Since the dawn of the motion picture and into the television era, science fiction has remained among the most popular genres. Nothing holds an audience’s attention like faraway worlds. Combining social and political commentary with space travel allows for limitless story-telling potential.
From Endor to WOLF: 359, crowds cheer for space explosions. While fans worldwide love the androids, aliens, and asteroid belts, sci-fi’s most famous aspect is undoubtedly space battles! A few stand out among the countless battles in the annuls of sci-fi flicks. Let’s explore the best space battles in sci-fi movie and TV history.
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10 Guardians of the Galaxy vs. the Sovereign Fleet
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 picks up with the titular group doing a job for The Sovereign, a genetically superior and consequently smug alien race. The heroes protect and deliver some precious batteries for the Sovereign in exchange for fugitive Nebula. While Starlord is schmoozing the Golden High Priestess, Rocket steals the batteries for himself, informing only Drax of his actions. Then the Guardians fly off to collect the bounty on Nebula.
Almost immediately, they are surrounded by an entire fleet of Sovereign starfighters. The high priestess is furiously offended by the slight. She orders her fleet to shoot to kill, even if the batteries are destroyed. To escape, the group must navigate through a quantum asteroid field. At this point, Rocket and Starlord begin taking control of the ship from each other in a fight to see who is the better pilot.
With the Sovereign bearing down on them and asteroids spontaneously exploding around them, the two avoid all but one asteroid before reaching their “jump point.” However, the Sovereign fleet now has them cornered. Just then, a mysterious ship with an older man standing on the hull swoops in and destroys the entire fleet with what looks like a couple of fireworks, allowing the Guardians to escape.
9 The Battle of New Caprica: Battlestar Galactica
In the second season finale for this sci-fi favorite, the colonists had settled on the planet they named New Caprica. Shortly after that, the Cylons showed up and assumed control. The third season picks up after months of Cylon brutality have left the Colonists desperate. Meanwhile, the Adamas have been on their Battlestars (Galactica and Pegasus). What makes this battle so unique is what is called the Adama maneuver. Going into this fight, the colonists know they are outgunned, so they must be creative.
The Galactica makes an FTL (faster-than-light) jump into New Caprica’s atmosphere to deploy its fighters. It then makes another FTL jump from the atmosphere, a maneuver never attempted before. The Adama maneuver was successful, and the colonists were evacuated from the planet, but the basestars destroyed the Pegasus, and the Galactica took heavy damages and casualties.
BSG made a step forward in the space battle by adhering to a more realistic approach. Previously starfighters were depicted in a fashion that implied they were in an atmosphere with gravity. Modern special effects allowed this brilliant sci-fi show to display a more realistic space battle.
8 The Alliance vs. The Reavers: Serenity
Fox’s Firefly was loved and cheered by fans across the country, yet it only lasted one season. However, Joss Whedon’s space-western series continued in the motion picture Serenity. In this thrilling conclusion of one of sci-fi’s cult classics, the truth of the cannibalistic Reavers has been discovered by Serenity’s crew.
The Alliance used the Reavers’ home planet of Miranda as a testing ground for a chemical agent which mutated the population, causing the Reavers’ existence in the first place. The Operative is dispatched to eliminate the crew and anyone associated with them. Our heroes then embark on a nearly suicidal mission. The plan is to antagonize blood-thirsty Reavers, make a run for it, and lead them directly into the Alliance’s line of fire.
As the small ship exits a nebula cloud, it looks like the Alliance fleet will cut them to shreds, but then the Reavers appear hot on Serenity’s tail, and all hell breaks loose. Wash’s mantra, “I am a leaf on the wind,” has become an inside joke for countless sci-fi fans. This battle includes space harpoons, explosions, and a well-laid trap for the bad guy. This space battle is one of the most thrilling; it combines suspense, action, and creativity.
7 The Battle of Yavin IV: Star Wars Episode IV
In the original Star Wars film, the Empire launches its new ultimate weapon, the Deathstar. It’s a space station as big as a moon, with the ability to destroy a planet. The Empire tracks the Millenium Falcon and finds the Rebels on Yavin IV. The Rebels’ only hope hinges on a design flaw within the superstructure; a thermal exhaust port vulnerable to attack from one-person fighters.
Before the Rebels can get into position for their attack runs at the port, the ragtag Rebel fleet must engage with the Empire’s star destroyers. The Rebel fleet suffers heavy losses; no fan could forget “Porkins” screaming as his fighter bursts into flames. Using 1977 special effects, George Lucas created the first large-scale fleet space battle in film history.
The Empire’s massive turbo lasers have difficulty locking onto the small Rebel ships. Luke Skywalker eventually gets a clean shot at the exhaust port; he drops his payload, and the Deathstar is destroyed. Like in the fictional Star Wars universe, there is a before the Battle of Yavin and after the Battle of Yavin in sci-fi cinema history.
