Astronaut Movies | List of 14 Films Involving Astronauts
Last Updated: August 29, 2023
Astronauts provide real-life heroes for many of us, and many movies have captured that innate awe with space movies focused on astronauts. However, as is, unfortunately, the case with many sci-fi movies, astronaut movies can reach a little too high and fall drastically short. A quick search of the free movie streaming services will reveal dozens of what can be categorized as astronaut movies, many of which are lucky if they break 30% or 2 stars on popular review sites. So, let’s dive into some of the best astronaut movies out there.
First of all, let’s discuss what we are classifying as “astronaut movies”. While this may seem obvious, a quick Google search will show that a basic definition of “astronaut” as “spacefarer” can bring up movies that don’t quite fit the astronaut feel. So, for the purposes of this article, an astronaut movie must hit one of the following requirements:
- Is a documentary or historical drama about actual space exploration featuring astronauts
- Is a fictional movie that expressly states their main characters as astronauts, ideally as either based on real astronauts or fictional future astronauts
- Focuses primarily on crewed space exploration in some manner in the near future where living in space is not the norm (thereby excluding titles like Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.)
In short, we should know it when we see it, likely featuring scenes of our characters floating in space in either jumpsuits or actual spacesuits.
The watch links provided in this documentary are current as of this publication in late July 2023, but we cannot guarantee that the licensing rights have not changed after that.
Where possible, we attempted to include movies that were available with at least one of the major streaming service subscriptions, but unfortunately, many will need to be bought or rented through these or other streaming services. L
inks directly to the title are provided when available (Hulu Live TV for instance reroutes you to the Live TV Signup page if you are not a subscriber)
Europa Report (2013)
Set in the “near future”, Europa Report follows the first crewed deep space mission, headed for Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Set as a fictional found footage film with declassified video feeds from the craft detailing the disaster, narrated by the Lead Scientist and other experts, it feels like an after-the-fact documentary.
News footage intersperses this main content, particularly at the beginning for the launch. The movie provides a fairly decent portrayal of life in space and science such as centering around the 2011 NASA discoveries of liquid water underneath the surface of Europa and the possibility of life as single-celled organisms.
Despite having horror film elements, Europa Report delves into the question of the importance of any one life versus the prospect of discovering life-altering information about the solar system and universe. It has received positive reviews over the years and continues to be listed as one of the best space films and astronaut movies.
Where To Watch
Based on Stanisław Lem’s 1961 novel of the same title, this Soviet film details the physical, emotional, and psychological journey of psychologist Kris Kelvin who travels to a remote station around another planet to figure out the cause of a crew-wide mental breakdown.
If you like Kubrick films, you will likely appreciate this movie as it is in a very similar style and Kubrick cites the director as an inspirational figure. Be aware that it is a very slow movie that can often be confusing by design as Tarkovsky was attempting to bring more emotional depth to the science fiction of the time.
It has received critical acclaim (winning the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or) and is often cited as one of the best science fiction films in the history of cinema.
There is a 2002 version with George Clooney as Kelvin, and has received mixed criticism and acclaim. Watch both and decide for yourself!
Where To Watch
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This epic science fiction movie also still deserves to be on this list despite its age. The screenplay written by director Stanley Kubrick and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke adapted Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel” and other related short stories.
A black monolith from the past and the future sends astronauts and scientists into space to understand it, until their computer system, HAL, begins to increasingly display concerning behavior.
It received and continues to receive acclaim for its scientifically accurate depiction of space flight, its groundbreaking special effects, and its enigmatic imagery. Kubrick strove to reinvent the art form, doing away with many classical techniques and focusing heavily on music and sound in general.
Be aware that the film begins with a black screen and silence. It definitely feels like an old film at times, but it is worth it.
Where To Watch
The Martian (2015)
In one of the most popular astronaut movies of the decade, Mark Watney is left behind on Mars during a dust storm, leaving him to survive by himself until a rescue mission can arrive. Despite being almost a decade old, The Martian still holds up as a thrilling space blockbuster movie.
Damon’s portrayal of Watney creates an “everyman’s” astronaut of the modern day who reacts as any human would to the perilous conditions he is faced with. Real emotions of fear, dread, dark humor, anger, denial, acceptance, and perseverance shine throughout his time on Mars. With a stellar backing cast, we see Watney and NASA’s best minds work to get him safely home, even if they may disagree on the how or the details.
Overall, it’s just a fun movie about how human ingenuity, but especially our determination and even stubbornness, can make even the impossible possible.
Where To Listen
Rent/ Buy on various streaming services
In another of the most popular astronaut movies of the decade, Matthew McConaughey is tasked to find a new home as Earth is rapidly becoming unable to support life. The current generation is simply a caretaker, attempting to make enough food for people to survive and waste as little as possible.
