19 best movie and TV spaceships: The star craft that defined our childhood
Science fiction films and TV shows have graced us with some amazing spaceships over the last few decades, often becoming as iconic as the characters and stories themselves.
Now with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Alien: Covenant currently on the big screens, it only seems fitting to take a look at some of the biggest and best spacecraft to ever to have made it onto the big and small screens.
The Death Star (Star Wars)
No list about fictional spaceships would be complete without a reference to the Death Star – the moon-sized battle station built by the Galactic Empire with the sole purpose of blowing up planets with a rather unpleasant super laser.
As the Emporer’s pet project, it was akin to Hitler’s wonder weapons but, luckily for the Rebels, it had one weakness in an exhaust port that meant a cheeky and well-aimed proton torpedo could put an end to the threat. See Rogue One for the reason why it was there.
Borg Cube (Star Trek)
Resisting the Borg making their way into this list would be futile. These monster spaceships dwarf most other ships on our list, apparently spanning 3,000 metres on each side.
They’re the scourge of the Star Trek Universe, assimilating or laying waste to everything in their path. Equipped with disruptor beams, high-yield photon torpedoes, various tractor beams and multi-adaptive shields these ships have a heavy arsenal to fight off any foe.
Inside, the menacing Borg drones are ready to destroy or assimilate anyone and everyone they come across. A force to be reckoned with.
Martian flying saucer (Mars Attacks!)
A slightly more comical, though no less deadly, threat to the human race came in the form of the flying spaceships and their passengers from Mars in the 1996 film Mars Attacks!
Tim Burton apparently wanted to make the aliens and the special effects look as fake as possible for comedy value and as an homage to alien films from previous generations. The result was some hilarious-looking beings and flying saucers that perfectly matched the collectors’ card series it was based on.
Max (Flight of the Navigator)
In the 1986 classic ‘Flight of the Navigator’, a small boy called David is transported through space and time by an alien spacecraft from the planet Phaelon by a robotic commander known as Max (short for “Trimaxion Drone Ship”).
David’s journey includes a space trip to the alien craft’s home planet 560 light years away and a transport through time eight years into his future. In the meantime, his brain is used to store copious amounts of data including star charts, alien technical manuals and more.
Max and his spacecraft make it onto our list because of the comedy value of the pilot and the fascinating journey David goes on. We also can’t forget all the alien creatures he meets along the way. Cracking film for children of all ages!
Heart of Gold (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)
From the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Universe, the Heart of Gold is a magnificent spaceship equipped with the infamous and revolutionary Infinite Improbability Drive making it capable of travelling anywhere in the galaxy in an instant. Unfortunately, that’s coupled with the danger of randomly and unfortunately altering reality in doing so.
Stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy and a man who had been voted “Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe” no less than seven times, the Heart of Gold was later used to accidentally rescue Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect from an untimely death, as they floated unprotected in space. It also turned two missiles into a whale and bowl of petunias. Handy.
It’s a fantastic ship if you can cope with the sunny disposition of the automatic doors with Genuine People Personalities and the downtrodden depressing drone of Marvin the paranoid android.
Klingon Bird of Prey (Star Trek)
The Klingon Bird of Prey is a heavily armed warship from the Star Trek universe, first encountered by Starfleet and Captain James T. Kirk in 2153. Armed with a cloaking device and a deadly arsenal of weaponry, it’s a menacing foe in the right hands.
Not the prettiest ship to look at, but then neither are the crew. Though we wouldn’t say that to their faces.
Discovery One (2001: A Space Odyssey)
With a graceful and sleek design, Discovery One first made its way onto our screens in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This nuclear-powered interplanetary spaceship is particularly interesting thanks to being operated by HAL 9000 the Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer that controls the ship’s systems and interacts with the crew.
When HAL turns bad and decides to kill the crew to prevent them disconnecting his cognitive circuits things become interesting. Another of man’s journeys into AI gone bad, the film is great and the spaceship is a corker too. Unless you’re a passenger of course.
The TARDIS (Dr Who)
Although it might not be a spaceship in the traditional sense, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) makes it onto our list because of its sheer awesome quirkiness.
Bigger on the inside than it appears on the out and capable of travelling anywhere through space and time at the press of a button, it helps The Doctor explore the Universe and deal with everything from Daleks to Cybermen.
Better still, the inside of the TARDIS is equipped with all sorts of rooms and even boasts a swimming pool and art gallery.
Moya is the name of another unusual spaceship appearing on our list thanks to being a part-organic sentient being. As if a living, breathing spaceship wasn’t impressive enough, Moya also includes a four-armed Pilot who is physically bonded to her and works as navigator, operator and companion as well as a link to the crew.
Moya offers nothing in the way of weaponry, so her only defensive manoeuvre is to activate a “starburst” which allows the spaceship to travel through space-time at incredible speeds.
Moya appeared on sci-fi cult series Farscape which sadly ended in 2003 but remains fondly in our hearts.
Serenity is a space craft from the TV series “Firefly” which only made it to 14 episodes before being cancelled (much to the dismay of its fans).
The ship was home to nine people who lived and fought on the losing side of a civil war in what is essentially a space western in a universe where Earth had been abandoned many years before.
