18 January 2019

The Top 25 Best Science Fiction Combat Scenes!

Since the first hunting stories where told around a fire, humans have been captivated by tales of combat and heroism. That just who we are at our core and those primitive stories have been upgraded due to the progress of technology and scientific understanding to forge the genre of science fiction. Today, tales of space warriors battling among the stars with laser swords and ray-guns are commonplace within the realm of popular entertainment. When most think of science fiction combat scenes from sci-fi on TV, in anime, video games, or in popular films; they imagine those large-scale space battles with starships trading colorful bolts of killer light. Quite recently, I was thinking of space battle scenes in sci-fi while watching an episode of  Star Trek: Enterprise on cable and decided it was high time FWS rank the top sci-fi combat scenes in the visual medium. After some posts on the Twitter and the Facebook to get the input of the FWS community, I came up with a list of the top 25 sci-fi combat scenes. Of course, I could not include every suggestion and I had to cut a few that I wanted to include, but the list could not be 50 or 100 examples. ENJOY!

The Criteria for Selection
These were tough choices and the FWS community helped me out to narrow down the massive amount of choices that exist in the whole of visual science fiction. Some of these were chosen for the historical importance and/or impact on the sci-fi as whole such as the Battle of Yavin IV from A New Hope and HALO 3: Landfall. Others were chosen for their gut reaction that had caused me to say: “I need a towel and a cigarette” afterwards.
When it came to works that contain a vast amount of sci-fi combat sequences, like Trek or Wars, the decision was much tougher. This list could be packed with examples from Star Trek, B5, Stargate, and Star Wars, but that would be not fair or representative of the wider realm of sci-fi combat in the visual medium. So, that meant that I had to boil down to the core of the battle scenes in those franchises. Some key moments in those franchises were not included like the first encounter with the Jem Hadar that resulted in the first combat loss of a Galaxy class starship, the first combat use of the Defiant, the Battle of Section 001, and the Battle of Proxima III.
One of the most dramatic battles in Star Trek history was the Battle of Wolf 359 and there are some that suggested that I include it on the list. However, we only see a brief moment of it in the series premier to DS9 and the aftermath in TNG. While critical important to Trek history, it cannot be included because we never see it. I did not include the Battle of Coruscant, which are critical moments in Star Wars canon due to their timing and placement in the canon. Tough choices had to be made. The Battle of Coruscants was a popular choice, but after watching it, the battle is more about Obi-Wan and Anakin which was the same for the epic face-off between Darth Maul and the Jedi in Episode I. Another thing that was deeply painful for me was not being able to include any combat scenes from Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato/Space Battleship Yamato 2199. I tired, but I felt that there was just better combat scenes and the second Starblazers TV series, the White Comet Empire, was just not aired in enough American TV markets to justify the inclusion of the final battle. 

1. The Battle of Yavin IV from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Most of the time, FWS does not assign numerical value to Top 10 lists, but here the number one slot is the actual number one combat scene in all of science fiction. While epic and thrilling, the Battle of Yavin IV was a revolution in special effects, audience engagement, and space battle sequences. Star Wars threw down the gauntlet and the rest of sci-fi had to pick it up. Until that 1977 film and its groundbreaking SFX, there had been few if any noteworthy sci-fi combat scenes and most were Godzilla kicked down Tokyo or invaders from Mars.  When audiencse witnessed Rebel assault on the first Death Star, what they would expect from sci-fi films was forever altered and just like in the fictional Star Wars universe, there is a before the Battle of Yavin and After the Battle of Yavin in sci-fi cinema history.

2. The Battle of New Caprica from Battlestar Galactica (2006)
For nearly a season, there had been buildup to the Colonial liberation of the occupied New Caprica and we were not disappointed. When the plan finally came together, we were treated an amazing moment in sci-fi combat scenes: Adama Maneuver. Having the Galactica burn into the atmosphere of New Caprica from a FTL jump, deploy fighters, then burn out using the FTL jump system was amazing. Then Galactica took on several basestars. With the end of the Galactica in sight, the Pegasus arrives and unleashes hell onto a basestar, destroying it and saving the Galactica. However, the Cylon force proves too much and the Pegasus, the second to last Battlestar in the known universe and the last of the Mercenary class is destroyed, but the Galactica is saved. Many have praised the combat scenes in this episode as the finest in the entire show and one of the greatest moments in sci-fi combat.

