry to Bother You ultimately becomes much more than simply social or racial satire, especially when it careens into full on dystopian science fiction. And yet it somehow never loses its sense of humor, either. Sorry to Bother You raises questions about identity, personal responsibility, corporate ethics, workers' revolutions, and the nature of art, while also being a movie about--slight spoilers--people snorting magical cocaine and being very literally transformed into something both more and less than their original selves.
Stanfield is exceptional in the lead role, and his success is bolstered by a supporting cast that includes Tessa Thompson (in yet another fantastic performance this year), Steven Yeun, Danny Glover, and more. Whether you're in it for the comedy, the science fiction, or the biting social commentary, director Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You was one of the best movies of 2018. -- Mike Rougeau
8. Lost in Space
Lost in Space might not have taken up as much space in your TV subconsciousness as some other shows this year. After all, Netflix released a lot of shows in 2018. That said, it was simply one of the most entertaining exclusives the streaming service had to offer. This adaptation put a modern spin with great visual effects on the old TV series and left us wanting more by the time Season 1 was finished. Between the exciting worlds it's building, the chemistry between the Robinson family, and the fact that literally anything that could go wrong will in a heartbeat, what's not to love?
Seriously, though, the characters on this show have the absolute worst luck and any plan they come up with to save the day will definitely blow up in their faces. That's pretty entertaining to watch, especially since it seems none of them will die from it. -- Chris E. Hayner
Overlord has the makings of B-movie badness: A squad of everyman US soldiers has to infiltrate a Nazi-occupied French village on the eve of the D-Day Normandy invasion. The village hides a secret, though: The Nazis have transformed the church's undercroft into a secret lab where they're creating unkillable, zombie-like supersoldiers. Naturally.
But Overlord works on basically every level. Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell lead a likeable cast of characters, while Mathilde Ollivier's not-so-helpless villager Chloe meets them tit-for-tat. The war action thrills and the horror chills, and the movie makes excellent use of the tropes of its setting and genre while bringing plenty of new ideas to the table as well. All in all it made for one of the most fun movie experiences of the year. -- Mike Rougeau
Prospect is different from most of the sweeping, universe-scale sci-fi epics that come out these days. No one is trying to destroy any planets or galaxies, there's no millennia-spanning lore about ancient races seeding the future with mysterious artifacts, and Earth isn't locked in a desperate war with any distant colonies (that we know of). Instead, Prospect is the story of a man (Jay Duplass), his daughter (Sophie Thatcher), and a bandit (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal) trying to simply stay alive on an unforgiving alien frontier. And it has some insanely awesome practical special effects--it's worth watching for those alone. If you like your sci-fi on a smaller, more intimate scale, you'll be over the moon for Prospect. -- Mike Rougeau
11. The Endless
The Endless proves you don't need money and lavish VFX to make one of the the year's best sci-fi movies--you just need a great concept and script. This is the third movie from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who are emerging as two of the most ambitious and interesting independent filmmakers around. It's a sort-of sequel to the their 2014 debut Resolution, and focuses on a pair of friends (played by Moorhead and Benson) who revisit the cult that they grew up in and escaped from as kids. What happens next involves time-loops and interdimensional entities, and things gets very weird very quickly.
The surreal, paranoid tone of The Endless is reminiscent of other off-beat sci-fi movies such as Primer, Coherence, and Under the Skin, but this one is also pretty funny in places too. And the way it incorporates the story of Resolution is absolutely genius--you don't have to have seen that earlier film to enjoy The Endless, but if you have, it's got some absolutely brilliant scenes that will have you racing back to Resolution immediately afterwards. -- Dan Auty
12. The Purge (TV)
TV, it turns out, is the perfect medium for The Purge's particular combination of slasher-esque horror, social satire, and ridiculous-but-worrisome premise. The idea of trying to survive a single night of lawlessness every year doesn't really hold up to intense scrutiny, but that's not the point--Purge Night in the franchise is an effective vehicle to make comments about the real world, while also putting characters in dreadful and frightening situations. And at that, the TV version of The Purge excels. With the added runtime a 10-part series affords, Universal's The Purge show is able to dig into a lot of ideas the movies so far have only hinted at.
