There is no one deciding factor when it comes to the coolest spaceships in sci-fi. Some of them are city-sized behemoths, while others are scrappy underdogs. Some have devastating firepower and others just deliver packages across the galaxy, but the ten spaceships we’ve picked out for out list all have that special something.
Spaceships come in all different shapes and sizes within fiction, but they also come from many different places – TV, movies, comic books – and the one that appeals to you may not win over your friends. The ships that wowed you as a child now might be relegated to the space hangar in the corner of your mind, while a sleek, new ship takes its place. Whatever you believe to be the coolest spaceship in sci-fi, there’s no doubting how much they inspire and leave all of us feeling like kids again.
10. Planet Express – Futurama
Affectionately named Old Bessie by Professor Farnsworth, the Planet Express ship is a joyous amalgamation of popular culture, combined with sleek design. Its bold colors (actually named electric mucus), streamlined shape, and traditional fins give the ship a 50s Americana vibe – as if Professor Farnsworth bred a Cadillac with a modern Space X ship.
Running on dark matter (and later whale oil), the Planet Express ship doesn’t actually move itself, but it moves the universe around it using the Dark Matter Accelerator – making it very worthy of being classed as one of the coolest spaceships in sci-fi.
The Planet Express ship is crewed by Leela, Fry, and Bender, who use it to complete interplanetary deliveries others aren’t brave/stupid enough to take on (unfortunately for them, the company slogan is “Our crew is replaceable, your package isn’t!”).
Despite its appearance, the Planet Express is a tough cookie. It’s decked out with a laser turret and plenty of torpedoes, too. Leaning into the quirks of Futurama, it also features a giraffe net, an unbreakable diamond tethering rope, and an elephant detector (which can be set to large and woolly too, of course) . There’s plenty to keep the crew comfortable on the inside, too, with a game room, galley, and lion den… as you do.
9. Discovery – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Released in 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey helped change sci-fi cinema and also elevate sci-fi literature into the mainstream, so the Discovery has definitely earned a top spot on our coolest spaceships in sci-fi list. Adapted from Arthur C. Clarke’s staggering Space Odyssey series of novels, Kubrick’s vision of the Discovery is an isolated and lonely ship.
The Discovery speaks of retro sensibilities, lots of sharp angles mingling with smooth curves, and satellite dishes poking out. The spaceship itself looks and feels like a hybrid between classic rockets – with thrusters at the ‘base’ which propel the ship – but with a bulbous living quarters which feels as if it’s hanging vulnerably in space. This is very apt as the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey itself explores the idea of man’s place in the universe, which makes us feel very vulnerable indeed.
Of course, we can’t talk about the Discovery without mentioning H.A.L. 9000, the famous (or rather, infamous) intelligent supercomputer with the imposing simplicity of its lens and red light which oozes menace – one of the most eerie elements in not only this film, but all of sci-fi history.
8. Event Horizon – Event Horizon
In our opinion, a spaceship opening a rift in the space-time continuum, disappearing into a black hole and then mysteriously reappearing, has to be in the running for coolest spaceship in sci-fi. It also makes the Event Horizon spaceship one of the more unsettling vessels we’ve encountered – just looking at the Event Horizon spacecraft gives us the creeps!
Stepping into the warp core of the Event Horizon must have felt like a nightmare – which is fitting, given the themes of the movie. It’s a spherical room, with a core in the center around which rings spin. The walls are covered in giant spikes and myriad panels which appear claustrophobic. It’s in this room where the events of the movie hit a crescendo and the horrors spill forth. The externals of the ship feel equally menacing – a large bulkhead prodding forwards, with arm-like protrusions giving it the feel of a monster preparing to leap in for the kill. The ship extends backwards with platforms which hold the engines, looking as fragile as the minds of the crew.
In fact, there’s only one sci-fi spaceship we’d be more reluctant to board than the Event Horizon…
7. U.S.C.S.S. Nostromo – Alien
If any spaceship speaks of grunts sent out into space by suited bureaucrats, it’s the United States Cargo Star Ship (U.S.C.S.S.) Nostromo. Bulky, rough, and not at all sleek, the U.S.C.S.S. Nostromo is a battleship gray with sections that look kit-bashed or added after disaster. The designers actually took inspiration from World War II submarines, hence the claustrophobic feeling. In truth we rarely see much of the exterior of the ship, but the interior has become an icon of retro-futuristic sci-fi design.
Confusingly, the Nostromo is actually a lot smaller than most people think – it’s the small ship that lands on LV-426, not the massive thing that gets left in orbit. That’s actually a refinery that the ship is towing behind it, like an intergalactic haulage truck. The interior of the ship is a mixture of clean white living spaces, industrial corridors, and high tech hypersleep pods.
As it’s on its way back to Earth, the Nostromo is diverted to investigate a distress beacon, prematurely waking the crew from their hypersleep and, well, abject terror ensues. Any spaceship that can endure (well, mostly) a xenomorph attack is pretty badass and makes it one of the coolest spaceships in sci-fi.
6. Thunderbird 3 – Thunderbirds
There was a time when spaceships were modelled as simple rockets, the design of which deviated only slightly between properties. A British classic can be seen in the 1965 Thunderbirds TV show. Thunderbird 3 is a standard rocket – three thrusters sit at the base, with scaffolding holding them tight to the sides of the cigar-shaped fuselage, tapering into a sharp point for breaking out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Where it really shines is in the bright red coloring with black accents, making it look both futuristic, yet retro (remember, this spacecraft was designed in the 60s).