Other science has been pushed to the back burner, even seen as wasteful. While investigating paranormal happenings in his daughter’s room, Cooper finds gravitational anomalies that lead him to what is left of NASA where his old professor is trying to send a ship through a black hole near Saturn that goes to another galaxy.
It provides a chance to continue humanity in one of two ways if a world capable of harboring human life is found, but with travel through a black hole and at near-light-speed, relativity means time will pass differently for the crew than for people on Earth. Plan A will save the current inhabitants of Earth while Plan B will use cryo-freezed eggs to start a new Earth 2.0 with new humans.
This movie is a masterpiece, perhaps the best astronaut movie I’ve ever seen, forcing us to consider the possibilities of space and how little we know. Nolan’s ability to make it okay for things to not make sense, so you don’t question it, is truly masterful, allowing us to consider the possibilities of the universe beyond our human comprehension.
Where To Watch
The third of likely the most well-known of the astronauts in the past decade is Gravity where two astronauts work together to survive after an accident leaves them stranded in space.
The movie begins with the Space Shuttle Explorer STS-157 mission to Hubble Space Telescope to install Dr. Ryan Stone’s imaging system, but it is quickly cut short when space debris from Russia destroying its own satellite comes heading their way, sparking what is known as the Kessler Syndrome where debris causes more debris, in a neverending, deteriorating cycle. (For more information on the Kessler Syndrome and space junk)
This movie was made for IMAX, meaning that the experience in your own home may feel a little wanting at times. However, a solid sound system and home theater setup can greatly benefit the experience as the movie is very quiet.
The immersive first-person POV shots provide an interesting and sometimes disorienting effect that often requires your full attention in the silence of space as a single glance at your phone could mean looking back up to see explosions as debris crashes into surrounding objects.
Sandra Bullock holds her own, providing a solid anchor in a movie that often involves no other actors, creating a solid astronaut movie.
Where To Watch
Rent or Buy on various streaming services
Apollo 11 (2019)
For its 50th anniversary, Todd Douglas Miller presents a fantastic documentary on the mission that sent humanity to the moon featuring amazing restored and previously unseen footage.
The film focuses on the period of time from the final preparations for launch to the moments after Eagle 1’s safe touchdown on the lunar surface.
Featuring newly discovered 70mm footage and over 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, it provides a unique and previously unseen look at this historic mission.
If you are looking for a solid documentary about the space race and our mission of landing humans on the moon, this is a truly great option.
Where To Watch
It’s hard not to love this absolutely ridiculous, honestly bad astronaut movie. During the era of Bruce Willis action movies, we see him take up the mantle once again to save the world.
An asteroid is heading for Earth and we need to blow it up to alter its course and prevent it from wiping out all life on the planet. (For more information on how unlikely this scenario is, check out our previous article on Near-Earth Asteroids.)
Instead of training astronauts to drill a hole into an asteroid to detonate a bomb internally and effectively alter its trajectory, NASA instead opts to train the best oil drilling team on the planet to go to space.
Featuring an exhaustive list of other big-name actors including Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, and Owen Wilson in addition to a few other faces you might recognize, this bad space movie that you love to hate will likely hold a place in our heart for years to come.
Where To Watch
Hidden Figures (2016)
This spectacular historical drama details the lives of real African American women who worked for NASA in the middle of the Space Race while still fighting segregation. Based on the book of the same title, Hidden Figures shines a light on these forgotten figures of history.
Women, and even African American women, who at this time struggled to find gainful employment for decent wages thanks to discrimination of various forms, were actually sought after for the role of computers.
In fact, women were said to be particularly good at doing the tasks of a computer: performing mathematical calculations to determine values such as trajectories for spacecraft, until the machines of the same name became reliable enough (women computers actually doublechecked the machines for years until they were eventually phased out).
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae all provide amazing performances in their roles of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson respectively, bringing these real-life pioneers the respect and honor that they deserve and has been hidden for so long.
This movie is definitely worth a watch or a rewatch even seven years later.
Where To Watch
First Man (2018)
This biopic based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong provides a human look at one of the larger-than-life figures of our lifetime: the first man to walk on the moon.
It’s a hauntingly beautiful look at the harsh realities of the space program and other frontier-seeking fields. It shines a light on how the mental and emotional health of astronauts has often been swept under the rug as any reports of concerning behavior could ground you from your mission, the next one, or even all future ones.
This movie helps bring to life some of the very real human struggles of our first spacefarers, putting us in their shoes, or boots you could say, and showing us the scary realities of the early space program. I appreciated the emphasis on the impact on Neil’s wife, Jan, and their kids, Ricky and Mark.
The astronauts are not the only ones who work and sacrifice for the space race. It’s their families and numerous other professionals such as engineers, project managers, and more.
