18 awesome sci-fi moments from 30 years of Letterman's Late Night

Contributed by
Dec 16, 2012

David Letterman just celebrated the three-decade mark in his career as a late-night talk show host. And with all those shows under his belt, the guy was bound to have a few great sci-fi centric moments.

Here are the best of them, from Top 10 lists to notable interviews to Darth Vader telling jokes.

Top 10 Things Never Said By a Star Wars Character

Back in 2005, everyone was talking about the release of the final Star Wars prequel, including Dave. In anticipation of Revenge of the Sith's release, he and his writers engineered one of the show's most ambitious top 10 lists ever, lining up 10 Star Wars characters to read out each entry. Jokes ranged from digs at Chewbacca's inability to shave to how powerful Oprah is in relation to Emperor Palpatine. The only problem is they went with Jango Fett instead of Boba.

Michael Keaton promoting Batman on the eve of its opening

Michael Keaton was already a movie star when Batman premiered in 1989, but donning the cape and cowl forever made him a cinema icon. He was the first big-screen Dark Knight, and it clearly changed his life. Here he is the day before the movie opened, talking to Dave about having his face on merchandise and working with Jack Nicholson, among other things.

Optimus Prime does the Top 10

It's a showbiz badge of honor to be invited to read Letterman's nightly Top 10 list. Everyone from the cast of The Sopranos to Snoop Dogg has done it, but none of them loomed as large (literally) as the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime. Here's the big bot himself reading out a list of the Top 10 Things That Sound Cool When Spoken by a Giant Robot.

Captain America presents the Top 10 Things Never Before Said by a Superhero

With a Top 10 list due five nights a week, Dave and his writing staff were bound to get around to superheroes sooner or later. Turns out the year they did was 2011, the year of Captain America, so the honor of reading the list fell to the First Avenger himself, Chris Evans.

Natalie Portman experiences her own action figure

To promote Attack of the Clones in 2002, Natalie Portman went on The Late Show and talked about everything from the movie to her college life. Then Dave pulled out a brand-new Padme Amidala action figure and Portman was confronted with her likeness forever sculpted in plastic.

Chris Elliot does "Rocket Man," Shatner style

We've all seen the gloriousness that is William Shatner's tribute to the Elton John classic "Rocket Man," but have you seen the tribute to the tribute? In 1992 comedian Chris Elliot visited Late Night with David Letterman to perform his own interpretation of Shatner's spoken-word awesomeness, right down to the tuxedo and that weird slow motion dance.

Forget about the drum solo—bring on the Drum Sulu

A while back, Letterman decided it would be cool to host "Drum Solo Week" on his show, and invite a few of the world's most gifted percussionists to strut their stuff. Then he got an even better idea: Bring Star Trek star George Takei on, put him behind a drum kit, and launch "Drum Sulu Week"! OK, so Takei can't actually play the drums, but never has such a cheap pun been so very worth it.

The Cast of Battlestar Galactica Plugs Their Final Season in Style

With the final season of their series looming, the cast of Battlestar Galactica stopped by the Late Show to do their own Top 10 list highlighting the top reasons to watch the new season. And in full costume, no less. The jokes aren't bad, but the best thing about this is undoubtedly the fact that list item number six was read by Tricia Helfer as Number Six.

The great Sir Alec Guinness ... need we say more?

Alec Guinness was never exactly a talk show fixture, but he did occasionally venture out into the late-night cameras. Check out this interview from 1986 in which Guinness plugs the first volume of his autobiography.

Emma Watson explains the difference between U.S. and U.K. Potter fans

As the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 loomed, Emma Watson stopped by The Late Show to plug the final Potter flick and talk a little about the fan experience on either side of the pond. The main difference, perhaps not surprisingly, has a lot to do with enthusiasm.

Daniel Radcliffe thinks it's OK for Harry Potter to be naked

Remember back when Daniel Radcliffe did that play that required nudity, and the Internet went a little crazy? Well, so does Radcliffe, and it turns out he's got a sense of humor about it. In this interview to promote Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Radcliffe talks about both his new film and taking his clothes off on stage even as everyone knew him as the world's most important boy wizard.

Ben Stiller's adorable Star Wars Halloween with his son

Sometimes all you need to make a great moment is a kid who loves Star Wars. In this clip, Ben Stiller shares the story of his most recent Halloween, and his son's demand that they each dress as a Star Wars character. Of course, the younger Stiller wanted to be Luke, leaving his father to be—who else?—Darth Vader.

Sarah Michelle Gellar's very early Buffy plug

By the time this clip aired in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was already a successful series. But it was still a very, very young show, only just getting its second season going. Buffy fans, be sure to check out this time warp and remember what the Slayer was like in her early years.

Harrison Ford plugs Blade Runner and Star Wars

In 1982 David Letterman was just starting his career in late-night television. Harrison Ford was right in the middle of a sci-fi hot streak. Blade Runner was heading to theaters, and Return of the Jedi was on the way. Here the two meet for a lengthy interview on Ford's career, including his very earliest years as a contract player.

Top 10 Changes to the Spider-Man Broadway Show

Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark developed a reputation over the past two years as a show plagued by problems. This led to some very highly publicized changes to the show, and it turned out to be one of those things Dave couldn't leave alone. Check out his list of supposed "improvements" to Turn Off the Dark.

Agent Scully hunts down Dave

When The X-Files was hot, it was just about as hot as a sci-fi show can get. It was so hot that it merited its very own Late Show sketch. Watch as Gillian Anderson, in character as Scully, tracks down a creepy guy played by Dave himself. And note David Duchovny's voice as Mulder on the phone.

Tom Savini gets the Late Show nice and bloody

Tom Savini is a legend in the field of makeup effects, but he doesn't often get the chance to show off his creations beyond their use in films. Here he is on Late Night back in 1986 to plug The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II with a few of his ghoulish creations.

Anna Torv plugs Fringe before you ever saw it

Back before its 2008 premiere, Fringe was one of the most anticipated shows on the scene, but Anna Torv was a virtually unknown actress. Here she is in her first American talk show appearance, plugging a show no one but the critics had seen yet. We all know what happened next.

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