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The Mothership

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"If we plant a virus into that mothership, it's gonna then filter down into all the corresponding ships below. … We then set off some kind of explosion, which will disable it, and that will disorient the smaller ships below, and that could buy us at least some time to, uh, take'em out, take'em down, do your – do your stuff."
David Levinson, Independence Day

It might be shiny, or a little more gritty, or just plain cool, but however it's built, it obviously looks very important. And it's got a lot of Mooks in tow. It's the commanding flagship of a large alien army, keeping tabs over its soldiers and scouts, and thus is one of a kind in its army.

Blowing it up can render the multitudes of the once superior invaders leaderless and rid the universe of the Macguffin kept inside it. There's no mistaking that taking it down will win an automatic victory for the good guys. But if the mothership is also a big fat battleship, the normal arsenal of weapons won't break its superior Deflector Shields (and will only prompt a response with its own Wave-Motion Gun), so our heroes are probably going to have to resort to some Zany Scheme to topple it.

The fact that bringing it down might cause problems of its own is usually Handwaved.

A variant has a mothership in charge of a bunch of exploration scouts, one of which will inevitably get left on Earth and needs one Earthling's help to rendezvous with it.

See also: Standard Sci-Fi Fleet, Flying Saucer. If its purpose is to colonize a new planet, it's also a Colony Ship. Might overlap with The Battlestar if it doesn't already harbor dozens of Battlestars inside it. Not to be confused with the other kind of ship.

Also not to be confused with The Mothership.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Calvin's imagination, when Susie is a hostile alien out of a mothership, said mothership will be impersonated by... his mother.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Ytirflirks were an alien race that enslaved the aliens known as gremlins for their mechanics and went about making war on other planets until the gremlins revolted and stole their mothership, crashing it on earth and killing/wreaking their enslaver's chain of command.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The giant rusted-out ship that serves as a "smoker colony" in Waterworld, home base of the story's villains the Smokers (who use ancient oil-based motor vessels), and which turns out to be (at least in that universe) the former Exxon Valdez.
  • The big ship in Independence Day
    • Emphasis on the big. It was supposed to be 1/4th the mass of the Moon. Most asteroids are smaller. Justified if you consider the hull to be some superdense degenerate matter for radiation shielding.
    • In the sequel the mothership is comparable in diameter to the moon itself.
  • The moon-sized planet killer called the Death Star from Star Wars.
    • The Empire Strikes Back features the Super Star Destroyer Executor, a nineteen kilometre long command ship and Darth Vader's private headquarters.
    • The prequels' droid control ships are a literal example of the "blow it up and the Mecha Mooks will likely give up" aspect of this trope, as the droid armies can't function without them.
    • The sequel trilogy introduces the Supremacy, a sixty kilometre wide flying wing that serves as the First Order’s self-sufficient mobile capital. It’s described as an all-in-one warship, shipyard, army base, factory complex, and research facility.
  • The Ko-Dan Command Ship in The Last Starfighter. (Since it controlled several fighter squadrons, it may also qualify as The Battlestar.)
  • A Chitauri mothership appears at the climax of The Avengers. Iron Man steers a nuke into it, and just like the droid control ships from the Star Wars prequels, the Chitauri can't function without them.
  • Alien mothership in Pixels, which produces the pixel characters and coordinates the attacks.

