Space, man. It’s just up there, floating and so far beyond the regular comprehension of us, plebeians stuck down here on Earth. (The billionaires are, of course, exempt from our land-locked status.) We sit down on the big blue planet and imagine what it might be like. We do it so often that we regularly turn the concept into a movie. That leads us to ranking the best space movies of all time. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind, but did they walk an animal cracker up and down Liv Tyler’s stomach? I think not. Leave the science to the geniuses. Leave the kitschy, nausea-inducing space flicks to us.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was always a little kooky, but it turned towards the monumentally bizarre with Guardians of the Galaxy. A ragtag group of bounty hunters and thieves band together to steal an all-powerful space rock, and along the way, they get on all kinds of action-packed adventures. But that’s just the window dressing. The plot isn’t what’s great about James Gunn’s film. Instead, it’s the off-the-wall characters, like a raccoon with a mean sense of humor, a tree who only knows one sentence, and a human who tries to act like Han Solo without realizing he’s the dude Ice Pirates at best.
Gunn presents it with all the visual wonder of a Star Wars movie but with all the acerbic wit of a low-budget indie comedy. And in a medium practically defined by the majesty of a John Williams soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy reimagines an outer space defined by Bowie tunes and songs about piña coladas. But the music isn’t just for fun. It’s the most important character of all, messages from a mother who can’t be there to support her son but helps tell his story anyway. Guardians of the Galaxy tugs at your heartstrings when it’s not making you giggle.
9. Apollo 13
How do you argue with Ron Howard? His 1995 summer blockbuster about the near-fatal moon mission gone awry is one of the best space movies ever. But, like many of the top films in this genre, this Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon film relies on the ingenuity, fears, and intelligence that make us truly human.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey
More than years later, humanity has gotten no closer to unraveling the mystery that is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nevertheless, it remains a mind-bending achievement of imagination and technical filmmaking that is the Hollywood equivalent of putting a man on the moon. And to that end, Kubrick’s directing is so good in A Space Odyssey people still believe that he’s the one who helped the U.S. Government fake the moon landing. Yes, it’s slow, and yes, it’s baffling—but in terms of ideas and visual mastery, 2001 is incomparable. As a result, it remained the standard for sci-fi movies and laid the groundwork for the genre as we know it today.
Hanging out on Earth to clean up humanity’s mess, Wall-E finds another robot on a scanning mission sent to what remains of the third rock from the sun. Together, the two go on a universe-spanning adventure that will warm your heart, unlike any other space story. Wall-E remains one of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments thanks to its stunning visuals and an ever more important environmental message.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece at once revolutionized the horror and sci-fi genres. Yet, beneath the surface of this space, terror bubbles themes tackling everything from feminism to Freudian sex to traditional gender roles and reproduction. Along with that, Alien debuted one of the best heroes in film history with Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley, along with one of the greatest monsters in film history with the titular Alien.
5. First Man
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. No wonder 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. But, cornered, what could he do but tell the same story again and again and again? Disappointed, their curiosity unslaked, people called him dull.
Two years after hurling a vocally challenged Ryan Gosling into his musical La La Land, Damien Chazelle cast him as Neil Armstrong in a movie that promised to locate Armstrong’s beating heart and rich emotional life. As such, First Man is a triumph.
Gosling is the film actor’s film actor capable of expressing deep emotion with an astounding economy. Playing “buttoned up” hampers him hardly at all. And he is given plenty to work with. Josh Singer’s ingenious script gives Armstrong a profound and personal motivation for wanting to reach the moon that in no way interferes with the historical record or trivializes its celebrated subject. As for the moon landing itself, it represents a milestone in cinematic technique. You’ll believe you were there and wonder, deeply, why Armstrong, or anyone else for that matter, ever went.
Sam Rockwell stars in Moon, a film about a miner in the future who is sent to bring alternative fuel home to Earth. But as he’s about to come home, his health seriously worsens. Things get even stranger when he runs into a younger version of himself. He’s tasked with his clone with figuring out what the hell is going on before they pay the price of being discovered. This quiet, incredible sci-fi thriller marked a stunning debut for director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son.
With its orbital camera and ultra-realism, this Alfonso Cuarón-directed sci-fi masterpiece showcases the phenomenal ability of Sandra Bullock. She spends most of this movie isolated and surviving the terrors of space. Wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up? Not after seeing this thriller, where the villain is the unforgiving vacuum of space.
2. The Martian
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. But, like many space films, this one hones in on human resilience and shines a wonderful musical spotlight on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”
Christopher Nolan’s visually-stunning space epic follows Matthew McConaughey as a pilot tasked with finding a new home for the human species. His character sets off into the unknown, leaving his family on a dust-filled Earth that’s rapidly becoming unable to support life. Prepare to bend your brain trying to understand the concept of relativity as McConaughey races against the clock in an extremely sci-fi way.