It used to be that TV shows wrapped up the story in a single episode, and repeated the process next week. Then, shows started having season-long story arcs, which were much more engaging for audiences. Unfortunately, this format usually left a big cliffhanger at the end of the season, and frequently the shows were canceled, leaving things unresolved.
Shows get canned because they have low ratings, but often, especially with sci-fi, they have dedicated fans who are emotionally invested in the series. Occasionally, as was the case with Manifest, a canceled show will get picked up by a streaming service and offer some resolution, but that is an outlier. Sadly, many great sci-fi shows have been axed with big meaty cliffhangers looming.
Alphas was a sci-fi/superhero drama about people with superhuman powers. The show followed a group of “Alphas” who solved crimes committed by other Alphas and was surprisingly clever and well-written. It premiered on SYFY in 2011, almost got canceled in 2013, and finally bit the dust after a second season.
In the final episode, an end-of-the-world scenario played out when “photic stimulator” bombs that kill people, but not Alphas, go off. In Grand Central Station, everyone lay lifeless except Alpha Gary, and that’s it. The unresolved cliffhanger was so bad that in an episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon had a panic attack because he needed closure.
9 Mork & Mindy
Happy Days spinoff Mork & Mindy is the story of an alien from the planet Ork who has been sent to Earth to observe human behavior and somehow ends up living in a woman’s attic. Across four seasons on ABC from 1979-1982, audiences were treated to extraterrestrial hijinx, with Mork and Mindy eventually falling in love.
A three-episode run was supposed to lead into season five, but the show was canceled, making for a seriously confusing cliffhanger. In an attempt to give the series closure, an earlier episode where Mork details the key to human love was shone last. In the three episodes before that, Mindy’s house was blown up, Mork revealed his ET status to the world, and the pair time-traveled to the Stone Age.
Airing for a single season in 2005, ABC’s Invasion is a series that always shows up on “Canceled Too Soon” lists. In a clever take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the sci-fi series was about alien invaders who come to a small Florida town in a hurricane, replicate humans, and replace them. Thanks to the real-life disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the series was never promoted properly.
Originally planned for a five-season story arc, the show was unceremoniously canceled after just 22 episodes. In the final episode, while trying to stop the aliens, Larkin is shot. In an attempt to save her life, Sherif Tom puts her body in the water, essentially handing her over to the replicating invaders. What happened after that is anyone’s guess.
7 The 4400
The USA Network show, The 4400, had the promising premise of 4400 people who had disappeared in a beam of green light at various times since 1944, suddenly reappearing in modern-day Washington state. None of them had aged, nor did they have any memory of where they had been, but they all had special abilities.
It turned out they were abducted by future humans, given the powers, and sent back to stop a major catastrophe. Rather than stopping anything, they formed a militia and took over Seattle. The show was canceled after four seasons, and audiences never learned what happened next. The CW rebooted the series in 2021 for one ill-fated season, but nothing was resolved.
6 Resident Evil
The 2021 Netflix series, Resident Evil, wasn’t tied into the film series of the same name but was a reboot of the survival horror video games’ storyline. Existing in its own universe, it retold the story of the evil Umbrella Corporation’s world-destroying experiments, split between the present day and the post-apocalyptic future.
In the final episode, it is set up to have fan-favorite character Ada Wong show up in season 2, but that’s hardly the biggest cliffhanger. The main protagonist sisters, Jade and Billie, are mortal enemies in the dystopian future, which is never explained, and at the end, Billie shoots Jade, leaving her for dead. Unfortunately, that’s how things will remain because Netflix canceled the series, citing low viewership.
Revolution is another network show that had an interesting premise and major potential. In 2012, an event known as “The Black-Out” permanently disabled all electricity on Earth. 15 years later, preindustrial/post-apocalypse society is a bit like a Mad Max dystopia with steam engines. The one knock was that everyone in this harsh reality was inexplicably clean and well-groomed.
It turns out the blackout resulted from weaponized nanotechnology that basically steals all the electricity. This can be countered by a special pendant, but in the second season, that was made irrelevant as self-aware nanites became the story. With wars between fighting factions and an alternate source of energy hanging, the show was canceled. A 4-issue digital comic was released to wrap up all unanswered questions, but by that time, nobody cared.
At a time when all sitcoms were pretty much the same, along came ALF, a show about a family that takes in a wise-cracking, cat-eating furry Alien Life Form. It took the schlocky family comedy and infused some originality and sci-fi elements. Airing on NBC for four seasons in the late 1980s, the series was funny and sometimes touching.
In the final episode, ALF is going to reunite with his species on “New Melmac” but is captured by the U.S. Air Force’s Alien Task Force. The episode ends with “To Be Continued” on the screen, but then the series was canceled. Seven years later, NBC released a made-for-TV movie titled Project: ALF to show ALF eventually becomes an Ambassador to Earth.
Salvation was a seriously underrated sci-fi/disaster series about a killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth. Technically, it wasn’t a sci-fi show because CBS canceled it right as the science-fiction elements were about to manifest. After two seasons of setting up the mother of all shockers, the show went off the air without a payoff.
Humanity had six months to deal with the extinction-level asteroid and eventually agreed to hit it with a nuke. Just as they were planning to launch the weapon, billionaire scientist Santiago Cabrera, had a hunch that the asteroid was really an alien spacecraft. The final shot of the last episode was the “asteroid” coming to a stop between Earth and the moon, revealing it to be a spherical UFO.
The 1995 Fox show, Sliders, featured five people who used a wormhole to “slide” to parallel universes to right a series of wrongs. It was a fun premise with a lot of potential, but Fox canceled it after three seasons. SYFY, then The Sci-Fi Channel, picked it up for two more seasons, but didn’t offer any closure.
Season 5 got off to a bad start with Quinn, played by Jerry O’Connell, leaving the show, and things just got worse. In the finale episode, a psychic predicts the Sliders will die on their next slide right after discovering a way to defeat interdimensional bad guys, the Kromaggs. Only one could make the slide back to Prime Earth, and audiences never found out what happened because the show was axed.
1 Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Though it messed with the timeline, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a great show that ended way too soon. Taking place after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and pretending Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines never happened, the series showcased Sarah and John Connor’s years on the run and efforts to take out Skynet, hopefully stopping the mechanized apocalypse.
As a mid-season replacement on Fox in 2008, the show had great ratings and was renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, it was canceled before a third season, leaving fans disappointed and hanging. The series left so much unresolved, but the giant cliffhanger really stung. In the last episode, John Connor travels forward in time to the post-Judgement Day apocalypse and meets his dad Kyle Reese, but nobody from the resistance recognizes him, so that he may have erased himself from history.
NEXT: 10 Best Cliffhangers In MCU Shows, Ranked
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