A spaceship is nothing without its crew. Well…okay, that’s not technically true. It’s also a series of materials, computers, and strangely stacked crates which don’t seem to serve any real purpose but are there nonetheless. All of those things, however, merely make up the body of the spaceship. They allow it to travel to the furthest reaches of the universe, but they don’t afford the ship itself any kind of identity. They are the body of the spaceship, but they are not the heart of the spaceship. The heart of a space-traversing vessel will always be its crew.
It’s strange to consider that some of the best collections of fictional characters ever assembled are those written to serve aboard an intergalactic ship. Actually, perhaps it’s not that strange at all. After all, good characters are often born from passion and romanticism, and there are few notions more romantic than the idea of exploring the furthest reaches of existence in search of knowledge, glory, or perhaps even a few laughs. The crews of the best sci-fi spaceships are too diverse to be classified under any one quality, save for one. They are all the crews that make their spaceships the sci-fi icons that they are.
These are the 15 Best Spaceship Crews In Sci-Fi History.
15. Crew of the Satellite of Love – Mystery Science Theater 3000
Some great spaceship crews earn their reputation because you would willingly follow them into the darkest reaches of the universe without any fear of what lies ahead. Other times, a great spaceship crew is made great because you’d just want to hang out with them on a spaceship and watch some bad movies. The crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Satellite of Love is an example of that latter.
Admittedly, that’s a pretty specific classification, but the point still stands. Custodian Joel Robinson may have been shot into space unwillingly aboard the Satellite of Love, but he made the most of his time by building robot companions named Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy (plus a few others, depending on your plot interpretation). Even though building these bots meant that Robinson lost control of the awful movies he was forced to watch, the number of laughs they ended up sharing made his effort more than worthwhile. Given the chance, we’d gladly endeavor to hopelessly float around space while watching bad movies with this crew.
14. Crew of the NSEA Protector – Galaxy Quest
Yes, the crew of Galaxy Quest‘s NSEA Protector is indeed just a parody of a crew that you’ll most certainly be reading about later on this list. Does this diminish their standing? It’s an honest question. After all, if you hold a mirror to a great leader, would you expect their people to follow the orders of the reflection? While it’s true that nearly every character of the Protector’s crew is inspired by an existing personality, each of them has just enough character of their own as to be worthy of remembrance.
Besides, the reason that the Protector’s crew is so great isn’t because they’re a mirror image of other famous characters, but rather because they are a mirror image of ourselves. Once they find themselves encountering actual sci-fi dangers, the Protector’s crew are suddenly forced to assume their famous pop culture roles and test their supposed knowledge and abilities for real. It’s a dream/nightmare scenario many a sci-fi fan has imagined, and they respond to it in the best ways possible.
13. Crew of the C-57D – Forbidden Planet
Younger film fans who have never seen 1956’s Forbidden Planet may watch the movie and find it to be a curious piece of movie history. Honestly, some might even come to see it as a fairly pedestrian rundown of sci-fi movie clichés. The twist, of course, is that Forbidden Planet is the innovator of several of those clichés. In fact, it is considered to be the first major science fiction film that shows humans traveling through space on a light-speed spaceship that they designed.
If the starship C-57D is a historic piece of cinematic sci-fi, then so is its crew. The C-57D’s team may be one of the first of their kind in terms of film, but they exhibit many of the qualities that the best spaceship crews that would follow usually possess. This is a highly-trained group of humanity’s finest, who all represent some useful field of operations. Despite their occasional bouts with blunder, they’re the ideal expedition team.
12. Crew of the Red Dwarf – Red Dwarf
When we think of humans traveling through space, we tend to picture Earth’s best and brightest. Certainly, if real humans ever got to experience such an honor, it would be our smartest, bravest, and most capable who make the journey. Science fiction, however, allows us to explore the outcome of other possibilities. Red Dwarf, for instance, portrayed what would happen if a bumbling idiot and a band of equally incompetent humans were suddenly in command of a vessel and forced to test their merits against an array of sci-fi obstacles.
Red Dwarf originally garnered acclaim for its Odd Couple style of humor built around two unlikely compatriots attempting to get along. Even as the cast and ship crew grew, that same style of humor remained intact. There is genuine brilliance to be found in Red Dwarf’s imaginative sci-fi situations, but it has always been the chemistry of Red Dwarf’s crew which has elevated it to the ranks of the genre’s best.
