Top 10 Movie Space Battles

by Warren Cantrell on Oct.29, 2012, under Film Lists

And so, it has finally come to this.  Today’s list represents the fourth and final leg of a battle-series here at the 10rant, one that has ranked the top ten movie battles, as separated by cinematic engagements on land, sea , air, and now space .  Indeed, high-octane action sequences born in the hellfire of battle know no equals in the world of cinema, a well-established reality that practically demanded a ranking of the top ten examples, as separated by the field of combat engaged.  Now, while the land and sea battle lists were fairly straightforward in their construction, the Top 10 Movie Air Battles list offered up an interesting dilemma.  Truly, while there have been plenty of air-to-air dogfight sequences in movies, it didn’t seem fair to rank those vignettes that followed the established laws of physics on this planet versus those that had the freedom to play around without these handcuffs.  In other words, it didn’t seem fair to rank a World War II dogfight between a Spitfire and a Zero against some intergalactic tangle that involved warp drives, plasma cannons, and force fields.


Thus, today’s space battle list concerned itself only with air-to-air dogfights that involved air/spacecraft sporting alien technology of some sort.  Understand, this list wasn’t interested in sweet-ass action scenes that happened to take place off-planet (sorry Alien franchise), but rather air-to-air battle sequences that took place between two parties, of whom one had to be extra-terrestrial.  When it came to the ranking, films and their battles got higher consideration based on the number of participants, ferocity of the action, and quality of the visuals: the highest slots in today’s discussion going to those vignettes that excelled in all three areas.  Still, to keep one franchise from dominating the list, only one space-battle was allowed per franchise, leaving a few difficult decisions on the table.  Some not-so-difficult calls included some of the dogfights seen in Wing Commander, Titan A.E., Spaceballs, Starship Troopers, Transformers, Ice Pirates, and Lockout (which barely qualified for a special mention).  Anyway, enough talking!




10.) Enemy Mine –

A few quick words about this one, which was among your this author’s most cherished and prized films growing up.  Enemy Mine was the story of two pilots who, through an unexpected turn of events, found themselves marooned on a dangerous and desolate planet with little hope of rescue or escape.  The film took place in the future, when mankind was at war with a humanoid reptilian species known as the “Dracs.”  Dennis Quiad played “Davidge,” a hot-shot human pilot who was part of a coalition battling the Dracs for intergalactic supremacy.  The movie began with Davidge and Drac “Jeriba/Jerry” (Louis Gossett, Jr.) squaring off in their respective space craft only to find themselves marooned together on the mostly-deserted “Fyrine IV.”


Though it was rough going at first, an uneasy alliance formed between the two, followed quickly by a bond that was only further strengthened after they began learning the language and cultural history of the other.  Less of a rip-roaring action picture and more of a sci-fi character study, Enemy Mine came with the goods early on, as it offered up the best space battle 1985 special effects could offer!  Tangled up as he was with his Drac foe, and clearly on the losing-end of the fight, Davidge still managed to clip his adversary in a space dogfight that was as good as anything non-Star Trek or Star Wars-related released that decade.  Admittedly brief, yet packed to the gills with some skin-curling action, the opening dogfight in Enemy Mine had enough juice to nudge its way into the #10 spot, right behind this next film’s space battle, one that also looks somewhat dated to more modern, sophisticated eyes…



9.) Moonraker –

Widely regarded as one of the weakest James Bond franchise entries, Moonraker was a veritable how-to guide in shit filmmaking.  The picture saw Roger Moore in the seminal 007 role for the fourth time, leaving the producers little choice except to exploit whatever current fads or hot-button trends that might excite audiences less-than-enthused about another mid-life crisis super-spy film.  Indeed, when Moonraker came out in 1979, Moore was 52, and looked every inch of it.  Left with a stale franchise and an “action” star protagonist who couldn’t run half a mile straight if his life depended on it, the producers turned to the sci-fi realm, and the space craze that Star Wars had kick-started a couple years previous.  Yes, though Bond went through the normal globe-trotting motions, and bounced from Africa, to Venice, and Brazil, always inching closer to the nerve-center of his adversary’s schemes, the filmmakers saved the biggest punch (and a good chunk of the budget) for the space-laser finale.


