If you’re reading this list, chances are at some point in your life you’ve held a toy spaceship in your hands and steered it gracefully through the air, banking left and right, while making engine noises (“Kschchchch,” “Wrrrrrrreeeeeeeaaaar!”) and laser noises (“Pfew, pfew,” “Tschew!”). That’s because ships in sci-fi movies can be so crazy cool. That’s part of the fun of watching them: seeing which new designs special effects teams have come up with, or what old favorites have been updated.
Most of these ships are spacecraft, but sci-fi ships can also go underwater or even inside the human body. There are malicious, invading alien crafts and benevolent alien ships; massive vessels that hold thousands of people, and little one-seaters. But they’re all awesome in their own way.
Here are the 14 Most Iconic Ships To Ever Appear in Science Fiction Movies.
14. KLINGON BIRD OF PREY FROM STAR TREK
One look at the Klingon Bird of Prey warship and you can’t help but think you best turn away and run as fast as you can. Or else open fire immediately. Because it, like just about anything Klingon, does not look friendly – especially when it has lowered its wings, primed for attack, with weapons pointed forward, ahead of everything else.
Interestingly, when it was designed for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it was originally going to be a Romulan vehicle, and the feather designs remained on its wings as a result. Also because of this, it’s the first of many Klingon vessels to have a cloaking device. It went on to be a hugely popular design, appearing in five films and two TV series.
13. JUPITER II FROM LOST IN SPACE
Okay, this is a film list, not a TV list. Certainly the most iconic version of this ship was featured in the 1965-’68 television series, Lost in Space: the more numerically named Jupiter 2. It basically looked like your typical 1950s flying saucer. But it more or less does make an appearance in the 1998 movie, as Jupiter I, the vehicle that launched Jupiter II into orbit. Have we confused you with the names yet? And Netflix is evidently preparing to reboot the series, so we’ll certainly have yet another version of Jupiter 2/II. Jupiter Dos, maybe? Jupiter 2.2?
The film version was fairly slick in its own right, much more streamlined and oval, but still retaining the essential saucer shape. The movie itself was nothing to write home about, sucking the campy humor out of original series and taking itself way too seriously. But at least they made some nods to the original, including that Jupiter 2-ish Jupiter I.
12. SERENITY FROM SERENITY
The Serenity is central to the plots of both the short-lived but acclaimed TV series Firefly and the movie based on the series, Serenity. After all, the titles of both refer to the ship (Firefly is the class of the ship). Series creator Joss Whedon helped design the relatively small transport vessel, and he has described it as the 10th character in the series.
It has the look of a stocky, short-winged bird, bulky enough to fit the cargo that its owner, Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) acquires. Unlike many awesome sci-fi ships, Serenity isn’t exactly prepared for a fight – it’s unarmed and can either zoom out of harm’s way or deploy decoys. As much as Mal and fans love this ship, it garners sneers from most others within the show and movie, constantly referred to as “crap,” “garbage” or “junk.”
11. THE MOTHERSHIP FROM INDEPENDENCE DAY
Independence Day (1999) is overflowing with giant spacecraft. Most of them are relatively small “city destroyers.” And when we say “relatively small,” we’re talking about 15 miles wide – so they’re small only relative to the ridiculous mothership, which is one quarter of the size of the Earth’s moon. That would be about 500 miles long. 500 miles. That’s crazy talk.
But within the narrative of the film, it’s all too true. It lurks in orbit, hiding behind the moon, while the city destroyers blanket cities around the world with their gigantic shadows. The mothership features a fairly traditional domed saucer for the top half, but adds two long sort of flippers dangling beneath. As horrifying as it is, however, it proves highly susceptible to human technology. But those aliens and their nasty ships will be back this summer in Independence Day: Resurgence.
10. TIE FIGHTER FROM STAR WARS
There’s no denying that the TIE fighter casts a bit of a strange visage: a ball sandwiched between two much wider, taller panels. We’re not used to seeing flying vehicles with vertical wings like that. But somehow it works. The favorite short-range fighter ship of Star Wars bad guys for decades (in the movies, we see them from A New Hope, all the way up to The Force Awakens), they’re speedy little buggers with twin engines and two laser cannons, that swarm around like bees, attacking their foes.
We see a few different versions of TIEs in the films, from the standard flat panel ships, to Darth Vader’s intimidating TIE Advanced x1 with its bent panels, to Return of the Jedi’s TIE Interceptor, with its bent and split panels.
9. DISCOVERY ONE FROM 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
In a world familiar with flying saucers as science-fiction spacecraft, and monolithic rockets as real-life spacecraft, Discovery One was an interesting combination of the two. It had that narrow, elongated middle, reminiscent not only of the real-life rockets, but also of the monolith at the center of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it also had the more saucer-like orb at the front. And then there was the rear propulsion section that had to have heavily influenced the huge transport ships we’d see a few years later in Star Wars: A New Hope – and, really, the orb is reminiscent of the Death Star, too.
Inside Discovery One, all was very white and clean and sparse, with hits of red. But it also became a creepy, lonely place when the ship’s even more iconic computer, HAL 9000, started to go loopy and tried to kill everyone on board.
8. NAUTILUS FROM 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
The Nautilus first captured the imaginations of people around the world in the late 19th century, thanks to Jules Verne’s novels 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island, and the name actually comes from what many consider to be the first real-life practical submarine. In the books, its shape was described as cigar-like, which is pretty much your standard sub, but that’s not the shape we know and love.