11. Crew of the Milano – Guardians of the Galaxy
The Milano never actually made an appearance in the Guardians of the Galaxy comics. The titular band of heroes instead opted to occupy a sentient star called Aurora and a headquarters known as C.I.T.T. Yet, the Milano feels like the most appropriate vessel for the crew. Named after Star-Lord’s childhood crush, Alyssa Milano, the ship was crewed by a lone operative for many years before the rest of the Galactic guardians began to occupy it.
However, that’s when the Milano finally felt complete. The Milano’s crew may differ wildly from each other in ways both physical and philosophical, but their constant conflict yields an incredible chemistry that even crews who have been together for years cannot lay claim to. Walk into any room in the Milano, and you can expect to find some heated conversation laced with sarcasm. Of course, when it comes time for everyone to work together, the Milano’s crew is as good as it gets.
This band of heroes is set to take on new recruits this summer when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters, and while the recent additions may not be the most altruistic folks around, we have no doubt that they’ll be just as much fun to watch.
10. Crew of the SSV Normandy – Mass Effect
The crew of the SSV Normandy is the only video game crew to make this list, but that is not what makes them unique. What sets them apart from the rest is the fact that they are unique to each person who plays the game. Regardless of how you may choose to play Mass Effect, certain characters are always going to become crew members of the Normandy and exhibit certain defining traits. While the constant characteristics of these characters are compelling enough in their own right, what really makes them some of the best crew members in all of sci-fi are the variables.
Your relationship with each crew member of the Normandy (and the relationship that many of them have with each other) is determined by you, the gamer. Your thoughts and actions will dictate just what kind of crew they are. What makes the Normandy’s crew so great isn’t the fact that they are all interesting characters, but rather that they are the exact kind of crew that you will them to be.
9. Crew of the Icarus II – Sunshine
Based on the results of the numerous sci-fi adventures that populate pop culture, one might get the impression that humans would do well to stay out of space altogether. It seems that nothing good ever really comes from their endeavors. Sometimes, though, is necessary for humans to venture into space in order to save our world. While that has been the premise of many sci-fi outings over the years, there are few crews in genre history as uniquely qualified to carry out their task as the crew aboard the Icarus II.
Admittedly, that’s a bit of a hollow compliment, given that their particular task to jumpstart the sun was an elaborate suicide mission, but that does little to diminish the difficulty of the task at hand. What makes the Icarus II cast so special is actually the effort that went on behind the scenes to make Sunshine as scientifically accurate as possible. As a result, the band of scientists aboard the Icarus II look and sound just like the actual band of humans we would want to send on a mission to save the world.
8. Crew of the Bebop – Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is not an easy show to describe to those who are not already familiar with the series. At the time of its release, it was promoted as a show that belonged to a “genre unto itself.” While the show’s director Shinichirō Watanabe admitted that that was a bit of an exaggeration, it does accurately describe the blend of comedy, western, noir, and thriller that helps make up Cowboy Bebop’s unique style. Through it all, though, Cowboy Bebop is also a sci-fi adventure about a crew of bounty hunters serving aboard a spaceship.
And what a crew they are. The Bebop’s squad consists of outlaws and cynics who found themselves serving on this ship largely because society had left them no other avenue to pursue. Despite their status as outcasts, the bounty hunters aboard the Bebop ended up becoming as close as any crew ever has become. Each member of the Bebop stands tall on their own, but not nearly as tall as they stand when they lean on each other.
7. Crew of the Nostromo – Alien
The Nostromo is not a special ship. It’s a commercial vessel. It’s something between an intergalactic 18-wheeler and a tow truck. Its crew is not comprised of humanities best and brightest. It’s largely made up of of blue-collar workers just looking to make a little money. This rather unremarkable ship and its rather unremarkable crew are suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation when they choose to respond to a distress signal which leads to their ship being invaded by one of the most deadly creatures in the universe.
Despite this remarkable turn of events, the greatness of the Nostromo’s crew is that they remain largely unremarkable. Their training is minimal, their actions are realistic, and their equipment is usually no more elaborate than the equipment such a crew would regularly have access to. Because of their common nature, Alien remains one of the greatest entrants into the blue collar sci-fi genre that it helped to pioneer.
6. Crew of the Planet Express Ship – Futurama
A spaceship is a complicated and expensive thing to produce. Actually, for that matter, it’s not exactly cheap and easy to produce a rendering of a fictional spaceship. Because of this, you wouldn’t think that many folks would waste resources and efforts constructing any spaceship that isn’t being used for some incredible purpose. Yet, some of the best ships in sci-fi are often crewed by bumbling idiots whose comedic abilities prove that you can hear laughter even in space.
