Hello. I’m AsimovLives and I love Science Fiction.
Science Fiction is so strongly linked to the imagery of space travel in the future that nothing is as iconic to the genre than the spaceship. Show a picture of a spaceship, even a caricature; you immediately know what genre is referenced.
And many of us have taken our first liking to the genre due to something to do with space travel or the image of a cool ship that enthralled us. Be they from TV or film.
And here is my list of the coolest spaceships. The first three listed are my all-time favourites and the rest are spaceships I also like a lot or find them iconic and just plain cool looking. Enjoy.
Eagle Transporter, Space: 1999
Even when the show got progressively sillier in the second season, it was still worth watching it just to get another glimpse of the Eagles. It’s a testament to the power of the imagery of this ship that one could even endure the second season.
U.S.S. Enterprise-A, Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The most elegant incarnation of the iconic Enterprise, everything about her says grace and taste. I can believe a future starship would look like this. An effective balance between cool looking aesthetics and a sense of the practical that only the 1970s could provide. Maybe in the future an eccentric millionaire will create a working spacefaring replica. If so, I hope to be there.
Discovery One, 2001: A Space Odyssey
The grandfather of al realistic spaceships, it’s still as iconic and beautiful now as it was back in 1968 when the film awed audiences worldwide. Whenever any new movie or TV show creates a spacecraft of the realistic variety, this is still the reference, and will always be. This one is for keeps.
Imperial Stardestroyer, Star Wars
They say the devil has the best tunes. And in Star Wars, the villains have the coolest looking ships. Imposing, intimidating and good-looking in an Evil Witch way. The rebels have right on their side, but the Empire has the coolest toys.
U.S.S. Enterprise, Star Trek: The Original Series
The one that started it all. Its shape was a revolution at a time when spaceships were aerodynamic-shaped and with fin tails. The producers of Star Trek reasoned that in the vacuum of space there would be no need for concerns for aerodynamics so a spaceship shape should be designed with practical considerations… or to look cool. The Enterprise looks like a spaceship from the future could look like that. As an ambassador for a better future, it looks the part.
Klattu’s Flying Saucer, The Day The Earth Stood Still
It’s still the most iconic flying saucer in cinema and with good reason. Robert Wise sure knew a thing or two about how to deliver an impressive looking spaceship onscreen.
The Nostromo Tug Rig, Alien
It’s a space truck. It looks purely practical. And yet as with so many industrial designs, there is often a cold beauty to them, and the Nostromo looks it. The interior is a friendly habitat for biomechanical extra-terrestrial beings that favour camouflaging before snacking on their prey.
Millennium Falcon, Star Wars
It’s a piece of junk, a rusting barely-held-together pile of scrap. It shouldn’t even be pretty or cool, and one would venture a guess that was not even George Lucas’s intention. But this spaceship caught the imagination of millions who saw the film when they were kids. The junk grew up to become a swan.
U.S.S. Enterprise-D, Star Trek: The Next Generation
The first time I saw it, I didn’t like it. But with time, I was won over. At first I felt like it was an unbalance design but I ended up admiring the asymmetric beauty of this ship. It was a bold redesign of the iconic Star Trek ship, but what was at first strange, soon became familiar and beloved.
Starship C-57D, Forbidden Planet
It’s a flying saucer, but this time it’s the humans who fly it. With the unglamorous name of C-57D (that seems more like from a tax form) it’s not be a name that will be memorable or strike as cool, but it sure looks cool. Although the movie looks fantasist and retro, at the time, it was an attempt to show a pragmatic future. A precursor to Star Trek. And really, humans traveling in a flying saucer, it’s original.
Anastasia, Dan Dare
Future pilot Dan Dare, the British answer to Flash Gordon, has piloted many ships in his eternal fight against the mischiefs of villain (The Mekon), but none is more iconic then his favourite – Anastasia. Pure retro SF goodness, it’s a thing of beauty.
Rocket X-FLR6, Objectif Lune aka Destination Moon (Tintin comic)
Tintin also went to the moon, on board of a classic designed rocket, those that sustained upright and landed on their fin tails. The ship took its inspirations from the V-2 rocket bombs from WWII, but for a more peaceful purpose. Creator Hergé took pains to attempt a great deal of authenticity, as much as it could be made at the time and the ideas about space explorations before the Apollo Missions.
Europa One, Europa Report
It’s funny that we never get a proper full look at this spaceship given the nature of the film itself. It’s one of those found footage films but set in space (made from the editing of different placed cameras on various parts of the spacecraft, interior and exterior, and the astronauts helm cams). It still gives us one of the best-realized, plausible spaceships that could exist in the near future for manned exploration of the Solar System. For its plausibility, I give it cool points.
