Lost, the seminal science fiction television series of the early aughts, was aired 20 years ago today.

The series, created by Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, ran for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. Lindelof and Carlton Cuse served as show runners. The show was filmed on entirely on location in Oahu, Hawai’i. It won 10 Primetime Emmys including outstanding supporting actor in a drama for Michael Emerson (Ben Linus) in 2009, the same category in 2007 for Terry O’Quinn (John Locke), outstanding directing for a drama series for Abrams and outstanding drama series in 2005. In 2006, Lost won best television series – drama at the Golden Globes.

Abrams went on to produce and write some of the biggest franchises in the last two decades, namely Star Trek, Star Wars and Mission Impossible. He has about 20 projects in various stages of production and was recently an executive producer on Apple TV+’s Presumed Innocent. Lindelof continued to work with Abrams in the Star Trek movies, but also went on to create and produce the critically acclaimed HBO series The Leftovers and miniseries Watchmen. He’s currently writing DC’s Green Lantern series, Lanterns.

“We have to go back!”

Hot Wheels, J.J. Abrams, Warner Bros.

If, for some reason, you’ve never seen or heard of the show or only heard the line “We have to go back,” through memes, here’s the short version: it follows the story of the survivors of the crash of Ocean Airlines flight 815. The survivors get stranded on what appears to be an uninhabited tropical island. The 71 initial survivors pick a leader, Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox).

Some of the most popular characters are Hugo “Hurley” Reyes (Jorge Garcia), James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway), Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly), Jin-Soo Kwon (Daniel Dae Kim), Sun-Hwa Kwon (Yunjin Kim), Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan), John Locke/Man in Black (Terry O’Quinn), Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) and Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin).

Lilly went on to star in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies as the elf Tauriel and joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Hope Van Dyne in the 2015 film Ant-Man and then also as Wasp in the 2018 sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp. She also reprised the role in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and last year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Fox was most recently in the TV series C*A*G*H*T with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

Daniel Dae Kim most recently played Fire Lord Ozai in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, which has been renewed for two more seasons. Holloway recently appeared in Yellowstone as one of the show’s season three antagonists, Roarke Morris. Yunjin Kim was in Netflix’s Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area.

De Ravin was in ABC’s Once Upon a Time as Belle (as in Beauty and the Beast Belle). Emerson was most recently in Prime Video’s Fallout as Wilzig and in Paramount’s Evil. Monaghan was most recently heard as the voice of Hamylton in the animated Angry Birds series and was in 2019’s Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

O’Quinn was recently in AMC’s The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live and Peacock’s Resident Alien. Andrews was most recently in Fox’s The Cleaning Lady and was in the Netflix series Sense8.

What is Lost about?

It would way too complicated to explain the entirety of the plot. Suffice it to say that it still is one of the most groundbreaking shows ever for its themes that include the supernatural, philosophy, time travel and alternate worlds, to name a few. The episodes usually feature a primary storyline, which would then have flashbacks and/or flashforwards about the characters’ lives.

Its two-part pilot episode was the most expensive in ABC’s history, which reportedly cost between $10 million and $14 million. The average cost of an hour-long pilot at the at time was $4 million. However, it certainly paid off since its first season had an estimated average of 16 million viewers per episode. This was in the early 2000s, so streaming wasn’t a thing yet.

The idea for the show was conceived the network head at the time, Lloyd Braun, when he was in Hawai’i on vacation. He initially thought of it as a television series adaptation of Tom Hanks’ 2000 film Castaway, with elements of the reality show Survivor. When he pitched it to the network, he described it as “part Cast Away, Survivor and Gilligan’s Island, with a Lord of the Flies element.”

The show has had immense influence in popular culture that’s still evident to this day. Shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, The Office, Futurama and The Simpsons have either made references to Lost or made parodies of it.

Lost by the numbers

One real-world influence of the show was through its episode Numbers aired in 2005. Many people used the figures that appeared on the show: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, as lottery entries. Within three days after the episode aired, these numbers were played more than 500 times just in Pittsburgh alone. Months later, thousands had played them for the multi-state Powerball lottery. The figures were the third most played numbers for lottery players, coming after the sequences 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42.

