The Most Iconic Sci-Fi Spaceships To Appear On Screen: A Visual Guide

By Doug Norrie | Updated

What are the best known ships in science fiction?

Called starships if they can travel between stars or generally spaceships to cover all ships which can leave the Earth’s atmosphere, the best science fiction franchises all use them. They’re usually as much a hero as the humans in their story. Some have even become characters of their own. Some are even, at least in the context of their story, alive.

What follows in this slideshow are the most iconic spaceships in the history of science fiction.

The TARDIS - Doctor Who (1963)

The first on the list turns out to not really look like a spaceship. It’s a British police box after all. But the iconic booth has been around for decades now, shipping the good Doctor to wherever he or she is needed in time and/ or space.

The Jupiter 2 - Lost in Space (1965, 2018)

First introduced in the 1960s and revived on Netflix more recently, the Jupiter 2 is manned by the Robinson family and a robot. It’s become an iconic piece of sci-fi history even if the franchise is known best for “Danger, Will Robinson.”

NCC-1701 USS Enterprise - Star Trek (1966)

Maybe the most iconic of all the spaceships in the movie and television universe, the USS Enterprise was helmed by Captain James T. Kirk and later Jean-Luc Picard. If there was one ship your mind went to when thinking about the best of all time, this might be the one.

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Discovery One - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The ship is probably best know for the artificial intelligence HAL 9000 that goes a bit off the galactic rails. But this ship was one of the first to introduce us to the idea that galavanting off into space might have some real downside, on the ship itself.

Millennium Falcon - Star Wars (1977)

1977 was a big year for spaceships on the big screen mostly because a lot of them came in just one movie. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope kicked things off with all sorts of new designs. The most iconic of the bunch was piloted by Han Solo.

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Imperial Star Destroyer - Star Wars (1977)

Though the Millenium Falcon is arguably the most loved of the Star Wars group here, the Imperial Star Destroyer is the one we first see taking up the screen with its enormity right from the get-go.

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The Death Star - Star Wars (1977)

Again, Star Wars gave us a ton of fodder here and though the Imperial Destroyer was a sign that Empire had some real power, the Death Star is what showed they could (and would) definitely be on a galactic crushing tour. Hell, it even got blown up only to come back soon after.

TIE Fighter - Star Wars (1977)

Light, fast, and deadly, the TIE fighters were just another ship in the Galactic Empire fleet. These have become synonymous with danger at the Rebel doorstep.

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X-Wing - Star Wars (1977)

Luke Skywalker cut his teeth in these things and they were the reason the Rebel Alliance was able to smoke the Death Star before it was all said and done. And who wouldn’t want a little R2D2 sitting in the backseat?

The Mothership - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

One of the first times we saw the truly scary enormity of what an alien invasion could look like. Juxtaposed against Devil’s Tower, the ship had us looking to the skies wondering just how safe it was to be sitting here on Earth.

Galactica - Battlestar Galactica (1978, 2004)

We’ve seen a couple of different iterations of the Galactica but each one had a single mission: keep the last remaining vestige of humanity safe from the Cylons.

Nostromo - Alien (1979)

Think mining the galaxy’s planets for precious metals sounds like a fun gig? Think again. The reminder that in space, no one can hear you scream is as terrifying now as it was back then.

Slave I - Star Wars (1980)

Boba Fett’s ship is still alive in the Star Wars universe and franchise thanks to The Mandalorian. We first got our eyes on it with The Empire Strikes back and it’s had more than a few adventures along the way.

Gunstar - The Last Starfighter (1984)

Ever thought your video game skills would be good enough to actually pilot an alien ship? Well, Alex Rogan actually got that chance in The Last Starfighter, fulfilling the dream of every 80s (and beyond) kid with a few quarters and an imagination.

Sulaco - Aliens (1986)

The Sulaco was sent out to start figuring out where things were going wrong with another ship that had gone dark on a mission. Big mistake. They got significantly more than they bargained for with stomachs full of aliens.

