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Epic Launch Sequence

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"What a beautiful sight."
Salvage corvette pilot, Homeworld

Some vessels are of such sheer magnitude — be it physically, technologically, or historically — that the act of embarking on their maiden voyage becomes a spectacle in and of itself, a dramatic and memorable event to match the scale of the ship itself. Thus you have the Epic Launch Sequence.

This is often the preserve of a Mile-Long Ship, where the simple fact of getting that much ship moving under its own power can be an achievement in and of itself. However, smaller vessels are quite eligible for their own epic launch—it may be a new prototype undergoing its first test flight, or an intrepid explorer's ship embarking on a grand adventure to uncharted frontiers.

No matter the specifics, this trope generally serves to indicate that the vessel in question will be important, possibly even central, to a story's plot. It may be the primary setting of a movie or TV series, or the player's personal vessel in a game. It may be the villain's sinister flagship announcing an escalation of the conflict. Either way, it's important enough that the creative team comes together and gives it their all— the effects teams and the composers really flex their fingers to show it off and leave you in no doubt of its glory.

Some epic launches may be recycled quite a bit over a series' course if the vehicle in question finds itself setting off frequently, which may take this trope into Engaging Chevrons territory.

Compare and contrast Fighter-Launching Sequence.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Now and Then, Here and There, King Hamdo's gigantic flying fortress, Hellywood, is the subject of a truly amazing launch sequence in the 10th episode. This is the only time the show ever goes for spectacle, as the rest of it is too busy being depressing.
  • Thunderbirds 2086, alias Scientific Rescue Team Techno Voyager, features one of these which involves the three main craft launching simultaneously and then linking up to form a single vehicle before it heads off to perform its mission. It's never quite been clear whether Thunderbird 4 could be carried in a pod or not...

    Films — Animation 
  • A Grand Day Out: The rocket that Wallace and Gromit build in their basement rumbles tensely for several seconds—attracting an audience of mice in the process — until Gromit remembers to take the handbrake off.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Apollo 13: The launch of the Saturn V rocket carrying the craft. Reportedly so realistic that Buzz Aldrin asked director Ron Howard during an advance screening how he had obtained the footage from NASA, only for Howard to tell him they'd done it themselves.
  • Battleship: The eponymous warship, USS Missouri, is given a proper revival when it's needed for the final assault.
  • Galaxy Quest: Played for Laughs. The Protector 2's launch receives rather less than the gravitas it deserves, because Tommy Webber has no idea how to actually fly the thing and ends up veering into the side of the spacedock, producing a horrible nails-on-chalkboard screech until they finally clear it.
  • Although it had made ten trans-Atlantic flights in 1936, The Hindenburg emerging from its hangar in Friedrichshafen and being prepped for launch held security chief Colonel Ritter in awe. In its day, the LZ-129 was the largest airship on Earth, and could cross the Atlantic faster than the British luxury liner R.M.S. Queen Mary.
  • The Hunt for Red October starts with the launch of the titular sub, complete with Ominous Russian Chanting.
  • The launch of K-19: The Widowmaker was an occasion for the Soviet Navy, being their first nuclear submarine. The proud moment gets a Portent of Doom when the delicate female fails to shatter the bottle of champagne against the sub's bow during the christening ceremony.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: A small one that's easy to miss, but near the end of the film, when Nemo orders the Nautilus to go ahead full, the massive "Sword of the Ocean" goes from a dead-stop to a speed fast enough for hydroplaning to push the bow out of the water within about two seconds.
  • Star Trek, being as space-centric as it is, is a rich furrow of these:
    • Star Trek: The Motion Picture features the launch of the refitted Enterprise. The footage would then be reused (with different music) in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
    • Star Trek: Generations starts with (retired) Captain Kirk, along with Scotty and Chekov, attending the launch of the Enterprise-B. Then things go to hell when they're called upon to rescue two ships in distress and the equipment they need won't arrive until Tuesday.
    • Star Trek: First Contact: The Phoenix arguably manages this twice in one flight — first as it blasts off from its silo in Bozeman, Montana (with Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" blaring on the way up), and second as it deploys its prototype warp engines and makes the jump to lightspeed, setting in motion a path that will change the face of the galaxy forever.
    • Subverted in Star Trek (2009), when the Federation sends a fleet of ships to respond to a distress call, Sulu is given the order to engage the Enterprise in its maiden warp jump. The warp engines don't engage, and Sulu has to be reminded that he left the external inertial dampener (a.k.a. the "parking brake") on. That little mishap literally saved the Enterprise from being completely obliterated by Nero's ship, as the rest of the fleet was immediately destroyed.
  • The Titanic leaving Southampton in the 1997 film, with an enormous crowd cheering on. The film also omits the Real Life near-collision with another ship, so the launch proceeds without a hitch.
  • The 1929 German silent film Woman in the Moon invented the idea of having a countdown before launching a rocket, in order to increase the drama of the launch. The moment where a giant three-stage rocket is assembled in a cavernous building, then trundled to the launch pad by means of a huge transport platform down a dual-tracked road has uncanny similarities to the Apollo program three decades later. It's then lowered into a large pool of water from which it launches with close-ups of dials and straining facial expressions to portray the crushing pressures of acceleration that would become obligatory tropes of sci-fi movies in the 1950's and 60's.

