For thousands of years, human beings have been fascinated by outer space. Although commercial space travel is slowly becoming a reality, we’ll likely to have to wait years before we can travel the galaxy for ourselves – so until that time, we’ll have to be content with experiencing space on our cinema screens.
With its sense of mystery, exploration, and danger, space travel has formed the backdrop to some of the biggest movies in the last few decades. From sci-fi to major blockbusters, these movies transport us to a world which most of us can only dream about, enabling us to escape the earthly and the everyday.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the best movies set in space. Whether you’re looking for recommendations or want to see if your favourite film made the cut, read on to discover movies which really reached the stars.
Few movies have captured a sense of isolation more perfectly than Moon. Unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, Moon is set in a near-future where people mine helium-3 from the moon as an alternative fuel. Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been mining alone for three years – and suffers a crisis as his mission draws to a close.
Whether we’re watching rocket launches or reading about the watch that went on the moon, it’s easy to glamourise space travel. By showing us the loneliness of long-term missions, Moon brings a perspective we don’t often see (and won a number of awards along the way).
Apollo 13 (1995)
Apollo 13 is a docudrama movie that follows the aborted Apollo 13 mission in 1970. Starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon, the movie grossed more than $355 million and won several Academy Awards.
Part of what makes Apollo 13 so impressive is its dedication to historical and scientific accuracy. Filming took place in a reduced gravity aircraft to make the space scenes look as authentic as possible, while NASA provided advice throughout.
Released in 1979, the sci-fi horror film Alien has become a cult movie. While it can’t compete with Apollo 13’s commitment to scientific accuracy, it has spawned a huge media franchise and been named as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.
The plot follows the crew aboard the Nostromo, a commercial space tug. While on board, they come under attack from the Alien mentioned in the title – an extra-terrestrial who needs a living host to carry its egg. The result is some of the most iconic (and disgusting) scenes in movie history, as the new Alien violently erupts from the chest of its host.
Although only the end of this movie is set in space, it’s still worthy of a spot on the list of best space movies. Taking its name from the letters which signify the four components of DNA, (G, A, T, C), Gattaca is set in a dystopia where eugenics are the norm.
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is unable to realise his dream of going to space due to ‘weak’ genetics – so painstakingly arranges to impersonate a genetically ‘strong’ donor by using DNA samples.
Gattaca explores the limits of life on earth under immoral regimes, and contrasts this with the possibility and freedom of space travel. With this premise, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most thought-provoking films of the last few decades.