Top 25 TV Shows and Movies for Intellectuals
The must-see TV shows and movies for lovers of data science, technology and science fiction
"That's not how gravity works!"
"That's not how you lift a fingerprint!"
"That would implode, not explode!"
"A Super Star Destroyer would not crash from a Fighter hitting the bridge like that!"
Sound familiar? TV and movies get real blah, real quick when you are blessed (cursed?) with a higher intellect. So, instead of bearing the burden of watching popular entertainment with a critical eye and intolerance to stupid plotlines, behold: Unearthed's top 25 TV and movie picks for discerning eyeballs.
Enjoy suspension of disbelief, for at least ten minutes at a time!
Settle in, friends, it's binge-watch time.
Scorpion is a US action drama TV series that debuted in 2014, producing four seasons in total. Eccentric genius Walter O'Brien leads a team of genius misfits that defend against sophisticated, high-tech global threats. If there's such thing as intellectual mercenaries, this team embodies them as they take jobs from the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of other avenues. Just don't hold onto holistic scientific plausibility, there are a few disgruntled fans out there who have some issues with (Season 2 spoiler alert) metallic sodium exploding on contact with water and (Season 3 spoiler alert) the repair of an artery with super glue.
Why you'll love it: Coding, psychology, engineering, oh my!
2. 12 Monkeys
This science-fiction mystery drama (trying saying that ten times, fast), is loosely based on the 1995 film, 12 Monkeys, that starred Bruce Willis. There, Bruce played James Cole, a prisoner living the in the ruins of Philadelphia, who travels back from 2035 to the year 1990 to gather information about a plague that has wiped out most of humanity. His mission is to find the original virus and help scientists develop a cure.
The TV series tracks James Cole across 4 seasons, only in this version, the year is 2043 and James gets booted back to 2015 to stop a virus that was released by the 'Army of the 12 Monkeys', an evil cult that wants to destroy time and create the 'Red Forest' - a place with time and death don't exist. In James' original timeline, the Kalavirus results in seven billion human deaths in the year 2017 - time is running out to find the mysterious army's leader, 'The Witness'.
Why you'll love it: Time travelling espionage? Virology? The Butterfly Effect? Cosmology? The Hartle-Hawking State? Yes, please.
3. A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind is a biographical drama on Nobel Prize winner, Josh Nash. His brilliance was shrouded by a thick veil of mental illness as he worked within Princeton University to produce game theory in mathematics. (Un)fun Fact: Producers recruited Nash's own son to feature as an orderly in the film, dragging him down a hallway.
Why you'll love it: Mathematics, including Nash's original formulas on classroom chalkboards.
After a couple loses their son to suspended animation, battling the devastating effects of a rare disease, the grieving Swinton family are introduced to an AI humanoid robot, David - capable of experiencing love - to fill the void. In the 22nd century, coastal cities no longer exist due to rising sea level and global warming. Mecha, humanoid robots, form second-class citizens of this dystopian future. Life seems okay until the Swinton's son makes a miraculous recovery, spurring David to experience jealously and demonstrate dangerous behaviour towards the Swinton children. Abandoned in a forest, David and his teddy bear begin a perilous journey as David executes his primary directive: to love and be loved.
Why you'll love it: The creators get one thing right in this underrated Spielberg creation - if the aim of a company is to produce artificial children, it makes a lot of send that the AI behaves as it does.
In 1963, 256 inmates and 46 guards mysteriously vanish from the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary - the government claims the prison has simply closed, and the prisoners transferred. But, Federal Agent Emerson Hauser quickly learns this isn't the case. Fast-forward to present-day San Fransisco, and the missing individuals are starting to reappear one by one, ageless, and unaware of the time lost. They do, however, feel propelled to exercise their criminal impulses and Agent Hauser is having none. of. it.
Fun Fact: Crazed fans of this show were so relentless, some even sneaking away from guided tours to try and find secret rooms from the show, that the real-life prison was forced to make an announcement that the premise of the show was fiction.
Why you'll love it: You'll love Alcatraz if you're interested in rips in the space-time continuum and perhaps even the multiverse theory. You'll also love it if you liked The 4400 and Lost.