  • Horus Heresy: The Word Bearer battleship Furious Abyss gets one when it's launched from the asteroid Thule in the prologue of "Battle for the Abyss". A solid four pages are devoted to describing the ship's appearance, its crew embarking, and its eventual departure.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Expanse, the starship L.D.S.S. Nauvoo is launched in "Godspeed" after being hijacked by the OPA to destroy Eros. The Nauvoo is a Generation Ship originally built to colonize the Tau Ceti system, and is so big that hundreds of smaller drone-ships have to dock with it and fire their engines to help it maneuver.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise:
    • The pilot episode features the launch of the titular starship, which also represents the launch of Earth's endeavor to truly explore the galaxy. The sequence would be reused twice throughout the series, the first time when the refitted and re-armed Enterprise sets off on her new mission to find the Xindi, and the second time when she rededicates herself to peaceful exploration.
    • The starship Columbia gets her own, similar send-off when she's launched in "Affliction" after months of delays.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a special where they showed clips of movies nominated for Oscars in 1998 and still riffed on them. Titanic is represented by the launch sequence. One of the jokes riffs on the contrast of the titular ship's launch and a simple raft sailing by.
    Tom Servo: Oh sure, I launch and nobody cares!
  • The Orville, being an Affectionate Parody of Star Trek, has a genuinely majestic departure from the dockyard in the first episode.

  • Rush's song "Countdown" is about one of these.
  • The Moody Blues song "Higher and Higher" begins with what can only be described as a musical representation of a rocket launch. There's even a sequence in which one stage drops away and a second one takes over.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Thunderbirds: Tracy Island seems to have been completely repurposed specifically to facilitate this trope, as each of the eponymous vehicles gets its own lengthy sequence of being moved into position every time they launch, complete with sections of the landscape moving aside.
  • Before that, Stingray (1964) had the launch of the eponymous super-sub show the way. Starting with the descent of the heroes on their seats down poles into Stingray (accompanied by catchy drumbeats), it continued with the submarine submerging and commencing a 10-mile trip along a narrow tunnel (WASP HQ is a naval base, so naturally it's located 10 miles inland for security reasons), ultimately emerging from the Ocean Door into the Pacific. Like most Anderson launches, it was rarely seen in full after the pilot episode; most times, all that was seen was Stingray coming out of the Ocean Door.

