Sunday, 18 November 2012

Top 5 Most Successful Science-Fiction Universes

Yesterday, for no reason in particular, I began to think about the most successful science-fiction universes in film and television.  After a bit of internet research, I’ve come up with my top 5.

Star Wars
Feature Films: 6
Made-For-TV-Films: 3
Cartoons: 4
                Droids (1 season, 13 episodes)
                Ewoks (2 seasons, 26 episodes)
                Star Wars: Clone Wars (2 seasons, 25 episodes)
                The Clone Wars (5 seasons, 95 episodes, ongoing)

Although the Star Wars universe is not that far ahead of some of its rivals in terms of production, it is at least an order of magnitude above all of the others in terms of recognisability and market penetration. Also, with its recent purchase by Disney, its level of production is set to sky-rocket.

Star Trek
Feature Films: 12
Television Series: 5
                Star Trek (3 seasons, 79 episodes)
                The Next Generation (7 seasons, 178 episodes)
                Deep Space Nine (7 seasons, 176 episodes)
                Voyager (7 seasons, 172 episodes)
                Enterprise (4 seasons, 98 episodes)
Cartoons: 1
                Star Trek: The Animated Series (2 seasons, 24 episodes)

With five major television series, producing over 700 episodes, and an even dozen movies, Star Trek is a clear second place.  It is also the most ‘high-brow’ science-fiction universe to make the list.  While most of its competitors went down the action/adventure route, Star Trek tended to explore larger ideas of social mores, morality, and the human experience.  Although set for another major film release soon, the universe really needs a new television show to carry it forward.

Doctor Who
Feature Films: 2
Made-for-TV Films: 1
Television Series:
                Doctor Who (33 seasons, 789 episodes, ongoing)
                Torchwood (4 seasons, 41 episodes)
                The Sarah Jane Adventures (5 seasons, 53 episodes)
                K-9 (1 season, 26 episodes)
                K-9 and Company (1 episode)

The Doctor Who universe is the only entry in the top five produced outside of the United States, which means it might not be as familiar to a lot of Americans, but this is just one of its many unique features.  It is certainly the oldest of the Universes, having first aired in 1963, three years before the first Star Trek.  It contains, by far, the longest running television show (even if you separate out the modern incarnation of the show, the original ran for 26 seasons).   It is also the only one of the top 5 Universes currently producing a live-action television series.
Also, Doctor Who has permeated the culture of Britain far more than even Star Wars has done in America.  Included amongst the Doctor Who episode count is 5 Christmas specials, but not included are the numerous short specials that have been produced for charity events, nor the numerous radio broadcasts, the audio plays, the stage plays, etc.

Star Gate
Feature Films: 1
Made-for-DVD Films: 2
Television Series: 3
                Stargate SG1 (10 seasons, 214 episodes)
                Stargate Atlantis (5 seasons, 100 episodes)
                Stargate Universe (2 seasons, 40 episodes)
Cartoons Series: 1
                Stargate Infinity (1 season, 26 episodes)

The ten seasons of Stargate SG1 makes it the longest running, science-fiction television show produced in North America.  However, as none of the shows in the series were originally broadcast on a ‘mainstream’ channel, it never reached the level of profile of those above it on the list. While its last series, Universe, was essentially a failure, this science-fiction universe is still fresh enough, with a large enough fan base, to make a new series a possibility.

Babylon 5
Made-for-TV Films: 6
Television Series: 2
                Babylon 5 (5 seasons, 110 episodes)
                Crusade (1 seasons, 13 episodes)

While I doubt that too many people would argue that my first four universes belong in the top 5, I’m sure my last would generate some debate.  It is certainly true that Babylon 5 is significantly less successful than any of those above it, and its position over some of those below is more a matter of taste than quantifiable success.  Still, Babylon 5 deserves a lot of credit for its impact on science-fiction, being the first show to really attempt to tell one, epic, tale over the entire length of its run.  Unfortunately, television politics managed to make a bit of a mess of it at the end.  Still, there was a time when Babylon 5 was the best science-fiction going on television.
                Unlike the others on the list, it seems probably that Babylon 5 is essentially a ‘dead’ universe, with little hope of there ever being any new films or television series.

Honourable Mentions

Battlestar Galactica
The Terminator
Aliens and Predator


  1. You forgot Firefly. Tho only 11 episodes and 1 movie, it has an enduring impact. But if your speaking financially, you may be right. Packed forums at Comicon for Firefly, didn't see much for some of your honorable mentions.

  2. Battlestar gallactica 3 series and some tv movies

  3. Babylon 5 got the networks thinking about long term story arcs for television. Prior to B5 no one would believe an audience would keep watching for a multi-season/year story arc. Also Star Trek started to have some really large star ship battles feature in their shows soon after.