3. The Hawkmen Assault on War Rocket Ajax from Flash Gordon (1980)
Okay, I’ll admit it that this one is completely out of place because it is from one of the cheesiest sci-fi movies of all time that is also entertaining as hell. That does not take away from the power of the Hawken Assault on the War Rocket Ajax. I watched this movie repeatedly back in 1982 when it came on HBO as a wee lad and it has always stayed with me. With the booming power of Brian Blessing’s “DIVE!”, the organismic pounding of Queen’s score, and the overall kinetic nature of the scene all adds up to I need a towel and the soundtrack STAT.

4. The Battle of B5 from Babylon 5 “Severed Dreams”(1996)
Since Season Two of this great-but-uneven-show, there has been a conflict building between EarthGov and B5 and it peaked when President Clark attacked the breakaway colonies, forcing Sheridan to declare the independence from the Earth Alliance. This action causes Clark’s regime to send in a taskforce of Omega class and Prometheus class warships to force the station into surrendering. It is here that two independent Omega class warships join the fight with the station and we see just how good the defensive upgrades are.
What results is one of the finest space battles outside of Deep Space 9 and Stargate SG-1. It is one of the finest hours of the entire show. It was not just limited space combat, but also fighting within the station when EarthForce Marines board the station and engage the security forces in close quarters warfare. When EarthGov sends in reinforcements, it looks like the end for B5, and then Delenn shows up with a few Minbari cruisers and utters one of the best lines in the entire series. This was overwhelming chosen by the FWS community and I cannot agree more. 

5. The Battle of the Homeworld from Ender’s Game
In the realm of military science fiction literature, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card looms large and the science fiction community was excited by the news that a live-action big budget film was being made due to the popularity of the Hunger Games. While the film flopped, it was not due to the battle sequences and none where more epic than the final showdown at the homeworld of the Buggers. It was even better if you understood the twist. It was like Ender was a master conductor and all of the rest of the players on the battlefield and in the C3 center was the orchestra being perfectly guide to victory. 

6. Invasion of Planet P from Starship Troopers (1997)
This is where the tables turned for the Earth forces and their war effort. Unable to make the direct strike on the Bug homeworld of Klendathu after a bloody failed invastion, the plan was to "planet-hop" back to their homeworld. It is here, on Planet P, that once home to a illegal Mormon colony, that the Federation forces locates a brain-bug. In the 1997 film, there are two battles shown on Planet P. One was the scouting expedition to the Mormon outpost by the Roughnecks and then the full-on assault by the Federation forces to capture the Brain-Bug. Both battles are amazing, kinetic, over-the-top, and unlike anything seen on film before. With massive battles on land, underground, and in space, the overall invasion of Planet P is one of the best science fiction combat sequences with all of the humors and spent brass one would expect from SST.

7. Battle of Hoth from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Well, of course this one is going to be on the list…how could it not be? The Battle of Hoth is an amazing achievement in 1980 SFX technology and it works perfectly to clearly broadcast the military power of the Empire. This was one of the first to show combined arms in science fiction as well as live-action mecha-like vehicles. It was also awesome to see ground-to-space artillery on-screen as well. Very thing is here in this battle.

8. Battle of Geonosis from Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2002)
When Lucas finally announced that the prequels would be made, he was cashing a check he’d written in the original trilogy: that we’d see the Jedi Order at the apex of their power. All we had seen of the Jedi was a cyborg with breathing issues, a farm boy half-trained, and an old man well pass his prime. Now, it was finally time to see the Jedi as promised. Certainly the dual between Master Jinn, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul was thrilling, it was not the massive Jedi battles we had expected when imagining the Clone Wars.
That promise was fulfilled when the Battle of Genosis unfolded. It was during the Jedi assault on the arena that first saw a mass Jedi force engage an enemy force of insect aliens and droids. During the research phase for this entry, I learned something shocking about the Jedi Strikeforce sent to Geonosis. Over 200 Jedis were sent and only 32 survived. After watching the arena scene, I realized how much of a mess this part of the battle is and how it pales in comparison to the when the Clones arrive with Master Yoda. That is when the battle really picks up and we see the new hardware of the Clone Army.