For a show about scary masked psychos turning America into a Mad Max-style warzone, The Purge is a pretty intelligent, multi-layered show. And when it's not making you think about America and society, it's throwing some intense action and horror your way. There's a lot to like about The Purge, not the least of which is how it engages your brain while freaking you out. -- Phil Hornshaw
13. Westworld Season 2
The first season of Westworld was buildup. We were shown this massive, Western-themed robot theme park, where rich people paid money to live out their rape and murder fantasies, and we were told that nothing could possibly go wrong. And so of course, in the season cliffhanger, it all does. Viva la robot revolution.
Season 2 is all about fallout. There's the jockeying for power, the compromising of principles, and the asking of a crucial question: "Now that we've overthrown our overlords, what, exactly, do we do now?"
These questions are answered with more questions; by the end of the season, we have no clue if what we're seeing is in the past, present, or future. We don't know who's a robot and who's a human. We don't know if any of these robots are truly free, or if their rebellion has been orchestrated and accounted for. It's all very compelling. But Season 3 needs to provide some answers. -- Kevin Wong
14. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The Jurassic Park franchise has largely been trying to recapture lightning in a similar bottle ever since 1993 when Steven Spielberg's original became a cinematic landmark. Most of those efforts have been failures, but Fallen Kingdom is the first in a long time that twists the usual conceit--bigger, with more dinosaurs--into something new and fun. Fallen Kingdom is a big dumb movie that makes no sense when you think about it for more than a few seconds at a time, but it's self-aware enough and fun enough to make it clear that it's not a movie to be taken seriously. This is an exciting, adventurous romp that flits through different genres to get the most out of its dinosaur action. The rest is set dressing, and some of that (like Justice Smith losing his mind every time he sees a dinosaur) even works pretty well too.
First and foremost, Fallen Kingdom does great work in building and taking advantage of chemistry between leads Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. There are scenes in Fallen Kingdom that feel like they could come out of one of Spielberg's other great franchises, Indiana Jones, where high adventure and fun characters keep things flowing regardless of what goofiness is in the script. Phenomenal action scenes abound as well, including a third act that chucks the adventure feel for a full-on dinosaur haunted house--while all the bad guys also get summarily eaten in perfect fashion. It's also a movie littered with callbacks to the original, but unlike another nostalgia-laced addition to another franchise in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the references in Jurassic World never feel burdensome or hamfisted. Fallen Kingdom is a Jurassic World movie that finally feels like it gets the tone right, and is all the more fun for it. -- Phil Hornshaw
Counterpart brings a sci-fi spin to a Cold War spy thriller, and its cool ideas about two sides trying to carefully undermine each other are made a lot cooler by the way those sides have to go about what they're doing. The conceit is this: At some point in Berlin during the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, something happened that created two parallel universes. What's more, anyone born before the split has an identical double on the other side, who has lived a different life ever since the split. The sides are locked in a Cold War, and someone's trying to use doubles and assassins to heat things up.
At the heart of Counterpart is J.K. Simmons, who plays two versions of a man named Howard Silk--one who is a no-nothing, passive analyst on one world, and a jerk super spy in the other. Some of the best stuff in Counterpart sees the two Howards interacting, switching places, and trying to pull one over on other people, often failing. The rest of the cast, including Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), Olivia Williams (Victoria & Abdul, The Sixth Sense), and Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland), flesh out a world that's deep but dark and frightening. Counterpart's great, nuanced character work plays beautifully into the conflict between the two worlds that begins to feel more and more inevitable. -- Phil Hornshaw
16. Star Wars Rebels
While 2018 marked the announcement of the return of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it also saw the end of Star Wars Rebels. While fans bicker with each other about whether or not the new Star Wars films produced by Disney are any good, not enough are paying attention to what the franchise has been doing in the animated realm. Clone Wars and Rebels are some of the best Star Wars we could ask for. They expand the universe in exciting ways, while giving new and lesser known characters the spotlight. The perfect example is Darth Maul. Anyone who was shocked to see he survived long enough to appear in Solo: A Star Wars Story is missing out on an incredibly interesting backstory about what happened to him after Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
What's more, the final season of Rebels was a masterpiece, as it wrapped up all of its important storylines easily, while leaving room for what could potentially come in the future. The tale of Kanan Jarrus may have some to an end, but there's still plenty to say about the force-sensitive Ezra Bridger, should Lucasfilm decide to revisit these characters--and they absolutely should. -- Chris E. Hayner