    Video Games 
  • Many vehicle-centric sandbox games such as Kerbal Space Program and Space Engineers are, in part, effectively dedicated to creating your very own.
  • Elite Dangerous:
    • While there's not much in terms of visuals during the "setup" phases of a fleet carrier's jump sequence, the actual jump is truly a sight to behold, as a bright flash in front of the ship gives way to an ominous black void, at which point you see the ship advance toward and into this void, vanishing entirely in less time than it takes for a smaller ship to go through its entire jump sequence. The update that added concourses to carriers made it even better, as now players that are out of their ship when the carrier begins its lockdown sequence can watch the jump from the carrier's observation deck instead of just hearing it from their ship within the enclosed hangar bay.
    • At one point during the game's pre-Horizons days, Orbis-class station Jacques Station managed to become the first station to mount a booster podnote  post-completion, sparking an entire in-game event where the station's owner and namesake tasked players from across the galaxy to deliver enough fuel for him to make a mammoth jump to Beagle Point of all places. Unfortunately subverted, however, as not only did game limitations mean you couldn't physically see the station leave (it was simply "scooted" during some scheduled downtime), but the aging station couldn't make the entire jump, and had to make an emergency drop partway, which damaged the station to the point that it couldn't risk another jump.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: The quest "Come Fly With Me" has the Courier helping a cult of ghouls bring some pre-war rockets to working order so they can reach their promised land in "the Far Beyond". Once the rockets are up and ready and the ghouls are aboard, they give you the honor of launching them. The original engineers of the facility were clearly going for this trope, as "Ride of the Valkyries" starts playing the moment you flip the switch.
  • Halo: Reach: Near the end of the game, you're given a special package and told to deliver it to a drydocked ship before the Covenant destroy either of them and humanity's chances of winning the war, and nothing else. Said ship is immediately revealed to be none other than the Pillar of Autumn as soon as you lay eyes on it, even though it's at least a mile away when you first see it. Naturally, many players wanted to see the ship take off once they'd finished the mission. Guess what?
  • Homeworld: The Mothership represents the culmination of a complete shift in the Kushan peoples' perspective and culture, and a century of dedicated development. It does not disappoint.
  • Jedi Outcast: Galak Fyarr's dreadnought, the Doomgiver, gets a villainous version as it sets off from Cairn Station, scored to the Imperial March.
  • Mass Effect 2: The newly christened Normandy SR-2 is given a good sendoff.
  • Kerbal Space Program:
    • Many of the larger rocket launches can easily become this, especially if the total size of the completed rocket is over twice the size of the VAB. Other designs may be small or compact enough to fit in the building, or are designed to be launched in smaller sections and assembled in orbit, but will still be unconventional enough to warrant a prayer or two as you cross your fingers and hope the damn thing doesn't collapse under it's own weight, or crush the pad, or do both.
    • On the subject of assembling rockets in orbit: Finally taking the helm of the completed super-ship, and firing up it's engines to fly off to some untold adventure.
    • Hell, any rocket launch can become this if the player doesn't have much experience with them, and some may consider just making it out of the space center in the first place to be an achievement.
  • Sonic The Hedgehog
    • Sonic the Hedgehog 2: a little over halfway through Sky Chase Zone, Eggman's Wing Fortress is seen taking off. With how close the Wing Fortress is to Sonic and Tails when it lifts off, the player can discern some of the following Zone's layout.
    • At the beginning of Sonic/Tails's version of Sky Sanctuary Zone in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the Death Egg can be seen rising above the clouds as it launches into space.
    • In Gamma's story in Sonic Adventure, there is a cutscene where the Egg Carrier takes flight.
    • Sonic Adventure 2 has Sonic rushing to board a space shuttle bound for the Space Colony ARK. In the Hero Story, this cutscene is accompanied by an epic Orchestral Bombing crescendo.
  • Super Mario Galaxy: Throughout the game, you're told that the Comet Observatory requires Grand Stars to be able to return to full power and travel through the stars again. Naturally, many players were initially confused as to how something that looks like a space station can achieve intergalactic travel, only to realize that said craft had "comet" in it's name for a reason.

    Western Animation 
  • Thunderbirds Are Go: Much like the original, Thunderbirds Are Go is likewise filled with it's fair share of launches. And while most of them are largely reproduced (TB1 still comes out of the pool, for example), the one sequence that was completely changed is Thunderbird 4's "island" launch, first seen in SOS Part 2 (S3E13): Instead of just taxiing(!?) out of it's module and plummeting off the end of Thunderbird 2's runway, it instead gets a proper sub-aqua launch sequence worthy of this trope.

    Real Life 
  • Considering how far our space program has gotten compared to our fictional counterparts, rocket launches in general can be seen as this, as most designs require complex logistical challenges just to get them off the ground. Not to mention that, unlike said counterparts, most rockets don't have enough thrust to send them soaring into the air in the first second, it takes at least 3-5 just to overcome it's own momentum. Plus, if a rocket fails, you can't just revert back to the launch pad and try again, you've got to start over from scratch.


Video Example(s):


USS Enterprise

USS Enterprise departs spacedock on what is at first a normal training cruise.

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Example of:

Main / EpicLaunchSequence

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