The Best Movie Space Battles

By Brandon Anthony: There is a lot to love about the genre of sci-fi and space fiction, particularly on film. Distorted colors and shapes, (literally) out-of-this-world special effects, and incredible feats of technological ingenuity allow viewers to reimagine the universe. And when intergalactic conflicts arise, impressive sparks fly.

Throughout the course of movie history numerous space battles have rocked our world back here on Earth. And though the latest Star Wars certainly continues that fine tradition, it joins a lengthy list of films that have already elevated the art of war to another dimension.

Battle of Klendathu (Starship Troopers)

klendathu1battle COMP

Not all battles end in a victory for the good guys. The outcome of this battle was inevitable even before the first shots were fired. Poor planning and insufficient reconnoitering led the invading Federation forces to severely underestimate the Bug numbers. This led to a complete rout of a battle, in which foot soldiers were torn limb from limb and impaled during a live broadcast. Hundreds of thousands of Federation troops died. Not only was the infantry decimated, but Sky Marshal Dienes also destroyed his career through his poor leadership during this battle.

Borg Invade Sector 001 (Star Trek: First Contact)


Star Trek‘s continuing conflict between the Borg Collective and the United Federation played out in a spectacular fashion when the Borg attempted to invade Earth yet again. Despite being ordered to stay away, Captain Picard arrived just in time to save the day. Picard’s previous assimilation helped him target the right spot on the Borg cube, and he rallied the troops and saved some Federation lives while making it look easy. The Enterprise even managed to travel through time in order to chase an escape pod. Despite their success, however, the political effects of the battle were felt long afterwards. Fans who want to revel in the details can still catch the series on cable TV (details here).

The Battle of Endor (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi)


This battle is the culmination of the building war between the Rebel Alliance and the Imperials. The Ewoks, along with Princess Leia, Han Solo and several other key characters, fight the Imperial troops in the forests of Endor’s moon. From there the audience is transported to an epic space battle, complete with amazing close range maneuvering, as the Rebel Alliance’s fleet attacks the Death Star and the Star Destroyers. A smaller but no less important one-on-one battle occurs between Luke and his father. In each of these fights, despite being the underdog, the Rebel Alliance comes up victorious. This is the battle that turns the tide of the war, and which eventually leads to the formation of the New Republic.

Battle of Hoth (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) hothbattle4

Another galaxy-shaking Star Wars battle took place on Hoth, though this time the Rebels were the defending force. Nor did the battle end as victoriously as in Endor, though it’s still a beautifully orchestrated battle to watch. Laser blasts fly fast and furious on the surface of the ice planet, and despite being outgunned the Rebel Alliance is able to do some damage even in the midst of retreat. It is also a great moment for Luke and Leia, who both take on positions of leadership. Princess Organa coordinates an orderly retreat while Skywalker leads the defensive troops. There is even a sweet moment between the Princess and Solo, when he lets her know it is time to leave.

Alliance vs. Reavers (Serenity)SerenityBattle5

Though Firefly only lasted one season, it gave birth to the film Serenity, which in turn gave us this wonderfully entertaining battle. The crew of Serenity manages to lure the Reaver fleet into a completely unplanned battle with the Alliance. While the befuddled Alliance troops scramble to fight the Reavers, Serenity twists and turns, “like a leaf on the wind,” to the surface of the planet to complete their final mission. They succeed on all fronts, though it is not a painless victory.

These battles are all unique. Some are won, some lost. Some take place in space, some on alien planets. What ties them together is amazing aerial choreography, tight special effects, and heroic characters. Whether winning or losing, in all cases the protagonists did themselves proud.

20 thoughts on “The Best Movie Space Battles

  1. First?!

    These are all great battles, although I’ve long thought the Imperial Walkers deployed on Hoth are some of the most impractical heavy armor I’ve ever seen, a feeling proven by how easily several of them were taken down.

  2. Starship Troopers? Really?

    Edge of Tomorrow did a much better job of Mobile Infantry vs aliens.

  3. This might be better titled “Most Cinematic Space Battles” to appease the people who hated the infantry in the movie adaptation of Starship Troopers.

  4. I think Monty favourites are the space battles from Trek the TV show. No maneuvering, you just see a little blob in the screen, and the flash of your weapon detonations. It actually gives the feeling of long-range combat.

    Runner up to the Narn-Shadows fight, where you see the Narn ship firing at something too far away to see. And the Centaurii-Babylon-5 fight where you see the ships firing, and several seconds later the targets get hit.