No, it’s the 1954 movie version that we love. This nuclear-powered behemoth is still essentially cylindrical, but takes on the shape of a marlin or other pointy-nosed fish, with a narrow point at the front, a tail fin, and an “eye” toward the top front for observation. The film won the Oscar for Best Special Effects in part for this creation, which has become so iconic that it has had its own ride at Disney parks, and eBay is filled with collectibles based on its fishy facade.
7. PROTEUS FROM FANTASTIC VOYAGE
In the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, scientists have figured out how to shrink people and objects to minuscule sizes, but only for a limited time. Shortly after another scientist comes up with a way to shrink things indefinitely, he’s nearly assassinated and left in a coma. So they put a bunch of doctors, scientists and CIA agents in a submarine, shrink them and inject them into the scientist, with one hour to save his life. After that hour, the sub would revert to normal size, which, needless to say, wouldn’t work out well for the scientist.
Proteus is that sub. It looks like part motor boat, part spaceship and part trilobite. A full size (42 feet by 23 feet) version was designed by Harper Goff, who also built the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They filmed interiors inside the actual sub, while three smaller prop models were used for some exteriors. Oddly, the smallest (1-1/2 inches) was stolen by a crow, which flew off with it. Ultimately, after the heroes escape, the Proteus is destroyed by white blood cells and is left, in pieces, inside the scientist’s body – which should revert to normal size after the hour, but they inexplicably don’t.
6. DERELICT FROM ALIEN
The Derelict is definitely one of the creepier ships on this list. It looks like the arms of some horrific creature coming to grab you and never let go until there’s nothing left of you to let go of. Indeed, Alien director Ridley Scott wanted the ship to feel like “a dark, old haunted house.” Inside, it was just as foreboding, with confusing, steep passages, skeletal walls, and, of course, a fossilized human body.
It broadcast a distress signal, luring the crew of the Nostromo, another fairly iconic ship, to the moon on which it had crashed thousands of years earlier. Ultimately, it’s revealed that the Derelict is filled with alien eggs, which was not good news for the curious crew of the Nostromo.
5. STAR DESTROYER FROM STAR WARS
Who can forget that opening shot from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope? It’s the classic “there’s always a bigger fish” scenario, as we first see the big Rebel ship, Tantive IV. But it’s being shot at. By what? One of the biggest ships you’ve ever seen on film, the behemoth flying arrowhead that is a Star Destroyer. Specifically, we’re talking about the Imperial-class Star Destroyer.
Even though the Super Star Destroyer (which we saw in Return of the Jedi) was mind-bogglingly bigger than this one, the Imperial class was a ridiculous 5,250 feet long and boasted an endless supply of mega-powerful weapons. It was so powerful, that C-3PO memorably whined, “Sir, the odds of surviving a direct assault on an Imperial Star Destroyer…,” to which Leia told him to shut up.
4. THE MOTHERSHIP FROM CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
That mammoth mothership was the centerpiece of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When that ship settled down and hovered over the mountain, audiences’ faces reflected the awe on the faces of the characters on screen. It is absolutely awe-inspiring, which makes it intimidating despite the friendliness of its inhabitants. This ship is so iconic that the model is now a part of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum collection.
Its design springs from your basic flying saucer shape, but evolved into something resembling a brightly-lit flying city. In fact, its look is said to be inspired by an oil refinery Spielberg saw in India, as well as the city of Los Angeles at night. And look for a little Easter egg next time you watch: R2-D2 is hanging upside down from the underside of the ship.
3. X-WING FIGHTER FROM STAR WARS
It’s one of the most iconic moments in movie history: Luke Skywalker soars through the Death Star trench in his X-Wing fighter, eyes closed, and fires a proton torpedo into the exhaust port, to destroy the terrifying space station. Then we see the X-Wing flying away before the Death Star explodes.
Its scissor-action wings are arguably the most iconic feature, with wings able to open from flat airplane-like wings to an X formation, maximizing its field of fire in battle. X-Wings are extremely fast, maneuverable and versatile. There’s even a handy slot that astromech droids like R2-D2 slot into to help with navigation and hyperspace calculations. They’re so beloved by the good guys of Star Wars that an updated version of them is still in use by Poe Dameron and company in The Force Awakens.
2. ENTERPRISE FROM STAR TREK
We know, there have been many ships named Enterprise in the Stark Trek films and TV shows, but we’re going to treat them all as one here, from the one helmed by the original Captain Kirk (William Shatner) to the one captained by the alternate timeline Kirk (Chris Pine). They always follow essentially the same design: a sort of Y shape, with a large saucer up front, a long, narrow reactor section and twin, long warp engines. Even the interior bridge is iconic, with the captain at the heart of it all, surrounded by a circle of his or her closest officers.
It’s a massive ship that holds a large crew with living quarters, cargo space, sickbay, and much more. It’s got the firepower to take on the mightiest foe, engaging in many memorable battles, but has also been taken down its fair share of times. The Enterprise is so iconic that NASA even named the first space shuttle after it.
1. MILLENNIUM FALCON FROM STAR WARS
Here’s our rationale for naming the Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars movies as the most iconic ship in the history of science fiction movies: It made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Enough said, right? The Enterprise never did that, and the Enterprise has gone down a bunch of times. This great old bucket of bolts refuses to go down, escaping huge snake monsters, navigating through asteroid fields, outrunning and outfighting furious foes, and helping to destroy two Death Stars thanks to pilots like Han Solo and Lando Calrisian.
Even in The Force Awakens, we learned that the Falcon has survived in the decades since Return of the Jedi, with a handful of new modifications, and was up to the task despite sadly sitting under a tarp on Jakku for some time. While it has a more or less traditional saucer shape, it flaunts an unusual cutout up front and a side-mounted cockpit, rather than a more traditional placement in the center or on top.
Can you think of any other ships that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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