Why did Americans lose interest in space and space fiction in the mid 2000s?


Active Member
Dec 25, 2019
In the 90s up to the early 2000s we had TV shows set in space! Multiple Star Treks, Babylon 5, Space: Above & Beyond, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly!

Ever since Battlestar Galactica ended it seems like space hasn't been as big in our culture as it was in the 90s!

What happened?

Was it the recession? After all there was no money for the space shuttle!
Perhaps you answered your own question. If there were so many of the same general genre, the real money (because sadly that's what most film/TV-programming is all about) would be with everything else. Historical based fantasy took off, likely due to a saturated market in the space genre.

Now it's time for a change again... maybe.

I don't know with any expertise, but there was a crash in how much money the big networks were prepared to pay for their show. I'm guessing Sci-Fi shows are/were expensive.
Add to that the general whims and trends of TV. Linear TV networks have to appeal to a big audience and maybe that audience was no longer there...
I'd also add that with the rapid uptake of technology in the form of smartphones, Sci-Fi isn't as fantastic as it used to be... who need a universal translator when you can tap the app...
There are still shows like ST Discovery, Orville, Expanse, Mandalorian right now. I doubt there were many periods ever when there were three such shows broadcast in the same year, let alone four.

So I think the OP is based on a false premise. I've never even heard of Above and Beyond and Firefly lasted half a season. There was no space TV golden age.
I think OP means compared to other kinds of fantasy and science fiction. In my opinion, this is related to technological development in movie-making, and also www in the 90s. So it is the other way around with space travel sci-fi, in my opinion.

Presentation of space travel, space ships, life in space and in space ships; set in space movies roughly have the same visual elements. And that has been done long ago up to a satisfying scale. Because of the nature of the concept, there is no room for a dramatic change in its elements. There is little room in space for anything as the basics go. It's space. Of course, it gets better, more realistic but there isn't anything completely new you can show.

But then in on the earth themes, the action, the style of the simple action presented in movies jumped a scale. Esp. when the camera, shooting technology changed in the 90s if I am not mistaken. (The Matrix for example.)

Well, with themes on earth you always have more room to tell as it is our natural habitat, but now you also have 'more' to show with the new technology, now you can make a simple fight scene an 'epic' event. This new technology makes a dramatic difference in visual presentation on earth themes, but not so much in space. Also, before this technology, it was difficult to make women and children play hardcore traditional action scenes.

Then came The Lord of the Rings and changed the movie-making altogether, because we hadn't seen anything like that before. Then everything had to be 'epic' in a certain way.

I think this is also one of the reasons why the Vampire genre exploded at the beginning of the century. There is nothing new in that compared to the traditional elements either. The actions, movement, the scale of the show got bigger. It's fun watching them for a while, but they are action movies in the end. But then, I think Jim Jarmusch showed that the vampire genre doesn't have to have action with Only Lovers Left Alive and also Thomas Alfredson with the 'Let the Right One In'. Great movies.

The 90s are also the years the world wide web went into peoples' hands. First public web pages, forums, message boards. So this time people also had a new medium to take all this, make their own and create new subcultures. Just by itself, The Matrix boosted internet usage. By the 2000s it became a force by itself. It took time for the old, classic sci-fiction to become mainstream again because it needed a new kind of popular culture to make references to old movies and series in new ones. Now recognising those references in movies and series alone is a sign of high culture in mainstream culture.

To me, a good sci-fi (based on a sci-fi plot rather than sci-fi ornaments) in space is pretty much the definition of 'epic' by itself. It's in space, lol. We should have been up there traveling by now.
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There are still shows like ST Discovery, Orville, Expanse, Mandalorian right now. I doubt there were many periods ever when there were three such shows broadcast in the same year, let alone four.
But streaming isn't the same as being on network TV for free... The audiences are very different. Streaming may be the future but it does not [usually] create the Event of watching a show at exactly the same time as everyone else. But I'm 20C in my habits of watching TV [when I do].
So I think the OP is based on a false premise. I've never even heard of Above and Beyond and Firefly lasted half a season. There was no space TV golden age.
Yes, I don't think there is never a golden age for anything. It usually just a golden haze of the memory of our childhood. Nostalgia will get us all in the end...
I was brought up with Blake's Seven, Edge of Darkness, Doctor Who and a load of similar shows... I thought them wonderful at the time, but they can be dire to watch now [especially B7 - I really don't think that has aged well].
Space: Above and Beyond was a glorious hot mess of a show that died before it could find its feet. It was made by some of the same team behind the X Files. It had a lot of good ideas, an enigmatic alien opponent, realistic-looking vehicles, a complex enough back story to be interesting but not one that dominated the stories. The acting was good enough and the SFX was okay, but nothing special even for the time and the ending was uber bleak if I remember it correctly. I really liked it because the show used its lack of budget to make everything feel claustrophobic, one small accommodation set, one vehicle set and a lot of "off-world" on-location sets.
It was shown late night on a Friday in the UK, so for a few of us it became an after-pub event. I even bought the DVDs.
I think that if you could get a copy and read this book...
Even though it was written and published around 1979--it contains a lot of knowledge of what was going on in the business of SF writing and some of the ups and downs and reasons for those.

There is a lot of great background information in this little gem that might help answer the pressing questions or maybe even make you think twice before making certain broad statements about the state of SF today or yesterday.

This may come as a surprise to some people but movies and tv represent only the tip of the iceberg that is Science Fiction. And trying to discuss the rise and fall of science fiction within the the world of movies and tv is pointless without understanding what drives any of the product coming out of that media. If something is making money then there is a surge until there is a glut and everyone gets tired of it and the money flow slows down. The big dollars to make those epics are interested in return on the dollar and good science fiction with good return also costs more than other genre.

Things slow down when the return no longer justifies expense.

The next big thing comes along and everyone tries to get the best return before that one peters out. Sometimes it goes in cycles.

As to reality: Americans lost interest in space way back in the early 70's and interest has sort of drifted in and out ever since.

The mention of eventual Mars Exploration has created an interest again, as demonstrated by the surge in movies, shows, and novels about future exploration with the inclusion of Mars. And that brings us back to where there is hope for return on investment.

So, did we lose interest in 2000--not anymore than any other time and probably not any less.
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