9. Operation Return from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1996)
While there had been a few massive space fleet combat scenes in Trek, there was nothing like what we witnessed on November 3rd, 1997 with the launching of Operation: RETURN. 627 Federation ships of all eras, types, and even some assembled from the mothball fleet were present against over 1200 Dominion and Cardassian warships. It was a mammoth battle that was unlike anything ever seen in Trek history and in sci-fi TV. To accomplish this, the production turned away from traditional methods and used CGI. Many of us watching Sci-Fi TV at the time thought the October 12th , 1997 Battle for Earth in B5’s “Endgame” would be the most epic battle of the year, then came the retaking of the station by Starfleet along with Miles and Julian reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade as a prelude to the epic battle. This one of the most bold starship battles ever attempted at the time and still looms large over the genre. While some argue that the final battle at Cardassia is the peak of the Dominion War, however, that has the cardinal sin of space battles: recycled footage. This is not the Masters of the Universe cartoon okay?
 
10.  The Normandy Beach Assault from Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
One of the best science fiction movies and a damn fine novel is the 2014 Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. There is so much that this film does that we fans of sci-fi wanted for many years: infantry in exo-armor, a massive realistic sci-fi battle, and even a beach landing. While some of this was fulfilled by the excellent 2011 Battle: Los Angeles, Edge of Tomorrow’s Normandy Beach assault is one of the finest sci-fi battlescenes ever filmed and we get to see it over and over without it being tired. The only downside to the battlescenes in Edge of Tomorrow is the aliens themselves. I dislike their design and I nearly replaced this entry with the bridge battlescene from Battle: Los Angeles due to that, but then I rewatched the film and realized that this promise kept.   

11. Attack at the Atmosphere Processor ALIENS (1986)
Prior to this moment, the audience had only ever seen one Xenomorph creature on screen, but when the Colonial Marines tracked down the colonists at the atmospheric processor on LV-426, the stage was set for an amazing moment for the audience and something that had not been seen in sci-fi cinema before. What resulted was a master class in depicting a chaotic battle and building tension. It was a moment unlike any military sci-fi history and that was just an introduction for the battle of the Operation centers just an hour later in the film. This was combat, in in most personal and kinetic manner. Ending with Hicks shoving a shotgun into the mouth of a warrior drone and one of the greatest lines in the film, this battle is still amazing.

12. Battle of the Mutara Nebula from ST II: TWOK (1982)
Star Trek never had great combat scenes until 1982’s The Wrath of Khan and it was not a space battle between the Klingons or the Romulans, but Federation starship vs. Federation starship! After Khan’s Reliant deeply wounds the much larger refit USS Enterprise, the stage is set for a rematch…but given the damage to the Enterprise, Kirk orders the heavy cruiser into the Mutara Nebula to even the odds. What follows is a tense game of hunter-pray between Federation starships with beautiful special effects, great acting, and unforgettable music. When the end comes for Khan, he quotes Moby Dick and unleashes the forces of creation. While Star Wars had space fighter combat, Star Trek had ship-to-ship space battles. Sadly, it would be four movies until we got something close to the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek VI.

13. The 2372 Klingon Assault from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1995)
For many years, Star Trek as a whole has been writing a check about the Klingons that the franchise would have to cash at some point, that moment came on October 2nd, 1995. Aired as a feature length episode that is broken up over two episodes in syndication, it was a game-changer for Star Trek as a whole in terms of the bar being raised for space battle sequences. It also finally showed the Klingons in direct combat with the Federation in a major combat engagement. Prior to this, there had been a few space combat sequences for Trek here and there, but nothing in terms of scale or complexity as the 2372 Battle for Deep Space 9. The two hour episode “Way of the Warrior” features the Defiant engaging the Klingons to save Cardassian VIPs, the station using its upgraded weapons grid, and close quarters combat inside the station and the Root Beer scene. For me, this was the high point of DS9. It was here that great deal of story elements were laid down for the battle scenes that followed in the show and in any other Trek shows. 

