From Le Voyage dans la Lune to First Man, space travel has been spectacular and fascinating on the big screen for over a century. But what are the best films set in space? Here we have rounded up some of our favourite space-themed films.
What would you include in your top 5? Let us know on Twitter @camsciencecntr #setinspace
Hidden Figures (2016, rated PG)
Paul Stafford: “There is no protocol for women attending.”
Katherine Johnson: “There’s no protocol for a man circling the Earth either, sir.”
Powerful, fun, and utterly fascinating, Hidden Figures tells the true story of NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, and engineer Mary Jackson, in their behind-the-scenes work to launch humans into space.
Until the film’s release few had heard of the black women of West Area Computing. Set in the midst of the space race, Hidden Figures shows some of the racism and sexism experienced both at work and in their lives. But it is also mathematically and scientifically inspiring, touching on how computers both disrupted and revolutionised the workplace, and is an eye-opening glimpse into the world that these women experienced.
The Martian (2015, rated 12)
Based on the equally enjoyable book by Andy Weir, this is the story of astronaut Mark Watney, stranded on Mars after an aborted expedition to the red planet.
There are many great moments which make it worth watching. From using radioactive plutonium as a heater, to the Robinson Crusoe-style challenge of growing potatoes on Mars, and working out the legalities of space piracy. Watney is a funny and relatable main character, a biologist and engineer who spends much of the film fixing problems and making things happen.
The Martian is a wonderful example of a diverse cast of scientists, engineers, astronauts and more, coming together from all over the world, working together to solve the near-impossible problem of how to bring Mark Watney home.
Apollo 13 (1995, rated PG)
Another film based on a true story, this time the 1970 planned moon landing. Spoiler alert: it goes wrong.
Apollo 13 is worth a watch for the microgravity scenes alone, which unlike most films were actually shot in microgravity. Filmmakers used the ‘vomit comet’ – a plane that performs repeated parabolic flights to create around 20 seconds of weightlessness, taking over 600 flight parabolas to reach the necessary number of shots.
Interstellar (2014, rated 12)
What is the future of humanity? Interstellar is one of many films asking the question of what comes next if our planet becomes uninhabitable. A father leaves his daughter on an expedition to visit three distant, potentially habitable worlds, while scientists here on Earth have the challenge of how to take humanity there.
Despite its sci-fi plot, Interstellar is a very human story of love, distance and time. Comic relief comes in the form of sarcastic robot TARS, which would make an interesting companion on any mission.
Sci-fi films often have to invent how space phenomena appear and act, and Interstellar does this well. Some of the visuals are like nothing seen before: a spherical wormhole for example, and black holes based on current scientific research. To avoid the filmmaking issue of weightlessness they use the same method of rotational gravity creating a centripetal effect seen in films from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Martian.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005, rated PG)
Sometimes your favourite space film may not be quite so scientifically accurate, but it can be a lot of fun.
From the original 1978 radio show it has become a book series, a TV show, and in 2005 this film. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy explores what it is like to come from ‘the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy’, and to go on an interplanetary adventure in a strange universe.
Science fiction can be great at exploring the big questions of life, the universe, and everything, as well as coming up with ideas to inspire new inventions. Hitchhiker’s is full of improbable and intriguing devices: the universal translator Babel fish (solving the issue of why aliens speak English), a ‘point of view’ gun, an infinite improbability drive powering a spaceship that can traverse galaxies, and robots with genuine people personalities. And of course there is the titular Guide, a galactic Wikipedia describing planet Earth as ‘mostly harmless’.