The Best Space Movies - Top 13 Films Taking Place in Space
Last Updated: December 7, 2021
Although it is mainly made up of emptiness and large areas of nothingness, space has always been the site of epic stories, tales of exploration, galactic battles, cosmic mysteries and fascinating films. Since 1902, and the release of what is considered the first science fiction film (“Journey to the Moon”), filmmakers have used space to create the most epic of stories. After all, our imagination is vast, just like space, and so anything is possible: any form of life can exist, any kind of technology can be used, any world can be explored…
If you fancy a few cosmic adventures while sitting comfortably on your couch with a blanket, check out our selection of the best space movies below.
Our selection of the best space movies
- Genre: Epic science fiction film
- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Main cast members: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain.
- Running Time: 2h 49m
A little over a year after the release of the infamous “Gravity”, the talented English director Christopher Nolan delivers “Interstellar”: a film about how humanity’s last hope for survival lies in exploring new regions of space. Interstellar is probably one of the most impressive space films of the last decade for me. The film offers a complex story as well as astonishing space travel scenes akin to those in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It’s an enjoyable film, full of philosophy and masterfully directed by Christopher Nolan.
I know that not everyone liked it but, as a lifelong space enthusiast, I thought it had an exciting story without too much dead time despite its rather long running time (2h 49m). This space film is a wonderful cinematic experience: it flirts with the complex subject of space and time and their complex relationship. A special mention to the film’s soundtrack: Hans Zimmer’s music is once again out of this world…
Ad Astra (2019)
- Genre: psychological science fiction adventure film
- Director: James Gray
- Main cast members: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler
- Running Time: 2h 4m
Ad Astra, which means “to the stars” in Latin, is a recent movie produced by James Gray. Ad Astra is a little more than just a space exploration film: it is an introspective journey for a man in search of answers.
Synopsis: Powerful electromagnetic surges causing significant damage are increasingly being recorded on Earth. To prevent further catastrophe, astronaut Roy McBride is sent to a spaceship in orbit around Neptune in order to neutralize the cause of these surges. This deep-space base happens to be the one that Roy’s father went to when he was young and never returned from.
Visually, there are some fantastic scenes in this film but don’t expect to see an action-packed story. The space travel scenes are breathtaking and will hypnotize you for sure.
The Martian (2015)
- Genre: Science fiction film
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Main cast members: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels
- Running Time: 2h 4m
This space movie is an adaptation of a book published by Andy Weir. The Martian’s plot is quite simple: During a mission to Mars, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is left for dead after a huge storm forces a team of space explorers to retreat and leave the red planet in a hurry. However, Mark is not quite dead and finds himself stranded on a planet 225 million km from home… The lone astronaut will face many challenges in order to survive the harshness of the Red Planet and, most importantly, to return to Earth.
Yes, Matt Damon needs to be saved once again… but he’s on Mars, so I don’t mind at all! I’ve always been a fan of the Red Planet, even though it mostly has desert landscapes to offer.
Some of the scientific elements explained in the film are the result of a collaboration between Ridley Scott and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Scott spoke with Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, as soon as he began work on the film.
Bonus: We thoroughly enjoyed seeing Donald Glover as a genius scientist!
- Genre: Science fiction thriller film
- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- Main cast members: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
- Running Time: 1h 31m
Gravity is a space film about two astronauts who try to return to Earth after the destruction of their space shuttle, leaving them both stranded in space. The special effects are incredibly well done and the attention to detail (especially the weightlessness due to the absence of gravity) is spot on.
The characters are faced with a very difficult situation, and I enjoyed the intensity of the story. Sandra Bullock delivers a fantastic performance – you can really feel her panic as she whips helplessly through space, desperately trying to survive.
A few people online complained that some of the science was wrong: the orbits in which the ISS and the Hubble Telescope revolve around the Earth are too far apart, making it impossible to travel between the two in real life. While that’s true, I don’t know many space movie that gets the science 100% right and I don’t mind a few slip-ups for the purpose of storytelling.
