Good Movies about Space

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 9:57 am

The following list is dedicated to good movies about space. Since it’s the final frontier, filmmakers have been playing around with outer space ever since Georges Melies made A Trip to the Moon in 1902. While special effects have become more advanced and film budgets have swelled to astronomical amounts, the fundamental premise remains the same: We’re all insignificant specks in the grand scheme of the cosmos, and there are things out there willing (and able) to put us in our place. So whether you’re an astronaut or a shotgun-toting sheriff, it’s a good idea to watch your step and show the universe a little freakin’ respect.

Each of the following good movies about space can be rented from Netflix, the leading provider of online movie rentals in the United States. They don’t charge late fees, deliver right to your mailbox, and offer a library of over 100,000 films on DVD and Blu-ray. You can even take advantage of the Netflix free trial offer and give it a spin for a month without paying a penny.

Event Horizon (1997) – In the year 2047, the starship Event Horizon sends out a distress call consisting of Latin phrases and screaming. Oddly enough, the ship built to quickly travel great distances in space had disappeared seven years earlier. The crew of the Lewis and Clark is dispatched to Neptune to investigate, and Event Horizon designer Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) accompanies them. What they find defies all known science and leads to madness and murder in a zero gravity hell. Underappreciated during its original theatrical run, the Paul W.S. Anderson film has garnered a cult following thanks to a cast which includes Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, and Joely Richardson.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick’s classic genre film is a trippy and poignant look at the nature of the universe and man’s place within it. From battling cavemen to a floating “star child,” it’s packed with layer upon layer of breathtaking visual effects (especially for the time) and subtle commentaries of where we’ve been and where we’re going. The soundtrack is equally memorable, with the classical music conveying more about the human race than dialogue ever could. Based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke, it’s a must-see for any fan of good movies about space.

Sunshine (2007) – Directed by the versatile Danny Boyle, Sunshine is set in a future where Earth’s Sun threatens to burn out and destroy all life. After the first mission to re-ignite the sun fails, a second expedition is sent. On their way to the objective, the crew of Icarus II encounters a distress beacon from Icarus I, the ship that disappeared seven years prior. Going to investigate and pick up a second payload (the sun is to be re-ignited with nuclear charges), the crew soon learns that not everyone on Icarus I has perished. Part horror and science fiction, Sunshine boasts some stunning sequences involving the raw power of the sun, and the international cast includes Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, and Mark Strong.

Silent Running (1972) – The ultimate sci-fi film for the environmentally conscience, Silent Running stars Bruce Dern as Freeman Lowell, a botanist who cares for flora and fauna in domes located outside the orbit of Saturn. There’s no longer any plant life on Earth, and these domes are intended for the eventual reforestation of the planet. But then his greedy employers send word to destroy everything with nuclear charges, and Freeman decides to rebel and save the plant life at all costs. Highly influential, the film has been credited with inspiring everything from WALL-E to the British TV series Red Dwarf.

Outland (1981) – Sean Connery is Federal Marshal O’Niel, a lawman who’s assigned to a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon, Io. When he begins investigating a series of deaths among the colony’s workers, he uncovers a drug ring that goes all the way to the top of the planet’s administrative hierarchy. With no allies to rely upon and assassins coming to kill him, O’Niel must make his last stand. It’s basically High Noon in space, but fans of Connery won’t be disappointed with his portrayal of the shotgun-wielding lone hero.

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Solaris (2002) – Directed by Steven Soderbergh, this sci-fi film is adapted from the novel by Stanislaw Lem and a remake of the 1972 Soviet film. George Clooney stars as Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who agrees to travel to a space station and find out why the crew is dying off. Once there, he must grapple with the phantoms of his own mind, as well as confront a very real version of his dead wife. Bristling with psychological tension, the film also stars Jeremy Davies and Natascha McElhone.

Marooned (1969) – Returning from a space station, three astronauts (Gene Hackman, Richard Crenna, and James Franciscus) encounter technical problems and wind up marooned in space. With only two days worth of oxygen, their prospects look grim. Back on Earth, their wives grieve and the government plans a seat-of-their-pants rescue, but an approaching hurricane threatens to derail the latest launch. Meanwhile, the astronauts are beginning to suffer from oxygen deprivation. A tense outer space thriller co-starring Gregory Peck, David Janssen, Lee Grant, and Mariette Hartley.

Lifeforce (1985) – Written by Dan O’Bannon (Total Recall, Alien) and directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Lifeforce advances the idea that not all alien life is friendly. In fact, it might very well view you as lunch. That’s the case with the space vampires in this film, as they steal the life force from their victims and send it to their 150-mile long spaceship. Unfortunately, this came out at the same time as Cocoon, and the combined powers of Ron Howard and Wilford Brimley stomped it into the dirt. If you decide to give it a try, be sure to buy the international cut, as it’s loaded with way more sex and violence.

Alien (1979) – “In space, no one can hear you scream.” That’s the tagline of Ridley Scott’s synthesis of sci-fi and horror, a film that would prove highly influential in the decades to come. After receiving a mysterious signal from an unknown planetoid, the crew of the space towing vessel Nostromo (including Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartwright) decide to investigate. Bad idea, as one of their crew is brought back on board with something attached to his face. That’s when the real trouble starts, and the mess hall scene is still effective at making viewers nauseous. The sequel, directed by James Cameron, added more action to the equation, but the original is a masterpiece of deliberate pacing and white-knuckle tension.

Starcrash (1979) – While the category is good movies about space, I also wanted to leave enough room to include this cheesy gem from the late ’70s. Trying to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon, Starcrash fails on almost every level. Caroline Munro is Stella Star, a spacefaring adventuress who gets caught along with her powerful mystical sidekick, Akton (Marjoe Gortner), and sent on a dangerous mission. There’s a villain with a powerful secret weapon (Joe Spinell), a wise universal ruler (Christopher Plummer), his noble son (David Hasselhoff), and an intergalactic cop named Thor (Robert Tessier). Also known by the title The Adventures of Stella Star, this Italian stinker is worth a look for anyone who wants to see a cinematic train wreck in progress. Plus, fans of David Hasselhoff will be taken back to a simpler time before “The Hoff” co-ruled the universe with Chuck Norris.

For additional good movies about space, be sure to become a Netflix subscriber. They have multiple membership plans to choose from, and most customers will receive their selections one day after they’ve been shipped. We do get a small commission if you sign up, but I wouldn’t steer you in the wrong direction. I’ve been a loyal Netflix subscriber since 2005, and I couldn’t be happier.

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