25. V: THE MINISERIES (1983)
Created by Kenneth Johnson
POP CULTURE LEGACY Besides spawning an equally engaging sequel — 1984's V: The Final Battle — V gave Robert Englund (a.k.a. Freddy Krueger) his big break.
THE BEST BIT In one of the best TV reveals ever, lizard queen Diana (Jane Badler) — still disguised as a sultry brunet human — unhinges her jaw and stuffs an entire guinea pig in her hideously elongated piehole. —Kristen Baldwin
24. GALAXY QUEST (1999)
Directed by Dean Parisot
Can this picture be any more made of win? Yes, if everyone but Alan Rickman left the scene.
POP CULTURE LEGACY It seamlessly stitched together sci-fi clichés with adventure and nostalgia (not mockery).
THE BEST BIT Sam Rockwell's cocky ''red shirt,'' killed in his first and only episode of the TV show, who spends most of the film fretting over whether he'll get bumped off for real. —Erin Richter
23. DOCTOR WHO (1963-Present)
Developed by Sydney Newman
IS THAT SIMON PEGG I SPY?! FTW!
POP CULTURE LEGACY With its playful yet sincere commitment to social allegory, Doctor Who has always been a post-empire fantasy — unerringly progressive, but wary, dark, and full of doubts about human goodness.
THE BEST BIT Check out the first season of the newest incarnation, featuring Heroes' Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor (the best ever — apologies to Tom Baker) and the piercing, poignant wit of writer Russell T. Davies. —Scott Brown
22. QUANTUM LEAP (1989-1993)
Created by Donald P. Bellisario
POP CULTURE LEGACY The show was regular-folk friendly: A lack of high-tech gizmos, technobabble, and aliens helped ease sci-fi back into the mainstream after an extended drought in prime-time television.
THE BEST BIT Season 2's ''Catch a Falling Star'' let Bakula flaunt his Broadway background, as Sam leaped into an actor playing Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. —Paul Katz
21. FUTURAMA (1999-2003)
Created by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen
POP CULTURE LEGACY While Fox constantly moved the show (and sometimes dropped it from the schedule for long periods), the low-rated comedy finally got the passionate fan base it deserved when reruns began appearing on Cartoon Network in 2003. Groening and Co. are now working on four Futurama DVD movies, which may be broken into episodes and aired on Comedy Central in 2008.
THE BEST BIT The zippy third season. One highlight: Cyclops warrior Leela falls for Fry after ''intelligent worms'' infest his body, making him smarter and stronger. —Josh Wolk
20. STAR WARS: CLONE WARS (2003-2005)
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky
POP CULTURE LEGACY There's an abundance of style and storytelling economy here that was, sadly, absent from the George Lucas-directed prequels. Sometimes, if you let the talented kids into the sandbox without telling them exactly how to play, the results can be surprising.
THE BEST BIT Volume 2. Even though volume 1 is almost wall-to-wall action, the five shorts in volume 2 cover a lot more ground, and lead directly into Episode III. (Better yet, just get both. They're pretty cheap.) —Marc Bernardin
19. STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
POP CULTURE LEGACY Like the anti-Communist sci-fi allegories of the '50s, Starship Troopers had more on its mind than squashing alien bugs. As he did in RoboCop, Verhoeven uses hammy TV clips and recruitment videos — ''Would you like to know more?'' — to show just how plausible this right-wing future is. But rather than endorsing it, he's satirizing it.
THE BEST BIT Doogie Howser (a.k.a. Neil Patrick Harris) in an SS trench coat reading the mind of the captured Brain Bug: ''It's afraid...it's afraid!'' —Chris Nashawaty
18. HEROES (2006-Present)
Created by Tim Kring
Obviously, Mohinder pwns Peter.
POP CULTURE LEGACY If the hallmark of serial sci-fi on TV is its frequent inability to finish what it starts, Heroes is groundbreaking for asking and answering compelling questions. And while it has yet to be determined whether saving the cheerleader will, in fact, save the world, it's certainly taken steps toward saving NBC.
