So many discussions of ships in science fiction fall into the same tired debates. Who goes faster, the Millennium Falcon or the USS Enterprise? How big of a planet would the Death Star blow up — and how much would that ship cost, anyway? This slideshow takes things a step further. We talk about the most creative ships of science fiction. Yes, you'll see some familiar names on here, but we hope there will be at least a couple of surprises.
UNSC Infinity ('Halo' franchise)
The beautiful Infinity base in Halo is not only pretty to look at, but also a useful vessel for getting places. It's equipped with sublight and translight power, and able to avoid enemy attacks with the use of energy shields, according to Halopedia. The crew on board has the latest in entertainment, including a biosphere (said to rival natural parks on Earth) and a bar, called the Full Moon. To communicate with allies across long distances, Infinity even has superluminal communications capabilities. Now, if only there wasn't a war to fight, we could really enjoy a nice vacation on this ship.
TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space)
Pick your favorite Doctor Who — there's probably going to be a TARDIS story in there sometime. This ship appears like a phone booth, but once you get inside the magic really starts to happen. At first glance, TARDIS appears like a mere time-travel machine, whisking characters back to chat with people like artist Vincent Van Gogh. But it's much more innovative than that. It not only can travel through time, but also space. First-time visitors are always surprised at how big the interior is — "It's bigger on the inside", is the famous line — as well as the ability of TARDIS to blend into its surroundings. It can withstand gunfire, falling from great heights or even entering a planet's atmosphere; indeed, it appears the only thing that will easily kill a TARDIS is to have another TARDIS interfering with it nearby.
Battlestar Galactica (Battlestar Galactica, 2004-09)
In a TV series filled with amazing ships, it's hard to pick just one. But there's something special about the Battlestar Galactica. Sure, it's not a networked ship and yes, it takes some heavy damage against the Cylons when attacked. But it's adaptable and flexible; during one memorable episode when the ship's computers are networked to solve a complicated problem, crew members use the ship's to stave off a Cylon virus. And Battlestar manages to stay one step ahead of the Cylons in many cases, safely using its faster-than-light drive to escape.
Elysium ship (2013)
While Elysium is fundamentally a sad story, its ship is a marvel of technology. This is a massive space station that actually looks like another world. Sadly, only the ultra-rich get to live and party here, but for what it's worth, Elysium looks a lot like a paradise. Glimpses of the ship reveal a world of verdant green — natural enough to make you feel relaxed, but close enough to civilization to whisk you to a Med-Bay to cure your worst illnesses. The best part is what happens once you are registered as an Elysium citizen. The space station is automatically programmed to deploy rescue ships to pick you up and bring you back home, even if you're stuck on the stinking hell that is Earth in this film.
Reapers ('Mass Effect' franchise)
The Mass Effect game franchise features characters valiantly trying to protect our home galaxy from baddie aliens; in a later game, a new fight begins in the Andromeda galaxy. For ship innovativeness, it's hard to beat the villain Reapers. They blend biology and machine, lurking in the space between galaxy for up to 50,000 years, according to the Mass Effect wiki. While they're mainly portrayed as intruder chasers, we can't forget how smart these Reapers are. They created the mass relay network that all ships use to jump locations. They also made the Citadel, a massive space station.
USS Enterprise line ('Star Trek' franchise)
This isn't the time to quibble about whether the NCC-1701-A or NCC-1701-D was the better U.S.S. Enterprise, but keep in mind that the entire ship line has an impressive history. If we take the movie and television franchises as a whole, the U.S.S. Enterprise not only performs, but outperforms in most situations. It regularly operates well beyond safe speed limits (to the chagrin of Scotty), some versions have the ability to split in two independent parts, and it can deal with extreme environments (like burning up in Earth's atmosphere or lurking under the ocean.) Some of the more advanced versions can even cloak, taking away the element of surprise that Romulans and Vulcans previously enjoyed.
Death Star and its successor, Starkiller Base ('Star Wars' franchise)
The Death Star and successor Starkiller Base are pure cool, but they're a few ranks behind the Millennium Falcon because well, people keep finding ways to destroy them. But let's ignore that and focus on the positives. First of all is the pure power — the Death Star can easily kill a single planet, while the Starkiller Base can wipe out entire planetary systems. They also have a bit of a stealth aspect, despite being so big; one famous line compares the Death Star to a moon, at least because it's so huge and has a crater on it. And let's not forget that Starkiller Base somehow broke the laws of physics and got its power from "quintessence," a sort of dark energy that is everywhere in the universe.
