TOP 10 Space Movies of all Time to Watch at Least Once in Your Life11th May 2022
People have been dreaming of conquering space for hundreds of years, but technical progress, alas, is still far behind our imagination and the space movies we make. Over the past 100 years, we have invented rockets, learned how to fly them, visited the moon, and even opened the era of space tourism, but we have to admit that the time for travelling on interstellar spaceships and conquering other planets is not yet close – even despite the efforts of such visionaries as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.
But we successfully embody our dreams in space movies, because the flight of fantasy, unlike the flight of rockets, has no limits to what is possible. Today, science fiction is the second most popular genre in the world, and movies about space rightfully occupy the leading place in it.
Today we want to present to you the list of space movies that we consider to be the best in the history of cinema. Please note that the films are arranged in chronological order, from old space movies to newer ones.
1. Le voyage dans la Lune, 1902
The first movie about space! French director Georges Méliès filmed his Journey to the Moon back in 1902, 67 years before American Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the Earth’s natural satellite.
The plot of the first space movie about astronauts
The first space movie ever made tells the story of the team of astronomers who build a bullet-shaped vehicle, which is then fired by a giant cannon and pierces the moon. Having landed on the moon in such an original way, the expedition begins to explore the surface of the satellite but is suddenly attacked by selenites, insectoid inhabitants of the moon.
Despite the short running time (13 minutes), unusual scenery, the latest special effects for that time and the narrative style of the space movie had a significant impact on world cinema, and the fragment with a bullet-shaped ship piercing the human “face” of the Moon became textbook. For this, Le voyage dans a Lune is one of those space movies that are definitely worth a look.
2. Frau im Mond, 1929
Frau im Mond continues our list of old space movies that made history. This space adventure movie was directed by German director Fritz Lang and is based on a fantasy novel by his wife Thea von Harbou. The story of this movie about space, lasting 2 hours and 40 minutes, tells about a dramatic space trip to the moon.
As one of the first space-related movies ever made, Frau im Mond tells the story of professor Georg Manfeldt and his follower Wolf Helius are going to make an expedition to the moon. They are joined by the rocket engineer Windegger, his wife Frieda, and a suspicious stranger named Turner.
Turner’s actions on the moon lead to Professor Manfeldt’s death and damage to the air tank. Air becomes insufficient to return the remaining astronauts to Earth, and they decide to draw lots for who will remain on the moon. The lot falls to Windegger, but in the end, Frieda remains on the moon with him, giving a dramatic finale to this example of the best space travel movies.
Thanks to the realism of the rocket launch process, from filling the rocket with liquid fuel to landing the crew from the elevator into the second stage, Frau im Mond was included in the list of best space science fiction movies according to NASA. And the pre-launch countdown, which was used as a dramatic device to build up movie tension, later became a common practice during rocket launches.
Another curious fact about this movie is that 19-year-old Wernher Von Braun, the future creator of the legendary ballistic rocket V-2, which became the prototype of all launch vehicles worldwide, worked as an extra on the set of this best space movies example.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi film became a cult classic and revolutionised the development of science fiction and world cinema, rightfully making the list of best space science fiction movies. The story is based on Arthur Clarke’s short story The Sentry, published in 1951.
Kubrik’s space movie plot
This film about space tells about mysterious extraterrestrial artefacts called monoliths. The first one arrived on Earth in the Stone Age and taught ancient people how to create and use tools and weapons. The second one was discovered on the Moon at the end of the 20th century, and the third one – was in the orbit of Jupiter. As a result, the Discovery mission was sent to Jupiter under the control of the latest computer with artificial intelligence HAL 9000.
During the space movie flight, HAL 9000 began to act inappropriately, creating a chain of tragic events that led to the death of the crew. Miraculously surviving astronaut Dave Bowman was able to deactivate the computer and reach Jupiter. Having found the third “monolith,” he tried to examine it but was transferred to a strange room twenty-thousand light-years away from Earth, where Bowman instantly aged. In the finale of this best space movie example, the monolith turns the dying astronaut into Star Child, a superhuman embodying the next stage of human evolution. Thus, Kubrick leaves the question unanswered: what will be the next stage, and what awaits beyond it? This approach makes Space Odyssey one of the best space movies in terms of context and philosophy.
Thanks to the director’s attention to detail and help from NASA experts, all space equipment, tools, and interiors were made with the utmost care for the greater realism of the space movie. And although the audience and movie critics greeted the film rather coolly due to the abundance of long static scenes and oppressive classical music, time put everything in its place. Today, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the classic of world cinema and the undisputed leader of old space movies.
