Rivaling the realms of fantasy in respect to scope and grandeur, it can be said that the science fiction genre is—collectively—its own universe, housing a plethora of worlds and realities that have left indelible marks on popular culture forever. Though the issue here is that by “plethora,” we mean a metric scat-ton, which makes picking our absolute favorites more difficult than it should be. Never backing down from a challenge, here are our top eight favorite sci-fi worlds of all time!
8) The Grid (Tron)
We have perfectly good explanations defending our decision to choose the Grid from Tron over the Matrix from... uh, The Matrix. First, the special effects that went into its creation were groundbreaking at the time of Tron’s release, setting the cinematic bar that much higher. Second, there’s no topping light cycle showdowns and life-or-death discus throwing competitions. And third, the Grid didn’t give people the impression that duster jackets were fashion forward, last time we checked.
7) The OASIS (Ready Player One)
The OASIS is, relatively speaking, a science fiction newcomer, but that does nothing to take away its standing at #9 in this countdown. A fully-immersive MMORPG, the OASIS is a combination of World of Warcraft and every fantasy and sci-fi franchise under the nerdy sun. Feel like exploring the Goonies’ hometown after going on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign dressed as Ultraman? OASIS can do that—and much, much more!
6) Post-World War Terminus Earth (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
Some of the best sci-fi worlds aren’t always beyond the stars or in other dimensions. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?, author Philip K. Dick presented an Earth ravaged by the nuclear fallout of World War Terminus. Though written nearly 45 years ago, it's prophetic in that the book predicted our modern day concerns as we now live in a world where the proliferation of nuclear arms has increased and artificial intelligence is only getting smarter—to our possible detriment.
5) The Galaxy (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Absurd, madcap, unorthodox—all these words and more describe Douglas Adams’ galaxy occupied by talking mice, free-falling whales, and depressed automatons. But this clownish exterior betrayed the philosophic journey in the pursuit of finding existence’s ultimate meaning. All in all, it makes us wonder if the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is indeed out in the cosmos somewhere.
4) Arrakis (Dune)
Desert planets in science fiction have been around since... someone thought it’d be neat to have the Sahara on a planetary scale. For the most part they’re avoided by space travelers, but Arrakis from Dune was a veritable gold mine—providing the Known Universe with Spice Melange and a near-infinite revenue stream for entrepreneurs willing to endure inhospitable conditions to collect it. Plus, Arrakis introduced the concept of giant sandworms. That’s cool too, we suppose.
3) The Star Trek Universe
Science fiction has never been a stranger to the small screen otherwise known as television, though shows lacked the budgets of their cinematic counterparts. Star Trek changed all that, taking viewers on a voyage of discovery through a multifaceted universe. And this wasn’t one steeped exclusively in fantasy—scientific analysis and logic played major roles, adding a touch of plausibility despite the suspension of disbelief. Even today, Star Trek makes us yearn for the day our space program stretches beyond its current reach.
2) The Star Wars Universe
While Star Trek paved the way for more substantial sci-fi entertainment, Star Wars took those exotic worlds, races, and more by juxtaposing it against a galactic civil war—absolutely epic in scale. Where its predecessor had roots in science, director George Lucas’ universe was an ode to the myths and legends that shaped our own culture, the ageless battle of good and evil reinvented for the modern age. And many of these characters and places, no matter how obscure, found their way in numerous pop culture strata.
What kind of monsters would we be if we didn’t mention Metropolis and its titular city, let alone giving it the top spot at #1? Obviously it’s one of the forebears of modern science fiction, but the futuristic society is the movie’s true star. For one thing, it was a confluence of man’s engineering brilliance and positive, ambitious prospects for the future—the present and future coming together, the familiar wrapped in the fantastic like a burrito. And that is precisely what science fiction is all about.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments!