The Orville & 10 Other Sci-Fi Parodies As Good As The Franchises They’re Based On

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Summary

  • Sci-fi parodies can be just as good as the franchises they’re based on, contributing to the genre with fun plots, memorable characters, and engaging visuals.
  • To be successful, sci-fi parodies must have a reverence for the material they’re satirizing, otherwise, they come across as mean-spirited mockeries with no effort put into the storyline.
  • Exceptional sci-fi parodies can even influence and boost the creativity and innovation of the franchises that inspired them, benefiting the genre as a whole.

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Even though they’re often mocking their source material, sci-fi parodies can be as good as the franchises they’re based on. The Orville is better than modern Star Trek to some fans, and similar series have actually contributed to the genre as a whole with fun plots, memorable characters, and engaging visuals, with a moral lesson or two for good measure. Far from spoofing George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, movies like Spaceballs actually elevate it, making its rich lore and world-building come across as even more distinct and iconic within the pop culture zeitgeist.

To make an exceptional sci-fi parody work well, its creators generally have to have a reverence for the television show or movie that they’re poking fun at. Otherwise, they’re simply mean-spirited mockeries with no trace of effort put into their storyline, which means they’re not the IPs that get quoted right alongside the material that they’re taking aim at. On rare occasions, the quality of sci-fi parodies even starts to influence the franchises that inspired them, leading to a big boost of creativity and innovation to the genre as whole that benefits everyone.

11 Mars Attacks!

An alien shoots a laser gun in Mars Attacks!

In Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! the world makes about every possible blunder possible during an alien invasion that borrows heavily from War of the Worlds and Independence Day. Bursting with stars like Pierce Brosnan, Jack Nicholson, and Sarah Jessica Parker eager to lampoon an ethnocentric and xenophobic United States of America in the wake of malevolent Martians landing on Earth, it’s a sendup of the ’60s sci-fi films filled with flying saucers and ray guns that also works as an homage. Not only does it have incredible special effects (both practical and CGI), but it has some pretty shocking death scenes.

RELATED: Mars Attacks’ Alien Dialogue “Ack, Ack” Is A Meta Gag

10 Spaceballs

Colonel Sandurz and Dark Helmet talking on the bridge in Spaceballs

Some Star Wars fans feel like the franchise has managed to become a parody of itself simply by existing in Disney’s arsenal, but that would be discrediting Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, which managed to make Star Wars even more beloved while poking fun at it. Jabba the Hutt, Yoda, Chewbacca – it was already filled with material ripe for Brooks and Co. to spoof, but then they gave fans the Millennium Falcon as a Winnibego and turned Darth Vader into Dark Helmet. Now Spaceballs’ best quotes are as ubiquitous in the zeitgeist as Star Wars thanks to being extremely accessible to fans of both sci-fi and comedies.

9 Galaxy Quest

The cast of Galaxy Quest pose for a promotional image

When aliens determine that a suspiciously Star Trek-like series is actually “historical footage” from Earth, they come to recruit the intrepid crew to help them fight off evil space invaders, and the actors end up saving the galaxy. Galaxy Quest is that rare spoof that demonstrates an incredible reverence for its source material while also surpassing it in almost every respect. Satire allows fans to question every ridiculous element of Star Trek: The Original Series by working key elements into the plot, while also highlighting behind-the-scenes components like Tim Allen recreating William Shatner’s hubris as Captain Kirk.

RELATED: 10 Best Comedy Movies Set In Space

8 Paul

Paul sitting on the couch of an RV in Paul

E.T. was a heartwarming story about some children who discover an extraterrestrial visitor and try to get it home before the government takes him to a laboratory. Paul is sort of like what would happen if the feds had managed to nab E.T. before he phoned home, and he’d been spending years in a secret facility before finally saying enough is enough. Not only does it poke fun of Steven Spilerberg’s movie, but it also has its own spirited sense of adventure and wholesome message as Paul (Seth Rogen) attempts to hobnob with two best buds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost).

