The Ten Coolest Spaceships of TV and Movies
A personal view by Van Plexico
I've always had a thing for spaceships in science fiction on film and video. But let's face it, some designs are much cooler than others. What makes a spaceship design "cool?" Of course, that's a subjective thing, a matter of personal taste... but innovative designs and fresh, new ideas go a long way toward making a ship cool, along with a look that somehow manages to excite the viewer. A ship above all has to have a strong personality reflected in its appearance, no matter what sort of personality the ship happens to possess. Here, then, is a visual gallery of my ten favorite spaceship designs (with a little cheating at number 9). Enjoy, and feel free to let me know what you think! --Van
10. The Shadow ship from Babylon 5
While I don't particularly love it myself (I'm not a huge fan of "creepy" stuff), I recognize that it was a revolutionary design, and was incredibly effective at conveying the atmosphere and mood required of a vessel at the service of the Shadows. In all honesty, it should probably rate much higher on this list-- but it just spooks me too much!
9. X-Wing Fighter from Star Wars
and Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica
These two ships are so close to one another, design-wise, and so linked in my mind (premiering about a year apart, in 1977 and 1978, respectively), that I just can't pick one over the other. They even have very similar paint jobs-- gray/white with red trim! The X-Wing does the neat wing-opening trick. The Viper can slam it into reverse (or stop instantly, rather) to zap you from behind as you go by. Which is cooler? I dunno. I like 'em both.
8. Narn G'Quon Cruiser from Babylon 5
This design has grown on me tremendously over the years since I first saw it. It almost looks like it was cobbled together in someone's backyard, out of illegally-big engines and guns and not much else. The red-with-black-tiger-stripes paint job evokes a sense of hot rod dragsters and WW II Spitfires. The open areas revealing the heavy machinery of the ship suggest a stripped-down, no-nonsense approach to shipbuilding. It's just stylistic enough to compete in aesthetics with any other ship you care to name, yet it's just brutal and heavy-duty enough to scare the living daylights out of an enemy. With the G'Quon, the designers achieved the perfect balance of power and beauty. If only it offered some reference point as to how big it's supposed to be!
7. Star Destroyer from Star Wars
Who among us saw this thing come overhead at the start of Star Wars that first time and wasn't impressed? Big, blocky, powerful, yet somehow sleek-- it presents the personality of the Empire in a single package. Where are the energy blasts coming from? Do you see any visible guns on the surface of this thing? Nope! It just opens up at you from a multitude of gunports and overwhelms you with firepower.
Darth Vader's ship, the Executor, was an interesting variation, but not so much so that it ranks as a separate ship in my view.
6. The Constitution-Class Heavy Cruiser from Star Trek
The Enterprise from the first three STAR TREK movies is easily my favorite of all the versions of the Star Trek ships we've seen. They took the basic shape and configuration of the more clumsy original TV series model, and made it sleek, clean, and crisp. They even painted it white, to seem more pristine and special. The straight pylons anchoring the warp nacelles were replaced by swept-back "wings" that gave a gracefulness to the ship it had lacked before. I find this version far more appealing than any they've come out with since, including the very dull Enterprise-D from the Next Generation program.
5. The Explorer-class ship from Babylon 5
When the Cortez first emerges from the jump gate in season 2's "A Distant Star," to the accompanyment of Christopher Franke's soaring music, it seems just enormous-- and it is! Here at last is a vessel of a size to rival even the B5 station itself. A ship that goes out on multi-year missions to deep space, with no support and no resupplying for long periods of time, as it builds jump gates for later ships to use. These ships engage in B5's equivalent of Star Trek's original five-year missions. The look of the ship seems to combine elements of Angus McKie's spaceship paintings, the Discovery ship from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and another space artist whose name escapes me (for the front section with the open bays and long antenna arrays). The picture above gives a nice look at the front end, but this ship just goes on forever, with a round rotating section halfway toward the back end. When, in Crusade, we discover that Captain Gideon left his post as captain of an Explorer ship to take the helm of the Excalibur, I for one almost wished he'd taken his Explorer ship on the mission instead.
4. The Battlestar from Battlestar Galactica
Now we're really talking coolness. Designed purely as aircraft carriers in space, the Battlestars were huge, powerful, sleek, attractive-- everything you could want in a capital ship. No Star Trek-esque energy shielding for the Battlestars-- they just slugged it out with the enemy and absorbed the damage until they couldn't take it any longer. Clearly designed in terms of two dimensions and not three, (why not have two more launch/landing bays, on the vertical axis? It's not going to land on a planet or anything!) it overcomes this weakness (from which all versions of the Enterprise also suffer) and presents itself as one of the most memorable, beloved ships ever to grace the screen. If they drastically change the design for the rumored upcoming film, it will be a crime.
