Top 5 Space Opera Films

Posted Thursday, July 28th, 2011 03:16 pm GMT -4 by

“Space opera” is a phrase that defines a genre of science fiction literature, and can also be applied as a category for movies. Typically, space opera occurs on a galactic scale, involves intelligent races other than humans, and has multiple types of spacecraft, from speedy corvettes to battleships capable of destroying planets. There is plenty of action and adventure in space opera. One thing you can be nearly certain of when watching a space opera film is that you won’t get bored. What follows is my opinion of the top five space opera films, in chronological order. I consider these movies to be equally good and none deserves to outshine the others.

1. Star Wars

This movie set the bar extremely high for all space opera films that came after. Groundbreaking special effects combined with an almost Shakespearean level of epic storytelling allows us to see characters meeting local challenges on a backdrop of galactic discord.


2. The Empire Strikes Back

Many fans consider this film to be the best of the Star Wars movies. The conflict between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is knocked up a notch and betrayal of a friend becomes a strong theme. This movie shows us the seductive nature of the Dark Side and how joining it is a credible temptation.


3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

This film pits one of the most famous sci-fi captains versus a superb villain who brings an intense, theatrical mood to the film. We understand and sympathize with Khan’s desire for revenge, even if we may not agree with the methods he uses to pursue that revenge.


4. The Fifth Element

If you enjoy space opera films with a liberal dash of comedy and strange visuals,
“The Fifth Element” is your cup of alien tea. Good acting is a key factor, with impressive performances by Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker and Ian Holm. Combining comedy and drama acting for this type of script is not an easy feat.


5. Serenity

This movie is based on the ‘Firefly’ television series created by Joss Whedon, who also directed and wrote the film. Unlike most heroic sci-fi captains, Mal is considered a criminal by the galactic society. In the film, Mal shows that unlike many criminals, he supports average galactic citizens more than the powerful forces trying to control them, and he is willing to die for the right of those citizens to have transparency in government.

  • Anonymous

    Ummmm….. I’d add the Last Star Fighter to the list… maybe instead of A New Hope and Empire as 2 entries you could make room for this epic movie! Good call on the Fifth Element.

  • I saw ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ again recently. I was surprised at how slow it was and how dated. Still, its Wikipedia entry says it’s a classic.

    I have a soft spot for’ Solaris’ (both film versions) after reading the wonderfully-enigmatic novel by Stanisław Lem.

    And no ‘Starship Troopers’? Shame on you!  :-)

    • JKE

      ’2001′ and Solaris lack a major attribute of space opera: a galactic civilization. A large solar system civilization with colonies on multiple planets would also qualify, in my view.

      Nigel, I’d put Starship Troopers in my top 10. Good film. A military invasion of an alien planet with spacecraft probably qualifies the film as space opera, since civilizations from different worlds are in conflict.

  • JKE

    I’m not as big a fan of The Last Starfighter as you, but it’s a worthwhile movie, especially for children who want to be inspired by the genre.

  • Really happy to see Joss Whedon’s “Serenity” on the list. What a great little series Firefly was!

    • I was really disappointed at the short run of Firefly… just one more addition to my recent let-downs… I’m still waiting on that 3 year stasis that the crew of Destiny is on right now too.. wondering how Eli is getting along, if hes dead yet etc  lol…. If Days of Our Lives can run for like 200 years why can’t any good sci-fi shows keep going?

      • I talked to Craig Engler at SyFy fairly extensively, if it we’re up to him, and truly, nearly everyone ELSE at SyFy, Stargate Universe would have continued. Unless someone, (a network) with deep pockets picks it up, it’s quite dead indeed.
        Craig bore the massive brunt of nasty press because of it. Caprica being cancelled previously didn’t help, either.

  • Dirk Van Tilborg

    I’ll probably get a bunch of flak for this…but what about ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’? Talk about space opera. You’ve got the Roman Empire in space subjugating all the inhabited worlds. I thought it was very original in the look and feel of the film compared to many other scifi films.

    • JKE

      ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ is definitely on my top 10 space opera film list. One of the most underrated sci-fi movies of all time.

    • JKE

      In fact, I will mention something even more controversial. I enjoyed the sequel more than “Pitch Black.”

      • Dirk Van Tilborg

        I’d have to agree. As much as I enjoyed ‘Pitch Black’, I have repeatedly watched and enjoyed ‘Riddick’. I still hope that we might see the two sequels that had been planned, but given Universal recently shying away from big pictures has probably squashed those hopes.

        • JKE

          One thing that some people don’t give ‘Riddick’ enough credit for is the acting. One of Vin Diesel’s best acting jobs and the other cast members produce excellent performances.

        • JKE

          One thing that some people don’t give ‘Riddick’ enough credit for is the acting. One of Vin Diesel’s best acting jobs and the other cast members produce excellent performances.

  • Anonymous

    in my “Top 5 Space Opera Books That Would Make AWESOME Movies: 
    1.  The Nights Dawn Trilogy
    2.  Ringworld

  • What about the most recent Star Trek film?
    As for the Fifth Element, I found it funny, but couldn’t take it seriously either.

  • Jones

    when i saw the title “space opera” i thought of fifth element right away. maybe because in the movie they attend an opera? :P

    • JKE

      Hehe. For the SF genre definition, the word “opera” is meant to express a grand scope and intensity of adventure, which also fits as a definition for opera music. However, the similarity with the music ends there.

  • Moses Solomon

    No “Galaxy Quest” ??

    • haha I really liked Galaxy Quest! I could watch it anytime. I think it was very well done for the type of film it was, and the cast was brilliant. Funny, cheesy, and just a good time.

      • Moses Solomon

        Another for your consideration, though this one may be a little way out there (I’ve never seen it, myself, but hope to, sometime): the low-budget cult classic, “Dark Star.”

  • Jeronimorp

    what about starship troopers?

    • JKE

      I comment on Starship Troopers earlier in the thread.