This is the original TV series that shot Jennifer Garner's name into households around the world, playing double-agent Sydney Bristow. Bristow's career is a secret from her twisted family, and she's knee-deep in accidentally working for the bad guys when she begins working against them from the CIA.
Fun fact: Tom Cruise was so impressed by Alias as a spy story that he onboarded J.J. Abrams to direct Mission: Impossible III.
Why you'll love it: Cliffhangers, prophecies, espionage, fictional relics from the Rennaissance era, and clandestine operations are the key themes explored in Alias - but the real reason you'll love it is that it's a significant family drama.
7. Alita: Battle Angel
Recovered from the trash, Alita is the last of her kind - a humanoid robot brought back to life by Dr Ido, played by Christopher Waltz. Alita, played by Rosa Salazar, navigates a new life in a mecha-obsessed city where cyborgs, gladiatorial roller-blading and bounty hunters are the norms - but she's quickly realise she's made of different stuff. Literally.
Why you'll love it: You'll love this movie if you're interested in sci-fi, robotics, and needless violence. Alita: Battle Angel is a power-femme storyline with distinctive notes of The Fifth Element, A.I., and Blade Runner (though feminist viewers were less impressed by the 'Barbie-esque' proportions of our 300-year old teenage protagonist).
8. Almost Human
Officer John Kennex rejoins the LAPD but has a hard time adjusting to a new rule that all officers are to be paired with robots. Dorian, his new partner, can express human emotions, proves to be a good match for Kennex's emotional baggage as they pursue terrorists, drug rings and cybercriminals.
Why you'll love it: You'll love Almost Human if you loved Fringe, as they're both produced by J.H. Wyman. Described as a 'visual feast', this show is one-part procedural and other-part visually stunning Scifi series.
9. Altered Carbon
Why die when you can load your consciousness into a brand new fleshy 'sleeve'? What happens when you can't afford one? What does it take to 'die'? Based on a classic cyberpunk novel by Richard Morgan that's set 3,000 years into the future, this epic TV series follows Takeshi Kovacs - a former soldier and investigator - in a government-issued sleeve as he tries to solve a murder.
Why you'll love it: Futurist technology, amazing visual effects, and a concept that might gift you with an existential crisis, Altered Carbon is a novel approach to a somewhat sickening dystopian future.
An elite team are brought in to investigate a mysterious object - an enormous floating monolith. In the movie Arrival, these objects have appeared around the world without explanation, and as a result, political tensions have escalated to the brink of war. Linguist Louise Banks is tasked with communicating with the unknown to save humanity.
Fun fact: 'Alien linguistics' is a bonified field of study that's still in its infancy due to a lack of alien languages.
Why you'll love it: Apart from a somewhat unusual premise, the movie tracks slowly but with exquisite detail - it's been described as a 'Spielberg-Nolan lovechild', and you'll be left thinking.
11. Back to the Future
Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, is an American teenager whose life is inadvertently flung into chaos when he accidentally gets transported back into the 1950's from 1985 with an arguably mad-scientist, Doc. Watch as he tries to change the outcomes of his own future - including hilariously trying to get his parents together to ensure he is born.
Why you'll love it: This film is virtually impossible not to enjoy, it's utterly charming - even if you have your doubts about time travel being scientifically feasible in a DMC DeLorean travelling at 88 miles per hour. Though Steven Hawking said the laws of physics prevent travel backwards in time, Michio Kaku - a theoretical physicist - states that "if you go backwards in time you enter an alternate reality, an alternate quantum reality... and Back to the Future, to my knowledge, is the only film that gets it right". Well, that's one way to avoid a paradox...
12. Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactica is part of the Battlestar Galactica franchise which began with the original TV series launched in 1978 that was created by Glen A. Larson. This reimagined instalment follows the last of humankind, living amongst a group of planets referred to as the 'Twelve Colonies'. Following a cataclysmic war with an enemy of their own making, the Cylons, humankind survives - not thrives. The 'Battlestar Galactica' is the last military capital ship to survive a final attack by the Cylons, reducing the human population to a mere 50,000 people, and must now lead the fleet of straggling survivors in search of a barely-believed thirteenth colony, Earth.
