Alternate Universes in Entertainment

The concept of alternate universes -- the notion that there might be parallel worlds out there almost identical to our own with slight but dramatic differences -- is fascinating to ponder, and it has inspired a number of cool science fiction and fantasy stories, including The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick or almost anything by Harry Turtledove.  Alternate universes have become a popular plot device in sci-fi entertainment, especially recently with well-received story arcs in Fringe and Smallville.

Here's a look at some shows and movies that have dabbled in storylines about realities that seem familiar but somehow skewed, often to the dark side.

Star Trek - One of the most popular alternate universes first appeared in the Classic Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror."  A transporter malfunction somehow sends Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Lt. Uhura to another reality where the United Federation of Planets is replaced by a malevolent Terran Empire.  Torture and assassinations are common occurances aboard the twisted Imperial Starship Enterprise.  Fans craved to see more of the bearded alternate Spock and the scar-faced Sulu, but had to settle for further adventures in fan-fiction, novels, comics, and future episodes in other Star Trek series: five episodes of Deep Space Nine and one episode of the prequel Enterprise.

It's a Wonderful Life - Frank Capra's Christmas masterpiece in which kind-hearted George Bailey is saved from suicide when the angel Clarence shows him a terrible alternate world in which he was never born.  The movie sparked a bunch of parodies and rip-offs, including episodes of Dallas, Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and others.

Fringe - This is arguably the best science fiction show on television and its fantastic alternate universe plotline is one of the primary reasons. 

The One - Jet Li starred in an under-rated film about a man who grows more powerful every time he kills a version of himself in an alternate universe.  Critics called it a weak variation of the better Highlander, and it may not have lived up to its full potential, but the idea still fascinated me from the moment we first saw a glimpse of one of the alternate Earths -- one in which Al Gore won the 2000 Presidential Election.

Lost - The final season of the highly-rated series dealt with a Purgatory-type alternate timeline.  Even if the final episode did not satisfy everyone, the show had some excellent moments.

Sliders - I was a fan of this show because the premise -- a rag-tag team hopped from one alternate universe to another trying to find their way home -- seemed filled with possibilities.  Unfortunately, budget restrictions and writing that often lacked imagination limited the full scope of what this series could have been. 

Smallville - The recent alternate universe episode, in which Clark was raised not by the compassionate Kents but by the diabolical Lionel Luthor, was an excellent one, paying homage to a long string of parallel worlds in DC Comics continuity.

Let me know of any others that might be worth mentioning.