Serenity is a basic ship, with simple fittings and fixtures and isn’t really much to write home about. But she is a place to live and a vessel of salvation for the crew who are perpetually trying to keep out of trouble. With no weapons to speak of, Serenity is another space craft on our list whose only defence is to cut and run.
Real-life rocket Apollo 13 made it onto the big screen in the form of a film of the same name. It tells the true story of the seventh manned space mission and the third rocket launch that was intended to land on the moon.
The real space craft was launched in 1970 and suffered an oxygen tank explosion when 205,000 miles from Earth, this resulted in the need to abandon the moon mission and an incredible, desperate struggle to get the astronaut’s home.
Apollo 13 makes it to the list, not for being a great spaceship (after all it went a bit wrong) but because of the heroic mission and safe return of the crew.
Planet Express (Futurama)
The animated Planet Express ship was a ship designed and built by Professor Farnsworth – the mad scientist and owner of the Planet Express delivery service.
The ship itself is nothing particularly special, being armed with just one cannon and no sign of any cloaking device, but it makes it onto our list because of the crew.
An eccentric robot who’s prone to theft, by the name of Bender, a cryogenically frozen down-on-his-luck delivery boy named Philip J. Fry and the ship’s Captain, one-eyed mutant Turanga Leela. With this bunch of characters on board, the ship gets into plenty of scrapes, jams and accidents, but mostly always comes back in one piece.
Prawn mothership (District 9)
Looming over the Johannesburg skyline in the film District 9 was the crippled alien mothership belonging to the Prawns, an insectoid race of alien creatures who landed on Earth in the late 20th Century.
This alien spaceship is unusual and makes it to our list because it’s probably one of the only alien space crafts from a film which hasn’t come to Earth for the purpose of invasion, destruction or colonisation. No, the crew of the Mothership just want somewhere to live and eat cat food.
Starbug (Red Dwarf)
Starbug is the designation for the small, green, bug-like shuttlecrafts of the Jupiter Mining Corporation’s mining ship Red Dwarf.
These little robust, mistreated but much-loved spacecraft are home to the hapless crew which includes the last surviving member of the Human race Dave Lister, his loathed hologram companion Rimmer, mechanised service droid Kryten and their friend who evolved from a pet cat.
Starbug itself is nothing special to look at, but through the various episodes and series of Red Dwarf it does garner many enhancements that at various points include a cloaking device, the ability to travel underwater, laser cannon upgrades and a super tachyon-powered drive.
Crashed onto many planets and thrown into many scrapes, Starbug proves itself to be an extremely formidable craft.
The Space Cruiser (Rick and Morty)
The Space Cruiser looks like something someone’s mad, drunk Grandfather bashed together in their garage. Which is pretty much exactly what happened.
This UFO-like flying machine was created by mad scientist Rick Sanchez in order to aid his insane adventures around the Galaxy with his Grandson Morty.
It’s not much to look at, but it does boast some pretty special gadgetry that includes a battery which houses an entire Universe (in miniature form known as a Microverse), some artificial intelligence and a vast array of hidden weaponry that appears to keep his Granddaughter Summer Safe from all threats in one episode of the show.
Rick and Morty has only seen two seasons so far, but the Space Cruiser has already been on some pretty wild rides.
Thunderbird 3 (Thunderbirds)
Thunderbird 3 was the main spaceship in the International Rescue team’s arsenal of vehicles. Effectively a reusable, vertically launched space rocket, it was used for space rescue missions and trips to Thunderbird 5 – the team’s space station.
Boasting chemical lift-off rockets and an ion drive for use in the void of space, Thunderbird 3 was an impressive spacecraft in various ways, not least of which was the ability to be controlled remotely by a device on pilot Alan Tracy’s wrist.
USS Enterprise (Star Trek)
The USS Enterprise has been on our screens, big and small, in various guises over the decades. It’s been blown up, crashed, shot at and taken on bold new missions across stretches of space that no man has been before.
Indeed, Gene Roddenberry’s spaceship became such an influential vessel that NASA even named its first space shuttle after it.
Various versions of the Enterprise were Captained by big names from the Star Trek series including James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard and Johnathan Archer.
The ship itself is pretty special for various reasons, including the presence of the holodeck in the Next Generation version and a wide array of weaponry and tactical offensive and defensive capabilities including photon torpedoes, ramming speed and a detachable saucer for emergency situations.
Dark Aster (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Dark Aster makes it onto our list for being one of the most menacing alien ships to hit the big screen.
Dark, angry and foreboding, this mammoth corkscrew-like spaceship was taken by Ronan the Accuser to destroy all Nova citizens in his path with the intended eventual destruction of the planet Xander as his end goal. But first, he’d have to get through the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Milano (Guardians of the Galaxy 2)
In the original film, Star-Lord Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt) used his ship, the Milano, to enter the Dark Aster and save the Galaxy. In the process, the Milano was badly damaged. As payment for saving Xander, Nova Corps paid to rebuild and fix up the Milano for Quill.
Now back on the big screens, we’ll once again get to see the Star-Lord doing his thing in this magnificent flying bird.