12 of the best space movies: From Interstellar to Hidden Figures | New Scientist

What outer space movie came

Video What outer space movie came

by simon ings

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar

melinda sue gordon/©paramount/c

There are so many great movies about space that it’s hard to choose between them all, but that won’t stop us. we have some in our selection that will keep you on the edge of your seat, while others will keep you hidden behind the couch. here are 12 of the best space movies.

interstellar (2014)

The explorers arrive on a world covered in knee-deep water. Distant “mountains” are approaching them – a killing tide kilometers high that spreads across the entire planet. they escape, only to be abandoned a little later by a deranged astronaut in a solid cloud of exotic ice in the air.

Often silly, sometimes downright visionary, Interstellar is the best replica the 21st century has yet made of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey. Matthew McConaughey stars as Joseph Cooper, a widowed NASA pilot who must travel into interstellar space to find an Earth-like “Planet B” that we can move to, now that Earth’s food system is collapsing. Jessica Chastain plays her adult daughter, haunted by the ghost of her father.

His performances convey a real conviction, but what matters are the stage pieces. Gargantua, a spinning black hole that provides the film’s climax, is a visual effect so precisely calculated by physicist Kip Thorne and rendered so meticulously by the London effects studio’s double negative that it ended up in an article for Classic magazine. and quantum gravity.

Years earlier, Thorne and film producer Lynda Obst had conceived of a film that explored what, in an interview with Science Magazine, Thorne called “the warped side of the universe: black holes, wormholes, higher dimensions, etc.”. They are the subject of Thorne’s highly entertaining book, The Science of Interstellar.

nolan, meanwhile, has continued to make films of increasing complexity. tenet is the latest, doing for time what interstellar did for space.

moon (2009)

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is preparing to leave the moon at the end of his three-year stint as sole supervisor of a helium-3 mine. (Robert Zubrin’s book Entering Space gave Duncan Jones the industrial premise for the film.) But Sam is also trapped in the carcass of a crashed lunar ore transporter. And as Sam and Sam grapple with their unexplained encounter, they must solve an obvious and compelling riddle: how many more Sams could there be?

Offered a low-budget British sci-fi flick from a first-time director, Rockwell left things to the last minute, then jumped at the chance to play against himself. once on board, his commitment was total: improvising and improvising memories of his own performance, he insisted on distinguishing the two sams more by behavior than costume changes. the result is a gripping, emotionally charged thriller, spiced with a clever mix of effects – from cgi to model work to simple, deft editing – that keeps the audience baffled throughout the film. Jones has yet to top his debut work, and Rockwell, despite all of his subsequent successes, will always be remembered as the boy in the moonlight.

next (2019)

Filmed at the european space agency’s training facility in germany, and at the compound outside moscow that houses the yuri gagarin cosmonaut training center, alice winocour’s third feature film, proxima never leaves the ground and , however, is still an out of this world experience.

director of photography georges lechaptois brilliantly captures these rarely glimpsed spaces in all their strangeness, banality, and occasional decay. one can’t help but think, looking at this, that being an astronaut must be like being a professional athlete: one’s glamorous career takes place, for the most part, in smelly locker rooms.

also applaud eva green for her portrayal of sarah loreau, a single mother who is given a last-minute chance to join a mission to the international space station. green beautifully conveys sarah’s conflicted state of wanting to go to space but not wanting to be separated from her daughter. the solution is there, but it’s going to be hard to forge, and green’s performance is heartbreaking.

foreigner (1979)

sigourney weaver stars as ripley, a member of a no-nonsense and resourceful space cargo crew whose skills are rendered useless when confronted by a predatory, stowaway alien.

critics loved alien: they said it would change the way we think about science fiction. also, for some of us who caught it at the right age, it changed the way we think about biology.

We have been an apex predator for so long that we have forgotten how special our privilege is. alien reminds us of what the natural world is really like. It puts us in the middle of things, not without resources but definitely not at the top of a food chain. it reminds us that living processes are predatory, that life is about tearing living things apart to obtain their raw material.


Alien in Alien

film file aa / alamy

The awkwardly named “xenomorph” of alien movies has an infamous life cycle, loosely based on that of certain parasitic wasps, but with the added ingredient of plasticity. an embraced human gives birth to a humanoid alien. a hugged dog produces a canine. (Where the aquatic aliens in Alien: Resurrection (1997) come from is anyone’s guess.)

if you want to know what darwin said, read about the origin of species. but if you want to know how he must have made his original readers feel, watch alien.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

when stanley kubrick suggested a movie idea to british writer arthur clarke, clarke responded enthusiastically. “The ‘really good’ sci-fi movie is many years overdue,” he wrote.

