18 Space Movies That Are Truly Out of this World
Houston, we have a problem: There are too many good sci-fi films!
No matter how many obsessions Hollywood cycles through, studios return, like clockwork, to one type of production: epic space movies. And it's not hard to see why. When oxygen is at a premium, communication is nigh impossible, and alien life (may or may not) loom just outside the field of view, the stakes couldn't be possible be higher—and neither could the drama. (Yeah, it doesn't hurt that the visuals are top-notch, too.) But they also—when they're good, that—happen to be the most down-to-earth films. Despite being set in the stars, these movies explore some of the most natural emotions on Earth: love, loss, the fear of isolation, the call for exploration. Here are the cream of the crop.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Directed by visionary filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity rests squarely on the shoulders of its lead, Sandra Bullock, who turns in what might be the best performance of her career as astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone. When her shuttle is destroyed and her commander (played by George Clooney) is killed, Stone is left stranded in deep space, where she only has her wits—and a rapidly depleting supply of oxygen—to help her survive.
3. Ad Astra
Christopher Nolan established himself as one of Hollywood's most lauded directors by telling innately human stories on extraordinarily epic scales. In outer space, he finally found a forum large enough to contain his ambition. Interstellar follows Matthew McConaughey's astronaut character, Cooper, on an emotional saga through both time and space, as he leaves Earth on a mission to save mankind while struggling to reconnect with the daughter he left behind (played by Jessica Chastain). Interstellar debuted at a nexus point when both Nolan and McConaughey were at the top of their games, masterfully combining the actor's on-screen magnetism with the director's unrivaled knack for stunning visuals and mind-bending narratives.
5. The Martian
Directed by Robert Zemeckis and adapted from a novel written by Carl Sagan, the legendary astronomer, Contact uses the premise of a communication from aliens to turn the lens on humanity. Starring Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway, a staffer at SETI who discovers and deciphers an alien message hidden in radio signals, the film posits what humans would do if we discovered the existence of extraterrestrial life—and how we would react if we didn't like what we found.
Damien Chazelle's First Man explores the very real—and almost inconceivably high—stakes of space exploration through the heart and mind of the most famous astronaut to ever live: Neil Armstrong. Gosling's Armstrong is driven, stoic and almost perfectly suited for his role as commander of Apollo 11. But, no matter the evenness of their temperament or depth of their training, Chazelle's film demonstrates the high price that human beings pay for venturing beyond Earth's atmosphere.
9. Europa Report
Ron Howard's retelling of the flawed and nearly doomed mission of Apollo 13 highlights the immense danger of space travel—without leaning on aliens or any other well-trod sci-fi tropes. With pitch-perfect performances from Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris, the film is packed with star power but feels remarkably intimate as we watch the crew of Apollo 13 stave off both fear and certain death, and desperately root for Harris's team of NASA engineers to find a way to bring them home safely.
Released just a few months after Armstrong's IRL moonwalk, Marooned envisions a space mission that goes desperately awry. Gene Hackman (whose character's name, Buzz, must have resonated with an audience who had just watched Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon) leads a team of astronauts who are stranded in space when their rocket booster malfunctions. As the director of NASA (played by Gregory Peck) scrambles to send a rescue mission, the astronauts struggle to keep their spirits from depleting as quickly as their sanity.
More of a horror movie than a science-fiction one, Event Horizon kicks off with a bang: A ship that was sent to explore a black hole suddenly and inexplicably reappears. A ragtag team of cosmonauts—played by a cast of veteran character actors, including Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, and Jason Isaacs—goes to see what's up, and, since it's Hollywood, everything quickly goes South. When the film first hit theaters, it was widely panned, but it picked up a cult following over the years and now, courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios, it's getting the reboot treatment.
When Chris Pratt's character, Jim Preston, awakes from stasis just a few years into a multi-decade journey to a colony planet, he's left with a choice: to live out the next nine decades alone on what's essentially a giant cruise ship floating through space, or to awaken a beautiful fellow passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), reducing his loneliness—but also condemning her to a lifetime on the ship. Despite the sweeping sci-fi spectacle, one of the most gripping aspects of Passengers is just how down-to-earth plausible it all seems.
Three astronauts (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson) struggle to survive aboard the international space station as a life form they collected on Mars evolves far more rapidly than they expected. Ostensibly a member of the space-horror genre that Ridley Scott pioneered with Alien, in 1979, Life imbues the genre with a reality that Scott's consciously decided to forego—which makes it all the more terrifying to ponder.