Near the end of the film, Bond snuck his way aboard one of the villain’s space shuttles after escaping from a preposterously conceived capture/interrogation, and proceeded from there to engage in one of the most ludicrous, yet simultaneously awesome space battles in movie history.  With the treacherous “Drax” (Michael Lonsdale) in a position to destroy all life on Earth so as to kick-start a master-race re-population, Bond had to step up and get shit done.  After 007 turned his long-time nemesis, “Jaws” (Richard Kiel) to the side of the righteous, the British super-spy orchestrated the destruction of Drax’s space station, along with the poisonous, species killing gas globes.  This involved an insane space battle that included lasers, Judo chops, and space Marines (seriously): an all-in finale over which the film community is still a little ashamed.  Oh, and Bond also blew the baddie, Drax, out of the airlock and into space, which, admittedly, balanced all of this nonsense out by proxy of it being the coolest of all battle-related deaths listed today.  For this, and the laughably audacious finale, Moonraker got a nod.



8.) Serenity –

Something of a starter-guide for the Firefly television series, Serenity re-told part of the story covered in the show whilst still managing to branch out and tell a new tale.  All the main characters (minus Preacher) were back, and knee-deep in a fantastic mess that pitted “Captain Mal” (Nathan Fillion) and his crew against the Alliance AND a fuck-ton of Reavers.  Serenity’s featured space battle wasn’t in the finale, yet it was still one hell of a fight, and it had Mal running the gauntlet to escape from the cannibalistic Reaver hordes on his ass.  The plan was brilliant, really.  Captain Mal had disguised his Firefly vessel to pass as a Reaver ship, then fired on one of them so as to provoke a chase, one Mal knew would terminate in the waiting arms of the antagonistic Alliance.  Essentially, Mal, pursued by two different sides that also didn’t like each other, brought one enemy to the other’s doorstep, then slid the hell out of the way so that the two could tear each other up a little.


And tear shit up they did!  Much like a man running towards a pack of lions because he’s got a pissed off tiger on his tail, Mal put one predator on the scent of another, and just barely got out from between them when the two finally came together.  The space battle that ensued was nothing short of masterful, largely because of the work of the Battlestar Galactica f/x team, who arranged Serenity’s space battle sequence.  Mal’s vessel certainly didn’t get out of the scrape, which was massive in scope, without a few dings.  In point in fact, his ship was practically unserviceable after the fact, yet most of the crew (minus Wash) made it through the fight in one piece, and were able to go on and fight another day.  Considering it was just one tiny ship versus 18 dozen others at one point, this outcome sure as hell wasn’t bad, and if nothing else, represented exactly the kind of space fight we were looking for.  For a slightly better one, we’d have to turn to…



7.) The Last Starfighter –

While other films in the early-80’s were still using scale models and moving camera special f/x, The Last Starfighter was breaking new ground in C.G.I. rendering.  The film was the wet dream of pretty much every arcade junky of the era, for it had some anonymous trailer park teenager caught up in the midst of an intergalactic war due to his mad gaming skills.  See, the video game was really just a recruiting tool for the “Rylan Star League,” which scouted pilots by checking the high score tabs on the star-fighter game invented just for this purpose.  Once off-planet, the hand-picked white trash toggle-prodigy, “Alex” (Lance Guest), found himself knee-deep in the shit, for the federation that had drafted him into service was up against a bad mother fucker named “Xur” (Norman Snow).  This Xur cock sucker wasn’t above torture, sabotage, or even full-blown treason, making him a nut Alex wasn’t too keen on cracking.  Though the sissy trailer park punk asked to go home, and even spent some time there with full knowledge of the events in the stars above, his true calling, and a keen sense of duty, brought Alex back into space, and on track to take part in one of the greatest space battles in movie history.