7 The Orville

The crew on the bridge in The Orville

Seth McFarlane’s The Orville has widely been accepted as an honorary contribution to the Star Trek canon despite clearly riffing on its shortcomings. Inspired by the intrepid crews of Starfleet, The Orville’s crew also explores new cosmic frontiers while also calling out the silliness inherent to its inspiration. As the Star Trek canon charts new courses in serial storytelling and discovers new ways to tell its stories, this series carries on the tradition of packing as much humor and melodrama as it can in an episodic format, and The Orville has plenty of sci-fi references that don’t just riff on Star Trek for fans of Alien, Star Wars, and more.

6 Starship Troopers

Promotional Art for Starship Troopers Extermination featuring four soldiers fighting a horde of bugs.

Starship Troopers began as a satirical novel, but when it was adapted into a film, the satire was done with such seriousness that it seemed to have internalized the very themes of xenophobia and ethnocentrism it sought to illuminate through farce. In the end, its focus on a group of space marines going on a bug hunt that gets manipulated by scientists yearning to study “the perfect organism” became a great sendup of James Cameron’s Aliens (which follows a very similar plot). Many fans prefer to think that the two movies exist in the same universe, and Johnny Rico and his squad mates simply haven’t encountered a Xenomorph yet.

RELATED: Aliens Is Secretly The Best Adaptation Of Starship Troopers

5 Red Dwarf

red dwarf poster

British series Red Dwarf is at once its own quirky odyssey following misfits through space and a spoof of shows like Lost in Space. When a human, an android, a hologram, a ship’s computer, and a cat-person get abandoned amidst the cosmos, their adventures become a chronicle of epic proportions, with each episode spent trying to find their way home. From Andromeda to Bablyon 5, lots of clever sci-fi shows also owe their fanbases to the small but mighty popularity of this UK hit.

4 Evolution

Part
Ghostbusters
and part
X-Files
,
Evolution
follows a group of goofball scientists investigating a meteor crash site and their subsequent discovery of life in outer space. As the extra-terrestrials escape into the world and change their shape, humanity’s hope lies in the usual motley assortment of oddballs brought to life by David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Sean William Scott, and Julianne Moore. It takes shots at several sci-fi franchises with its aliens, as well as the responses from all the humans they encounter (including a military overreaction), and despite some dated humor and visual effects it really shines as a sci-fi monster movie.

3 Blue Harvest

Family Guy and Stars Wars crossover in Blue Harvest.

Blue Harvest is both a spoof of the Star Wars trilogy as well as an Easter egg from its lore thanks to superfan Seth MacFarlane (“Blue Harvest” was the name George Lucas gave Star Wars: Return of the Jedi to deter spoilers from being leaked during production). As the one-hour Season 6 premiere for Family Guy, it features Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Brian, and Stewie filling in all the iconic roles, and if someone had never seen Star Wars before, this would be a succinct way for them to familiarize themselves. Though it relies on lowbrow humor sometimes, it often makes the original trilogy’s concepts even better.

2 Futurama

Futurama characters returning in revival trailer

Futurama is a satirical roundup of tropes from myriad sci-fi franchises more than it’s a spoof of any particular one. Leela is an amalgamation of tough female protagonists like Sarah Connor from Terminator and Ellen Ripley from Alien, and time-traveling Fry is a bumbling Marty McFly from Back to the Future, aided by an ironically cranky C-3PO-esque robot sidekick named Bender. Every episode seems to cover a different familiar sci-fi storyline from Land of the Lost to Planet of the Apes and everything in between, finding the joy in the material through over-the-top humor and the occasional poignant message about humanity.

1 Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 4 Ensigns

Star Trek: Lower Decks focuses on the goings-on of the lower decks of Starfleet’s USS Cerritos, an unimportant vessel often called upon to engage in extraordinary adventures despite the mediocre nature of its crew. This animated series is actually a part of Star Trek canon but does an ingenious job of subverting it with humor. Everything fans have made fun of about the franchise for years is lovingly incorporated into jokes about cleaning bodily fluids from the holodeck, and this sci-fi parody is now touted as one of the best new Star Trek series of the last ten years.