The Absolute Best Sci-Fi TV Shows on HBO Max
Like most streamers, HBO Max has a wide range of sci-fi series, including originals, older titles and excellent international offerings. What sets the HBO originals apart is a stamp of quality marked “prestige TV.” Station Eleven is the prime example of a prestige show. With long episode times, high production values and a great Metacritic score (81), the unconventional post-apocalyptic series is the epitome and the pinnacle of HBO Max’s sci-fi offerings.
Sadly, you might notice a couple of titles disappearing from HBO Max, including Snowpiercer. Plus, Made For Love was canceled after season 2. This all comes in the wake of the Warner Bros. and Discovery merger. Here’s more on what that means.
For more excellent and noteworthy sci-fi series on HBO Max, scroll down.
Photograph by Ian Watson/HBO Max
Believe any hype you hear about Station Eleven. One of the best shows of 2021, the meditative dystopian thriller (the latter descriptor can only be applied to certain episodes) is prestige TV that whisks you off on a journey to surprising, moving and unique destinations. Following two timelines, the focus is mainly on brilliant heroine Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis), a woman who survived a world-destroying pandemic and now travels around the remains with a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony. Created by Patrick Somerville, whose writing work on The Leftovers can be felt here, Station Eleven casts an optimistic lens over the end of the world.
Photograph by Coco Van Oppens
Raised by Wolves (2020-22)
Raised by Wolves will satisfy those who want to spend a lot of time (nearly 10 hours, not including the second season) in a world brought to the screen with the help of Ridley Scott. Two androids, Mother and Father, attempt to establish an atheist human colony on a new planet, after a war with a religious order destroys Earth. But they soon discover controlling the beliefs of humans is a tricky task. Directing the first two episodes, as well as pulling the strings as an executive producer, Scott sets up a provocative exploration into AI and religious beliefs. There’s blood, big performances and a powerful lead in Amanda Collin’s Mother. (Sadly, despite a stellar second season, the series was canceled.)
Photograph by Courtesy of HBO
His Dark Materials (2019-2022)
This TV adaptation of His Dark Materials is the second attempt at bringing Philip Pullman’s classic fantasy novels to the screen. (The 2007 flop The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, was anchored to a slow, shallow script.) Set in a world where people’s souls manifest as animal familiars, the source material isn’t exactly simple. Chuck in parallel universes, talking polar bears and a wildly imaginative story about growing up, and you have a thrilling, philosophical adventure. Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Dafne Keen bolster this slicker, more mature attempt. Season 3 premieres on HBO Max Dec. 5.
While it’s 90% a superhero show, Peacemaker features visitors from another planet, so it lands itself a spot on this list. The Suicide Squad spinoff series centers on the titular Peacemaker, an outrageous John Cena who explores where his catchphrase — “I cherish peace with all of my heart. I don’t care how many men, women and children I kill to get it” — came from. Sweary, bloody and bouncing to a rocking soundtrack, the James Gunn-written series is a rollicking time with surprising heart.
The Leftovers (2014-2017)
Maybe it’s considered more supernatural than sci-fi, and it’s definitely nowhere near hard sci-fi, but come on. It’s The Leftovers. It’s Damon Lindelof, the genius who turned Watchmen into a lauded TV show. The Leftovers follows what happens after 2% of the world’s population inexplicably disappears. Amid the emergence of a number of cults, the three seasons focus on two families, the Garveys and the Murphys, and how the “Sudden Departure” event upends their lives.
Photograph by Macall Polay
The Time Traveler’s Wife (2022)
It might have been canceled after one season, but it was heck of a (weird) one season. The Time Traveler’s Wife hinges on an absurd concept: A man (Theo James) spontaneously jumps backward and forward through time — without taking his clothes with him. In other words, he ends up naked in front of oncoming trains, out in the middle of the street and in forests where he meets his future wife (Rose Leslie). Based on Audrey Niffenegger’s popular novel, which spawned a 2009 movie, The Time Traveler’s Wife will satisfy fans of the book and entertain those able to look past the slight ick factor. Doctor Who fans note Steven Moffat pens the series, bringing his trademark wit and time travel complexity.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
At this stage, new fans might be hard to come by when it comes to this long-running British show. But if you’re interested in dipping into the wildly inventive, genre-bending, barnstorming adventure, try the later Jodie Whittaker episodes. Whittaker steps into the Doctor’s shoes, a time-traveling, space-faring alien adventurer with a kind heart and a far-out-of-this-world sense of humor. Serious fun.
Warner Bros./YouTube/CNET Screenshot
Five seasons of this sci-fi procedural await you. Dive into parallel universes and alternate timelines with the Fringe Division, a team of agents tasked with investigating unexplained phenomena. After a middling first season, Fringe found its way, bringing inventive ideas and a moving emotional core along for the ride.
Alice in Wonderland meets an awful lot of robots. The truly mind-bending sci-fi Western might be going in complex circles by season 3, but its first exhilarating season kicked down the barn door. Set in a violent and lurid amusement park, where rich guests can shoot, kill and violate the android hosts in various ways, the focus is pulled to Dolores, a host who begins to become sentient. No, she’s not best pleased with how she’s been treated. Addictive and thought-provoking, Westworld demands you figure out the pieces of its puzzle. Plus, many are saying season 4 is a return to form.
Warner Bros./YouTube/CNET Screenshot
Person of Interest (2011-2016)
This sci-fi crime drama, created by Jonathan Nolan, has carved its place into the best sci-fi TV shows of all time plaque. The series centers on a piece of Precog-esque technology used by the government to predict terrorist attacks. However, the machine can also warn of smaller, yet still deadly crimes, and a splinter team of underground investigators set out to help related persons of interest. Dealing with tricky questions such as the concept of “the greater good,” Person of Interest is a fascinating, spectacular and complete espionage procedural.
Photograph by John P. Johnson/HBO Max
What would you do if your husband fitted a chip into your brain to watch your every move? Hazel Green (Cristin Milotti) faces this dilemma and promptly goes on the run with the not totally useful assistance of her dad (Ray Romano). Traverse the tricky territory of this satirical relationship drama with a Black Mirror edge and a helpful dolphin. Yep, Made for Love is as full of surprises as it is ultimately disturbing.
Warner Bros. Television
An influential legacy show, Babylon 5 might have dated edges nowadays, but it would be blasphemy to overlook it on this list. The basic premise sees a group of humans and alien species working together on the Babylon 5 space station as Earth carves its place in the galactic community. Political intrigue, character studies and the threat of war ensue.
Falling Skies (2011-2015)
Boasting executive producer Steven Spielberg, this post-apocalyptic sci-fi brings family drama to alien invasions. Falling Skies centers on a band of survivors who plan to fight back after a global invasion by extraterrestrials. Five seasons introduce multiple alien races, space travel and a satisfying final standoff.
If you were blown away by Russell T. Davies’ It’s a Sin, Years and Years is a must-watch. The ambitious sci-fi series spans 15 years, jumping ahead each episode to capture the ups and downs of the eclectic Lyons family. From technological developments to jaw-dropping life upheavals, the Lyons go through the ringer without ever relinquishing a heartwarming sense of humor.