  • Dune's Guild Heighliners might count as a variation. They're designed to transport hundreds of smaller ships over interstellar distances, but the smaller ships don't belong to the Heighliners as such.
  • 'Ship' of the less-read WorShip series is a straighter example; after generations of housing the genetic stock of humanity en route to and around the planet Pandora, the AI considers itself the population's progenitor.
  • Ender's Game has at least one mothership that is hidden among the other ships, but destroying it severs the Hive Mind. The film keeps this but undermines itself by making the mothership into a carrier ship many times larger than its drone swarms, thus making it the obvious target.
  • The Star Trek novel Final Frontier showcases the Romulan "swarm," a military unit of six ships, each carrying a full crew. Eventually, after the as-yet-unnamed Enterprise manages to defeat these, a much larger ship comes, bearing hundreds of these little ships. Fortunately for the ship and crew, including Robert April, Sarah Poole (later April), and George Samuel Kirk (father of everyone's favorite Large Ham Captain and family), the Romulans have never heard of Transporter technology. 1 bomb + 1 power core = Oh, Crap! moment for the Romulans.
  • The Lighthuggers from Revelation Space are four-kilometer-long spacecraft capable of reaching near-light speed. They contain numerous smaller craft and can use their onboard factories to produce more as needed, and can carry up to one hundred thousand frozen people.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Invasion, the Faata starship definitely fits the trope. It is massive in size and, while not possessing powerful (or any really) weapons itself, is able to launch numerous "battle modules" armed with antimatter weapons (hundreds of larger modules triple the size of a human cruiser and thousands of fighter-sized modules). The ship's Deflector Shield can easily shrug off a nuclear barrage with a combined strength in the gigaton range. It also carries a huge army of Super Soldiers ready to invade. The second novel Retaliation shows that it is just one of many Faata ships. In fact, three more are being constructed not to far from Earth. The second novel also reveals that these ships are a part of the Faata "unlimited expansion" doctrine. When a ship arrives to a colonisable system, it settles one or more planets, then moves on with a new command crew (the old command crew typically takes up leader positions in the colony). The colony is then expected to build and send out at least one ship of its own. The main disadvantage of the Faata is their low birth rate, which means that all their colonies are pretty small by human standards.
  • A gigantic disc-shaped automated mothership is encountered in one of The History of the Galaxy novels. It was created long ago by one of the Precursor races as an exploration and terraforming craft. Due to most of the galaxy being unknown to the race, they equipped the ship with powerful weapons and defenses, as well as the capability to manufacture and launch fighter drones. When the ship returned centuries later, it discovered many other ships in the systems occupied by the race. These were later models that were not designed for combat. Treating them as hostile, the ship started a war and eventually wiped them out by using its built-in ability to replicate itself given enough resources. When first encountered, the humans have trouble defeating the ship. Understandably, they're horrified to learn that there are hundreds more just like that.
  • In Animorphs, while the (human) Animorphs refer to the main Yeerk ship as the Mothership, the Yeerks and Andalites refer to it as the Pool Ship. It acts as a command, heavy transport, and supply ship in contrast to the Blade Ship (a ship of war).
  • In the later Honor Harrington books, the CLACsnote  were developed, allowing a hyper-capable fleet to carry hundreds of the small ships to serve as a screening force (or to harass enemy formations, or to intercept enemy LACs when they attempted to do the same...). While the CLAC is a direct analogue to the "Wet Navy" aircraft carrier, the LACs themselves are more akin to Torpedo Boats. Manticoran CLACs tend to be dreadnoughts, as their LAC doctrine favors using them for attack. Meanwhile, Havenite CLACs are superdreadnoughts, as their primary goal is to protect the fleet from enemy LACs, which requires a larger number of LACs to provide greater coverage.
  • Area 51: Along with the flying saucers (bouncers) the US government long ago found a carrier ship for them, which they call the "alien mothership". For decades they couldn't even get inside due to its hull being utterly impenetrable with their tools. Eventually though they managed to on the basis of new information, with the idea of turning its engine on (they theorized it had interstellar FTL capabilities). Stopping this because it might result in a disaster makes up part of the first book.
  • Gold in the Sky by Alan E. Nourse. Orbit-ships are used by Asteroid Miners to store ore and coordinate operations while the scout ships go out and find the ore. These range from the ramshackle Retro Rocket of the independent miners to the 400-man fortress-ship of Jupiter Equatorial.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Every evil race ever in the Stargate-verse.
    • The Ha'tak vessels and their larger counterparts in Stargate SG-1, followed by the Ori motherships.
    • The Hive ships in Stargate Atlantis, holding thousand of Wraith, and able to deployed the small darts.
    • The catfish aliens in Stargate Universe also have motherships, though they're rather puny by comparison to Destiny (more like carriers, really).
  • In Earth: Final Conflict, the race known as the Taelons came to Earth in a glowing purple mothership made of living tissue, and ship remains in orbit for duration of the series. Unlike many examples on this page, the Taelons came in peace.
  • V (1983) features multiple alien Motherships throughout the show. The V (2009) reboot continues this trend and heavily featured them in the show's advertising.
  • This trope appears from time to time in Super Sentai and its adaptation ''Power Rangers, whenever the villains of the show are of alien origin. Strangely enough, most of these motherships are the only ships ever appearing during their respective invasions, but are still regarded as such in supplemental material.
    • The Gozma from Dengeki Sentai Changeman plan their invasion from earth from their Mothership Gozmard.
    • The Warstar faction from Tensou Sentai Goseiger has the Indevader as its mothership. This ship is able to suck out the oxygen from whatever planet it's invading. In a last ditch effort against the rangers, the alien leader Mons Drake plans to collide the ship with earth to cause an enormous oxygen explosion. Power Rangers Megaforce averts this trope, as the Warstar aliens are merely a scouting force send by the much larger Armada.
    • The Zangyack Empire from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger head their invasion force from the Gigant Horse, which looks like a giant carriage drawn by two horses. Contrary to how Sentai usually depicts this trope, the Gigant Horse is accompanied by a massive fleet of smaller ships. The Gigant Horse is able to enlarge monsters using a special laserbeam. This ship also appears in Power Rangers Super Megaforce as part of the aforementioned Armada.