14. HALO 3: Landfall (2008)
In 2008, the marketing campaign for HALO 3 was bold and expensive with Microsoft/Bungie diving in with a live-action “prequel” to the opening of HALO 3 featuring a ODST unit on a special mission. We fans of HALO and Military SF were very excited by the tense, realistic nature of the three part short videos directed by raising star Neill Blomkamp. When collected together, these shorts were called “Landfall” and it would serve as a template for the possible Peter Jackson produced Neill Blomkamp live-action HALO film project.
That aborted effort can be seen in Landfall and it stands as a testament to what could have been. Transforming a video game into a live-action visual product is very difficult proposition and the corpus of previous attempts litter DVD resale shops bins and Youtube videos. Somehow, Landfall was not a failure at all and wetted the appetite of us fans of both HALO and MSF. Landfall is military sci-fi combat like we’d almost never seen before and it was versatile, brutal, and involved ground combat. Plus, it did not feature any SPARTANs, but a live-action Warthog! I was deeply impressed by Landfall and I still am.   

15.  The Battle of Antarctica from Stargate: SG-1 (2004)
Often mentioned for inclusion on the list was the Battle of Antarctica seen in “The Lost City Pt.1 & Pt.2” when the SG-1 TV show came to a conclusion…just in case. In some ways, SG-1 in its 7th season was ready not to be renewed with the new show, Atlantis, being somewhat introduced in these two episodes. This battle was like many on the list here, it had building for some time and it was time to show it.

16.  The Siege of the City of Atlantis from SG: Atlantis (2005)
Since the beginning of the SG: Atlantis show, there had been a big battle written into the DNA of the show: when the Wraith get to Atlantis. That came in the excellent three part season 1-2 bridge “The Siege” episodes. I watched these at the time and they stand out as some of the best of the entire show and all manner of combat is shown: air, land, and space. When the Daedalus shows up and starts teleportaing nukes inside the Wraith warships is a moment we fans of Trek have wanted to see for years and Atlantis delivered on that. Even if you are not a fan of Atlantis, these are worth watching.

17. The Battle over Area 51 from ID4 (1996)
While regarded today as a somewhat cheesy 1990’s sci-fi flick, there is no doubt the power of ID4 when it first aired back in the summer of 1996 and we loved it for what it was. I saw this movie in the theater in Wichita with my fiance at the time just before she left for the Army and it was a great time. While this movie ages quickly, like yogurt left in the Texas sun it was an amazing experience with an amazing speech. When the final battle comes over Area 51, it was a great moment in sci-fi combat scenes even with that space hacking moment with a pre-Apples-are-the-coolness-computers Mac PowerBook 5300 laptop. 

18.  The Battle of Endor from Star Wars: ROTJ (1983)
This was it and we all knew it in 1983: the end of the story. The climax of the original trilogy was going to be shown in ROTJ and we were not disappointed despite the recycled Death Star and the Ewoks. It is here that all of the story and SFX come together to show one of the last pivot battles of the Galactic Civil War. Luke and Vader finally have their showdown, Han and Leia get together, the Rebel and Imperial fleet fight, and we see how much good is within Darth Vader. On the special effects side, the Battle of Endor is the top of the game for ILM with the surface combat on Moon of Endor, the space combat, and the dual between Luke and Vader. So far, there has not been a battle like this in the SW universe with the final showdown in the Prequels being Anakin and Obi-Wan and the jury still out on the sequel trilogy.

19.  Assault of the Thoth Station from the Expanse (2018)
One of the best science fiction TV shows on at present is the SyFy Channel's The Expanse. One example that came up repeatedly from the FWS community was the assault on Thoth Station by the OPA Guy Molinari, the defeat of the stealth frigate and the boarding of the station. This is a powerful sequence showing something very close to an "hard science" space battle and watching the little warship dance around the larger warship was memorizing while KEWs tracers dance in the blackness of space. I also enjoyed the Swiss cheese effect of incoming projectiles had on the inside of the Guy Molinari.  