The question, which neither of them really answered, was what really good movie to make. a film about the triumph of science and technology? or a film about the eternal longings of the human spirit?

while kubrick, student of human nature, director of scathing and uncomfortable movies like paths of glory and lolita, was looking for special effects in japanese science fiction films, clarke, pioneer of communications satellites and writer, wrote a script he focused on what he later called “the god concept.”

Spanning everything from the dawn of man, the space race, artificial intelligence, space exploration and transdimensional travel, 2001 centers on the duel between David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the inadvertently designed assassin Hal, a computer that is guiding your ship to jupiter. We tend to assume that Clarke provided the movie’s gosh-wow factor and Kubrick provided the jitters. Not so: his 1960 story The Spaceship Challenge finds Clarke already painfully aware of the challenges facing a “little self-contained community floating in the void millions of miles from anywhere, kept alive in a plastic and metal bubble” with “absolutely nothing” going on.

The boredom and incipient madness that haunt both the bow and the ship’s poor artificial intelligence are the main point of the film: that we cannot live by reason alone. we need something else.

hidden figures (2016)

at nasa’s langley research center in 1961, three black mathematicians, katherine johnson (taraji p. henson), dorothy vaughn (octavia spencer), and mary jackson (janelle monáe), contribute their considerable mathematical ability to the agency efforts to launch white men into space. the unit they work in is segregated by gender and race, but many of their colleagues are unaware of the difficulties they face. His boss, Al Harrison (a fictional composite character played by Kevin Costner), feels otherwise and proceeds to desegregate NASA single-handedly, armed only with an acid tongue and a sledgehammer.

The film is loosely based on the 2016 book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, though it takes a less factual approach. For example, the film delays Johnson’s pioneering work for a good decade so that she can share pleasant moments with the other members of the female cast.

Whether that matters comes down to personal taste. It’s no small thing that, thanks to this film, we now know Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson by name.

apollo 13 (1995)

on april 11, 1970, a seventh manned mission of the apollo space program was launched from the kennedy space center in florida. it was due to land in the fra mauro crater and helped establish the early history of both the moon and the earth.

Two days into the trip, an oxygen tank in the spacecraft’s service module exploded and their flight path was changed to circle the moon and bring them back to earth on April 17. dizzy from the carbon dioxide levels in the air, rising at a rate they thought would kill them, drenched from all the condensation, cold because power was now severely limited, and with only plastic bags of their own urine for company. Unable to undo for fear this would alter their course, Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise barely uttered a word of complaint. unbelievably, they survived.

For his script, director ron howard added an argument between swigert (kevin bacon) and haise (bill paxton) and changed just one word from the official apollo 13 transcript. faces a crisis. there are no epiphanies. souls are not wanted. for some, this could result in a slightly lackluster experience. But this painstakingly accurate film (the sets included fragments of the Apollo 13 command module; even the actors’ pressure suits were airtight) remains unmatched, utterly convincing in every shot and gesture.

first man (2018)

as if landing on the moon wasn’t enough, neil armstrong spent the rest of his life having to describe the experience to the world’s media. not surprisingly, he became something of a recluse, which of course only served to generate even more media interest.

Armstrong, an aeronautical engineer and university professor, was a man who enjoyed his privacy. cornered, what could he do but tell the same story over and over and over again? disappointed, without quenching his curiosity, people called him boring.

Two years after casting a vocally challenged Ryan Gosling in his musical La La Land, Damien Chazelle cast him as Neil Armstrong, in a film that promised to set Armstrong’s pounding heart and rich emotional life. as such, the first man is a trump.

gosling is the movie actor’s movie actor, able to express deep emotion with amazing economy. playing “buttoned up” doesn’t bother him at all. and he is given a lot to work with. Josh Singer’s clever script gives Armstrong a deep and personal motivation for wanting to go to the moon that in no way interferes with the historical record or trivializes his celebrated theme. As for the moon landing itself, it represents a milestone in cinematographic technique. You’ll believe you were there and wonder deeply why Armstrong, or anyone else, ever went.

the right thing (1983)

Based on powerful performances by Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager and Ed Harris as John Glenn, Kaufman’s 3-hour, 13-minute epic loosely follows Tom Wolfe’s book of the same name: a moving yet critical account of the early years of US efforts to send humans into space.

