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The Best Space Exploration Movies, Ranked

Exploring space – “the final frontier” – has been a beloved exploit across the silver screen since the birth of cinema. The beginning of the science fiction genre can be traced back to the revolutionary 1902 short film A Trip to the Moon. This French piece, directed by Georges Méliès, was an extremely influential work. It told an otherworldly tale of an interstellar voyage, wowing early audiences and breaking away from traditional documentary storytelling. Since then, science fiction stories set in space have dominated the movie world.

As the decades have gone by, films about our mission to reach the stars have become both more realistic and fantastical. These blockbusters have grown increasingly creative and far-reaching, capturing the boldness of humanity’s adventures, our will to survive, and our insatiable curiosity. In any stretch of the imagination, the human race has always had an insatiable need to see what’s out there beyond our own planet’s atmosphere. With that said, here are the best space exploration movies, ranked.

7 The Martian (2015)

The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, is a more uplifting story set within the vast vacuum of outer space. Believed to be dead, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind on Mars after his crew’s mission is interrupted by a dust storm. But Watney is very much alive – all alone on the strange red planet, he must survive using his remaining supplies as NASA and his crew work out a way to rescue him. Watney’s undying mettle to keep going despite insurmountable odds is genuinely inspiring, making this story full of heart.


6 Gravity (2013)

put simply, Gravity is an utter nightmare. On her first mission to space, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer joined by Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a seasoned astronaut when catastrophe comes calling. Debris hits their Space Shuttle, the Explorer, which rips Stone from the ship in a terrifying spinning sequence. The crushing isolation and hopelessness captured in Gravity gives a unique, horror-genre feel to the world of sci-fi films. It was the third film to earn over $100 million in IMAX theaters.

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5 Apollo 13 (1995)

With its basis in the real Apollo 13 mission, this movie packs in an all-star cast and an important legacy. Apollo 13 follows three astronauts – Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) – on their way to the moon, until an equipment explosion causes them to cancel their mission. The odds stack against them as NASA strives to get them back to Earth, resulting in one of the most claustrophobic space exploration movies out there. The film received nine Academy Award nominations and won two for Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

4 The Right Stuff (1983)

The Right Stuff is a historical epic, capturing the storied journey of the first space explorers from the United States. Tom Wolf’s 1979 book of the same title offered the perfect launching point to bring this story onto the big screen. Following a group of Armed Forces pilots who possess the titular nerve to fly that far, the astronauts struggle on the home front with political and familial issues as they train for the missions that will change their lives forever.

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3 StarWars (1977)

original starwars movie – later subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope – revolutionized the way that moviegoers viewed outer space. The vibrant imagination of George Lucas brought these far-flung fantasies to life, positioning our favorite robed protagonists alongside a whimsical cast of creatures and alien races. A Roger Ebert review reads, “‘starwars‘melded a new generation of special effects with the high-energy action picture; it linked space opera and soap opera, fairy tales and legend, and packaged them as a wild visual ride.” Whether you’re a longtime fan or a casual viewer, the legacy that this film leaves is hard to deny.

two Interstellar (2014)

interstellar is an emotionally intense roller coaster of a movie, taking its audience into the furthest corners of the universe and the human psyche. After the environmental degradation of Earth, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) develops a theory to save its inhabitants by utilizing a wormhole in space. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a previous NASA pilot, must venture into the void again to secure the future of his planet’s population and life as he knows it. Scored by Hans Zimmer and directed by Christopher Nolan, this film is equally heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.

1 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most influential works of science fiction of all time. Based on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and his crew of him are positioned against the AI ​​system HAL, who steers their ship with personal accuracy until it steers them wrong. With an experimental atmosphere, psychedelic visual effects, and masterful color theory, this film is as much a journey into the human mind as it is an exploration of space. 2001: A Space Odyssey is absolutely one of director Stanley Kubrick’s best works, capturing his trademark sinister suspense across endless galaxies.

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