This occurred after Alex got himself aboard a special prototype starfighter and went on a one-ship mission to destroy the dreaded Ko-Dan mothership.  Using the one-vs.-the world tactics he’d perfected playing the stand-up arcade game, Alex bagged his enemy’s radar, then went in after their fleet with merciless efficiency.  The mothership threw every damn fighter it could put into space after Alex, yet the video game savant had an answer for them all.  Hell, Alex was so good, he shot his guns completely empty, and had to resort to the implementation of the super-secret “Death Blossom,” a weapon so ferociously effective that were it actually to be invented, it would almost certainly get outlawed by the U.N., much like landmines and mustard gas. In any event, the last-ditch tactic worked, Alex saved the day, and all was well (at least for the time being) for those loyal to the Rylan Star League.  Though often lost in the Star Wars vs. Star Trek conversation when discussing 1980’s sci-fi cinema (something this next entrant has a lot to say about), one shouldn’t sleep on The Last Starfighter, for the cutting-edge effects and kick-ass space battle finale put it well within today’s conversation.



6.) Galaxy Quest –

Widely regarded as one of, if not THE best sci-fi comedies ever made, Galaxy Quest did a lot of things right, up to and including the construction of the space-battle vignettes.  Tim Allen played “Jason Nesmith,” a washed-up actor who had peaked some two decades previous when his cultish T.V. show caught on with half the dorks in America.  (For 10rant loyalists, he was also #5 on this site’s Top 10 Space Commanders list!)  A thinly veiled parody of Star Trek and Trekkie culture, Galaxy Quest took “Jason” into space, where he learned that a very real alien species, the Thermians, had been watching re-runs of his show, thinking them to be historical accounts of human adventures off-planet.  After one bad encounter with his hosts’ adversaries, Jason convinced the rest of his crew…err…acting troupe to come up and help with the situation.  Again, though, Jason and his cohorts were actors, and knew nothing about physics, battlefield tactics, or courage, really.  Being thespians, they did know how to bluff and half-ass their way out of pretty much any situation, which is exactly what they did once in control of the Thermian vessel.


This is where the film’s most blistering action took place, for when the villainous “Sarris” got on Jason and the Thermians’ collective asses, shit got real in a hurry.  For a film that played most of its scenes up for laughs, this space-chase run-and-gun midway through the picture was a hell of a kick to the balls, and demonstrated that Galaxy Quest was more than just a chuckler.  If The Empire Strikes Back taught the world anything, it’s that interstellar pursuits through cluttered space is awesome, something the Sarris-Thermian chase took up a notch by substituting asteroids for space-mines.  Yes, this was a space battle that brought a kick-ass weapons exchange AND a run through a space minefield.  If that isn’t boss, then this author doesn’t know what the hell is.  Now, for an extra-terrestrial dogfight with a few more participants and a hell of a lot more destruction, we ought to spend some time talking about…



5.) Independence Day –

The only battle listed today that took place primarily within the Earth’s atmosphere, Independence Day and its climactic Area 51 showdown more than qualified for a spot in today’s discussion.  After all, this was an all-out, no-holds-barred fight between humankind and a horde of murderous alien cocksuckers looking to wipe our little planet off the fucking map!  After initial attempts had failed to pierce the shields of the invading ships, the human heroes banged their heads together and came up with a plan to fly a stolen space craft into the mother-ship, download a virus to knock out the shields, then high-tail it the hell out of there before the slimy jerks caught on to the scam.  While this sneak and stealth mission unfolded in space, a rag-tag armada of the few remaining vessels capable of flying and fighting were to gather to launch an all-out counter-offensive down on Earth, making for, if nothing else, one hell of a show!


The finale of Independence Day unfolded as the human attack squadron battled the scrambled fleet of alien ships sent to intercept their assault.  This assault was, naturally, led by the President of the United States, who tossed aside any notions of self-preservation so that every swinging dick that could fly a plane was in the sky, doing their part.  The sneak attack worked, too!  Up in space, the Trojan Horse vessel got in, uploaded the virus, and allowed for the human fleet back on Earth to engage their enemy without the pesky shields that normally protected them.  It was a fantastic victory, for it showed what humans are capable of when they put aside petty differences and turn all that murderous energy towards a common foe.  This was certainly the case in this next film, where the governments of the world got together to fight another universally reviled foe: space Nazis…