Why you'll love it: Battlestar Galactica was actually one of the first TV series in the world to show space-flight with anything close to realistic movement in a zero-gravity atmosphere. It also captures the anxiety that human beings feel towards AI and artificial consciousness in our current day, really well.
Another instalment of the Battlestar Galactica franchise, Caprica is a prequel to the reimagined 2004 series, set 58 years before the twelve colonies were destroyed. Watch humanity create the first Cyclon androids - big mistake - with the father and uncle of Willaim Adama (the senior surviving military leader in the 2004 series) as lead characters in this high-tech narrative.
Why you'll love it: Interstellar travel, artificial consciousness, and futurist technology are all great drawing card for this sci-fi series - just try not to roll your eyes when you realise they're still using VHS tapes.
14. Bicentennial Man
Warning: tear-jerker! Bicentennial Man is an exploration of self from a unique humanoid robot butler whose life mission is to be recognised as a human being. While most experts think that humanity will be able to live alongside AI in peace and prosperity, very few movies show what might be possible was this to be the case.
Why you'll love it: Robin Williams delivers a heartwarming performance in this vision of the future, and the film asks some pressing questions about the definition of 'humanity'.
15. Big Bang Theory
When staggering intellect and an astonishing lack of social skills combine, hilarity ensures. Follow a ragtag group of nerds as they try to out-do one another, find love, and overcome their social nuances together in Pasadena, California.
Fun fact: the show's creators kept a physicist on retainer just to make sure the scripts made sense!
Why you'll love it: The Big Bang Theory features intellectually-stimulating humour that you will need a lick of widespread science knowledge to understand, but that withstanding, the show is hilarious.
16. Black Mirror
Can intercourse in a game count as cheating? What if you're part of the game? What if you know the person behind the opposing screen? Can avatars overcome heteronormative values in an individual if players behind the avatars are the same sex? All this (and that's just one episode) and more in Black Mirror, a mind-bending TV series that seems set on alienating its viewers with a dark righteous outrage, yet here we are. Hooked.
Why you'll love it: Black Mirror triumphs where others might fail - showing us that technology isn't preparing to turn on us, but instead that we are succumbing to the worst elements of our own nature, to use technology to consciously and unwittingly disengage with one another.
17. Blade Runner
Blade Runner is a Ridley Scott creation described as an 'achingly human sci-fi masterpiece' on Rotten Tomatoes. Still widely regarded as one of the best sci-fi films ever produced, Blade Runner is set in a future Earth city where genetic engineering has resulted in organic replicants of human beings who are only allowed to live for four years. The Blade Runner, former policeman Rick Deckard, is responsible for 'retiring' replicants and must hunt four escapees, ultimately having to make tough choices.
Blade Runner asks if consciousness can be grown in a lab with organic tissues - a distinct difference to most films in this genre that focus on a cyborg or humanoid robot angle to challenge our understanding of what forms' humanity'. Implanted memories add complexity to this question, but alas, it's only fiction for now.
Why you'll love it: You'll love Blade Runner if you're a fan of Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly - all works of Philip K. Dick.
18. Breaking Bad
A high-school science teacher, Walter White, starts producing and selling his own crystallised methamphetamine in a desperate attempt to financially support his family, having received a stage-3 lung cancer diagnosis. But, his life quickly spirals out of control into lies, violence, and murder as, season-on-season, he loses himself - dragging a former student, Jesse Pinkman, down with him.
Why you'll love it: Hailed as one of the best television shows ever made, Breaking Bad features an appreciation for chemistry as an art form. Further, dedicated fans actually beg prospective viewers not to watch it, claiming it will ruin television, forever.
19. Castle Rock
Fans of Stephen King should fall over themselves to get Castle Rock on-screen while others might enjoy it more if they read The Dark Tower series, Needful Things, and The Talisman, first. Set in the King multiverse, Castle Rock features characters, settings, and themes from Stephen King's fictional town, Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock "combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King's best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few square miles of Maine woodland", says an avid fan.
