Space: the final frontier. The great unknown. The realm where no one has gone before ... except, of course, we have – if you look at the many blockbusters that are set in space. From just outside Earth’s atmosphere to the far-flung reaches of our known universe, we’ve seemingly done it all in the movies. Here are some of the best must-see films set in, or involving, the deep black that we’re all so fascinated with.
When a director becomes so obsessed with a movie that he takes an age to bring it to the screen, it can be one of two things: spectacular or a disaster. James Cameron’s Avatar was spectacular. Sure, it had its critics, but in these days of instant global opinion, nothing is sacred. It’s a deeply spiritual story that also covers the greed and insensitivity of colonialists who will stop at nothing – including genocide – to get at minerals on an alien planet. The scenery is breathtaking and the acting on point. The fictional planet of Pandora might be light-years away, but no global citizen can mistake its struggles for anything other than an allegory for Earth, global warming and a disconnect with nature.
Susan Ramsay, Editor
Galaxy Quest is the space movie for people who hate space movies. It parodies sci-fi classics such as Star Trek, and yet makes you feel a (albeit grudging) respect for the work and imagination required to create a great space story.
It tells the story of the cast members of a once massively popular space adventure TV show who now spend their days attending fan conventions. When the show’s lead actor, played by Tim Allen, is approached by a group who ask for his help on their planet, he assumes they’re part of a fan event, and goes along with it. Only they’re not: they’re real aliens who have watched the show, and believe it to be factual.
This is one of those great spoofs that manages to poke fun at the subject it’s satirising, while at the same time respectfully paying homage to both their popularity and the work that goes into making them. It was meta before meta was a thing, featuring Sigourney Weaver, who was best known for her appearances in the Alien movies, as an actress. And it also stars Alan Rickman, whose TV show character gets the best catchphrase (certainly in the film; possibly ever): “By Grabthar’s hammer, you shall be avenged!” Try it. It’s fun.
Karly Cox, Deputy editor
The Fifth Element
The Fifth Element is one of my favourite films ever. Ever. It’s hilarious, adventurous, action-packed, and explores what it means to be human. The dynamic between Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich is so sweet, Chris Tucker is iconic as Ruby Rhod, and the opera fight scene is IN-CRE-DI-BLE.
Heidi Yeung, Web sub-editor
Interstellar is one of the more recent space films, and that makes it one of the most interesting. In the near future, the Earth is dying and food is running out, so Coop (Matthew McConaughy) must venture into space to find a new planet for humans. Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception), it was always going to have some mind-bending moments, but the combination of believable science and the limitless potential of the unknown is what makes this film so great. Nolan’s vision of what life on other planets could be like – including tidal bores that cause huge, building-sized waves, and planets with 67-hour-long days – is both fascinating and thought-provoking.
Lucy Christie, Sub-editor
A giant asteroid in space is on a direct collision course with Earth – and the only people with the needed skills to stop it from happening is a group of rough and tumble deep-sea oil drillers led by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis). Naturally. Harry and his crew are recruited to fly into space to drill a hole into the asteroid, drop a nuclear bomb into it, and detonate it, splitting the space rock into two pieces that will then fly around the planet.
Unrealistic? Oh yes – the entire premise has been ripped to shreds many times over on the internet, but it’s still a gripping and exciting film about one team’s ability to save the human race. Armageddon is a divisive film, you sort of either love it or loath it, and it’s probably best known for being a “how not to do a space film” space film, but I absolutely love it anyway, cheesy acting, terrible editing, and earworm-tastic music and all.
Ginny Wong, Sub-editor
By which I mean the real Independence Day, not the crummy sequel with too little humour and too much product placement. The original from 1996 is a war movie, disaster movie and space movie all in one. With a snappy script, witty dialogue and well delivered acting, this popcorn flick is a good way to while away a slow night.
Wong Tsui-kai, Web reporter
While most space movies are about special missions or fighting aliens, Passengers is the story of 5,000 people who have been put to sleep for a 120-year journey to the planet Homestead II, Where they’ll start their new lives. But unexpectedly, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are awakened 90 years too soon, which makes things completely different – and makes for a great mystery film set in the vast emptiness of space.
Tiffany Choi, Junior reporters’ manager
It’s 2057 and our Sun is running out of energy, threatening the future of mankind. A team of international scientists and engineers are on a mission to reignite the star by sending a huge nuclear bomb into it. Who cares if the science is shaky? This is a tense tale of survival, heroism and humanity millions of miles from home. Filmmaker Danny Boyle does a great job of instilling a permanent sense of dread, while the soundtrack is one of the best in any space movie. Sunshine could be classed as a horror film – but to reveal why that is would spoil the thrill.
Lauren James, Reporter
This movie is about the hard decisions people have to make in life-or-death situations, and it does it so well. Apollo 13 is the true story of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, who go to the moon, despite their mission falling under the unlucky number 13. Is it coincidence then, that something goes wrong when they’re out in space, or was their mission doomed from the beginning?
You can really see the tough decisions and the torment each character goes through in the film as they fight to get home.
I’ve always wondered how astronauts get along when they’re stuck together in a tiny shuttle out in space, and this film shows how they have to work together to have a successful mission.
Ben Pang, Reporter
The Right Stuff
One of the best space movies out there has almost all its action set on Earth. The Right Stuff is (based on) the true story of America’s first batch of astronauts back in the 1960s, when the US and Russia were locked in the Space Race. From war heroes to test pilots, it looks at why the men were chosen and what they had to do to prove they had “the right stuff” to represent their nation in space. To push forward our understanding of space travel, these brave soldiers – and scientists – had to undergo all kinds of physical tests, and brave untested technology – often with disastrous results. A great look at how a career doing spacewalks certainly isn’t a cakewalk.
Sam Gusway, Sub-editor
Ridley Scott’s Alien, revolving around a group of astronauts being stalked by a monster, is an all-time sci-fi classic. Sigourney Weaver – one of the two female astronauts on the spacecraft – is superb, as she joins the battle against this deadly creature. The famous scene where an alien bursts out from a crewman’s stomach still gives me the shivers.
Maligawage Premaratne, Sub-editor