I’ll start with Star Wars, or at least the first two films, which were really the only good ones. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back introduce us to some pretty bad-ass spaceships and topping that list is the Millennium Falcon, a speedy smuggler’s vessel piloted by the irascible Han Solo and his trusty sidekick, Chewbacca. The Falcon wasn’t the only cool spaceship in the movie, though – that first film introduced us to Star Destroyers, TIE fighters and X-Wing fighters, too. The second movie brings in the Executor, Darth Vader’s personal flagship, and Boba Fett’s Slave 1. Just beautiful, awe-inspiring spaceships. The thing that I always thought was the coolest about the Falcon and Slave 1 was that they looked lived in – they weren’t pristine, spotless ships. You could tell they’d been through the wringer more than once.
The various Star Trek films introduced us to many variations of the iconic Enterprise, perhaps the most recognizable spaceship in cinematic history. There are multiple versions because the equally iconic crew of the Enterprise keeps getting the damn thing blown up. Ignoring the long history of the various television programs, in the very first Star Trek film, we get not only VGER, but also the very sinister Klingon battle cruisers. These ships are only out-cooled by the Birds of Prey that show up in later films. The Borg Cube from First Contact is creepy and weird, of course. The Scimitar is just about the only cool thing about Star Trek: Nemesis, but the Romulans come through again in the 2009 Star Trek reboot with a hugely destructive, but entirely common, mining vessel. Spock’s little space cruiser in that film is pretty awesome as well.
For sheer size, it’s hard to ignore the Mother Ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the luxury liner Fhloston Paradise, and of course the massive civilization-sustaining ships from WALL-E. The Space Battleship Yamato should probably be lumped in with these giants, as should Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
(“Why,” I hear you cry, “did you leave out the Battlestar Galactica?” Because BSG was a TV show, not a movie, and I’m focusing on movies here, that’s why. If I was going to throw in TV shows, the Eagles from Space: 1999 would definitely be in this post.)
Topping all those big ships, though, is the Cygnus from an obscure old Disney film, The Black Hole. If memory serves me correctly, that was Disney’s first-ever PG-rated film. Our heroes in that film fly in on the Palomino, which is a funky little ship, and out on the black hole probe ship, but for sheer impressiveness, neither of them holds a candle to the Cygnus.
The masters of all beat-up, broken-down, iconic spaceships, though, come from films that are a generation apart. The USCSS Nostromo is the primary locale for Alien, and Serenity from Serenity (as well as Firefly, the TV series that inspired the film) are the ultimate in functional spaceships, and for that reason they have to be taken seriously in any list that addresses spaceships. They’re not as cool as a TIE fighter, as fast as the Enterprise, or as powerful as the Yamato, but perhaps that’s why they hold a dear place in my heart – like most of us, these two ships are just out there, every day, doing their jobs.