The success of movies like Top Gun: Maverick further cement in Hollywood's mind the idea that everybody loves death-defying sequences that make audiences feel part of the action.
Science fiction is a lot harder for filmmakers, at least when it comes to stirring up those same feelings in watchers—because deep down we know what we're seeing is totally unbelievable.
Getting us to suspend our disbelief and making us want to believe that the events before our eyes are real? That's one of the greatest feats any filmmaker can achieve, and that's no truer than in outer space.
It takes a deft hand and a keen mind to craft space battle sequences that aren't just far from cheesy but engaging in a way that leaves us hanging off the edges of our seat and ignoring the impossibility of space battles.
Here are our picks for the best space battle scenes in movie history, ranking them to see which ones truly stand out as the best.
5. Nero Destroys the Fleet (Star Trek)
Eric Bana's turn as Nero—the Romulan who watched his homeworld be destroyed, only to end up in a different timeline afterwards—is one of the most underrated in Star Trek.
He shows himself to be a greatly demented villain in the opening sequence of the rebooted Star Trek film, as he arrives through a black hole and immediately destroys a fleet of Star Fleet ships without warning. That includes George Kirk (James T. Kirk's father) aboard the Kelvin.
This space battle set a new standard for space battles for cinema, with a visually gruesome firefight that saw multiple ships felled in moments and a ruthless Nero firing his weapons on everybody out of pure anger.
Even now, over a decade later, the fight remains a surprisingly great action sequence from a Star Trek film that set the tone for the movies to come.
4. The Destruction of the Death Star (Star Wars: A New Hope)
Nobody thought Star Wars would be the box office smash hit that it became in 1977. However, it was successful in more ways than simply bringing in money for Fox—it carved out its own spot in film history.
On the one hand, a lot of its success can be attributed to the enticing filmmaking style of George Lucas, but it'd also be fair to say that the film gave audiences so much that we'd never seen before.
The final charge at the Death Star is an awe-inspiring sequence as Luke swoops into the trench to destroy the dreaded space station. With Obi-Wan's voice guiding him, Luke destroys the ultimate weapon—after a ruthless battle against Imperial forces in space.
Then, in the end, Luke heads home with Han and Chewie. The scene left audiences flabbergasted, stunned at what they'd witnessed. To this day, the visuals hold up and the battle remains one of the finest in Star Wars.
3. The Enterprise vs. Khan (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
Bringing back Khan Noonien Singh from the original Star Trek series could've been a huge mistake, but Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains the best film in the franchise for the nature of Khan's villainy.
After hijacking a Star Fleet ship to lure Kirk, the two fight throughout the film. The battle is a long game of wits and cunning, with Khan dealing significant damage to the Enterprise as he gets revenge against Kirk.
Even when he's eventually beaten, Khan uses his final moments to aim a parting death blow towards Kirk and the Enterprise, forcing Spock to save the ship by sacrificing himself in the radiation chamber.
The Wrath of Khan might not have all the polish of the Star Wars battles, but it has the strategic sense of chess to it, with Kirk and Khan playing one another up to the final act.
2. The Guardians vs. The Sovereign (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Marvel does space very well, and that's certianly true for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, in which the titular team is being chased by the Sovereign for stealing valuable batteries.
And in this film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe found an opportunity to show off its best space battle yet. As Star-Lord, Gamora, and the rest of the crew strap themselves in, a swarm of golden ships begin attacking them from all sides, resulting in heavy damage to their craft.
The scale of the fight—littered with funny moments throughout—made way to all kinds of stunning visuals. And as Ego saves the rag-tag misfits with his orb of a ship, they crash onto a nearby planet (with all members of the team in-fighting and becoming restless with one another).
The more you watch the sequence, the clearer it becomes how brilliant the whole sequence really is.
1. The Destruction of the Second Death Star (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi)
If the assault on the first Death Star was iconic, the fight against the second Death Star was downright legendary. Not only was the second Death Star more advanced, the space battle itself was even bolder.
With Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie all fighting on the ground, it's up to Lando and his leadership of the Rogue Squadron to fly deep into the core of the second Death Star and blow it to smithereens.
The battle sequence is magnificent, with Lando courageously piloting the Millennium Falcon and taking out countless TIE Fighters along the way. The final push into the core is a nerve-wracking ride for audiences, further heightened by the increased tension in the run back out again.
As Lando pushes the Falcon to go faster and faster—in a bid to outrun the fireball behind him—we're met with the triumphant eruption of the Falcon from the flames in one of the best scenes in Star Wars.