4. Alien (1979-2019)
One of the best outer space movies in the horror genre. Director Ridley Scott managed to create an alternative universe of the future, in which the main antagonist is a xenomorph, an aggressive alien parasite with acid instead of blood. The popularity of the Alien rightfully earns this masterpiece a spot on the best space movies list.
The first Alien movie plot
As far as relatively recent space movies go, Alien tells the story of the Nostromo space cargo ship as it deviates from its course when Mother’s main computer detects an SOS signal coming from one of the unexplored planets in the ζ-2 system. The mother brings the crew out of suspended animation and announces a new task – to explore the planet.
After landing, part of the crew goes to the signal source, which turns out to be an alien spacecraft. Exploring the ship, the astronauts discover hold compartments with biological organisms of unknown origin, similar to eggs. Suddenly, one egg splits open and a face-hugger jumps out. It burns through the helmet of one of Kane’s astronauts and sticks to his face. Kane collapses and is taken aboard the Nostromo. Later in the space movie, the ship is back on course. After some time, the face-hugger dies and falls away, after which Kane comes to his senses and looks healthy. However, during dinner, he begins to convulse, his chest ruptures and a newborn alien breaks out of it. The creature runs away and hides on the ship. The crew tries to capture him; however, the alien grows quickly and begins hunting the astronauts instead.
Alien is today one of the top outer space movies; it was such a resounding success that in 1986, James Cameron, who had already managed to shoot the Terminator by that time, took up the sequel – Aliens. In this space action thriller movie, Lt. Ellen Ripley, the first movie survivor, and a platoon of Marines are facing a whole swarm of aliens. The second movie added to the success of its predecessor. Even now, three decades later, Alien and Aliens do not look archaic and are watched at one go, rightfully making the top space movies list. However, the latest space movies about aliens were not as popular.
In 1992 and 1997, Alien 3 and Alien 4 Resurrection came out, but these movies about space were not so successful. The Alien space movie universe received a new development only when its creator, Ridley Scott, returned to his brainchild. In 2012 and 2019, he added to the list of space horror movies with two Alien prequels – Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, revealing the story of how these aliens appeared. What are your favourite space and astronaut movies from the Alien Universe?
5. The Right Stuff, 1983
This 180-minute space movie tells the true story of military pilots preparing for the first manned space program Mercury, rightfully making the list of top astronaut movies. The space movie is based on the best-selling book of the same name by American journalist Tom Wolfe.
Plot of the space travel movie The Right Stuff
As one of the top space movies, this story begins with the testing of the secret X1 supersonic aircraft and gradually moves on to the selection of pilots for participation in the Mercury project and the demonstration of all Mercury flights in detail. The space movie shows not only the Mercury astronauts, but also their family relationships, as well as the fate of Chuck Yeager, who, according to many, was the best pilot, but was still not accepted into the astronaut corps.
Chuck Yeager himself was hired as the movie’s technical consultant. He taught the actors who played the Mercury Astronauts how to fly, studied special effects, and pointed out any mistakes in the space movie plot. This attention to technical detail made The Right Stuff one of the best astronaut movies ever made.
The movie was nominated for multiple awards and received four Oscars. And this is not surprising. Maximum correspondence to real-life events, a lot of real shots from space and documentary chronicles, and a solid cast (Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn) rightfully make The Right Stuff one of the best space travel movies of the 20th century.
6. Enemy mine, 1985
This space drama by German director Wolfgang Petersen is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by American science fiction writer Barry B. Longyear. Up to this day, it is one of the best space-related movies that raises plenty of acute questions.
Plot of this German space movie
At the end of the 21st century, humanity is struggling for resources and waging a long exhausting war with the civilisation of reptilian humanoids — Dracs.
During the next sortie, Earth pilot Willis Davidge enters into battle with an enemy spacecraft, and, pursuing a hit enemy, makes an emergency landing on the uninhabited planet Fyrine-4. After tracking down the landing site of the Drac escape pod, Davidge tries to destroy the alien but is captured by him instead. The planet is full of dangers, and sworn enemies have to reconcile in order to survive.
Despite a large budget for that time ($40 million), impressive special effects and excellent performances by Dennis Quaid (Davidge) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Brawl), Enemy Mine is an example of those outer space movies that did not perform too well in the box office. Nevertheless, the idea of Enemy Mine about two enemies, whose violent confrontation eventually develops into a strong friendship, remains relevant to this day, and many new space films exploit similar subjects. The movie tagline says: “Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Brothers because they dared to be.”