4.) Iron Sky –

The people who made Iron Sky clearly knew what the hell they were doing, for they put together a film that combined all the best aspects of filmmaking, which included a hot blonde, astronauts, massive future weapons, and Nazi villains.  This last feature was especially important, for films that have played on the unsympathetic nature of Nazis always seem to make for a good time (almost everyone likes watching those Swastika-saluting pricks die).  The movie held that Hitler, in the waning hours of World War II, had sent a Third Reich colony to the moon so that the seeds of his twisted empire might take root off-planet, and thrive.  This it did, sort of, except for the fact that German technology from the mid-twentieth century left the moon colonists little hope of ever getting back to Earth en masse to exact revenge on behalf of their Fuhrer.  All this changed when the Nazis captured an American astronaut celebrity, “James Washington” (Christopher Kirby), and stole his smartphone, which the Nazis intended to use to power their super cannon, the Götterdämmerung!


Unfortunately for the Krauts, they didn’t realize that Washington’s smartphone, like pretty much all the rest, held a shitty charge, thus necessitating their return to Earth to get more of the handy devices.  Long story short, the U.S. President and most of the U.N. figured out that the Nazis were back in action, and mustered a massive space armada to take the bastards down once and for all.  A battle ensued just above the moon, where the international Nazi-killing coalition handed out a savage ass-kicking, then turned on each other in an attempt to secure the valuable Helium-3 powering the hidden moon base.  Thus, what started as a unified action against villainous space Nazis devolved into a brutal end-game engagement whereby the nuclear-armed powers of the world fought it out in space for total world-domination.  For those who have not seen this independent gem of a film, I’ll leave it at that, for this final scene, along with most of the picture, is too good to be broken down here, especially when another near-Earth engagement requires discussion…



3.) Star Trek (2009) –

While audiences were fairly optimistic about this one prior to its release, most people were more than a little shocked at just how fun the new Star Trek actually was.  Though Worf was involved in a hellishly awesome space battle in First Contact, and Star Trek II had the kick-ass Enterprise vs. Reliant engagement, it’s hard to top the climactic showdown between the Sulu-piloted Enterprise and Nero’s Romulan mining vessel from 2009’s reboot.  The fight sported all the elements of a spectacular space tussle, for it had a great ambush, boarding, on-deck tussle, and most importantly, an honorable victory for the forces of good.  Though “Nero” (Eric Bana) had a much larger ship with far more effective weaponry, the scrappy little Enterprise utilized stealth, daring, and the ingenuity of its two young officers, Kirk and Spock, to overcome the long odds.  As gripping a space battle scene as any other mentioned today, the dust-up between the two ships also involved a massive power drilling rig that was laying a furious beating on the San Francisco Bay, a development that threatened the very existence of Earth as a whole.  Kirk and Spock took the initiative, ambushed that Romulan son of a bitch, boarded his ship, rescued the imprisoned Captain Pike, and led Nero into a trap that practically assured his destruction.


The special effects brought the film’s action to life wonderfully, for the rendering of the battle sequence’s proton torpedo and space missile exchange was both terrifying and beautiful.  The fight culminated in a tricky escape from a massive singularity that threatened to consume the Enterprise and her crew, something that required a rash, shoot-from-the-hip decision that only James T. Kirk could have made.  At the urging of “Scotty” (Simon Pegg), Kirk ejected the ship’s core, which gave the Federation vessel just enough of a push to get it out of the singularity’s grasp and into the clear.  That long-odds battle concluded, with Earth, the Enterprise, and the inhabitants of both safe, Kirk and Spock returned home to a hero’s welcome: where a one-time misfit and braggart became a full-fledged captain, and his biggest doubter became the man’s most earnest supporter.  Still, this fight only involved two vessels, something that weighed heavily on the mind of your author when choosing this scrap over the aforementioned scenes in Star Trek II, and First Contact.  In this next film, however, there was no shortage of participants…



2.) Avatar –

Though it would appear as if Spielberg and Cameron both attended the same mid-90’s director’s retreat where all attendees lost their balls, both men have always been reliable sources of sound cinematic action.  Even at their worst, these guys are better than 98% of the field when it comes to shooting crisp, well-paced, rousing action sequences.  Take Avatar, for example.  A bloated, contrived, poorly acted piece of shit though it may have been, it still came with some fantastic battle set-pieces framed within a luscious, expensive-as-fuck CGI palate that made the action seem fresh, and original.  Of course, it was all just a slight-of-hand trick, for the plot of Avatar was simply Dances With Wolves in space.  Already in the sci-fi realm, and in need of a rousing finale, Cameron then turned to the genre’s Holy Grail, and hijacked the blueprint from the Star Wars-finale to get his picture’s closing punch.  Let’s be honest, though: this was brilliant.  James Cameron took two successful formulas, smashed them together, added three hefty scoops of high-powered F/X, baked at 350 degrees for 162 minutes, and came out of Hollywood’s kitchen with the most expensive pie ever created.