  • Iron Savior, of Iron Savior. Complete with jet-turbines whining and the occasional Fighter-Launching Sequence.
  • Parliament, especially in the seminal 1975 album Mothership Connection, as well as subsequently throughout the Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton milieu; it is the spaceship of Dr. Funkenstein who comes to Earth to cure all man's ills with the P-Funk.

    Video Games 
  • There are various in the X-Universe series:
    • In X: Beyond the Frontier, a the generic-named Xenon M0 is a giant spinny thing that must be destroyed as part of the plot.
    • In X2: The Threat, the Kha'ak get one (which spins too, like all Kha'ak capital ships after all), armed with a Planet Destroyer laser. It is destroyed during the plot as well.
    • The Xenon/Terraformer CPU-ship #deca in X3: Terran Conflict. The CPU ships are sentient and control nearby Xenon fighter craft. They can dock up to 50 fighters internally, are massive, and have a very menacing appearance.
      • A later patch added a mission featuring #efaa, and #cafe, One sentient, the other having a glitch in its attempt to gain sentience, helped along by the already sentient one.
      • As an aversion to the past examples though, none of them is required to be destroyed.
      • Still from Terran Conflict, there's the Aran, a Big Dumb Object capable of bringing around with itself another capital ship, in addition to 30 corvettes and/or fighters. Differently from the other examples, it is made especially for player use. Too bad he only way to find it is by Blind Jump.
  • High Charity in the Halo series is actually more of a mobile space station and serves as the Covenants "Homeworld". But as the goal of the Great Journey gets very close, and the Covenant is starting to break apart at the edges, the Prophet of Truth also uses it as his flagship.
  • Colony Wars introduced a ~2000 metre-long titan-class ship, and then later the final boss, a ~4000M Super Titan.
  • Destroy All Humans! has this for the Furons, Cryto and Pox in particular.
  • Earth Defense Force 2017.
  • Mothership Zeta in Fallout 3.
  • One of the finest videogame examples is Homeworld, in which the only real entity that can be called a character is the Mothership.
    • The Mothership can also build carriers that function like mini-motherships in their own right, in case the Mothership gets destroyed or gets critically damaged.
    • This is continued with the Kuun-Lan command ship in Homeworld: Cataclysm (albeit smaller in size but more combat-capable) and the Pride of Hiigara mothership in Homeworld 2.
  • The Titan ships, again, from EVE Online. All in excess of 15km, and all ridiculously costly to build.
    • Super-carriers were originally called motherships in the game before they switched to the current name. This is probably because they were originally advertised as having clone vat bays and larger maintenance hangers (which would have allowed them to fit this trope), but had that feature dropped before they were added. It could also be because there is a type of Jovian craft in the lore known as the mothership. They are reportedly the in universe inspiration for titans, though they are much deadlier than them.
  • Sovereign, from Mass Effect which is actually sentient, and one of the frighteningly powerful Reapers.
    • As well as Sovereign, each race in Mass Effect has dreadnoughts that are extremely few in number compared to other ships in the various fleets. They're similar in size to a human carrier, but otherwise are much bigger than the ships around them. They also carry kinetic weapons capable of impacting in the multiple-dozen-kiloton range, which is what makes them so special. The stand out example is the asari super-dreadnought Destiny Ascension, a unique ship that is also the single largest and most powerful warship in the galaxy (Reapers excluded). Human carriers are the straghtest example, trading the heavy gun for a higher fighter capacity; this allows them to bypass arms treaties limiting dreadnaught numbers. According to background information this is a big part of why humans (a newly spacefaring race with only a few undeveloped colonies) punch so far above their weight.
  • The Protoss Mothership in Starcraft II comes with quite a bit of special abilities.
    • However, the name is a bit misleading since it doesn't harbor any other spacecraft. The Carrier does that instead.
      • The Hyperion and Leviathan serve as mobile bases for the player in Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, effectively filling this role.
      • Legacy of the Void has the Spear of Adun, the game's equivalent of the Hyperion and Leviathan. But not only it can carry most of the protoss army inside of it, it can also carry the protoss fleet, including several Carriers and Motherships.
  • Star Fox has a hero's example, the Great Fox.
    • The Katina stage in Star Fox 64 has an enemy version as well, explicitly called a mothership and acting very much like one.
      • Then again, that ship was just an expy of the Independence Day city-killer ships: it launched countless fighter craft, and was capable of shooting a giant laser beam levelling anything on the ground beneath it.
  • The Juggernaut from Stellaris.
  • The Skaarj Mothership from Unreal Tournament 2004.
  • Scrin Motherships from Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, which are armed with catalyst cannons similar to the city-killer ships from Independence Day.
  • Freespace has the SD Lucifer. Killing it wasn't an instant-win for the good guys; the war lasted several more months as they had to clean up the remaining Shivan fleet, but background information says that the Shivans became disorganized and confused after the Lucifer's destruction. The SJ Sathanas in the sequel is set up to look like a mothership as well, but it is just one of nearly one hundred the Shivans possess, in that one fleet alone.
  • UFO Aftershock has the Laputa,note  a flying city built by the Reticulans which has been converted into a mobile headquarters by the Commonwealth of Earth.
  • The giant enemy space ship in the final wave of the 1980 Phoenix arcade game. This may also qualify as the first instance of a "boss level" in a video game.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire have this class of ships, though they have different roles and capabilities which depend on the faction that built it.
  • One serves as a bonus level in Spelunky HD. Its entrance always appears in the last level of the Ice Caves, signified by the line "It feels like the fourth of July...."
  • The Ur-Quan Dreadnought in Star Control II, that combines the ability to launch fighters with its powerful fusion blast.
  • The arcade game Xain'd Sleena features as a space boss midway through the game a ship of this type, so big that cannot fit in the screen and scrolls through it.
  • Metroid: Zero Mission introduces a "Space Pirate Mothership" for its final gameplay segment. It's a very sizable vessel, including an internal hangar bay for a squadron of Pirate fighters. Another Mothership appears in the intro of Metroid: Samus Returns when illustrating the Pirate hijacking of the Federation freighter carrying a Metroid (it may even be the same vessel, since this occurs before the events of Zero Mission), and shows a Mothership can carry two dozen fighters, making it a powerful force projector.