THE BEST BIT The still-in-progress first season rolled out flashy effects, gory dismemberments, and doomsday visions, but Oka's gleeful cheer when he managed to teleport to Times Square trumps them all. It was the cry of a normal dude who just realized his entire world was forever changed...and it's that transformation that keeps us riveted. —Whitney Pastorek
17. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)
Directed by Michel Gondry
POP CULTURE LEGACY After two similarly experimental movies — Adaptation and Being John Malkovich — Sunshinecemented ''Kaufman-esque'' as the new ''Tarantino-esque.'' More importantly, it carried on the best this-world-is-not-what- you-think-it-is sci-fi traditions while making them palatable to fanboys and their tissue-wielding girlfriends.
THE BEST BIT All credit to Gondry for using dazzling theatrical effects and the simplest of settings — like a frozen lake — to make Joel's memory erasure so powerful and poignant. The image that packs the most punch? Joel standing in the living room of an abandoned beach house, remembering the day he and Clem first met, as walls crumble and the ocean swirls around his feet. —Whitney Pastorek
16. TOTAL RECALL (1990)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
POP CULTURE LEGACY The mating of big-action heroics and heady philosophical musings in a movie that went on to make a fortune paved the way for other Thinking Man blockbusters like The Matrix.
THE BEST BIT It's tough to top Schwarzenegger mind-melding with the shriveled Kuato...but Arnold pulling a tracking device out of his skull — through his nose — comes close. —Chris Nashawaty
15. FIREFLY/SERENITY (2002/2005)
Created by Joss Whedon
JESUS GOD! THIS SERIES WINS AT EVERYTHING.
POP CULTURE LEGACY...only to be revived in 2005 as the feature film Serenity (pictured), thanks to the tenacity of Whedon, the surprise success of Firefly on DVD, and a small army of Internet-based supporters.
THE BEST BIT Saddle up for the show, to see how it all started, and the movie, to see the ending. Then pray that someday, some studio exec will have the guts to make more. —Jeff Jensen
14. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
One of my most favorite movies, even though it freaks me out.
POP CULTURE LEGACY What stands out is the way Y Tu Mamá También director Cuarón uses his futuristic setting to evoke today's world, with scary allusions sprinkled throughout to the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust, and more.
THE BEST BIT Aided by a little CG trickery, Cuarón and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, deliver some of the coolest tracking shots in the history of cinema — the best being a jaw-dropping, four-minute action sequence built around a carjacking attempt on a remote forest road. —Gregory Kirschling
13. THE TERMINATOR/ TERMINATOR 2 (1984 /1991)
Directed by James Cameron
POP CULTURE LEGACY By spending a then-record $90 million-plus to make T2, Cameron and his liquid-metal T-1000 revolutionized the use of CG technology.
THE BEST BIT So many killer sequences to choose from! For the way it presages the coming effects revolution, we're tempted to highlight the scene in the original when the Terminator tends to his wounds in front of the bathroom mirror. The true winner, though, is the first big chase in T2, featuring a semi tractor-trailer careening off an overpass into a river basin below. You can't beat that. —Gregory Kirschling
12. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
POP CULTURE LEGACY With Future, Fox became more than just Family Ties' cute Republican — he was a legitimate movie star. Plus, the movie enshrined the phrases ''flux capacitor'' and ''1.21 jigawatts'' in the zeitgeist.
THE BEST BIT Glover steals every scene as the bullied dweeb, and sci-fi fans everywhere can relate to his sincere horror at the prospect of having ''Darth Vader'' (of the planet Vulcan) melt his brain. —Jeff Labrecque
11. LOST (2004-Present)
Created by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof
POP CULTURE LEGACY Building on pioneers The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost helped to usher in a new era of serialized storytelling and showed Hollywood how cult-pop TV can be leveraged into cashcow franchises. Heroes, say hello to Daddy.