While film scholars and cinema purists will debate the legitimacy of this tactic, few would argue against the basic foundation of its conceit: mainly, that audiences don’t care what’s propping a movie up so long as the action is up to snuff.  Although anybody with half a brain new that “Quaritch” (Stephen Lang) wasn’t going to be successful in his genocidal ambitions, the finale of Avatar still provided one of the most stunning, suspenseful, and expansive battle scenes ever put to film.  When that RDA gunship armada cruised over Pandora, ready to put the last knock-out punch on the Na’vi’s chin, they didn’t expect the full, organized resistance of half the damn planet to be on-hand to give the humans a decent fight.  This is exactly what “Jake” and his blue alien horde gave the private army, and it amounted to one of the best damn action sequences in movie history: space or otherwise.  Although there was some action to be had on the ground, the best parts of the fight took place in the skies above Pandora, where RDA roughnecks and the Na’vi traded bodies in a most savage fashion.  And while it was a hell of a good time, and was amazing to watch, Avatar’s finale had nothing on the franchise from which it drew its inspiration, nay, core foundation…



1.) Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi –

Return of the Jedi got away with a lot of things subsequent filmmakers, including king-shit legacy-destroyer George Lucas himself, recycled and exploited beyond the point of any return in the years to follow.  Cutsie, extraneous characters that can be easily marketed into a 5-12 year old toy line?  Check.  A wickedly genius cross-market push to get at the teen demographic via the sexing up of a formerly chaste character?  Double-check.  Uber-spectacular finale that essentially repeated the action from the first installment, yet with a consistent one-up across the board on all aspects of its execution?  Oh, you better fucking believe it.  Though Return of the Jedi (ROTJ) got away with all of this, it was largely as a result of the absolutely slamming Death Star finale, where the Rebel Alliance took one last all-in swipe at The Empire.  Even burned ex-fans of the series that have always held ROTJ to be the weakest of the original series will admit that the action above Endor, between the Empire’s space fleet and General Calrissian’s ambushed ambush squad, was pretty much the bee’s nuts in all regards.  Though it was thought to be inoperative, and without shields due to the efforts of Han, Luke, and Leia on Endor, Lando and his squadron of fighters showed up to the party with their pants down during ROTJ ‘s finale, and a cracking space engagement ensued!


Really, as stated before, except for the attackers finding themselves attacked, this was all just a repeat of the Star Wars Episode IV finale, just injected with steroids and meth; yet the crisp cuts, spectacular visual effects, urgency of purpose, and ball-busting last-second Lando-escape took the Endor space vignette into hallowed territory.  Sure, as a movie, Episode IV was better, and if this author had to pick his favorite out of the series, like many, I’d go with Empire Strikes Back.  Yet on its own, as a space battle, this one had it all.  From iconic moments like the immortal “It’s a trap!”, to the surprisingly well-scripted double-cross by the Empire that left Ackbar’s fleet with its collective nuts in a sling, there wasn’t a missed queue during the entire sequence.  Lando’s white-knuckled escape notwithstanding, there was also the moon battle and Luke’s duel with the Emperor, which, though not part of the judging criteria for this SPACE battle list, definitely helped to heighten the tension of the scenes when the film cut back to the dogfight in the stars.  What remained was a pitch-perfect ending to a spectacular trilogy, one that gave the audience the rousing victory it so desperately wanted whilst squeezing every possible drop of suspense and drama out of the finale as humanly possible.  A standard-bearer within the space-action community, the finale of ROTJ definitely had what it took to claim the top slot here today.



Copyright Warren J. Cantrell – All Rights Reserved

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