All in all, it was an eye-opening and heart-wrenching look at one of America’s and even the world’s heroes thanks to Ryan Gosling’s spectacular performance.
Where To Watch
Watch on Hulu Live TV or rent/ buy from various streaming services
The Wandering Earth (2019)
This movie waffled continually back and forth on whether or not it qualified as an astronaut movie. While there are astronauts, the film focuses more on characters on Earth, but our planet is much more analogous to a space station in this adventure.
The Sun is deteriorating and will swallow the Earth in a hundred years, destabilizing the solar system in 300 years. They decide to launch Earth out of its orbit toward Proxima Centauri, listed as a 2,500-year journey using massive engines built into the surface of the Earth. To monitor the progress, the Navigation International Space Station is launched with the world’s astronaut force.
Cities are built underground under each engine to protect the people from the drastic changes that will happen on the surface during the trip. The right to residency is obtained by lottery and prioritized citizens like the family of astronauts who are the main characters of this story as they try to save the world when the planned gravity assist with Jupiter goes awry. The English dubbing of this film was a little rough, to be honest, and I would highly recommend watching it in its original Mandarin with English subtitles to experience it closer to what the director imagined.
All in all, it was an interesting movie with thought-provoking questions and thrilling action scenes. A sequel was released in January 2023 for a limited theatrical release in North America.
Where To Watch
Apollo 10 ½ (2022)
While this movie may be animated and feature a child as the main character, it certainly is not a child’s movie, even though many might enjoy it.
Richard Linklater provides another ingeniously simple but beautiful look at life. Narrated by Jack Black, Stanley tells the story of how he was drafted for a secret mission to the moon thanks to a manufacturing error that will only allow a child-sized astronaut.
However, that’s just the top layer of the plot, the one that a child might enjoy, but it covers a much deeper meaning that adults will revel in: nostalgia. The movie wonderfully weaves together a story that speaks to the heart of children from the Space Age and honestly the little astronaut inside all of us.
Because while NASA would likely never send a child into space, especially over a manufacturing error, it’s not unrealistic to say that children around the world journeyed to the moon with Neil, Buzz, and Michael on that fateful lunar landing, dreaming of space.
Inspired by Linklater’s own life, this fantastical story takes you back to what it was like to grow up in the 60s in Houston, TX.
Where To Watch
Ad Astra (2019)
In this thrilling psychological sci-fi adventure, Brad Pitt as astronaut Roy McBride must journey through space to discover what really happened to his missing father and the doomed space expedition to discover intelligent alien life.
Director James Gray sought to create “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie”. High goals and one only you can likely answer for yourself.
However, it has been nominated for numerous prestigious awards in the past few years and won many as well, receiving largely positive critical acclaim, especially for its visual effects.
Overall, it was a good, thought-provoking film that is worth a watch and even a rewatch.
Where To Listen
Watch on Hulu Live TV or rent/ buy through other services.
In this psychological thriller, 8 astronauts in 2057 are tasked with a mission to reignite the dying Sun. The already dangerous mission is thrown slowly and slowly towards chaos as an accident, a mistake, and finally, a distress beacon from a previously lost spaceship rock this mission and its astronauts to the brink of disaster and even beyond.
The director, Danny Boyle, chose to take the international cast of actors and have them live together and even learn the reality behind their given roles as a form of method acting, which shines through at times better than others.
However, as a whole, this movie which dives into physics, science, and even religion has often been generally well-received though many feel the ending did not live up to the expectations.
You’ll have to decide for yourself, but for me, the movie is worthy of a rewatch, even almost a decade later.
Where To Watch
Rent/ buy through various services
What is the best astronaut movie?
This really depends on you, your interests, and your movie preferences. Our selection of astronaut movies provide a great variety that should hopefully provide you with a few new ones to check out.
Personally, I’ve been wanting some more recent solid astronaut movies. There’s a reason many of the films on this list are either close to a decade old or even up to 50 years old.
There is a slew of astronaut movies on free services, but many fail to live up to a decent experience, with the standouts being 3 out of 5 stars or 50-60% on Rotten Tomatoes, but many falling within the 20-40% range.
Even Netflix, which seems to offer the most recent movies relating to astronauts struggles with productions like Stowaway which seemed to suffer from a tiny budget in addition to not having enough detail to plot, characters, and science despite having a catchy description.
I hope with the continued interest in space travel thanks to the Artemis missions and private spaceflight companies, this will change soon.
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Sarah Hoffschwelle is a freelance writer who covers a combination of topics including astronomy, general science and STEM, self-development, art, and societal commentary. In the past, Sarah worked in educational nonprofits providing free-choice learning experiences for audiences ages 2-99. As a lifelong space nerd, she loves sharing the universe with others through her words. She currently writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@sarah-marie and authors self-help and children’s books.