Voyager - Star Trek (1995)

Kathryn Janeway’s crew took this baby through the Delta Quadrant, boldly going where no man (and now woman) had gone before.

Winnebago - Spaceballs (1987)

A silly addition to the list? Sure, but no less memorable. This Winnebago had Lone Star and Barf behind the wheel in the classic Mel Brooks send up of the entire sci-fi fanboy universe.

Alien Destroyer - Independence Day (1996)

Those ships floating high above the Earth’s major cities? Well guess what, they have some bad intentions. Independence Day saw an alien attack that wiped out a huge swatch of humanity with a few lasers than came out of the bottom of these bad boys.

The Event Horizon -Event Horizon (1997)

Go out on a little trip in space to test out some new tech and come back driven totally insane by the process. That was the gist behind Event Horizon. Walk away from this film glad you are standing on Terra Firma.

The Naboo Starfighter - Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Introduced in The Phantom Menace, these ships were one of the only cool things to come out of the second prequel trilogy. Their sleek design holds up even where much of the movie doesn’t.

Moya - Farscape (1999)

Here we get a spaceship that’s actually alive. You read that right. The ship was as much a character in this series as anyone else on screen. 


The Planet Express Ship - Futurama (1999)

Somewhat like The Winnebago in Spaceballs, The Planet Express was supposed to remind you of other ships in the genre while poking fun at everything and everyone involved. 

The Swordfish II - Cowboy Bebop (2001, 2021)

The anime addition to this list, The Swordfish is under the command of Spike Spiegel and brought a level of cool to the animated sci-fi fare. A live-action reboot on Netflix didn’t fare as well.

Serenity - Firefly (2002)

It always felt like we deserved more of the Serenity on both the big and small screen. The movie and series were fan-favorite hits but just could never truly get enough of a head of steam to stick around long enough.

The Heart of Gold - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

This ship has some of the best names in the genre associated with it. It’s powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive while being driven by Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect. Among the funniest of its class.

Kelvin Enterprise - Star Trek (2009)

This one is also captained by James T. Kirk, just the new version. The Kelvin Enterpirse ended up starting it’s own Star Trek timeline before it was all said and done.

Prometheus - Prometheus (2012)

Set off to find out where humanity came from only to get besieged by the same Xenomorphs that screwed up everyone else in the Alien franchise. The ship is a mystery and so are those on board.

The Benatar - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The only ship on this list named after a female 1980s rockstar, The Benatar housed arguably the quirkiest group of folks of anyone on this list. And that’s really saying a lot.

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Alien Ship - Arrival (2014)

If aliens ever come down to Earth with their massive ships, pray that they have the same intentions of the folks on these things. On a list full of some of the most iconic flicks of all-time, Arrival might be the best actual movie here.

Thanos' Sanctuary II - Avengers: Infinity War

In the end, all Thanos really had was a cool ship. The Snap was undone, his menace was negated and Marvel‘s Big Bad was rendered obsolete. But his ship got the job done while he was around.

The Fondor - Andor (2022)

Is this the most powerful single ship in the Star Wars universe? It just might be. Luthien Rael unleashed its full capabilities at the end of Andor and we all stood in amazement.

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Refit Enterprise - Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

The Enterprise from the 60s was redesigned for the movies. That redesign went on to become, arguably, even more famous than the original one.

The Orville - The Orville (2017 - 2022)

Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi series started out more as a Star Trek parody, but became more serious and a real sci-fi franchise in its own right as it went a long.

NSEA Protector - Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest was also sort of a Star Trek parody, but one which found a way to also be its own thing. It follows a group of actors from a Star Trek-like television show who discover that somewhere out in space, a group of aliens have actually made their ship for real.

Rocinante - The Expanse (2015 - 2022)

The series The Expanse took a more realistic look at future space travel, and at the center of the series was a captured Martian frigate which was renamed the Rocinante.

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NCC-1701-D Enterprise - Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994)

This was the hero ship of Star Trek: The Next Generation and it was recently brought back for Star Trek: Picard’s third season.

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