Ha'tak ('Stargate' franchise)
Ha'tak looks like a lumbering pyramid in space, but even a newbie to the Stargate universe can see it's a powerful force to be reckoned with. The Stargate fan wiki notes that Ha'taks use an advanced form of propulsion that allow the ship to get as fast as 5 percent of lightspeed. Its shields are so powerful that they can hold off the heat of the corona — the atmosphere — of a huge star for many hours. Some Ha'taks even include cloaking devices, although that's not standard issue in the fleet. It sure was enough of a threat to worry the humans in the Stargate program, however.
Event Horizon ship (1997)
In terms of pure terrifying innovation, it's hard to beat the after-effects of the Event Horizon. As recounted in the eponymous 1997 film, a crew of astronauts from the future set out on a rescue mission. They're after the Event Horizon, which had suddenly appeared in orbit around Neptune. The crew boards the ship in search of any of their missing crewmates.
Unfortunately, they find out that Event Horizon's experimental engine caused a few problems — namely, it ripped a hole in space-time and a nasty homicidal alien was on board the ship. While we (unfortunately) don't get to see the ship at full health during this terrifying movie, we do learn it's capable of generating black holes. Talk about power.
'Independence Day' mothership (1996)
Hovering ominously over Earth in the original 'Independence Day,' this ship is huge — some 600 kilometers (roughly 370 miles) long. As viewers saw in the film, there are a bunch of tunnels that lead to the inside of the ship; two brave crew members from Earth managed to make their way into the control center, where they saw an eerie blue mist surrounding the zone. The Independence Day wiki also mentions a "beehive-like structure" that serves as the ship's transportation center. Little is known about this ship's capabilities, but it's downright scary.
USCSS Prometheus ('Prometheus,' 2012)
This black beauty is the most advanced and expensive faster-than-light ship ever made, according to the "Alien vs. Predator" wiki. It's got all the comforts you'd expect for a spaceship going long distances — a hypersleep chamber, a series of on-board ATVs for planetary exploration, escape modules and even intergalactic communications antennas. It even — improbably, for its size — can do vertical takeoffs and landings, which makes it ideal for landing on a planet. Well, that's if the planet doesn't have homicidal aliens living there already.
The Rocinante ('The Expanse' franchise)
The Rocinante is a comfortable, yet fast warship — the designers even took into account the preference for humans to have g-forces similar to normal gravity (at least, while the ship is under thrust). It's a pretty awesome workhorse ship, in that it can fire torpedoes or help with boarding parties. Besides which, it goes fast through space. Perfect for dodging any incoming missiles. [Jeff Bezos Saves 'The Expanse']
Heart of Gold ('Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' franchise)
This is a fun, zippy ship, thanks to its unique use of the Infinite Improbability Drive — an engine that provides for near-instantaneous travel with "tedious mucking about in hyperspace," according to the Hitchhiker's fan wiki. The designers gave a lot of attention to creature comforts, even including doors who say (in the books) how glad they are to help you. While the shape of the ship varies between the book, movie and TV series, a common theme in all three media is how white and clean the ship looks.
Icarus II ('Sunshine,' 2007)
We love this spaceship because it shows just what humans can do if they are desperate enough. Basically, Earth is in crisis because the sun's power is fading a lot earlier than expected (in the year 2057, to be precise.) The point of Icarus II is to carry a huge nuclear bomb towards the sun. The crew faces many problems and saboteurs along the way, but somehow this ship just keeps on running — mostly as it's supposed to. That makes it worthy of a mention.
Superman/Kal-El spaceship ('Superman' franchise)
Moonraker space station ('Moonraker,' 1979)
The Moonraker space station is kind of a one-trick pony, but it's still a neat place to visit — as long as you aren't worried about suffocation or anything. According to the Evil fan wiki, the space station was located above Earth and was ready to drop 50 nerve gas globes to kill all the residents. However, our heroes James Bond (Roger Moore) and Dr. Goodhead (Lois Chiles) discover a crucial flaw in the radar-jamming system on board. As a point of interest, it's fun to see all the space shuttles flying around this station; the real NASA space shuttle didn't make its first flight until 1981.
The Resolute ('Lost In Space,' 2018)
While the Resolute looks cool, there definitely are some issues with this ship. There's the not-so-small matter that a single alien robot could cause a lot of damage, which makes us wonder how the ship was expected to make the jump from Earth to Alpha Centauri if it was so delicate. Also, the Resolute seems to have a lot of problems picking up small transport ships on the surface, unless the ships are able to communicate directly with a strong enough signal. What about away missions? Otherwise, though, the ship is comfortable and large and even open to families, which is more than can be said for some of the other ships in this group.
E.T. spaceship ('E.T.,' 1982)
If only we knew more about this cute little spaceship. The movie shows that it's capable of bringing alien botanists to Earth, in search of learning more about our planet's organisms. But we only catch glimpses of this extraterrestrial technology as it touches down on Earth and flies away again. Its whimsical shape is supposed to look like a hot air balloon from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, according to artist Ralph McQuarrie, quoted in Mental Floss.
