10 Smartest Sci-Fi Characters On TV, Ranked

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Any good science fiction must have a few key elements. These include a fantastical yet naturally familiar world, a story the audience can emotionally connect to, and critical character archetypes that ground the audience and give them something to cling to.


Among these archetypes, including hero, leader, mentor, and more, there is one of exceptional importance that is often underestimated: genius. Their intelligence can manifest in everything from inventions to deduction and problem solving to battlefield tactics. Genie is also important because his intelligence and abilities signal what the story considers important in this world.

10/11 Amos Burton lives in a world so smart it looks simple

Amos Burton The Expanse

The extent is set centuries in the future, where humanity has colonized much of the solar system, all without traveling at the speed of light. Travel between worlds is long and having a good mechanic on board is crucial, as help could take weeks. Amos Burton is one of those mechanics, and perhaps the best around.

Amos is a fascinating character not just because of his dark past and simplistic worldview, but because of what he represents of humanity in the story. Although he doesn’t seem as smart as some of the other characters, his friend Holden points out that he’s literally a rocket scientist. If Amos were alive today, he would undoubtedly be considered the most brilliant scientist and engineer in human history. It’s only because Amos lives in such an advanced society that he doesn’t seem smart.

September 11th Gaius Baltar was an unprecedented genius even before becoming an emissary of God

Gaius Baltar BSG

When Battlestar Galactica was rebooted, Gaius Baltar might have gotten the best deal of any original character on the show. His desire for power was reframed into mere opportunism and greed, and the Cylons easily manipulated him into enabling their attack on humanity. For most of the series, his villainy consisted of trying to cover this up, without actively harming humanity.

However, even without the aid, or manipulation, of benevolent Cylon Caprica Six (in his physical and spiritual forms), he always excelled as a scientist and a leader. He invented the Cylon detection machine, served as the fleet’s chief scientist, and helped plan multiple military actions. He even served as Vice President and President of the Fleet, becoming both a leader and a man.

8/11 Gendo Ikari has outsmarted the whole world

Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered one of the greatest anime of all time. A major factor in this critical appraisal is how it flipped several traditional anime elements, including its characters. Gendo Ikari is reframed not as a benevolent father and inspirational inventor, but as a sinister, heartless manipulator.

RELATED: 10 TV Characters Who Took Their Villainess Too FarHeartbroken over the death of his wife, Gendo was willing to sacrifice anything to get her back, literally. He betrayed his organization and attempted to implement his own version of human instrumentality. In the end, he was betrayed by Rei Ayanami, the girl he had manipulated to achieve his goals.

7/11 Grand Admiral Thrawn only lost once

Thrawn Star Wars Rebels Timothy Zahn

star wars rebels finally gave fans an on-screen portrayal of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and he was just as menacing as ever. Just as he was in his outstanding original trilogy of novelsThrawn is never tricked and only loses his final battle, never otherwise defeated.

What makes Thrawn such a great antagonist is how calculating and efficient he is. He allows the rebels to escape repeatedly, even when he could easily defeat them. Killing a single group of rebels is not his goal; he wants to crush them all at once. He recognizes that stealing or destroying a few Imperial assets makes no sense if it allows the entire rebellion to be defeated, which he almost accomplishes.

6/11 Cortana is the pinnacle of human knowledge

Cortana in Paramount's Halo adaptation

The long awaited Halo The TV series ended up dividing fans, especially when it came to Cortana’s more human-like design. Although Cortana may not be the same as its beloved gaming counterpart, his intelligence is undeniable. Cortana is different from most other AIs because she was created by scanning Dr. Halsey’s cloned brain, and in the series that meant killing a clone of Halsey herself.

Essentially, Cortana’s mother died in childbirth, adding an element of trauma to Cortana that highlights her deep connection to humanity and, in a way, makes her human. Dedicated to both service and control of the Master Chief and the other Spartan-IIs, who themselves are both more and less than human after their augmentations, Cortana is humanity’s most advanced creation and their smartest asset.

