The Best Movie Space Battles
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Big movie space battles are the biggest influence on my journey through science fiction and fantasy. For years as a kid, I thought a big space battle was what made a movie good. That’s where you saw the spaceships, the explosions and the cool laser effects. They had to be set in the future too (or a long time ago etc.) and they had to take place in space. Movies like Ghostbusters confused me for a while, because while the effects were cool, and they had funky looking laser-type weapons in the Proton Packs, they were in New York and driving a weird car.
I was much happier watching Return of the Jedi, or playing R-Type. Plucky heroes in little ships against giant enemy fleets just made sense to me.
I like to think that my tastes have matured a little since then, but its still true that a good sci fi movie needs a great space battle to dial the spectacle up to eleven. The ‘why’ is somewhat subjective, but I’ve previously written about what I think makes a space battle great here.
I’m no movie encyclopaedia, but growing up I thought there was a real lack of the scope we saw in movies like Return of the Jedi. TV space battles didn’t have anywhere near the budget needed to compete – not until Babylon 5 showed us what could be done on a smaller budget thanks to the CGI revolution (Lightwave 3D take a bow). Even after B5, movies still didn’t really jump into sci fi space battles in a big way.
Independence Day and Stargate were the next closest things. Independence Day is one of my favourite sci fi adventure movies ever, but it’s not notable for any space battles. The great dogfights in that movie took place in earth’s atmosphere, and only one side was using actual spaceships, so I haven’t included it here. Maybe Independence Day deserves it’s own article?
Fortunately for both child and adult me, there have been some been some great movie space battles since 1983, so here are some of my favourites.
Return of the Jedi // Death Star Attack run
Diving into the Death Star because it’s so big? Just incredible:) And that escaping shot.
Return of the Jedi // rebel fleet vs Imperial fleet
The big battle we waited three movies to see
Star wars // yavin iv – attack on the death star
The first time around, outnumbered, outgunned and with a target just two metres wide.
The Empire Strikes Back // Falcon vs TIE Fighters in the asteroid field
Great writing and visual effects show use of the environment and battlefield threats to reduce the threat from the Star Destroyer, provide cover for the TE fighters, make a more interesting battlespace, and still create new tension and cool visuals. That loop into the crater.
The Clone Wars // Obi vs fett
Another asteroid field. stakes seem low, but the visuals and sound effects make this one a classic.
Guardians of the Galaxy // Battle of Nova Prime
The Last Jedi // The Holdo Manouvre
Not the most popular Star Wars movie (I blame the studios), but one of the most visually stunning scenes in nearly 50 years of of Star Wars
Rogue One // Battle of Scarif
new ships, new tactics, huge stakes and a great battlefield environment. And it all works even though there was never any doubt about the outcome.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan – Battel of the Mutara Nebula
Star ships as submarines, running silent in the Mutara Nebula. Kirk and Spock get to outthink their ‘superior’ opponent and deliver a stunning and cathartic salvo to win the day, almost.
Star Trek (2009) –
The last minute arrival of the Enterprise has scale, amazing visuals and staging and great music and sound design.
Star Trek Beyond – Enterprise vs drone swarm
Definitely more on the action side of space battles compared to Wrath of Khan, but once that music drops I dare you not to have a big smile on your face. This one is on the list because of the Rule of Cool.
Serenity – Reavers vs Alliance
Mal Reynolds and crew need to make the planet surface, but they are caught between a fleet of insane, cannibals and a professional navy. A huge influence for one moment in The Dead Fleet.
You can read more about what I think makes a great space battle here.