Icarus Two, Sunshine
Like the film itself, it’s a mixture of believability with fantasy. The ship shouldn’t make any sense. There is no obvious realistic means of creating artificial gravity and yet the crew walks across the length of the ship like from a ship out of Star Wars. But it has its own undeniable cool factor. It’s plausible enough to accept as long there’s no scrutiny. The movie knows it has a cool ship on their hands and they make every excuse to show her off. We do not complain.
Superstardestroyer, The Empire Strikes Back
What the rebel pilot said about the Death Star I say about this one: Look at the size of that thing! Introduced onscreen by projecting shadows over the already pretty big Stardestroyers. This ship fills the big space thing made by the empire in the absence of the Death Star and it sure impresses the senses. Serving as Darth Vader’s flagship and centre of operations, it visualizes just into how much trouble the heroes are going to get.
Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Galactica
I’m going for the original 1978 series and not because I don’t like the design of the reimagined show’s namesake spaceship, but as homage to where it all began. For those like me who hadn’t seen Star Wars back in the day, this was the space epic and aired on a weekly basis! For those who had a taste for Star Wars and wanted more of the same, this filled that craving until the sequel arrived. And on its own, it was a neat show, with one of the most iconic big ships ever designed (essentially an aircraft carrier in space). And aircraft carriers are cool; in space they are twice as cool!
Normandy, Mass Effect
In lieu of a proper Star Trek these days, the videogame Mass Effect gave us a good alternative, and as a bonus, a modern iconic starship. The design is simply beautiful. Sleek but sensable, this is the kind of ship one would love to own so we could go star hopping with Yvonne Strahovsky at your side.
T.A.R.D.I.S., Doctor Who
It’s a police phone box. This shouldn’t make any sense. The image of a phone box crossing the galaxy, flying through the air and conjuring out of the thin air is ridiculous, something that the show has often acknowledged and used for comedic value. This strange ship, the T.A.R.D.I.S., is piloted by/the property of a Time Lord alien who calls himself The Doctor. It is a mystery of who he is and the fans like it that way. Equally mysterious is his space-time traveling ship, whose technology is not even fully understood by The Doctor. If one can overcome the silliness, it’s quite a gripping show and you get to love it. Probably the best way to depict alien-ess is to put ordinary things out of context in extraordinary circumstances. Like a time-traveling blue police phone box.
Darth Vader’s Personal T.I.E. Fighter, Star Wars
As previously mentioned, the villains of Star Wars do have the coolest looking ships, and gets to dandy it up by piloting the coolest of the TIE fighters. The TIE fighters invoke imagery of the German biplanes of WWI, and Vader’s fighter allows him to pull a Baron Von Richthofen. A space fighter befitting a villain.
Even among the practical designs, this is probably the most radical design ever committed to film for a spaceship. But it makes sense. With no concessions to aerodynamics and aesthetics a no-concern in the vacuum of space, all it remains is practicability. Considering the needs of the crew (who have a two years journey to the planet Saturn) gravity, an imperative to the health of a crew, there is nothing that prevents a ship from being a modular centrifugal wheel with rocket engines. As with many industrial designed things, it has a cold beauty to it added by its most unconventional design. I deem thee a cool ship.
Valley Forge, Silent Running
It is industrial ugly, all business-like, makes no concessions to aesthetics. It’s the power tower design taken to spacecraft design. And soon enough Douglas Trumbul will have you convinced it’s so cool that it is worth spending so much of the movie’s running time just looking at it. And he does.
Earth Cruiser, Il était une fois… l’Espace aka Once Upon A Time… Space
A French animation series probably not very well known in the USA, it featured many space adventures and many cool ships, and my favourite was the cruiser from which the heroes would launch in their shuttle craft to their adventures.
Odyssey, Ulysses 31
I discovered the works of Homer, namely The Odyssey, thanks to this French-Japanese animation series, which was a retelling of Homer’s best-known work in space. And I couldn’t get enough of this ship.
X-Bomber, Ekkusu Bonbā aka X-Bomber/Star Fleet
The main ship from the Japanese puppet animation series X-Bomber, which also served as a carrier to three minor fighters who would co-join to become a Mecha robot! Missing an episode was not an option.
Vampire ship, Lifeforce
When you first see it you just don’t know what are you seeing. Then it opens a batwing umbrella and things get scary. It causes terrible mischief on Earth through the agency of its ghoulish crew. Inside resides the most perfect specimen of female who will try to convince you to side with their evil schemes, and you might just agree with her. It’s alien, it’s scary and it will return.