THE BEST BIT The Emmy-winning first season, with its perfect pilot and getting- to-know-you character flashbacks, is an object lesson in capturing the imagination. —Jeff Jensen
10. THE THING (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter
POP CULTURE LEGACY Rob Bottin's trailblazing gross-out effects work is still the holy grail for monster-makeup geeks everywhere.
THE BEST BIT Wilford Brimley's crotchety Blair going loco when he's quarantined. You'll never look at a bowl of Quaker Oats the same way again. —Chris Nashawaty
9. ALIENS (1986)
Directed by James Cameron
Seven years after Ridley Scott's creepy, chest-thumping space thriller Alien, James Cameron instilled war-movie testosterone in the sequel, as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley leads a pack of gung-ho Marines to an inhospitable planet now swarming with vicious, acid-bleeding critters. Ripley was the first of a new breed of female action hero, one who can lead a team of frightened men and get the job done on her own terms. And for her efforts, Weaver not only became the first action heroine to strike box office gold, she landed a Best Actress Oscar nomination as well.
THE BEST BIT While the first film took a less-is-more approach to revealing the gnarly beast, the sequel's queen alien gets her close-up, most memorably in the mano a mano climax. When the queen corners a young orphan, Ripley announces her arrival with Schwarzeneggerian brio: ''Get away from her, you bitch!'' —Jeff Labrecque
8. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1994)
Created by Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman
POP CULTURE LEGACY The Next Generation resuscitated the dormant Star Trek television franchise, spawning Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.
THE BEST BIT Season 3 brought landmark episodes like the time-travel gem ''Yesterday's Enterprise,'' the classic Trek touchstone ''Sarek,'' and one of the best season-ending cliff-hangers in TV history: the Borg-centric ''The Best of Both Worlds, Part I.'' —Marc Bernardin
7. ET: The Extraterrestrial
Directed by Steven Spielberg
POP CULTURE LEGACY The movie's other major accomplishment? Revealing Steven Spielberg as an auteur who was capable of much more than whiz-bang thrills. If not for E.T., there would likely be no Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List.
THE BEST BIT A boy, a bicycle, an alien, a full moon, and John Williams' swelling score: Elliott's bike ride through the night sky, with E.T. stuffed in the front basket, will keep giving audiences goose bumps until much nastier extraterrestrials come along and destroy the earth. —Gregory Kirschling
6. BRAZIL (1985)
Directed by Terry Gilliam
If you've never seen this movie, you're missing out big time.
POP CULTURE LEGACY Echoing the film's David-and-Goliath plot, Gilliam won the fight to release his original version of the movie only after an epic struggle with Universal, the unhappy studio that had repossessed Brazil, cut over 40 minutes from it, and added a happy ending. (Both versions are now available on Criterion's superb three-DVD set.) Like Lowry, who dreams of being a brave knight battling evil, the iconoclastic director would repeat this underdog clash against his backers on many of his later pictures, although never to such thrilling results.
THE BEST BIT In a quintessentially dark comic moment, Lowry visits the office of his genial chum Jack (Michael Palin), who, in a blood-smeared smock, babysits his cherubic daughter while putting the screws to some rebels. —Josh Wolk
5. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer
POP CULTURE LEGACY The genesis of the ''even-number theory'' (e.g., the only good Trek flicks are the even-numbered sequels), Khan is the benchmark against which all Trekfilms are measured.
THE BEST BIT The prize goes to an outwitted Shatner, frothing at the mouth and bursting with rage, bellowing ''Khaaaannnnn!'' at the top of his lungs. —Chris Nashawaty
4. THE X-FILES (1993-2002)
Created by Chris Carter
POP CULTURE LEGACY For the first time since The Twilight Zone, viewers could ponder the mysteries of the universe and get scared silly. From inbred mutants to satanic cults, Mulder and Scully's darting flashlights lit up some seriously freaky darkness. And like Twin Peaks before it, Files made conspiracy-theorizing an addictive couch-potato pastime.
