15 Great Space Operas That Aren't 'Star Wars'

List Rules
Vote up the best space operas that are NOT in a galaxy far, far away.

The Star Wars saga is the greatest cinematic space opera of all time. The Star Trek movies have their fans, but nothing has ever had the kind of influence that George Lucas's 1977 masterpiece has enjoyed. Even now, several decades after it was first released, Star Wars remains ubiquitous in pop culture. Movies are still being made, books are still being written, and merchandise is still being sold. Thanks to Disney+, TV shows based on individual characters are now being produced, too.

As great as Star Wars is, it's not the only great space opera out there. Plenty of other movies have presented intergalactic, planet-hopping adventure in a satisfying manner. Some of them were hits in their own right, whereas others are what we might call "buried treasures." Whether via live action or animation, they deliver the kind of thrills and drama that science-fiction fans crave.

Which of these non-Star Wars space operas is most out of this world? Vote up your picks. 

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  • The Fifth Element stars Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, a futuristic cab driver who finds himself in the middle of chaos when a young woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) literally drops into his cab. Leeloo is a humanoid a one of five elements capable of preventing evil industrialist Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) from unleashing a "Great Evil" that will usher in the end of the world. Korben helps her find the other elements to halt Zorg's plan. Assisting them is a radio disc jockey named Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker). 

    Directed by Luc Besson, The Fifth Element has colorful, unusual characters who are fun to follow. The movie has a sense of humor about itself, too. Although it creates real stakes for Leeloo, there's an overall tongue-in-cheek tone to the story. Visually, it's incredible to look at, with a magnificently detailed vision of the future. Many individual factors of the movie are familiar to sci-fi fans, yet Besson assembles them in a manner that's fresh.

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  • 2
    106 VOTES

    Galaxy Quest is a comedy about the cast of a Star Trek-like TV show. With the program long canceled, they spend their time greeting fans at conventions. One day, they are visited by actual aliens from space who, mistaking them for real intergalactic warriors, ask them to help fight off an evil overlord. The actors don't think it's real at first, but soon realize they'll need to become the real-life versions of the fictional characters they played on television. 

    The joy of Galaxy Quest is in how it cleverly transforms. The movie starts off as a parody of Star Trek and its accompanying fandom, which occasionally borders on the obsessive. In the second half, though, it becomes a very good space opera in its own right, albeit one with a comedic slant. The screenplay understands the structure of Star Trek, so it pokes gentle fun at that structure while simultaneously executing it as well as its inspiration ever did. 

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    When the Fox network unceremoniously canceled the TV show Firefly after only 11 episodes, fans clamored for a movie or something to tie up the loose ends. They got their wish a few years later with Serenity, the film extension of the series. It focuses on Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the captain of the titular spacecraft, and his crew. They've taken on a young man named Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his psychic sister, River Tam (Summer Glau). An evil entity called the Alliance is on the prowl for River, though, so they quickly find themselves in danger. 

    Serenity captures all the things that made fans so devoted to Firefly - the three-dimensional characters, the emphasis on telling a strong story, and the witty, intelligent humor. From there, it takes advantage of the bigger scale of movies by adding improved special effects and more intense action. The film additionally benefits from a great villain, a mercenary known as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who has been sent by the Alliance. These elements combine to make Serenity a space opera with a brain and a heart.

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  • The Last Starfighter imagines every kid's fantasy - or at least every kid in the 1980s. Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is an expert video game player. He's especially partial to one specific arcade game that involves flying and fighting in a spaceship. He gets to meet the game's designer, Centauri (Robert Preston). This leads to the stunning revelation that Centauri created the game as a training exercise. Because Alex is so good at it, he's recruited to go into space, where he flies a real spaceship in a real conflict against invading aliens. 

    This 1984 Nick Castle-directed movie starts off as a fun flick about the love of video games, then becomes a solid outer space adventure. Alex has to use all his gaming skills to fight real enemies. He's essentially a normal guy who suddenly finds himself living out Star Wars. The Last Starfighter contains plenty of rousing space conflicts, along with an assortment of colorful extraterrestrial colleagues Alex joins forces with. The film taps into the kind of fantasies kids have. It's a wish-fulfillment tale for every viewer who's ever excitedly held a joystick in their hand. 

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  • Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, are among the best of the Marvel movies. They follow Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and his unlikely band of cohorts, which include a talking raccoon and a massive tree creature. The first movie details how they form a unit, then face off against a ruthless villain named Ronan who is trying to get his hands on a powerful orb for nefarious purposes. Vol. 2 finds them squaring off against Peter's megalomaniacal father, Ego (Kurt Russell).

    Much of the credit for the films' success goes to writer/director James Gunn. He took lesser-known Marvel characters - and ones that were fundamentally weird, to boot - and made them accessible. Gunn knows how to infuse the Guardians with true personality. They're quirky, yet their individual quirks meld perfectly. Humor is just as abundant as action in both volumes. There is also a touching quality in how all these outcasts come together and form a team. The adventures they go on are more thrilling because we understand what a close-knit unit they are, even in those moments when they're comically bickering.

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  • 6
    65 VOTES

    Titan A.E. takes place in the year 3028. Earth has been wiped out by an alien race known as the Drej. The few remaining humans dream of reestablishing traditional society. One of them is Cale (voiced by Matt Damon). His late father, a renowned scientist, built a spaceship called Titan as a way of rebuilding the planet if necessary. When he passed, the ship's hidden location went with him. Cale goes in search of the Titan after discovering a map emblazoned on his hand. The Drej seek to stop him and his crew from succeeding in the mission.

    Just because it's animated doesn't mean Titan A.E. can't deliver the sci-fi goods. Quite the opposite, in fact. The combination of traditional hand-drawn animation and CGI helps to make the world it creates feel more vivid. The story, meanwhile, deals with themes of hope and faith, specifically the way those things help us persevere in times of adversity. Cale has every reason to throw in the towel, but he doesn't. He holds on to the belief he can make things better, and that ends up having a transformative effect. Throw in several really exciting action scenes and you've got an animated space opera with plenty to entertain older kids and adults. 

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