What is needed for that is, of course, “the right thing”: a combination of skill, bravery, and a somewhat eerie bravery in the face of death. These are qualities superbly embodied in Shepard’s performance as test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier (and, by the way, a consultant on film).

leaving earth also required collaboration, organization, even – god help us – publicity. Ed Harris is the impeccable Glenn, destined to be the first American in space, whose “right stuff” has been whittled away by endless lectures, tests, magazine profiles, and media events.

Historically, the correct things are not particularly accurate. In particular, Mercury astronauts Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Alan Shepard criticized the way the film let down their compatriot Gus Grissom, who died in the Apollo 1 fire.

Still, it’s a thoughtful and intelligent film, as well as an exciting one, and nicely captures the moment when space travel became a serious, corporate enterprise.

the martian (2015)

Based on a single staggering inaccuracy (a martian storm could never muster the energy to bring down a spaceship), the martian is an artfully resolved story about how an astronaut (mark watney, played by matt damon), left for dead On the surface of Mars, you could survive for four years on a diet of potatoes grown on recycled fecal matter.

based on a book (by andy weir) that began as a series of blog posts, scott’s film retains an endearing, improvised quality that clearly (and in the end, quite poignantly) reflects watney’s fight for survival.

With habitat, spacesuit, spacecraft, and launch vehicle designs that bear NASA’s seal of approval, the Martian flits between the Watney Martian Base, the ship in which his crewmates return home, and the offices and control rooms on earth where everyone is frantically trying to do the right thing, as their chances of saving watney are reduced to a point.

A shameless announcement of NASA’s plans for Mars and a celebration of the rebirth of its manned program after the Challenger disaster in 1986, the Martian already feels a little old-fashioned. but his inventiveness and good humor are timeless.

gravity (2013)

When a cloud of debris traveling faster than a bullet collides with the space shuttle, mission specialist ryan stone (sandra bullock) and veteran astronaut matt kowalski (george clooney) must battle their way through gulfs of space. with dwindling supplies of air and propellant searching for a vehicle to take them home; soon the debris cloud will return to its inexorable orbit.

It’s just as likely to scare someone away from a space race as it is to inspire them to pursue one, gravity is based on the idea that low Earth orbit is so full of discarded hardware and junk that a collision could start a reaction chain known as Kessler syndrome. and destroy all the satellites.

Despite all that, Gravity is less of a sci-fi movie than a survival movie (think Open Water or Touching the Void, both from 2003), and it’s the last place you’d go for a lesson in orbit mechanics. while not as egregiously silly as 2019’s ad astra (in which brad pitt literally jumps through saturn’s ice rings, using a hatch cover as an umbrella), gravity is not 2001, nor apollo 13, nor the first man.

but while accuracy is one thing; the truth is quite another. With Gravity, director Cuaron triumphantly realized his ambition to make the first film that seemed truly weightless, conveying the vibe and feeling of zero gravity more powerfully, immediately (and, yes, precisely) than any filmmaker before or since.

october sky (1999)

nasa engineer, homero h. the autobiography of hickam jr. provided the seed for this drama about a teenager coming of age at the dawn of the space race. A 17-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal (still taking classes at school during filming) plays Homer, a high school student in Coalwood, West Virginia, when, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first human-made satellite. .

Inspired by the Soviet achievement and encouraged by his teacher (Laura Dern), Homer and his fellow “rockets” begin building their own homemade missiles. Chris Cooper strikes gold in the somewhat ungrateful role of Homer’s father, conscientiously pouring cold water on his son’s dreams: What’s wrong with working in the local coal mine, would you like to know?

director joe johnston is best known for his rather more enthusiastic approaches to heroism and rocket flight. (1991’s Rocketeer is a cult classic; Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) needs no introduction here.)

october sky is a much more contained achievement: the moving story of the imagination sparked by the possibilities of rockets, space travel and a world beyond earth.

What do you think of this list? do you think there are better space movies that deserve a coveted spot? We’ve reviewed a lot of sci-fi movies, books, and TV shows, but we can’t see them all, so let us know your favorite on Twitter and Facebook. If you liked it, you might also want to see what we think are the best scientific documentaries, the best popular science books, and even video games set on Mars.

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