7. Apollo 13, 1995
One of the best astronaut movies, based on a true story. The famous phrase “Houston, we have a problem” is from this space movie.
The plot of Ron Howard’s masterpiece
This proud example on the list of space movies tells about the unsuccessful lunar mission of the Apollo 13 spacecraft, one of the most dramatic moments of space exploration.
Director Ron Howard recreated the entire chronology of events in as much detail as possible, from the preparation of the mission to the investigation of the tragedy. The scenes of weightlessness on the ship were filmed in conditions of real weightlessness during the flight of a special training aircraft laboratory along a parabolic trajectory. To this end, two cabins were equipped in the aircraft – exact copies of the Apollo spacecraft interior.
Thanks to the excellent cast (Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon), the realism and drama of events, this space movie was nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards winning six categories in total. To this date, Apollo 13 remains one of the best space science fiction movies ever shot.
Interestingly, the real Apollo 13 commander, James Lovell, starred in the space movie episode: in the finale, he, as one of the officers on the deck of the Iwo Jima ship, shakes hands with Tom Hanks, who plays Lovell.
8. Gravity, 2013
A meditative but very tense recent space movie directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as the main and only roles.
One of the recent space movies tells the story of two astronauts, explorer Ryan Stone and veteran Matt Kowalski. As they are working in open space, their ship collides with space debris; the collision kills the entire spacecraft crew, and only the two of them survive. Due to the resulting damage, the ship becomes unusable, and Kowalski decides to get to the ISS using a personal rocket engine. However, it turns out that the ISS also suffered a collision, the crew abandoned it, and the only Soyuz spacecraft left on it is also damaged. Until the very end, Kowalski and Stone make desperate attempts to get back to Earth.
Virtually all scenes in one of the recent space movies were created using computer graphics, then the faces of the actors were integrated into them, filmed in a specially built cube measuring 6 × 6 × 6 meters with LED walls, on which the image of the surrounding space was displayed. Despite its accurate depiction of spacecraft, the film was criticised by some scientists for technical errors, in particular the overly simplified depiction of flights between objects. However, this did not prevent Gravity from receiving 7 Oscars, 6 BAFTA awards and 5 Saturn awards, making it a solid example of best space movies today.
9. Interstellar, 2014
It’s probably the best one of the latest space movies in the science fiction genre. The script, written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, is based on the scientific work of the American physicist Kip Thorne, one of the world’s leading experts in general relativity theory. As movies about space go, Interstellar is one of the most complex plot examples.
The plot of the Nollan masterpiece
The plot is so famously twisted that we will not retell the story, since every detail is important and should not be missed when viewing this shining example of the latest space movies. Let’s just say that Christopher Nolan shot such a large-scale and comprehensive movie that viewers simply could not ignore one of the best space travel movies! It has virtually everything: interplanetary flights, jumps in dimensions and in time, drama, love, thriller, a little bit of the apocalypse, great special effects, magical music by Hans Zimmer and an excellent cast of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon and Michael Kane.
The box office of the film was 5 times higher than the cost of its production, amounting to almost $700 million. Many publications have included it in their lists of the best science fiction movies of the 2010s or the 21st century, and some placed it at number one in the top space movie charts.
If you haven’t watched Interstellar yet, do so now. It is one of the new space films that leave no one indifferent.
10. First Man, 2018
And our space movies list ends with a biopic, the story of the legendary Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the moon.
Plot of the very best astronaut movie
The space movie opens with Armstrong’s rocket plane test flight in 1961, during which Neil breaks down and is suspended from flying. Grieving over the tragic loss of his little daughter Karen from cancer, the astronaut makes an attempt to get into the Gemini project and is soon taken. A series of events related to flights on the Gemini 8 spacecraft and preparations for the Apollo programme follows. The climax of the space movie is the landing of Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. Neil says the historic phrase: “This is a small step for one man and a giant leap for all mankind.” He walks to the edge of a moon crater and throws Karen’s bracelet at it.
A curious fact is that the space movie does not feature the historical moment of hoisting the American flag on the moon, for which First Man was criticised by then US President Donald Trump. This, however, did not prevent one of the best new space films from receiving a lot of positive feedback from critics and viewers, and Ryan Gosling, who played Armstrong, once again proved his reputation as an excellent dramatic actor.
This is our stand on the TOP 10 best space travel movies. And where is the Martian, you may ask? Planting potatoes on Mars. Hopefully, the list of space movies will soon have more shining examples.