5/11 Vandal Savage is an immortal master manipulator

savage vandal lex luthor young justice ghosts

Of all the DC animated series, young justice could be the biggest. This is due not only to its great action and gripping drama, but also to its excellent villain, Vandal Savage, and the way the mysteries surrounding him unfold. As the leader of the villainous organization, the Light, Savage is the source of all threats the heroes face. RELATED: 10 Most Disappointing Off-Screen Deaths In Superhero Shows, RankedEven when he seemingly takes a back seat, like in season 2, it’s revealed that Savage was just biding his time, planning and gathering new allies in his quest for world domination. Savage believes the Justice League is preventing humanity from evolving and reaching its true potential. The mixed morality of his goals makes him a hugely satisfying antagonist.

4/11 The doctor only gets smarter as he travels through time and space

Doctor Who David Tennant Matt Smith The Day of the Doctor

Doctor Who is one of the oldest and most successful sci-fi franchises. Although the doctor may not be the most powerful character in the series, it would be hard to find a more brilliant character. The Doctor’s strengths lie in his ingenuity and problem-solving skills, as well as his ability to bond with all kinds of beings across time and space.

Their regenerative powers and reincarnation abilities have allowed them to accumulate seemingly limitless knowledge, wisdom, and experience. They were rarely surprised and almost never put in a situation where they were unable to think of a solution. The only problem they haven’t been able to solve is a cure for their loneliness.

3/11 Paul Atreides had the precision of a supercomputer and the ability to see the future

Paul Atreides Dune by Frank Herbert Alec Newman

Dunes is widely considered the greatest science fiction story ever written, but its complexity and length make it difficult to adapt to the screen. Dunes by Frank Herbert, a 2000 TV miniseries, was able to take its time exploring the story, particularly Paul’s character arc. Paul Atreides was the unforeseen combination of many elements, including mentat training (a human computer), Bene Gesserit training (rare for a boy), and possessing a naturally strong moral compass and ability to read people. RELATED: 10 best movies with the deepest loreOnce he arrived on Arrakis and was exposed to more and more of the Spice Mix, his inner potential was awakened, allowing him to see the future with greater clarity than even the greatest navigators of the Spatial Guild or Bene Gesserit. The combination of all of this proved that Paul was the legendary Kwisatz Haderach, the man who could see through space and time, who could lead humanity to a brighter future. Instead, Paul used his abilities and intellect to secure his own power and revenge.

2/11 Rick Sanchez is the smartest of all the universes

Rick Sanchez on the Rick and Morty TV show.  Dungeons and Dragons Artificer Inspiration

Rick Sanchez stands out from other geniuses because rick and morty makes it very clear that his incredibly high intelligence is his flaw, not his strength. His intellect fuels his arrogance, pessimism, and derision of human connection, and is often the source of tension in his family. Additionally, the show routinely plays off his intelligence for comedy and doesn’t take him or his intelligence as seriously as he does.

Nonetheless, Rick Sanchez is probably the smartest character ever created, largely because his intelligence defies logic. Rather than being frustrating, the fact that Rick just knows because he’s the know-it-all is hilarious and one of the best parts of this incredible series.

1/11 Q has the powers of a god and seemingly infinite knowledge

Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Of all the fantastic beings of star trek, Q takes the cake not only as the most powerful and intelligent, but also as the most fun. Q often mingled with the crew of the Companyputting in particular them and humanity as a whole on trial in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In a way, Q’s nonsensical actions and motivations make surprisingly logical sense. For him, it’s not just about giving the answers to life’s big questions. He doesn’t want Picard and his crew to have it easy, so he bends reality to his will, concocts ridiculous scenarios and tests them in order to help them find the answers themselves, a sign of his funny nature hiding his deep wisdom.

NEXT: 10 Best TV Shows Based On Books, Ranked

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