3. The Earth Alliance Omega Destroyer from Babylon 5
Yes, Babylon 5 placed a lot of ships on this list, and there's one more type to go after this one, too. I think the designers of Babylon 5's ships were the most inspired I've ever seen at creating unique, exciting, attractive ships that portrayed the personality of their races. The B5 ships seem clearly distinct from one another-- you can usually tell exactly what race a ship belongs to after only a glimpse. As the Minbari ships go for heavy aesthetics, and the Centauri for gaudiness, the Earth ships scream "tough functionality." The Omega is just brutal, rough, heavy, and imposing, despite Earth's ships obviously being the least advanced of most all the ships on the show. (To its credit, the Omega seems to be the most advanced of the purely Earth-built ships.) The Omega comes across as incredibly cool to me because it combines simplicity (no gravity, no slick styling) with raw power. It has clearly visible rocket-type engines on the back, yet it can open its own jump point, and is armed with really big, powerful beam weapons that seem able to punch a hole in most anything. Best of all, it has that ultra-cool rotating section in the middle, providing centrifugal-force gravity for the crew. Who'd have guessed how much personality a simple moving section could give to a warship? Placing the bridge there, rather than in the usual place (at the front or in a stable middle location) gives the ship even more personality-- the "bridge" location at the front is actually the hangar for Star Fury fighters. This section also bears large letters, reminiscent of the markings on US Naval vessels, the battleship-gray cousins of the Omegas. (I feel that this ship's design also owes something to the Leonov, the Russian ship in 2010: The Year We Make Contact.)
2. The White Star from Babylon 5
I think part of why I love the White Stars so much relates to their spiritual similarities with the Eagle down there at #1. Like the Eagles, the White Stars (at least at first) didn't have names, they had numbers, and came in a fleet so vast that it seemed the Army of Light would never run out of them. But the White Stars have the "magical" technology of an Enterprise, rather than the gritty "realism" of Space: 1999's Eagles. They are high-powered, high-performance warships, and are the smallest B5 ships able to open their own "jump point" into hyperspace. In the context of the Babylon 5 storyline, this made perfect sense-- the White Stars combine Minbari and Vorlon technology, the two most advanced technologies available to the "good guys" in the B5 universe. They're the ships of the Rangers, B5's galactic police force, and hence have to be able to outperform most anything they'll encounter. They're sleek, organic-looking, attractive ships, and are second in my affections only to:
1. The Eagle Transport from Space: 1999
This is absolutely my favorite spaceship ever. As a kid, watching original Star Trek and then Space: 1999, there was never any question in my mind as to which was cooler-- the Eagle looked like something NASA could build today, while the Enterprise was a "magical" futuristic thing with teleport chambers and "warp drive" that seemed far, far off beyond the horizon. The Eagle seemed gritty and "used" well before Star Wars popularized the concept. It doesn't fly at light-speed, it isn't armed with giant phaser guns, and it seems to have more in common, spiritually, with Earth-bound industrial helicopters than with ships like the Enterprise. But I just love the thing. A whole fleet of these ships resided at Moonbase Alpha, serviced in giant underground hangars (that we actually got to see!) and launched from massive, elevator-equipped launch pads. The individual Eagles didn't have names, just numbers-- but there were a lot of them! While the Enterprise never seemed to really get hurt (at least, not until Star Trek II, years later), an Eagle seemed to get totalled in every episode of "1999." No problem-- they made more! This is, in my opinion, the coolest spaceship from movies and television.
Hail the Eagle of Space: 1999!
[I considered including the Mark IX Hawk from Space: 1999 as a separate entry, but really, it's a slimmed-down, military version of the Eagle, while being not nearly as versatile.]
The two Eagle images above are from the Barnosky exhibit on the Space: 1999 Cybrary, which was created by my good friend Robert Ruiz. The other images are from the Babylon 5 website at Warner Bros., the Battlestar movie website, the Babylon 5 card game site, and a Galactica fan site. The two Star Wars images are in such wide distribution on the Web and elsewhere, and have been for over 20 years, as to probably fall into the "public domain" category, in theory if not in fact.