  • Schlock Mercenary: Ships that carry fleets are quite common; Battleplates in particular are for all intents and purposes extremely well-armed mobile cities. At one point, the Toughs meet people with a ship literally named Mothership.
    Bristlecone: They appear to have done this without the slightest trace of irony.
    Tagon: Wait, does that mean it launches other ships, or it doesn't?
    Bristlecone: Does that mean you do understand irony, or—
    Para: Bristlecone!
    Bristlecone: It launches other ships.

    Western Animation 
  • Resolute, Resolute II, and the rest of the exocarriers in Exo Squad.
    • And let's not forget the Neosapien flagships Olympus Mons and Olympus Mons II.
  • The Massive from Invader Zim.
  • Pixar Shorts: "Thanks, Mrs. UFO!"

    Real Life 
  • The term mothership has origins in whaling. The mothership was a large, usually three-masted and full-rigged ship with whale meat processing facilities. It supported the actual whaling craft, who went out to sea to seek and hunt the whales.
    • In modern whaling, the Nisshin Maru functions similarly to this, though technically it is a factory ship. Smaller faster vessels are needed to catch the whales, but these lack the ability to process the meat and retain their mobility. These ships instead bring it to the mothership, which does have the facilities to properly process and store the massive amount of whale meat and organs.
  • Several types of naval craft effectively serve this purpose in wartime, most famously the Aircraft carrier. In fact, in many languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, the corresponding word for "mothership" refers to an aircraft carrier.
    • Amphibious Assault Ships serve a similar function, being designed to launch smaller landing craft and amphibious vehicles, often featuring a flight deck for aircraft.
    • A lesser example would be Tenders. These were larger ships which served as floating bases for short-legged warships such as Destroyers and Submarines to operate from, and typically carried supplies, repair equipment, and cranes for offloading cargo to the smaller ships. More specialized versions served as the precursors to the Aircraft Carrier, carrying seaplanes aboard and using cranes to move them between the ship and the water (seaplane tenders did not feature flight decks, and the seaplanes often required water for a landing surface anyways as they lacked wheels).
  • Somali pirates use large fishing vessels as motherships and do the actual storming of the merchantmen by using speedboats.
  • It's quite common for rockets to feature more than one satellite in the payload.
    • Many planetary space probes have a lander and orbiter component. The orbiter puts the lander into an insertion vector and they detach. Quite necessary usually as only Mars (and obviously Earth) has a good enough communication network of satellites to be able to land surface probes without needing an additional built in relay. The Hayabusa2 probe, operated by JAXA and currently studying the asteroid Ryugu, has a payload that includes four small rovers, an impactor, a small satellite with a camera to study the effects of the former, and a capsule to bring back samples of that asteroid.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Mother Ship


Trade Fed Ship Destroyed

Anakin Skywalker destroys the Trade Federation's mothership, which de-activates the droid army on Naboo.

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