20.  The Mass Effect Trilogy End Battle Scenes (2007-2012)
Before the Andromeda debacle, the Mass Effect trilogy by BioWare was one of the most celebrated sci-fi stories in all of sci-fi video games. Naturally, the end of the each game was epic in scale and emotional impact. I could not just pick one, I had to pick them all. For me, the end battles of one and three were awesome, but less involvement for the player. While the second game (my least favorite in the series) had one hell of a player guided battle at the end that had real long-term impact.  All of this adds up to some of the best in cinematic sci-fi battle sequences in one of the best Military SF video game franchises.

21. Battle of Scarif  from Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
While I am not a fan of the messy Rogue One film, the Battle of Scarif was one often mentioned by the FWS community, and I agree with them. This battle was a combination of space, air, and ground combat that is a kinetic storm of everything that made Star Wars what it is and it is done with awesome special effects. The cherry on the cake was that moment when Darth Vader takes matter into his own hands. When that red lightsaber lights up the darkened corridor onboard the Rebel starship, you know shit was about to go down.

22. Future War Scenes from The Terminator (1984) and T2 (1991)
Many of the best sci-fi combat scenes listed here are in the cold void of outer space, but one of the finest battles in a future setting shown on the big screen was the darkly beautiful and haunting War against the Machine scenes in The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2 (1991). There have been few future wars seen as bleak as in Cameron’s 1984 masterpiece and these dark scenes were built upon to show a large-scale battle between the machines of Skynet and John Conner’s resistance group in the explosive opening to the 1991 sequel.
There was to be more in T2 than just the battle, showing the raid into Skynet’s temporal laboratories and the Resistance locating the proper infiltration model. Despite the age of these films, the 2029 battle scenes in the dark future are a wonder that is unique among military science fiction.


23. The Reavers vs. the Alliance Battle from Serenity (2005)
Many of the battles on this list are the culmination of the central conflict of the story. Within the DNA of the much celebrated and very shiny Firefly was the Reavers and the Alliance. While the TV show did not feature any space battles due to the setting outside the transformative Battle of Serenity Valley, many fans believed that if the show had continued, that the showdown between the Alliance and the crew of the Serenity was coming. In a brilliant move, Joss Whedon decided to wrap the Firefly storyline with the 2005 film.
When the truth of the Reavers was discovered by the crew of the Serenity and the Alliance was destroying anyone assoicated with the little firefly class vessel, they turned to the worst enemy of the 'Verse: the Reavers. To prevent Reynolds from getting to the broadcast equipment of Mr. Universe, an Alliance fleet was waiting for Serenity, but they did not count on a massive Reaver fleet showing up behind him. Space harpoons, leaves on the wind, thrilling acts of heroics, and River being unleashed all add toppings to a wonderful sundae of sci-fi action and storytelling. This amazing memorable climax that caused me to cry. Love that gorram movie and I cried at the end of this movie...RIP Wash. 

24Magog Assault on the Andromeda from Gene Rhoddenberry's Andromeda (2001)
It is rare that an entire series can be summed up by one episode, but the uneven Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda is such a show with the season one finale: “Its Hour has come around at Last!” Here, an older version of the AI Rommie takes control of the High Guard warship and embarks on its last mission prior to Hunt taking command: evaluating the World Ship of the Magog. The entire is slaughtered and it looked like history was going to repeat itself. Everything works here and the Magog assault on the Andromeda Ascent is filled with emotions and brutal combat for survival. The apex is when Harper and Tyr battle Magog, run out of juice for their DE weapons and they prepare to engage in hand-to-hand combat with knives. Powerful stuff and the finest moments in the series that was mostly downhill from there.