District 9 alien ship ('District 9,' 2009)
The story of "District 9" unfortunately doesn't tell us much about its mothership, but in terms of sheer terror factor, seeing this behemoth hovering over Johannesburg is one of the most memorable parts of the film. Perhaps its most interesting feature is it can be activated remotely. But the ship certainly isn't a perfect design, because its inhabitants were basically starving to death at the beginning of the film. Hopefully there's a Mothership 2.0 being developed for this alien species.
The Hermes ('The Martian,' 2015)
While most of the action in "The Martian" takes place, naturally, on Mars, the Hermes appears like a pretty capable interplanetary starship. First of all, it's surprisingly hackable; the crew is able to get into the mainframe to redirect its path at a crucial point in the film. Second, it's super-reliable. The Hermes was only supposed to take one Mars-Earth trip at a time, but in this film it actually takes on two. And finally, it's resilient; the crew literally uses a bomb aboard the ship to slow down its speed at Mars. There's a wicked explosion, but the ship appears (incredibly) to suffer no permanent devastating damage.
We're more intrigued by Superman's spaceship than able to say much about it, but that said, there are some cool unanswered questions to consider when thinking about Superman was shipped to Earth. Kal-El, as the infant was called, somehow stayed in a small space and was fed, cleaned, kept warm and kept entertained on his trip to Earth. That's some mean sort of automation. Also, the ship was relatively small — where did all of these systems fit? Goes to show you that planet Krypton residents were really smart.
The Valley Forge ('Silent Running,' 1972)
We applaud the constructors of the Valley Forge for somehow figuring out how to build a closed ecosystem. Inside of this (somewhat large) spaceship is a forest filled with animal and plant life, tenderly cared for because Earth's planet life has somehow gone extinct; this ecosystem should give our planet a kick-start, once the time is right. There's a flaw with this forest, though, in that it needs a source of light to survive. This ends up being crucial to the plot. Alas, the forest is shown drifting into deep space at the end of the film, so it's not clear how the lights will be generated once the ship's power source runs out.
Millennium Falcon ("Star Wars" franchise)
Coming in close behind the U.S.S. Enterprise — sorry, "Star Wars" fans — is the amazing Millennium Falcon. It's a bit of a nice contrast to the sleek Enterprise, because there's no huge crew running this ship; instead, it's a bunch of ragtag heroes who need to use whatever they have on hand to keep this ship going. The Falcon, though, is surprisingly adept and adaptable. Yes, it's got fast travel capabilities, but there's more to it than that. The ship is able to fit into small cracks, to engage in epic fights on- and off-planet, and even survive in weird environments like an alien mouth. Like any jet fighter worth its name, it also has great weaponry on board to help fight the evil Empire. [Building the Fastest Hunk of Bricks in the Galaxy (Video)]
Serenity ('Firefly' franchise)
Sure, Serenity doesn't have the trappings of more elegant spaceships. There's no warp drive or fast travel. There are very clearly toilets on board, counteracting the old "Star Trek" myth about their starships. It looks a bit like a warehouse inside, and it always seems to be breaking down. But fans don't gorram care, because Serenity is built to last. The ship's modest appearance means it's easy to miss when the crew members take on their main job of scrapping other starships for supplies. If it takes a bad hit, usually it can be fixed with scavenged parts. And above all, it just works. No high-fuss mechanical work needed here; just put a capable mechanic on the crew, and Serenity will give you all you need.
Alien ships in 'Arrival' (2016)
"Arrival" is one of those films where you would love to know much more about the aliens, the beautifully named "Heptapods" who communicate with special symbols representing full sentences or concepts. One of the questions we barely get answered is how their amazing ships work. The ships suddenly arrive on Earth and appear to be synchronized across locations, instantly reacting to events that just one of the ships is privy to. They hover in mid-air with no apparent propulsion system, and they appear to use some sort of warp drive that involves visual dissolution on-site. Inside these ship entrances, gravity is a bit uncertain; the interior is filled with some sort of atmosphere that may alter how humans experience the environment. These ships, in a word, are beautiful — but we wish we knew more about how they worked.
Spaceball One ('Spaceballs,' 1987)
We love Spaceball One for showing all the plot holes that other spaceships missed. The ship has a number of speeds to choose from: Light Speed, Ridiculous Speed, Ludicrous Speed, Plaid Speed. As the crew quickly shows in the film, if you hit a speed that is too fast, you'll easily overshoot your target. It also has an unusual cloaking mechanism, demonstrating there are other uses to a costume besides hiding; Spaceball One can change into huge robotic maid with a vacuum cleaner, capable of sucking air off of planets.