Among said bumbling idiots, few are as capable at their comedic craft as the crew of the Planet Express ship. The idea of such an impressive feat of human engineering being used as a glorified mail truck is funny enough on its own, but it’s the personalities of Fry, Leela, Bender, and the rotating cast of fellow Planet Express employees that make Futurama the classic show that it is. The crew of the Planet Express ship will forever serve as a reminder as to why we shouldn’t send idiots into space, no matter how funny the results may be.
5. Crew of the Millennium Falcon – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
When Star Wars became the kind of cultural phenomenon that echoes through generations, people everywhere began to try to explain just how that happened. Sure, Star Wars was a great film, but there have been many great films that have never achieved even a fraction of what Star Wars achieved. While it’s foolish to boil down the success of Star Wars to any single factor, much of the film’s brilliance can be found by looking closely at the crew of the Millennium Falcon.
Han and Chewey are not great adventurers or even particularly good thieves. They are odd friends trapped aboard a rickety ship which may or may not be one of the fastest in the galaxy. They’re larger than life and yet, there is a certain realness about their ship and relationship which makes it feel that much more genuine. The Millennium Falcon might not be in the hands of the most capable pilots in the galaxy, but within minutes of being introduced to Han and Chewie, we are left with the indisputable knowledge that it is in the right hands.
4. Crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D – Star Trek: The Next Generation
So it’s come to this. While there is an obvious debate to be had regarding Enterprise crews and their respective rankings on any list of all-time greats, for now, let’s just take the time to appreciate the brilliance of the men, women, and beings who man Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. Like a certain crew that used to serve aboard a ship named the Enterprise, most of the crew of this intergalactic vessel are all experts in their selective fields who have been carefully selected to manage a particular aspect of the exploratory spacecraft.
In fact, if there is an argument to be made for the D harboring the superior crew, it likely revolves around the expert nature of its crew. There really is a sense that every person aboard the ship is the best in their class. Picard is the fearless captain who always seems to know the answers, Riker is the first officer that ensures the Captain never waivers, and Worf is certainly the Klingon you want around when everything goes wrong.
3. Crew of the Battlestar Galactica – Battlestar Galactica (Reboot)
The Galactica is a military ship, and a legendary one at that. Its adventures during the first war against the Cylons ensured that the ship and everyone who served aboard it would become indispensable parts of human history. By the time that the events of the Battlestar Galactica reboot rolled around, however, the Galactica and its crew didn’t feel so legendary. At best, they felt like relics of a different era. At worst, they felt painfully ordinary.
Within minutes of Battlestar Galactica’s premiere, however, it soon becomes clear that the ship and its crew are actually extraordinary elements trapped in a situation too ordinary to demand their full potential. Yet, even as the crew of the Galactica responds to what is essentially the end of humanity, it is their humanity which continues to make them so special. The Galactica’s crew falter, fail, bicker, moan, and bleed. They are painfully human at their worst, and remarkably human at their best.
2. Crew of the Serenity – Firefly
We’ve seen a few examples of outlaws banding together aboard a spaceship on this list. It seems that even the wonders of space and the wonders of the technology required to explore it do little to mute people’s desires to break the rules in order to secure a little more or just get by. The crew of Serenity is another band of thieves and outlaws who treat the furthest reaches of the universe as their stomping grounds. Their status as such is not, in and of itself, all that notable.
What is notable are the personalities and attitudes of these particular thieves. Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his team have no illusions about what they are. They are former soldiers and misfits who couldn’t afford the essentials unless they turned to a life of crime. Even then, it’s tricky. The only truth they can’t seem to accept is that they are all, collectively, much more than mere thieves. Whether they’re stealing or reluctantly saving the day, the members of Serenity are a family. A dysfunctional family, perhaps, but a family nonetheless, and one we still hope to see more of all these years later.
1. Crew of the USS Enterprise – Star Trek
So it comes to this. In some ways, it feels like the adventures of the USS Enterprise’s crew are so famous that there really is no need to recount them or justify their place atop any list of great all-time spaceship crews. However, recounting the number of brilliantly conceived squads which have served aboard fictional ships over the years does serve as a reminder that the Enterprise’s status as the greatest of all-time does deserve a few words of justification.
So, here they are. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. Those are the names that have come to define Star Trek — perhaps sci-fi as a whole — and the smile they bring to your face is more than enough justification for this (admittedly humble) honor. What’s so fascinating about the crew of the Enterprise is that they were written as entirely unique characters with personalities and duties of their own, but those personalities were really just pieces of a larger picture that is the best crew of explorers to ever venture into space.
Are there any other sci-fi crews that deserved recognition here? Will the Guardians of the Galaxy vault their way up the rankings when their second adventure storms into theaters in May? Sound off in the comments.