In preparation for the newest space travel film coming to the big screen, Ad Astra, I’d like to give the ten best astronaut films of all time, to date. This won’t be my personal ranking, but something more unbiased. To do so, as I’ve done with other film lists I’ve generated, I’ve created a simple equation that multiplies and combines scores from both critics and cinephiles alike. The difference in ranking at times is down the hundredths of a decimal point! As the ten “best,” I’ve intentionally not taken into account other factors, like accolades or box office success. This also, more or less, will simply be a list with brief synopses, not commented on by me as I do with movie reviews.
As with all of my lists I’ve posted elsewhere, I’ve ran many films through, though only the ten best are listed here. As such, feel free to let me know or ask if I’ve checked a certain film!
Oh, and a final word: these are astronaut films that either 1) are sci-films that center around an astronaut’s journey and not merely space exploration (e.g. not Star Wars or Avatar, etc.), 2) are astronaut films that are based on documented history, and 3) are not documentaries, as far as genre. Bottom line: these films are astronaut/narrative films more than anything else, not merely sci-fi space exploration! Enjoy!
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Synopsis: Humanity finds a mysterious object buried beneath the lunar surface and sets off to find its origins with the help of HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced super computer.
2. Solaris (1972)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Synopsis: A psychologist is sent to a space station orbiting a planet called Solaris to investigate the death of a doctor and the mental problems of cosmonauts on the station. He soon discovers that the water on the planet is a type of brain which brings out repressed memories and obsessions.
3. The Right Stuff (1983)
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Synopsis: A chronicle of the original Mercury astronauts in the formation of America’s space program: Alan Shepherd, the first American in space; Gus Grissom, the benighted astronaut for whom nothing works out as planned; John Glenn, the straight-arrow ‘boy scout’ of the bunch who was the first American to orbit the earth; and the remaining pilots: Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.
4. Gravity (2013)
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Synposis: Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first Shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The Shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone-tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness of space. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
5. Apollo 13 (1995)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Synopsis: The true story of technical troubles that scuttle the Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1971, risking the lives of astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew, with the failed journey turning into a thrilling saga of heroism. Drifting more than 200,000 miles from Earth, the astronauts work furiously with the ground crew to avert tragedy.
6. First Man (2018)
Directed: Damien Chazelle
Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
7. Moon (2009)
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Synopsis: With only three weeks left in his three year contract, Sam Bell is getting anxious to finally return to Earth. He is the only occupant of a Moon-based manufacturing facility along with his computer and assistant, GERTY. When he has an accident however, he wakens to find that he is not alone.
8. Interstellar (2014)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Synopsis: Interstellar chronicles the adventures of a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.
9. The Martian (2015)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
10. High Life (2018)
Directed by: Claire Denis
Synopsis: Monte and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system. They must now rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.
“Films.” Films • Letterboxd. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://letterboxd.com/films/.