THE BEST BIT For the perfect balance of mythology and monster-of-the-week, pick up season 3. You'll get plenty of geeky goodness — the black oil, the Cigarette Smoking Man, the chip in Scully's neck — but you'll also get brilliant stand-alone episodes like ''Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose.'' When guest star Peter Boyle, playing a winsome psychic, tells Scully she'll never die, it's hard not to wish the same could have been said for this show's heyday. —Whitney Pastorek
3. BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Directed by Ridley Scott
POP CULTURE LEGACY Scott's rain-lashed, dystopic film offered a hugely influential vision of a future. In subsequent films, this, more often than not, is what the future looks like.
THE BEST BIT The genuinely heartbreaking pre-death speech by the replicant played by Rutger Hauer (''I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...'') is also the most geeked-out, hardcore sci-fi sequence in the pantheon of all-time great movie moments. —Clark Collis
2. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2003-Present)
Developed by Ronald D. Moore
The core of the Galactica plot — the last human survivors of a catastrophic genocide are on the run from their attackers, the Cylons — carried a new resonance in the wake of 9/11. And in keeping with science fiction's grandest tradition, BSG tapped into the power of allegory to enrich its outer-space dogfights and military pomp with the gravity of issues like abortion, terrorism, stem-cell research, racism, even the war in Iraq. The dysfunctionally awesome cast gives it all the ring of authenticity: from Edward James Olmos' crusty warhorse Admiral Adama and Mary McDonnell's tender-as-nails President Roslin to Katee Sackhoff's bedeviled pilot Kara Thrace and Tricia Helfer's glacially threatening Cylon known only as Number Six. But the real MVPs of the ensemble are Michael Hogan, who plays Adama's boozy right-hand man Saul Tigh, and James Callis, who makes you feel for Gaius Baltar, the best, most conflicted villain on TV.
POP CULTURE LEGACY The damned thing won a Peabody award for its second season. It's proving what sci-fi fans have known for decades: Science fiction is as legitimate a vehicle for human drama as any other genre.
THE BEST BIT While any given episode of Galacticais better than 90 percent of what's on the air, the thrill of discovery makes the first season (including the miniseries) the way to go. —Marc Bernardin
1. THE MATRIX (1999)
Directed by the Wachowski brothers
Say what you want about Keanu and the sequels, but the first Matrix was mind-blowing.
Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski — a pair of hyper-erudite, super-shy comic-book writers-turned-filmmakers who became overnight cult icons for their trouble — The Matrix was one geeky gumbo of brainy mumbo jumbo; a multi-megabyte compression of mythological and theological ideas, Hong Kong action-film aesthetics, and videogame special effects. Somehow, it worked. Brilliantly. Keanu Reeves was Neo, a spiritually numb computer programmer who learns that not only is his life an illusory sham — the world as he knows it is a virtual-reality prison, created by sentient machines who had won an apocalyptic war against humanity — but that he is destined to become a hero-messiah. The Matrix crackled with late-'90s millennial angst and tech-boom delirium — a freaky-fun fable for a ghost-in- the-machine culture. Bottom line: The Matrix was just...whoa.
POP CULTURE LEGACY With its cutting-edge effects, balletic fight sequences, and leather-dusters-andblack- shades wardrobe, The Matrixredefined the look of Hollywood action. It sparked a moviegoing crush on Asian wire-fu (see: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and set the stage for our current moment of superhero pop and thoughtful science fiction (see: Battlestar Galactica, Lost). It also spawned two sequels that sucked. Nonetheless, The Matrix's accomplishment remains undiminished.
THE BEST BIT The moment that brought bullet time to the movies: Neo's rooftop gunfight with a nefarious Agent. Slow motion has never been so kinetic. —Jeff Jensen
Firefly, fuck yeah.