This was then more widely known after a near-record $380 million jackpot in 2011 for Mega Millions, drew the three lowest numbers in the Lost sequence: 4, 8 and 15. The mega ball was the total of four of the six numbers, 42. And if you’re a fan of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know the number as “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Players who entered the combination won $150 ($118 in California) each.

Furthering the numbers game — for which Lost became quite famous — the sequence added all together equals 108, which was the total number of minutes the characters had to enter into the computer every time. It’s also the total number of days that the survivors spent on the island before they were rescued.

The Mythologies

The show contained many mythologies that you may be able to spot in your favorite sci-fi shows today. The main thing, obviously, is the island. As the seasons went on, the island is revealed to have quite a few unusual properties. For one, it’s a little bit like Brigadoon in that it can’t be reached just by anyone or through ordinary means. It also changes locations and is surrounded by a barrier that disrupts the normal flow of time for those who cross it. The island’s electromagnetic phenomena also seem to give its residents unusual healing abilities.

There’s also The DHARMA Initiative. The Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Application Initiative was a research project on the island between the 1970s and the early 1990s. If your knowledge of Lost is only through symbols, that’s the one. It’s a variation of the Taoist symbol, the Bag Gua, an octagonal logo. The Initiative’s mission was to manipulate scientific laws to change the variations of the fictional Valenzetti Equation’s six factors to basically save the world. The equation is believed to have a connection to the date marking the end of humanity.

Then there are The Others. The Initiative refers to them as either the Hostiles or the Natives. They are a group of people living on the island who follow Jacob. He never shows himself to his people and only addresses his followers through intermediaries and their leaders.

Jacob and/or The Man in Black

Jacob is actually the ageless protector of the island, who has existed for more than 2,000 years. His twin brother, the Man in Black, live on the island and have spent centuries arguing about the nature of humanity. They do this while trying to find loopholes on how to kill each other. Jacob has repeatedly left the island to look for potential successors, whom he manipulates to come to the island.

The Man in Black is actually the Smoke Monster. Fans initially suspected that the smoke was a cloud of nanobots. It was explained as the island’s security system, specifically for the temple’s ruins. Later on, it’s revealed to Jacob’s twin, who only wanted to be able to leave the island and go home.

In Lost’s final episode, he becomes mortal again when the island’s electromagnetic field is destroyed. He becomes trapped in John Locke’s form and fights Jack on the cliff, almost killing him. Kate ends up shooting John (as the Man in Black/Smoke Monster) while Jack kicks him off the cliff which kills him before he could escape the island.

And while time travel is nothing new to you, especially if you’re a sci-fi fan, Lost introduced what’s now known as a flash-sideways (as opposed to just back or forward). This was used during the show’s final episode as a second timeline. In this this, the story follows the lives of the main characters in a timeline when Oceanic 815 never crashed, thus living completely different lives from what they did during all six seasons.

The Oceanic Six

Then there are the Oceanic Six: Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sayid, Aaron Littleton (Claire’s son who was born on the island and raised by Kate) and Sun-Hwa Kwon. They are the only ones to openly return to civilization 108 days after the crash.

Locke told Jack that in order to protect the island, the Oceanic Six had to lie to the public about what happened. They all agree — some reluctantly — to a cover story, using their shock to explain any of their awkwardness or misstatements they make when they are interviewed by the press.

And then, there’s that ending. One more thing Lost is famous for is killing the characters audience have come to love, especially those that are only beginning to redeem themselves. But the one thing that divided the show’s loyal fanbase has been — to this day — its ending. Not that it ended, but HOW. Loyal fans of the show have complained that the show’s finale brought up more questions that it answered.

The speculation was that Lost should have ended after four seasons, which if co-creator Lindelof had his way, would have happened. His biggest concern was that if it dragged on, he and the writers room would have to face what’s called the “Gilligan’s Island problem” where audiences begin to get frustrated with a show that they think has overstayed its welcome.

Even so, Lost’s surprising twists and turns changed television storytelling.

Lost is currently available to stream on Disney+.