6 The Retaking of Deep Space Nine: Star Trek Deep Space Nine
The Federation was forced out of Deep Space Nine, and Captain Sisko is eager to take his station back from Dominion control. Outnumbered two to one, Sisko leads the Federation fleet against that of the Dominion. “Sacrifice of Angels” is one of sci-fi’s most memorable TV episodes. This episode is one of the rare occasions Star Trek audiences have had the pleasure of seeing massive cruisers exploding in all directions.
The Defiant weaves its way through the battle, letting nothing stop it from Deep Space Nine. Gul Dukat’s over-confidence leads him to make critical tactical mistakes. The Klingons, led by Commander Worf, arrive just in time to reinforce the Federation ships. However, the Defiant alone arrives at Deep Space Nine in time to see the minefield at the wormhole come down, allowing thousands of Dominion ships through; the Defiant meets them. Facing certain death, The Prophets save their emissary (Sisko), and the ships inexplicably disappear, enabling the Federation to retake Deep Space Nine.
5 Assault on Thoth Station: The Expanse
The Expanse is one of the great unsung heroes of science fiction. Like Battlestar Galactica, The Expanse creates as realistic space battles as possible. The show’s executive producer, Naren Shankar, holds a Ph.D. in applied physics and electrical engineering and has taken an active role in the show’s portrayal of life in space. The crew of the Rocinante, along with OPA leaders Fred Johnson and Camina Drummer, need to take over Thoth station to stop proto-molecule experimentation.
While the Rocinante and Guy Molinari engage the station, a group of Belter soldiers led by Miller approaches the station in Fed-Ex shipping containers (good to know Fed-Ex will still be around in the 24th century). The station is being protected not only by its defenses but also by a stealth frigate. Every possible intricate detail was thought of and produced in this sequence. While the fight doesn’t take long, it is impressive. Between the PDCs and the rail-gun shots, the twists and turns, and flips through space, few space battles can hold up against this one.
4 Battle of the Mutara Nebula: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
Considered one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, The Wrath of Khan delivers Star Trek’s first note-worthy space combat sequence. Khan takes control of the USS Reliant and pursues his revenge on Captain Kirk. The Enterprise is led into a trap, and the friendly ship fires on her, quickly knocking out propulsion, weapons, and shields. The Enterprise manages to fend off the Reliant and regroup in a nearby nebula.
As the film comes to a close, the two ships engage again. Kirk’s ship is still heavily damaged, and in order to even the odds, he heads into the Mutara Nebula. An intense game of cat and mouse proceeds. As Khan meets his end, he quotes Moby Dick and activates the Genesis device with his dying breath.
3 The Battle of Scarif: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This film depicts the events leading up to the original Star Wars movie. Rogue One is politically driven, but there is also plenty of action. In the end, the male and female protagonists accept their fates as they attempt to transmit the Deathstar plans off the planet, being targeted by the dreaded weapon. Rogue One’s Battle of Scarif stands on its own as a cinematic tour de force even outside the context of A New Hope.
The fluid way it combines space, air, and land combat makes this sequence one of the best in sci-fi history. So much happens in this roughly 30-minute-long battle, from droids to blind Jedis and everything in between. Unfortunately, all the heroes die via a Deathstar blast to the planet. Still, viewers get the pleasure of seeing Darth Vader cutting down dozens of Rebel soldiers as the Empire boards the small ship custodian of the Deathstar plans, leading directly into the original film.
2 Battle of the Resurrection Ship: Battlestar Galactica
Months after the Cylons destroyed the home worlds of the colonists, the Galactica and the Pegasus reunite. Pegasus recon has determined that the Cylon fleet they’ve been chasing consists of two basestars, roughly a dozen support ships, and one unidentifiable vessel. Later, Starbuck uses a stealth ship to asses the unknown craft. She finds that it contains the technology the Cylons use to transfer their consciousness into another body at its time of death. The Cylons’ ability to resurrect makes them virtually immortal.
The colonists form a plan, pooling their resources. When the colonists engage, the resurrection ship is quickly disabled. The battlestars engage the basestars in close combat, firing thousands of rounds into each other. The resurrection ship itself was destroyed when a Viper wing fired upon the whole length of the vessel. The ship’s hull was mostly windowed, the interior was damaged, and thousands of humanoid Cylons were sucked out into space before the ship blew up.
1 The Battle of Homeworld: Ender’s Game
Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game sets the bar for military science fiction. In this universe, humanity has mastered interstellar travel and has encountered a technologically advanced, hostile, bug-like alien race, the Formics. Fifty years after the Formics ravage the Earth, the International Military recruits young Elder Wiggins.
Elder has a brilliant tactical mind and is Earth’s last best hope at defeating “the Bugs.” While this movie wasn’t particularly successful at the box office, the battle scenes were exquisite. The final battle takes place in the orbit of the Formic homeworld. Ender is the fleet’s tactical director; in the end, it is like Ender is a master conductor. The rest of the players on the battlefield and in the command center were the orchestra being perfectly guided to victory.