25. The Assault of the Zentrendi Armada On Earth from ROBOTECH (1985)
This was a tough one for me because there are number of classic battle scenes in the ROBTOECH series and in anime in general. I researched various battles and gauged my physical reaction and then I know…it had to be the Zentrendi Armada assault on the Earth from ROBOTECH. The episode “Force of Arms” is an experience I can still remember from my first watch of ROBOTECH Macross back around 1985/1986 and it still provokes an emotion reaction to this day.  At the time, I had the same reaction as Lisa Hayes when she cried out that the Zentrendi could not be doing what they are doing: killing millions of Terrans in the blink of eye.
In minutes, an apocalyptic holocaust of unimaginable scale is reaped on the Earth. The vast majority of the human race is killed in the assault by 4.8 million alien warships and the surface of the Earth is scarred. The brave defenders of the RDF, their allied Zentrendi forces along with the Grand Cannon attempt to save what little is left of the human race and mother Earth from the enemy. This was the apex of the Macross stoyline and even features the only Lynn Minmay song I actually like and tolerate. There some beautiful scenes in this episode especially when Rick rescues Lisa and they watch the battle from the ruins of Alaska Base. While this one is a personal choice, I felt like it could not be ignored given the impact of ROBOTECH/Macross and how it scarred/inspirited a generation. 

Next Time on FWS...
I've been admirer of Ken Burnside's words and wisdom for sometime via AtomicRockets and it is finally time for FWS to review three of Ken Burnside's technical manuals on hard science space warfare, along with interviewing the man himself. Join FWS next time for a special Book Review blogpost!

17 comments:

  1. Great List- thanks for compiling- my two personal favourites- The one from Aliens and Edge of Tomorrow!

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  2. Nice list but I think you should have dropped one of the Star Wars battles in favour of something from Battle Los Angeles.The whole film is a battle.

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    1. Battle Los Angeles is going to get its own article as a forgotten classic.

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  3. Excellent list! I did notice a few things, though. Pegasus was a Mercury class, no a Mercenary class. Also, the GIF is from a different episode in season 2.

    And maybe it's because I'm going to start teaching again this week, but there were a good amount of typos that were actually distracting. Might want to give this a read through.

    Amazing work as always, though! Keep it up!

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  4. Great list but I agree that Battle Los Angeles should be in there. Also another quick correctuco the other ships in the battle for B5 were Hyperion class Heavy Cruisers. I think the B5 mix-up comes from the first time we see a Hyperion class in the show, the ships name was Prometheus.

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  5. Haha had a typos myself, damn small key boards *correction

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  6. Great list! A couple of choices surprise me but I cannot argue their place with the others.

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  7. Nicely done including Robotech. Watching that as a kid, being used to GI Joe where nobody dies, was amazing. Love live Robotech.

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  8. SO COOL! Waiting for other posts about firearms!

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  9. Great list, William. While I'm a huge fan of the Flash Gordon film I would have put Battle Los Angeles over the Hawkmen. Looking forward to the Starfighter post.

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  10. Pity there is no mention of Death Match of Vermillion from Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1990s OVA not the remake). You can watch it on Hidive. This battle face Free Planet Alliance fleet of 16,420 ships against Galactic Empire fleet of 26,940 ships. Source: https://gineipaedia.com/wiki/Battle_of_Vermilion

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    1. Almost any battle from LOGH should have made this list, although I'm partial to the Bolero sequence (or in LOGH lore, the Fourth Battle Of Tiamat) from My Conquest Is The Sea Of Stars movie. There's so many twists and turns in that battle amid what looks like a battle of attrition. It's just an amazing sequence of animation.

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  11. You accidently called the Rocinante the Guy Molinari, both took part in the assault but the Guy Molinari was the freighter/troopship while the Rocinante was the ship doing the actual fighting an' darting. Totally agree with you though, the battle of Thoth station was just as awesome as the battle with the Donnager!

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  12. It's kind off obscure, but I would nominate the final battle of VOTOMS's Shining Heresy OVA as one simply because it has what I think is the best example of realistic mini mecha combat.

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  13. With so many choices, I think the movies that simply have current military forces fighting aliens could be scrubbed. No ID4 or B:LA; include them on an Alien Invader FAIL list.LOTGH could have a million ships fighting and you'd still yawn yourself to sleep.

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