Europa Report (2013)
- Genre: Science fiction film
- Director: Sebastián Cordero
- Main cast members: Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist
- Running Time: 1h 37m
Europa Report is not a very famous space movie… I don’t think it was heavily marketed, or perhaps it was overshadowed by “Gravity” which came out the same year… However, I thought this film was a very good surprise when I came across it on Netflix.
Europa Report is about a crew of 6 astronauts embarking on a journey to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, to investigate the possibility that life might exist in the ocean beneath the moon’s icy mantle. As you can predict, things will not go as planned and the crew will painfully discover whether or not this mission was worth it!
The film uses the (overused) documentary / found-footage style to tell its story. However, Europa Report remains a good example that you do not necessarily need a “Hollywood” type of budget to produce a decent science fiction film. Although I can agree that it is not the space film of the decade, I have enjoyed my viewing. It definitely gave me my dose of space when I needed it!
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
- Genre: Epic science fiction film
- Director: Stanley Kubrick
- Main cast members: Keir Duella, Gary Lockwood
- Running Time: 2h 44m
Kubrick produced and directed his 7th film in 1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey, co-written with Arthur C. Clarke. Although the movie is now over 50 years old, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest and most famous space films in the history of cinema. This film is unanimously recognized as a masterpiece that has had a lasting impact on the science fiction genre.
In this cosmical tale, two astronauts embark on a journey to Jupiter to investigate a mysterious black monolith. Aboard the spacecraft “Discovery”, they are assisted in their mission by an artificial intelligence called Hal 900, which is beginning to show signs of minor malfunctions… Throughout the film, their journey essentially represents mankind endless search for the origin of humanity.
In my opinion, this is a fascinating movie, especially now that artificial intelligence is becoming more and more important in our daily lives. I loved the retro aspect as the film definitely aged very well. This space odyssey will certainly make you think about our place in the universe and humanity’s future.
Apollo 13 (1995)
- Genre: Space docudrama film
- Director: Ron Howard
- Main cast members: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gay Sinise
- Running Time: 2h 20m
This film is about the Apollo 13 mission: the famous near-accident that could have cost many lives. Despite the unlucky number attached to it, the thirteenth mission of the Apollo program seemed like a routine trip to the moon and back at first. But before the shuttle could reach the Moon, the explosion of an oxygen tank forced NASA scientists to find an emergency solution in order to get the astronauts back to Earth safely.
We all know that famous quote from Jack Swigert: “Houston, we have a problem”. Those memorable words were spoken in the cockpit of Apollo 13 less than a year after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon for the first time.
Since this space movie is based on a true story, we already know the ending before the movie begins, but Ron Howard manages brilliantly to make you hold your breath at times. In total, the movie received 9 Oscar nominations and was a hit with critics and the general public alike. A classic, that’s for sure!
- Genre: Animated Sci-fi film
- Director: Andrew Stanton
- Main cast members: Ben Burt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
- Running Time: 1h 43m
Wall-E is one of the most successful animated films produced by Pixar (for Disney) and a story about what the future might look like for us if we don’t start treating our planet a little better. Set in a futuristic setting, Wall-E is a film about a little robot whose mission is to clean up the planet after every human left.
Earth is no longer habitable because of pollution, so humanity has decided to leave the planet in a spaceship and look for a new place to live in space. During this long journey, they regularly send scouting robots to Earth to check for signs of life. One of these robots, E.V.E, meets Wall-E on the same day he discovers a growing plant.
From there begins their crazy space adventure to bring the plant back to the spaceship and show mankind that Earth is habitable again! Ecology, robots, love story, morality, funny and cute moments… Wall-E has it all!
- Genre: Science fiction disaster film
- Director: Michael Bay
- Main cast members: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Will Patton
- Running Time: 2h 31m
Armageddon is Micheal Bay’s third film, starring Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper, a rugged oil driller called in by NASA to help counter an imminent threat. After a meteor shower plunges New York City into chaos and destruction, scientists discover that a massive asteroid, the size of Texas, is heading towards Earth.
With 18 days to go before impact, Harry must assemble a team of highly specialized drillers to implement a bold plan, if not the only plan, to destroy the asteroid before it hits the planet.
Michael Bay tried to develop the main characters through interesting events that elicit an emotional response, but it didn’t really work with me. Armageddon is sometimes a little too corny and scientifically inaccurate. However, if you’re looking for an easy-going film set in space, Armageddon is exactly what you need! It’s not perfect, but it’s entertaining.