    All that actually barely starts to convey the scale of space combat, but they do it a lot better than faux World-War II combat.

  5. Does no one remember the Battlestar Galactica running interference for the remnants of humanity, breaking out of a Cylon-surrounded gas giant? My Ghod, I got shivers watching that. The scene destroys many of the choices listed above.

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  7. Battle of Klendathu?

    Really? You mean that scene that showed as much understanding of military tactics as your average five year old playing cops and robbers?

    That scene?


  8. This list doesn’t include the battle from the Babylon 5 episode Severed Dreams, and is consequently defective.

  9. Much as I adore the battle in Severed Dreams, B5/BSG/etc. aren’t movies.

    @Ed: Inorite? It was like watching an stupid teenager horror movie; you just wanted to scream “No you idiot don’t do that!”

  10. @ Rail

    The thing is, I get that combat on screen really can’t be 100% accurate. More so if you only x number of minutes and y budget to tell the story.

    Hell, I’m even willing to give some films a pass because (in the case of space battles) we haven’t actually done it yet, so the film maker is in uncharted seas.

    But ST? I could have used 1/3 the budget and 1/3 the actors and been more believable.

    It would have marked my second unit directing debut as well, but no plan survives contact.

  11. @ Ed: That’s why I compared it to a slasher film. Like the commercial says: “If you’re in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It’s what you do.”

    Of course, the movie was never intended to be serious. Absurd battle scenes fit well with the director’s intent, but they are really poor examples to put in this list.

  12. Babylon 5 is about the only cinema in which the spaceships fly properly (some of the time. The aliens are cheaters.)

    The rest are -air- battles, the spacecraft move like airplanes. Star wars is particularly notable in this regard.

    This is because Hollywood is populated by idiots with the imagination of a finely diced planarian worm.

  13. @The Phantom

    That’s a bit unfair. The folks on Hollywood for the most part are doing the best they can, constrained by time, money and the need to tell a story that an audience likes.

    Even Ed Wood *tried* to do that. But to call them idiots is a tad much.



  14. The battle at the start of Revenge of the Sith should be on the list. It’s marvelously done, with a really epic revelation of its true scale after an initially tight opening, action that reveals things worth knowing about the two protagonists, and a general awesomeness. That last is a very technical term, of course, but I trust the audience.

    There’s a space battle in, I think, the Battlestar Galactica remake pilot conducted in pure silence except for an excellent percussive soundtrack. It’s one of the most beautiful, emotional battle scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

  15. Much as I adore the battle in Severed Dreams, B5/BSG/etc. aren’t movies.

    That’s hardly a reason to settle for second rate movie material.

  16. I second Bruce on the Battle of Coruscant from the beginning of Revenge of the Sith. The expansion in scale, from a single star destroyer with two fighters passing by to showing the large battle, is awesome.

    But personally I have a sweet spot for the Battle of Hoth, just because I’ve done a lot of skiing on Hoth.

    Also …

    although I’ve long thought the Imperial Walkers deployed on Hoth are some of the most impractical heavy armor I’ve ever seen, a feeling proven by how easily several of them were taken down.

    100 % of the Death Stars attacked by Luke Skywalker gets blown to pieces. ~50% of the AT-AT Walkers attacked by Luke Skywalker is taken down. That’s not a horrible record for the AT-ATs. 🙂 And they operate without air support or infantry support, which tend to make all heavy armor vulnerable.

    And while the walkers have clear weaknesses in combat, I think they work well as a sci-fi movie prop: They’re appropriately futuristic and scary-looking.

  17. The abomination of the “starship troopers” movie?

    The “director” could not even finish the book – a 2 hour read at best. He took three lines out of the soliloquies. HE HAD NO POWERED ARMOR! *

    They had no tactics, no strategy, no intel, poor weapons – by DESIGN OF THE DIRECTOR. THEY DESERVED TO DIE.

    Enders Game had better space battles, esp the final push.

    * I happen to know some of the special effects folks who worked on the movie. They BEGGED the “director” to let them do the powered armor – they are SF fans in general and the book in particular. They are *very* skilled at what they do – they would have done a *fantastic* job on the powered armor. But no – the idiot has ZERO clue about SF.

    (I have a tendency to SHOUT about this movie because it was such a waste, and an example of a huge ego without the skill to actually support it. EVERY COPY AND THE DIRECTOR should be chucked into the Sun. The chances of doing the book justice with a good movie is still years off, if not decades. Sigh.)

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