Good Astronaut Movies

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

The following list of good astronaut movies was inspired by an important date in the history of space exploration. On June 3rd, 1965, astronaut Ed White became the first American to conduct a spacewalk. Sadly, he would perish two years later along with astronauts “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee during a pre-flight test for the Apollo 1 mission, but his accomplishment remains. White would later be portrayed on-screen by Steven Ruge (Apollo 13) and Chris Isaak (From the Earth to the Moon).

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Apollo 13 (1995) – The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was intended to be a lunar landing, but a sudden explosion left the crew low on oxygen and desperate to return to Earth. This compelling drama–nominated for nine Oscars–was directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and Kathleen Quinlan. When it comes to good astronaut movies, this is the gold standard.

Sunshine (2007) – Director Danny Boyle once again demonstrates his versatility by helming this British sci-fi work about a massive spaceship on a mission to reignite the dying Sun. The original mission sent there disappeared seven years earlier, so imagine the new crew’s surprise when they receive a distress call from the lost vessel. Starring Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis and Mark Strong.

Capricorn One (1977) – While it does involve astronauts, this film is one of those conspiracy thrillers found so often in the 1970s. James Brolin, O.J. Simpson, and Sam Waterston play the crew of Capricorn One, the first manned mission to Mars. When it’s discovered that a malfunction would kill them before they arrived at their destination, the astronauts are whisked away to an isolated base, put on a soundstage, and forced to pretend to be on the surface of Mars. The astronauts do their duty, but they soon begin to realize that they may not get out of it alive. Meanwhile, Elliott Gould plays a reporter searching for the truth and dodging government assassins.

Forbidden Planet (1956) – A group of astronauts in the 23rd century head to a distant planet to investigate the fate of its colonists. Once there, they discover only one of the original colonists has survived, and he lives with his 19-year-old daughter and the massive Robby the Robot. Soon after, an invisible monster begins to pick off the crew, and a race for survival begins. Robby the Robot went on to appear in a number of television shows and films, and the surprisingly strong cast includes Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen and Earl Holliman.

Solaris (1972) – Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is dispatched to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to evaluate the crew. It seems that they’ve all experienced some form of emotional crisis, and their research is suffering because of it. Once there, Kelvin begins to suffer from hallucinations, including visits from his dead wife. Fans of action-packed space films will want to steer clear, as the movie’s 165-minute run time plays out at a deliberate pace. If, however, you’re looking for a rich exploration of the human psyche, be sure to see this product of the Soviet Union.

Planet of the Apes (1968) – With one of the most famous twist endings in movie history, the Planet of the Apes launched a long-running franchise of TV shows, films, comic books, and more. Adapted by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling from a French novel, the movie tells of astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crash landing on a planet ruled by apes. Treated like nothing more than an animal–and unable to communicate due to an injury–Taylor must avoid such laboratory perils as a lobotomy and castration. Luckily, he gets some help from a pair of chimpanzee scientists known as Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). Skip the Tim Burton “re-imagining” and see this superior version.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick messes with our heads in this dazzling tale of evolution, complete with giant space babies, battling cavemen, and a murderous computer. Boasting a memorable soundtrack, cutting edge special effects, and plenty of surreal moments from co-writers Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, the film is often regarded as the greatest sci-fi film ever made. Strangely, it failed to garner a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, although it did win for Best Visual Effects.

Moon (2009) – San Rockwell delivers a complex performance as Sam Bell, a lunar miner nearing the end of his three-year contract to harvest helium isotopes. Excited about going home and being reunited with his family, Sam begins to hallucinate and eventually suffers an accident. After waking in the infirmary and later sneaking past his robotic helper, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), Sam discovers someone else alive on the base…his exact double. Although he didn’t receive one, Rockwell certainly deserved an Oscar nomination for his role.

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Stranded: Náufragos (2002) – When an international mission to Mars results in a crash on the surface of the Red Planet, the surviving astronauts are left with a dilemma: they have supplies for a year, but it will take a rescue mission over two years to reach them. Starring Vincent Gallo and Joaquim de Almeida, this fascinating Spanish astronaut film was written by sci-fi author Juan Miguel Aguilera and received solid reviews from European critics. If you’re looking for “hard sci-fi” then give this one a try.

The Right Stuff (1983) – The “Mercury Seven” were better known as John Glenn (Ed Harris), Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), Alan Sheppard (Scott Glenn), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen), and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin). These men were selected to be part of America’s first manned space flight, but the film also devotes significant time to pilot and war hero Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), who was never chosen as an astronaut. A stirring drama that plays up the heroism of these trailblazers, The Right Stuff was nominated for eight Oscars and won four.

While space exploration has been put on the back burner in recent years, watching even one of the good astronaut movies listed above should quickly renew your interest. For other quality film recommendations from OGM, give the following links a try:

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 at 1:01 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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