Welcome back to the second part of our countdown taking a look at the Best Movies about Space. If you missed yesterdays 20-11 picks, just click here to get caught up and come right back when you’re done.
We covered some truly great films yesterday, but today’s list is the TOP 10! So, this is for all the marbles. Which move will be picked as the number one space film of all time? Read on to find out.
10. ALIEN FILM SERIES (1979 – 2017)
We will be the first to say, not all of the movies in the Alien franchise, of which there now stands a total of six in the main series and two spin-offs, are great movies. That being said, however, the first, second and sixth films truly are. Many regard Aliens (the second in the series) as one of the best action movies of all time. Launched in 1979 with Ridley Scott’s Alien, the franchise launched with arguably one of the toughest females ever put on film; and really the first female action star ever. Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley, the main antagonist of the franchise, and her brutal strength and commitment to the role stayed incredible all the way through. After Alien, newcomer James Cameron came in and wrote and directed its sequel, Aliens in 1986, the David Fincher followed that up in 1991 with the lowest rated of the franchise, Alien 3. The final chapter in this original anthology is Alien Ressurection in 1997 by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and introduced Winona Ryder to the series. The franchise then took a fifteen-year break, until in 2012 Ridley Scott himself returned to the series with the extremely divisive Prometheus, followed by its far superior sequel Alien Covenant. These last two films were prequels to the original series.
9. ARMAGEDDON (1998)
This is the absolute best of the worst space movies. When a giant asteroid is headed for Earth, Billy Bob Thornton enlists the drilling expertise of Bruce Willis because the only way to stop this bad boy of a space rock is to drill a giant hole into it, drop in a bomb, and blow it up in space. Why not just teach astronauts how to drill? Who knows!? At least there’s also a strangely erotic scene where Ben Affleck runs an animal cookie across Liv Tyler’s body while explaining space. Directed by an early Michael Bay before he became Hollywood’s biggest sell-out.
8. INDEPENDENCE DAY (1994)
Some space movies are about the majesty of space, the sublime wonder of the void, the mindblowing possibility of contact with a celestial other. Not Independence Day, which is essentially a film about how much aliens suck and America rules. Instead of glorifying worlds beyond ours, the ultimate summer popcorn flick turns alien life into a formidable but punchable villain, and the results are far more charming than they have any right to be. “WELCOME TO EARTH!” Will Smith bellows, an irresistible avatar for jingoism. Jeff Goldblum outsmarts his galactic foes using the power of 1990s computer technology in a plot point so stupid it can only be wonderful. Independence Day is a dumb, beautiful celebration of our dumb, beautiful world.
To this day, this movie still demands attention when flipping through channels. You can’t seem to help sticking with it. Addictive character development, and arguably the greatest speech a President has ever given, we dare you to try and not admit that this is a guilty pleasure movie on your list for sure.
7. HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)
In the rundown of damn good space movies, one of the absolute best never actually features its stars getting off the ground. Hidden Figures tells the true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and the deeply integral role those three women played in getting John Glenn into space to orbit Earth.
6. GRAVITY (2013)
This will sound like an overstatement or an exaggeration, but, truly, it is not: Watching Gravity in the theater was a profoundly moving experience for me. I thought that every single part of it — Sandra Bullock’s forced-into-heroism heroism; George Clooney’s perfectly chiseled fearlessness; the terrifying soundtrack; the way that Alfonso Cuarón dangled the tiniest morsel of hope in front of everyone with the thinnest piece of thread — was exactly perfect. Gravity does what every movie about space should aspire to do, which is to make you feel entirely inadequate and unimportant (HOW CAN I POSSIBLY MATTER WHEN MEASURED UP AGAINST THE BIGNESS OF SPACE???) while also making you feel like maybe that empty feeling in your chest you can’t outrun is something more than just nothingness — it’s your literal connection to the universe, big and vast and beautiful and terrifying and perfect.
5. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
Space is glorious and space is terrifying; it follows that a great space movie should induce in its viewer both wonder and horror. With all due respect to Jack Torrance, I truly believe that 2001: A Space Odyssey is Stanley Kubrick’s scariest movie. There’s such elegance and simplicity to its dread. Studios have wasted the equivalent of small nations’ GDPs trying to craft intricately creepy CGI villains — and they will never surpass a bone-chillingly indifferent red dot named HAL. Alfonso Cuarón spent $100 million trying to get a single shot as existentially panic-inducing as that silent moment when Frank realizes his line has been cut and he’s going to spend the rest of his short life hurtling through space. Filmmakers have been trying to top this movie for almost 50 years now, and no one (not even Christopher Nolan) has succeeded. Sure, Hollywood’s monkey-suit technology has come a long way since 1968, and none of the human performances in 2001 are particularly memorable (I will mail you a dollar if you can name the lead actor in this film without Googling), but these feel like small flaws when taken against the monolithic greatness of this film. Imagine making a space movie a year before the goddamn moon landing and it still looking fresh five decades later. Even 16 years after its once-futuristic-sounding namesake, to watch 2001 is to open the pod bay doors… of your mind.
4. THE MARTIAN (2015)
Ah, the 127 Hours of space movies. Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars after a giant space storm in The Martian, leaving him to fend for himself. Like many space films, this one hones in on human resilience and also shines a wonderful musical spotlight on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Not to mention that this film is regarded by many to be one of the best survival films of all time. Special note that Ridley Scott, the director of the Martian, is the only director on our list to have two films appear.
3. APOLLO 13 (1995)
Apollo 13 is the least existential space movie ever made, and that’s probably why it’s the most rewatchable one. It is a love letter to American ingenuity and a testament to the charms of Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon being trapped in a flying thimble together. It also features one of the great exhale crescendos in blockbuster history. It’s easy to tell a story where everything that can go wrong does go wrong, but this is a movie where everything goes right. The quiet moments are tender (Kathleen Quinlan’s Marilyn Lovell listening to the radio as her husband goes around the dark side of the moon); the funny moments are hilarious (“I think old Swigert gave me the clap. Been pissin’ in my relief tube.”); and the scary moments are terrifying (“Houston, we have a problem.”).
Most space movies are about things that are out of our control and beyond our comprehension — whether it’s ideas (like the search for the meaning of life) or technology (like jumping to hyperspace) — but not Apollo 13. Every button gets pushed, every dial gets turned, guys have to ballet dance around headphone jacks, and air filters need to be built out of tube socks and duct tape. It’s a practical, human movie about a time when humans looked at something as impractical as landing on the moon and attacked the problem practically. Work the problem, people
2. THE RIGHT STUFF (1983)
This is one of my favorite movies ever in any genre. It pulls off the fine balancing act of recognizing the absurdity of the early Cold War — it’s hard not to laugh at the hypermasculinity and jingoism of the Space Race — while also embracing it. Is it ridiculous to look at test pilots as the last cowboys, as Sam Shepard literally rides his horse to Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club? Sure, but those guys were also really cool. This film lives in the moment before liftoff, buoyed by one of the greatest movie soundtracks ever and incredible performances from top to bottom: Shepard’s gunslinger Chuck Yeager, Levon Helm’s resourceful Jack Ridley, Fred Ward’s aggro Gus Grissom, Ed Harris’s manic boy scout John Glenn, Dennis Quaid’s class clown Gordo Cooper, and Pamela Reed as his wife Trudy, whose struggle to “maintain an even strain” breaks your heart more and more each time you watch it. But the performance that characterizes the movie best is Donald Moffat’s outrageous LBJ. It’s broad, it’s preposterous, it’s hyperbolic, but it’s also a major historical figure going berserk over issues of colossal geopolitical importance. This movie is beautiful, hilarious, sad, dramatic, and hysterical.
1. STAR WARS FILM SERIES (1977 – Current)
It’s the greatest sci-fi franchise in film history, and much of moviemaking as we know it today would not have been possible without George Lucas’ original Star Wars. Though it lifted much of its structure and characters from pulp action-adventure of the time, everything from the special effects to the concept of “droids” were absolutely groundbreaking. Disney purchased the franchise from George Lucas for billions and have already cranked out four new Star Wars films, two upcoming tv series, a bunch of animated series’ and even an entire land at Disneyland and Disneyworld.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments below.