Star Wars (1977 - 2020)
- Genre: Epic space saga
- Creator: George Lucas
- Main cast members: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Hadeyn Christesen, Ewan McGregor, Daisy Ridley.
- Running Time: 12 movies…
It is impossible to talk about space movies without mentioning Star Wars! This epic saga created by George Lucas has produced 12 films, including 3 trilogies! Star Wars has not always been a box-office success, but the fact remains that it has become one of the biggest franchise in the history of cinema over the last 40 years.
Star Wars is set in “a galaxy far, far away” and tells the story of a constant battle between the Jedi, users of the light side of the force, and the Sith, users of the dark side of the force. The story focuses primarily on the Skywalker family, whose prophesied “chosen one” is supposed to come from. The chosen one is supposed to bring balance to the Force once and for all.
Star Wars has what every space geek wants to see: spaceship battles, funny-looking aliens, galactic bounty hunters, and light-speed travel between exotic planets. The first trilogy revolutionized the science fiction genre with highly advanced special effects techniques. If you’ve never seen it before and love space, you are in for a treat!
Star Trek (1979 - 2016)
- Genre: Space Exploration
- Creator: Gene Roddenberry
- Main cast members: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, DeForest Kelley, Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, etc.
- Running Time: 12 movies…
You don’t have to be a “Trekkie” to have heard about Star Trek and the infamous stories of Captain Kirk and Picard, as well as the intrepid space missions carried out by the USS voyager or the USS Enterprise. Created by former Air Force pilot Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek takes place in a utopian future where the different stories that unfold combine concepts of science fiction, human drama and light-hearted comedy.
Over the years, the show follows different crews aboard spaceships under the banner of the United Federation of Planets. The show makes intelligent use of the different species of extraterrestrials as well as story plots to reflect on real-world issues.
Although Star Trek began as a television series in 1966, its universe quickly spread to the big screen. Between 1979 and 2016, 12 films were released in cinemas, making Star Trek one of the most successful space movie franchises to date. The most recent space movie trilogy, starring Chris Pine & Zachary Quinto, is separate from the main timeline and takes place in an alternate universe. Why don’t you try watching the Star Trek movies and “boldly go where no one has gone before”.
Alien (1979 - 2017)
- Genre: Science fiction, horror
- Creator: Ridley Scott
- Main cast members: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt.
- Running Time: 5 movies…
It is impossible to talk about space movies without mentioning the Alien saga. Since the very first movie released in 1979, the franchise has resulted in numerous sequels, books, video games, movie spin-offs (Prometheus) and has even joined other franchises (Predator).
Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver, Alien takes place aboard the Nostromo starship traveling through deep space. After receiving a distress call from another spaceship, the crew is awakened from their cryogenic sleep in order to investigate. While inspecting the spaceship, one of the men is attacked by a small alien lifeform and put into a coma. Later on, the crew soon discovers that the small lifeform did not just simply attack the crew member, and something far more terrifying is coming.
The film has had several sequels, all of them using the same type of plot where something inevitably goes wrong and the alien(s) wreak havoc while the crew tries to survive. It’s sometimes too predictable, yes, but Alien is one of the films that defined the science fiction genre back in the days, and I think it’s brilliant and has aged well.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
- Genre: Science fiction, comedy, parody, satire
- Creator: Dean Parisot
- Main cast members: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub.
- Running Time: 1h 42m
Galaxy Quest is a science fiction comedy film that came out in 1999. The film stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, and Enrico Colantoni. Galaxy Quest tells the story of the cast of a defunct sci-fi television series who is recruited by an alien race to help them fight off an invading force.
Galaxy Quest is a homage to star trek as well as a parody/satire on fandom culture. It’s extremely funny and well-made, with great performances from the cast.
The film received positive reviews from critics and was a box office success. It won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Script.
Written by Tom Urbain
I’ve been fascinated by space and astronomy from a very young age. When I’m not watching space-themed documentaries, movies or TV series, I spend most of my free time in my backyard admiring the planets and galaxies with my telescope.
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