X-Wing, Star Wars
Say what you will about Star Wars, but even its detractors have to agree that the films have created quite a few memorable spaceship designs. And one that struck the most to the imagination, as Luke Skywalker’s vehicle of choice, is the rebel X-Wing fighter. If the Empire had the cool sleek ships, the rebels had the tuned-in recycled oldies that could still kick around. The ship’s unglamorous glamour is a call back to the American WWII fighters Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair, and it’s duct taped scraps nature to the British de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito.
Thunder Fighter, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century
After the huge success of Star Wars, a flood of imitators came about trying to capitalize on the SF craze. The Thunder Fighter is an obvious rip-off from the X-Wing. But when a rip-off comes this stylish, it’s hard to complain. From a rejected design for the fighter ships for Battlestar Galactica, what was that show’s rejects became one of the most iconic and best loved elements from the 1970s Buck Rogers TV show. Erin Gray, as the gorgeous badass Colonel Wilma, piloting them only helped sell their cool. I have a particular fondness for this design.
USS Cygnus, The Black Hole
It looks like a cathedral in space. Or the ultimate Gothic house in space. The imagery is deliberate. Scarier than the titular black hole itself, and yet so striking and amazing to look at. The film production team sure knew they had a winner on their hands when the special effects were complete, so much so they pulled a Star Trek: The Motion Picture and let the movie run a long scene where it’s nothing but a slow paced flyby of the ship. I wish movies did things like that again.
The Mothership, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
I’m going to use this as the piece de resistance to close the list. One of the most impressive achievements in 1970s special effects, it still holds up to this day, courtesy of special effects wizard Douglas Trumbul. In arguments regarding CGI vs. practical model effects, it’s often brought up for the later, with good cause. The first time the thing is seen on the big screen is an event in itself, once seen never forgotten.
This list doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive nor complete, merely demonstrative of an opinion, mine, and it’s not even exhaustive. Much was left being said, like the art works of Chris Foss for example, the focus being on comics, film and television.
I invite the readers to come up with your own examples and also to say your opinions about the examples provided above, either in agreement or not.
But this is not the end yet. As it was with images and mentions of cool spaceships, this article should also provide some images and words about the very opposite, the ones that tried but failed at cool. As I started with my three favourite spaceships, I shall end with my three most disliked and uncool spaceships – I had an eyesore watching them, for my sins. Here’s the Hall Of Shame for the Uncool, in no particular order of awfulness:
The A.S.S. Abramsprise, Abrams Trek
It’s ugly, it’s weird looking, it’s ungainly, and it’s as if the people who made the movie couldn’t be bothered or had any interest about Star Trek much. The design is as if made of five different sets of designs all put into a blender. As if the filmmakers couldn’t reach a consensus of which design to give the ship so they just made a cut and paste collage without rhyme or reason. It’s almost surrealist. And to cap it off, the filmmakers couldn’t decide which was supposed to be the size or scale of the thing, so it differs from each scene, in some scenes is 350 meters and in others is 750 meters long. This is supposed to be the new look for the new incarnation of Star Trek. Give me my daddy’s Enterprise instead, please. Daddy knew best.
U.S.S. EvilRobocopPrise, Sexually Transmited In Desease aka STID
It’s like really big and evil because it’s painted black, dude. Black is evil! This is your idea of what an evil ship might be like if your only references are spending way too much on Star Wars and nothing else. And really, it’s really big black evil, like, dude. Maybe the intention was to scare away the Klingons so they could save on the torpedoes. The economy and all.
And here’s a bonus, two god awfulness for the price of one, with added lens flares for good measure (just because):
Rockz the kewlz, yo!
And last but not the least…
Nero’s Evil Spider-Ship, Abrams Trek
You can really tell who is in this ship is evil because it’s black and looks like the cross between a hairy spider and a cannibal squid. There is not a single lack of subtlety that JJ Abrams has not liked and that went beyond the call of duty with the design of the ship of villain Nero. The thing is supposed to be a mining ship, but one has to ask why a civilian ship needs to look so damn scary and spiky. Do they extract ore through the process of intimidation? Apparently the thing is explained if you are a sap enough to get ripped off by buying extra material in comics and whatnot for stuff that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to put in the movie. Paying more for the privilege of getting half movies, it’s the way of the future.
Its yin and yang, there is no cool and pretty without ugly and shameful.
Spaceships are always in my imaginarium of Science Fiction. There is so much more to the genre, but few things say cool more than a good nice looking or cleverly designed spaceship. And to love Science Fiction is also to dream that one day, someday, reality will catch up with fiction. And who knows what they will come up with then. As much as the Apollo and the Space Shuttles were different from the earlier classic age designs for spacecrafts to the moon and Earth’s orbit, so we can assume, with certainty, that the future spaceships to be will be like nothing we have though yet. Ah but to live to see such days!
And this concludes another SF article for The Supernaughts. I hope you have enjoyed it.
This is AsimovLives, signing off. Have a Better one.