From time immemorial, humans have been fascinated by outer space and the universe at large. We’ve always wondered what lies beyond the horizons and if those distant celestial bodies actually support life. Questions as to whether we’re alone in this universe continue to boggle our minds.
Before the advent of major technological inventions in space exploration, our views of the universe were mostly shaped by myths and theories passed down through generations. However, all that changed when cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to make a successful trip into space on April 12, 1961.
Yuri’s daring space expedition, which included orbiting the earth, inspired many aspiring astronauts of his generation. On July 20, 1969, the world witnessed yet another groundbreaking milestone in space exploration when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon.
These, and many subsequent space adventures, have been immortalized in novels, movies, and television documentaries. This article looks at the 15 best space movies of all time.
15. Aliens (1986)
IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
Aliens is the second installment in the ‘Alien’ sci-fi action film franchise. The movie stars Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as the only survivor of her space shuttle.
After spending 57 years in space, Lieutenant Ripley loses contact with a human colony on the moon where her crew first encountered aliens. She travels to the planet LV-426 in a bid to establish communication with the colony, along with a troop of colonial marines.
Once there, Ripley and her fellow marines discover that the colony has been run down by hundreds of aliens who they must now fight to stay alive.
14. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
2001: A Space Odyssey is centered on mankind’s quest to uncover the origin of a mysterious artifact discovered buried beneath the lunar surface.
A group of astronauts, including Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), is sent on mysterious space exploration. While on the mission, their ship’s supercomputers pick up disturbing behavior. The crew eventually discovers a black monolith that could hold the key between the past and the future.
Two themes flow throughout this movie. On one hand, the film highlights the limitless possibilities that technological innovations present. While on the other hand, it explores the potential risks of inventing machines that humans have no full control over.
13. Arrival (2016)
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Arrival follows the struggles of a linguistic professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who joins the United States Army with one sole mission – to help the government discover how to communicate with aliens who’ve just arrived on earth.
Fear and anxiety grip the world as the aliens continue to touch down. Professor Banks must move with speed to establish communication with these extraterrestrial beings and avert a possible global war.
Determined to succeed in her quest, Banks takes a chance whose outcome could threaten her own life and that of the entire mankind.
12. First Man (2018)
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
First Man is a biological drama based on James R. Hansen’s book published in 2005, titled First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.
The movie attempts to reenact the behind-the-scenes intrigues that lead up to Neil Armstrong’s historic mission to the moon in 1969. It majorly focuses on NASA’s seemingly overambitious plans to explore the moon by the end of the decade.
Those ambitions cause the agency to embark on a raft of potentially perilous experiments, many of which involve engineer Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling).
11. Apollo 13 (1995)
IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
Apollo 13 features an ensemble of Hollywood A-listers, including Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, Bill Paxton as Fred Haise, and Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert. The film is based on the untold stories of the Apollo 13 lunar mission.
Three astronauts successfully leave the earth’s orbit and are headed for the moon. Suddenly, their spacecraft malfunctions following the explosion of an oxygen tank.
This forces the crew to call off their scheduled moon landing. They now have a new and urgent mission at hand – to fight for their survival and safe return to earth.
10. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
IMDB Rating: 6.5/10
This space film is set in the distant future. It follows two special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) in their quests to protect the city of Alpha from dark forces that threaten life in this otherwise peaceful metropolis.
It’s a race against time as the patriotic operatives must identify the evil forces and vanquish them before the city and the entire humanity faces destruction.
The fears of an imminent Armageddon become more real with every minute that passes.
9. Star Trek (2009)
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Star Trek attempts to reinforce the notion that humans and aliens may coexist if they only agreed on a few issues. In fact, we can possibly achieve much more if there was a way to synergize our knowledge and skills.
A crew sets out on its maiden space exploration aboard the highly-sophisticated USS Enterprise. Along the way, they encounter Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan on a mission to destroy multiple planets.
The only way to stop Nero is for an errant young officer named James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) to team up with an alien named Spock (Zachary Quinto).
8. Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
The original film in the Star Wars franchise was not only a major breakthrough for film director George Lucas.
It was also among the first few space films to bring into focus the theme of rebellion from an intergalactic point of view.
The movie tells the story of the capture of the rebellious Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) by the cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) and the ensuing intrigues as the Princess’ loyalists attempt to free her. The rescue missions are led by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
Despite the thematic similarities between Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s interesting to note that these space films take place in separate universes.
Guardians of the Galaxy is centered on a brash adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who escapes from the planet Morag after stealing a valuable orb coveted by the dreaded villain, Ronan the Accuser. Ronan rounds up a group of bounty hunters who go after Peter, determined to recover the mysterious orb at all cost.
The plot thickens when Peter discovers the orb’s mystic powers. He rallies a group of four disparate misfits in a mission to save the universe.
6. Sunshine (2007)
IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
It’s only human nature to take things for granted. As the saying goes, we never appreciate the valuable things in our life until we lose them. That inherent human trait is aptly captured in this psychological thriller film.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the movie follows a group of astronauts on a perilous mission to reignite the dying sun and save the earth.
However, things take an ugly turn when an accident occurs, leaving the crew members scampering for their own safety.
5. Gravity (2013)
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
Gravity is another captivating space film that underscores the possibilities of disasters striking at the least expected moments during space voyages.
The movie stars Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as a medical engineer student on her maiden shuttle mission and her commander, veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), who’s on his final flight before retirement.
But while exploring outer space, the pair’s shuttle is hit by high-velocity space debris. Stone and Matt are left stranded in space fighting to stay alive and make it back to earth safe and sound.
4. Solaris (2002)
IMDB Rating: 6.2/10
Solaris is based on the classic sci-fi novel by Stanislaw Lem of the same name. It’s another critically-acclaimed film starring George Clooney.
Psychologist Kris Kelvin (George Clooney) is sent to investigate the weird behaviors of scientists living on a space station orbiting the planet of Solaris. Unknown to him, Solaris is a mind-reading planet that controls the thoughts and actions of its dwellers.
When Kelvin arrives there, the planet immediately starts to mine his unconscious desires and memories.
3. Moon (2009)
IMDB Rating: IMDB Rating: 7.8/10
Astronaut Sam Bell’s (Sam Rockwell) is the sole employee at a lunar station. His three-year stint at the station is coming to an end and he’s eager to return home.
Suddenly, Sam’s mental health starts to deteriorate. He suffers painful headaches and is plagued by hallucinations he can’t place.
Then he encounters what appears to be a younger version of himself. Determined to get back to his family, Sam must solve this mystery fast.
2. The Martian (2015)
IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
A raging storm sweeps across planet Mars where a group of astronauts is exploring.
Later after the storm, the astronauts blast off leaving Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind after he’s presumed dead from the storm.
With his resources fast dwindling, Mark must figure out how to survive on the hostile planet. Back on earth, a team of NASA scientists is working tirelessly to bring him back home.
1. Interstellar (2014)
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
Interstellar is a space film that explores the themes of loneliness and isolation, especially in terms of how they influence our ability to think rationally.
The film is set in a dystopian future when the earth becomes uninhabitable due to a global crop blight that causes dust storms.
Faced with threats of extinction of the human race, ex-NASA pilot Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is tasked to head a team of space explorers whose sole mission is finding an alternative planet.
There goes our definitive collection of the most spellbinding space films of all time. Each movie addresses specific themes and challenges faced by astronauts in their questions to uncover what lies beyond planet Earth.