Thunderbird 3 was piloted by Alan or John Tracy, who sat within a rotating cockpit which kept the pilots sitting ‘upwards’. This single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) rocket was capable of reaching immense high speeds and was often used for space rescues of other ships, which is why we’ve picked it as one of the coolest spaceships in sci-fi.
Of course, we do need to give a special shout out to Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 5, too – we think they’re pretty F.A.B.
5. The Milano – Guardians of the galaxy
We don’t see the Milano all that often in the Guardians of the galaxy movies, nor the other Avengers films, but when we do get a glance of the Milano, it is gorgeous. It’s a glorious vessel shaped like a bird in flight with the wings arched up to resemble a predator hovering over its prey. Panels towards the ‘wings’ of the ship flare backwards, almost imitating feathers, while ‘the beak’ of the ship contains the crew behind an expansive window. It’s quite fitting that the captain of the Milano, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), named this beautiful ship after his childhood crush, Alyssa Milano.
It’s mainly a ship for ferrying the Guardians from point A to point B, rather than fighting interstellar battles. In fact, it’s more likely to be struck by a speeding Thor than a torpedo or ion blast. With that being said, whether piloted by Peter Quill or Rocket Raccoon, it’s a nimble ship, often seen weaving between obstacles and escaping danger.
Although maybe not the cleanest ship, you’ll be guaranteed good company, excellent music, and plenty of fun escapades on the Milano.
4. SSV Normandy – Mass Effect
The Systems Alliance Space Vehicle Normandy Stealth Reconnaissance-1, or the Normandy SR-1 for short, is sleek, streamlined, and dangerous. Despite its attractive curves and tapering body, the Normandy from the Mass Effect game series is notorious for its pivotal role in the war with the Reapers. It’s also famous for having the best damn helmsman in the Alliance fleet, Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau (and, you know, Commander Shepard, too, we guess).
What makes the Normandy one of the coolest spaceships in sci-fi is that it’s the perfect balance of beauty and power. It’s a spaceship known for its cloaking technology and stealth aspects, yet this comes at a price – building reserves of heat which must be vented before it cooks the crew inside.
Of course, not every war is won using espionage, so the Normandy is kitted out with defense lasers, javelin torpedoes, kinetic barriers, and a spinal mass accelerator cannon. The Normandy gets a refit in Mass Effect 2, becoming the even more powerful SSV Normandy SR2. Whether it’s the original version or the refit, the Normandy is not a ship to be taken lightly.
3. Red Dwarf – Red Dwarf
The classic opening of the Red Dwarf TV show has the central character, Dave Lister, painting the titular name on the side of the ship. As the close-up shot which slowly pulls back to reveal the massive ship, it puts in perspective how tiny and insignificant a human can be. As the ship slowly plods through deep space we can no longer see Lister’s brushstrokes, which is not surprising considering that this enormous mining vessel is 6 miles long, 5 miles tall, and 4 miles wide!
It’s a ramshackle spaceship, with its huge scoop at the head of the ship. It looks solid, yet fragile; a big body of sharp angles, littered with small satellite dishes, probes sticking out, and asteroids embedded in the ‘bottom’ floors.
Despite a small crew, inside this city-sized spaceship you’ll find numerous bars, cinemas, and seemingly hundreds of vending machines that are forever breaking down. Oh, and a humanoid cat and a talking toaster. Red Dwarf was a weird (and brilliant) show.
2. Millennium Falcon – Star Wars
On the surface, the Millennium Falcon shouldn’t be as iconic as it, with it’s rather unassuming circular body and two spikes pointing ahead. Perhaps its epic status comes from the Star Wars franchise, but it may also come from the smaller details: the cockpit off to the side with its sectioned windows through which the stars bleed backwards, or the swiveling turret on top which we’ve seen so many characters spin in while blasting TIE fighters.
The character of the Millennium Falcon comes from its doodads which break every take-off and the interior corridors which curve around living quarters where seminal scenes have played out. It’s a messy ship that perfectly summarizes its ragtag crew of charming rogues; on the surface it might appear like just a bucket of bolts, but it’s got it where it counts.
If you ever find yourself needing to smuggle some contraband across the galaxy, or trying to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, then this is the ship for you.
1. U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) – Star Trek
To be fair, any version of the Enterprise could take this place. For many though, their love of Star Trek started with Picard and his Next Generation crew which is why we’ve picked the U.S.S. Enterprise as one of the coolest spaceships in sci-fi. While the ‘D’ model differed only slightly from Captain Kirk’s NCC-1701, the core style was left alone by designers because they felt the ship was as much of a character as Kirk or Picard.
Powered by that truly sci-fi concept of matter/anti-matter, this ship is truly awe inspiring to look at. The U.S.S. Enterprise has a truly unique shape, with the large saucer facing towards the final frontier and the engines elongated behind. The ship screams speed, and this is amplified by its shift to warp speed as the Enterprise stretches and bursts away faster than light, leaving behind two streaks against the darkness of space.
Beyond that though, the Enterprise represents everything positive about humanities future in space. Sure it has weapons, but it’s a vessel of exploration and discovery first and foremost – going boldly where no one has gone before.