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Love, Death, and Robots: The 15 Best Sci-Fi Shorts, Ranked

Here are the 15 best tales from all three seasons of the Netflix animated anthology

Love Death Robots Best Episodes
Love, Death + Robots (Netflix)
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    Netflix’s flagship animated anthology series Love, Death & Robots has often been a hard show to love. On the one hand, it’s a dazzling showcase for VFX artists at the top of their field, adapting some of science fiction’s most interesting short stories to a new medium (not unlike the Heavy Metal comics from which executive producers David Fincher and Tim Miller derived the premise).

    On the other, that same love of Heavy Metal extends to the exploitativeness of many of its stories — especially in its first season, which never met a woman it didn’t like to punish, hypersexualize, or exploit for gut-wrenching violence.

    Still, despite the Reddit-iness of it all, there are still quite a few gems to be found amongst the Call of Duty commercials and Starcraft cutscenes, especially as the show course-corrected in Seasons 2 and 3 with the arrival of showrunner Jennifer Yuh Nelson to break up the boys’ club — the newest season contains some of the best shorts the series has showcased (though also one of its worst: We’re looking at you, “Kill Team Kill”).

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    With that in mind, and with no word as to whether this is it for the series, we wanted to go back over the 35 shorts Love, Death & Robots has featured in its tenure, and picked out the cream of the crop. This way, you can marvel at the imagination and ingenuity of the series at its height, without having to cringe through yet another short about a Special Forces team fighting one supernatural beastie or another.


    15. “Helping Hand” (Season 1)

    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – Helping Hand (Netflix)

    I’m a sucker for space-disaster stories, ones in which the realities of space travel and their effect on the human body are laid terrifyingly bare. “Helping Hand” from Season 1 is potentially the slightest of these on the list, but it’s full of that nail-biting Gravity-adjacent tension of what happens when you get in deep trouble in the black and have nothing but your spacesuit and your wits.

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    In the case of astronaut Alexandria Stephens (Elly Condron), the only way back to safety is sheer physics — throwing something in the opposite direction to get you back to your spaceship. Only trouble is when all you’ve got is your spacesuit… or, eventually, your vacuum-frozen hand. Gruesome but effective stuff.

    14. “Ice” (Season 2)

    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – Ice (Netflix)

    Animator Robert Valley, who will show up much later on this list, has an enticing visual style, with his characters rendered as Peter Chung-esque statues of too-long limbs and sharp angles. And that unique look works wonders for this short-but-sweet tale of two brothers — one with genetic enhancements, the other without — who’ve moved to an icy colony planet with their parents and get into some late-night shenanigans with a group of local kids.

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    What follows is a playful race that doubles as a moment of connection between two brothers who bristle against each other’s differences, with some outstanding shadow and light work when the Frostwhales finally make their appearance.

    13. “Lucky 13” (Season 1)

    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – Lucky 13 (Netflix)

    Military sci-fi is a well-worn, often repetitive genre, especially in Love, Death & Robots, so a good deal of the show’s love for military porn didn’t necessarily make this list. But most endearing among them is Jerome Chen’s bittersweet love story between a hotshot pilot (Samira Wiley, one of the most realistically-rendered visages and performances of the whole series) and an unlucky dropship she must pilot in the midst of an interstellar war.

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    Before her, the last two crews on “Lucky 13” perished in horrible circumstances; but in her hands, the ship works wonders — and it’s implied that the ship itself is a little bit alive, and fights specifically for her. Plenty of Top Gun-esque dogfighting and fist-pumping sci-fi action here, but it’s underpinned by Wiley’s understated performance and a sci-fi-tinged spin on the undying bond between pilots and their planes.

    12. “The Tall Grass” (Season 2)

    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – The Tall Grass (Netflix)

    A foppish businessman, enticed by the “economic growth” of the New World, takes a train across the American prairie, only to run afoul of inhuman beasties lying, you guessed it, in the tall grass when the train mysteriously breaks down. Love, Death, and Robots loves to dabble in the Lovecraftian, but Simon Otto’s textured, high-concept Victorian thriller makes the most out of its stripped-down premise.

    “The Tall Grass”‘s lovely, Laika-esque stop-motion CG is unexpectedly dazzling; it feels like you can see the brushstrokes on every character and surface. Sometimes, the train conductor tells our terrified hero, there are worlds beyond our understanding, and they occasionally impinge on our own.

    11. “The Drowned Giant” (Season 2)

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    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – The Drowned Giant (Netflix)

    Series co-creator Tim Miller’s first short in the series, adapted from the J.G. Ballard short story, is a viscerally existential tale of a seaside town that marvels at the presence of a giant naked man washing up on the beach. Through the eyes of an academic, we see the way the town reacts to its presence, first with fascination, then with craven consumption as the body decomposes and pieces are cut and sold off.

    Unlike most of the others in the series, it’s a quiet, contemplative chapter, an elegy on the frailty of our own bodies and a long hard look at what happens to us when we die. Plus, y’know, it’s also got a photorealistically-rendered donger the size of a Buick, so if you don’t want to think about that stuff, there’s still plenty else to focus on.

    10. “The Very Pulse of the Machine” (Season 3)

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    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – The Very Pulse of the Machine (Netflix)

    While the anthology certainly loves its photorealistic, grimy CG right out of a Blizzard cutscene, it’s nice when Love, Death & Robots can sit back for a second and just allow us to drink in the wonder and possibilities of the animated medium. That’s certainly the case for this Moebius-inspired short, which sees an astronaut (Mackenzie Davis) crash her rover on the moon of Io, killing her co-pilot and marooning her.

    To deal with the pain of her own injuries, she begins taking pain meds that have some unfortunate psychedelic side effects, the world around her shifting and morphing to dazzling effect. The cel-shaded feel amplifies the trippiness of the short’s wilder moments, especially as it takes more metaphysical turns and a suitably ambiguous ending.

    9. “Mason’s Rats” (Season 3)

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    Love Death & Robots Ranked (Netflix)

    Love, Death & Robots – Mason’s Rats (Netflix)

    Look out, Redwall, there’s a new group of anthropomorphic rat warriors in town — more specifically, a barn in a far-off Scotland farm, where curmudgeonly Mason (Craig Ferguson!) eventually turns to the high-tech solutions from a posh weapons salesman (Dan Stevens) to rid himself of the infestation.

    But the cute thing about Carlos Stevens’ whimsical short is the contrast between its brutal violence — the drones and robots Mason sends after the rats do deadly, bloody work, and Stevens makes you see every head-ripping moment of it — and its eventual note of sweetness as Mason learns to respect the rats’ drive to survive. (And, of course, their ability to distill a good Scotch.)

    8. “Snow in the Desert” (Season 2)

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    Love, Death and Robots Ranking (Netflix)

    Love, Death, and Robots – Snow in the Desert (Netflix)

    Love, Death & Robots’ occasional dips into the epic can be a bit overstuffed for their own good — too repetitive, hyperviolent, hypersexual — but “Snow in the Desert,” based on the Neal Asher short story, is a rare exception, translating the usual T&A the show’s lesser shorts resort to into a more earnest expression of the “love” in the series’ title.

    We follow an immortal man named Snow, hiding from the universe on a desolate desert planet from any merc hired to take his genes to replicate his mutations (as we viscerally witness, if his arm gets blown off, he eventually grows one right back). But he finds new purpose after lifetimes of loneliness, with a mysterious woman just as committed to protecting his secret as he is.

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    As these hyperrealistic epics go, it’s phenomenal to look at; the faces dare you to look into their eyes for any glimpse of fakery, and the alien environments and blood-letting violence are something to behold.

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