Fun fact: When Henry steps backwards into his steps in the snow, it is a reference to Danny Torrence doing the same to escape his father in The Shining.
Why you'll love it: Starting slow, Castle Rock features a basket of treats for hardcore Stephen King fans, with abuse, corruption, violence and mental health issues providing drama and suspense for the rest of us.
Chuck is an intelligent Stanford drop-out that works at a local Buy More store. He receives a pair of glasses from his nemesis; he puts on the glasses, and it downloads something called the 'Intersect' (The full CIA database) directly into his brain, allowing him access to the database with a mere thought.
Why you'll love it: A heartwarming, nice and funny show that borderlines on silly, seeded in intelligent humour and technology.
21. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Another charming classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is set in rural Wyoming where the government is denying the presence of alien life. Roy, an electrical lineman, gets a smarting sunburn in the dead of night at a railway crossing when he encounters the bright lights of a UFO and is drawn in a government conspiracy to communicate with an alien race.
Fun fact: Some spacecraft have instruments capable of capturing radio emissions. When scientists convert these to sound waves, the results are eerie to hear. Composer John Williams initially wanted a 7-note ditty to communicate with aliens, but that was too long, so they enlisted a mathematician to work out how many 5-note tunes variations they could create within a 12-note scale (hint: too many) - Williams ended up producing 100 to choose from.
Why you'll love it: Fans think this is one of Spielberg's best films, with superb effects (for its day) and an iconic score from John Williams. You'll love this film if you liked E.T.
This series starts on a dark note in 2077 with a group of terrorists escaping from their own execution by travelling 65 years back in time where they can poison the future by altering the past - sucking our policewoman protagonist Kiera Cameron back with them - away from everything she's ever loved. Kiera has no choice but to pursue the terrorists alone in a present-day timeline, as they're her only hope of getting home.
Why you'll love it: A strong female lead, futurist technology, time travel, counter-terrorism, and a vision of the future where there are no cars due to fuel shortages, no fresh fruit, water shortages, and no pizza (is this hell?).
Best enjoyed in it's own native language (Deutsche), Dark is a mind-bending mystery drama that spans three generations in a small German town where broken relationships are seemingly ordinary, and a frantic search for missing child, Mikkel, with a supernatural twist.
Why you'll love it: Described as "hard to watch but impossible to stop," Dark is an absolute feast of character development, well-woven narrative, and the unsuspected.
24. Dark Matter
The crew of spaceship Raza just woke up from stasis, and they are not impressed. With no memory whatsoever, including how they came to be on board, the Raza is now hurtling through space while they try to figure out the blanks.
Despite being well-received by audiences, Dark Matter was cancelled when Season 3 concluded leaving fans chomping at the bit. The dark and gritty nature of this show captured audiences with reliable comparisons made between this, Star Trek, Knight Rider, Lost, and a 'more serious' Red Dwarf. Even MGM tried to save the show, hoping to cross it over with Stargate, but it wasn't to be. The shows creator continues to campaign for the mini-series ending that fans deserve.
Why you'll love it: From the producers of Stargate SG-1, Dark Matter, you're in for a treat with futurist technology, cyborgs, personality wipes, the multiverse and trusty old good guys vs. bad guys.
25. Donnie Darko
Donnie isn't well. At least that's one impression you could easily fall down the rabbit hole with. Donnie sleepwalks, he wakes up in strange places, and he has an invisible bunny friend (read: not cute) named Frank. When an aeroplane engine falls from the sky crushing Donnie's house, Frank starts leading Donnie on an existentialist crisis and misadventure by telling him the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.
Why you'll love it: Watching Donnie Darko, you will wonder for a great deal of the film if Donnie is spiralling deeper into madness, or if there's something more going on there. Time travel, wormholes, the most beautiful word in the English language, and a trans-generational narrative on adolescence, love, loss, and the end of the world - what's not to love?
And for those of you who haven't yet dropped a whole bag of Maltesers into some buttered popcorn for a movie marathon? Welcome to a new methodology for life.
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