The setting chosen for a movie can make a big difference to the storyline and the excitement the audience feel as they are watching events unfold in a film. Space is one of the most intriguing settings to choose for a movie as it opens almost endless opportunities for storylines. The element of the unknown that is associated with space can also add to the viewers’ experience of watching the movie. Space has been used as the setting in many different film genres, from sci-fi to action, from drama to comedy and everything else in-between. Films featuring space attract large audiences with differing movie preferences. There have been hundreds of fantastic space movies created over the years but some have been a bigger hit with the public than others.
Here are the 20 top space movies of all time. By the way it wasn’t easy to make this list because some movies are more “space” movies and others “alien” movies. We tried to stick with “space.”
This 2005 space western movie has its origins in a TV series that was aired three years earlier. In 2002, Joss Whedon’s science-fiction series ‘Firefly’ was aired for 14 episodes on Fox. However, after just one season, the show was axed. IN the series, a universe was sketched out that was just begging for further exploration and fans of the show got the opportunity to do just that in the movie sequel that followed in 2005. The cast of the original television series was reunited for the film and included Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Summer Glau. The movie was both written and directed by Joss Whedon and was received well by both audiences and critics. ‘Serenity’ grossed $38.9 million at the worldwide box office.
19. Dark Star
The plot of ‘Dark Star’ is somewhat unusual, yet this is what makes it stand out against other space movies. The main characters are a crew of planet demolitionists who are led by a captain who although he is dead, can be awoken from his deep freeze when his crew needs his help and advice. Originally, this was intended as a short film and it was the directorial debut of John Carpenter. It was re-edited and additional footage was shot when the movie was picked up for theatrical distribution. Carpenter was never truly happy with the final result as he believed it worked better as a short film. Despite this, it was a kick start for his career in the movie industry. One of the subplots in this film was the hunt for an alien on board a space ship. The screenwriter for ‘Dark Star’, Dan O’Bannon, used this as a basis for creating the horror movie ‘Alien’. ‘Dark Star’ was released in 1974.
Released in 2013, ‘Gravity’ differs greatly to many of the films that are set in space. Rather than being a sci-fi movie, this is best categorized into the thriller genre and lacks many of the features that are usually prominent in space films, such as spaceships and aliens. Instead, this is about an astronaut, Dr. Ryan Stone, who is stranded thousands of miles above earth after a disaster while in orbit. Dr. Stone is played by Sandra Bullock and she is the only person on the screen for most the film. Many considered her performance in this movie one of the best of her career. The film was directed by Alfonso CuarÃ³n and he used visual effects trickery to achieve the long takes in zero gravity.
17. Forbidden Planet
Although this 1956 movie seems somewhat dated now, it was ground-breaking at the time. Prior to the release of this film, sci-fi movies were usually B-list films that were filmed on a low budget. ‘Forbidden Planet’ was a big-budget movie was a fantastic storyline that was based on ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare. The music and the film set also pushed the boundaries in terms of what was possible from filmmaking during the 1950s. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume and it was directed by Fred M. Wilcox. ‘Forbidden Planet’ starred Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, and Anne Francis.
Released in 2009, Avatar is now considered a sci-fi classic. Via astral projection, a human soldier is transported to another planet. The alien world of Pandora was the creation of the director, James Cameron who was inspired by his interests in environmentalism and deep-sea exploration. Cameron also wrote, edited and produced the movie. The Na’vi are native to the planet and they live alongside strange alien creatures. Due to corporate greed, humans arrive on the planet with the aim of destroying everything. Avatar is a hybrid human-alien that was created to help communications with the native Na’vi. When viewers saw this movie in 3D, they truly felt transported into the world of the Na’vi. The movie starred Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang, Zoe Saldana, and Michelle Rodriguez. At 161-minutes long, this was one of the longest feature films of all time. 19 days after its international release, ‘Avatar’ had grossed over $1 billion at the box office.
15. The Right Stuff
The screen play for ‘The Right Stuff’ was written by Philip Kaufman who also directed the movie. It is based on the novel of the same name by Tom Wolfe. It explores the early years of the American space program and how the Mercury program began as a military research project. The pilots are the main characters in this film and it demonstrates how space exploration became a team effort rather than the work of individuals. The scientists regard the pilots as human cargo but this changes when one of them saves the Mercury Capsule. This 1983 epic historical drama movie starred Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Charles Frank, Ed Harris, Scott Paulin, Lance Henriksen, Sam Shepard, and Dennis Quaid. The movie was a critical success and received great acclaim from both audiences and moviegoers. Despite this, I bombed at the box office and grossed just $21.1 million worldwide. As a result of this and the failure of a movie called ‘Twice Upon a Time’, The Ladd Company was forced to shut down.
14. Galaxy Quest
Written by Robert Gordon and David Howard, this comedy science fiction was released in 1999. It was directed by Dean Parisot and was a parody of other famous sci-fi films, such as ‘Star Trek’. The movie starred Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Daryl Mitchell, Sam Rockwell, and Tony Shalhoub. The story is about a group of actors who are characters in a sci-fi series. When this show is cancelled, they find themselves in a situation where they are playing their roles for real. They are abducted by aliens who believe they are their science-fiction characters. The movie was well received by critics and was a moderate success at the box office. Tim Allen won the Saturn Award for Best Actor for his performance in this movie.
13. Starship Troopers
The origins of this 1997 military science-fiction action movie come from an unrelated script called ‘Big Hunt at Outpost Nine’. The screenplay was then written by Edward Neumeier using the licensed name ‘Starship Troopers’ from Robert A. Heinlein’s science-fiction novel of the same name. It was directed by Paul Verhoeven and starred Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, Michael Ironside, and Patrick Muldoon. The movie is about the war between humanity and alien space bugs. Verhoeven had grown up in the Netherlands when it was occupied by the Germans In World War II and this had given him some experience of how militarism can lead to fascism. Unfortunately, many critics criticized Verhoeven saying that he had glorified fascism in ‘Starship Troopers’.
12. Europa Report
SebastiÃ¡n Cordero directed this 2013 science-fiction film that was written by Philip Gelatt. This is a found-footage style movie that tells the tale of an international crew of six astronauts on a space expedition that goes terribly wrong. They are on a privately-funded mission to explore Europa, Jupiter’s moon. This movies depiction of space travel is accurate and the tone is minimalistic rather than concentrating on panic like many other space films. ‘Europa Report’ starred Christian Camargo, Michael Nyqvist, Anamaria Marinca, Karolina Wydra, Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copley, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dan Fogler, and Embeth Davidtz. Members of the SFWA nominated this movie for a Bradbury Award.
11. Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back
When thinking of space movies, it is the Star Wars franchise of films that usually spring to mind. Therefore, no list of space movies would be complete without the inclusion of one of these films. Without a doubt, the best of the Star Wars movies is Star Wars: Episode 5- The Empire Strikes Back’. Compared to other films in this series, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ has deeper levels within the storyline and there is more depth to the characters. Released in 1980, this epic space opera film was co-written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan with Irvin Kershner in the role of director. Stars of this movie included Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Frank Oz, and Peter Mayhew. This movie grossed $538,375,067 at the worldwide box office. In June 2015, 35 years after its original release, this movie re-entered the UK box office grossing $470,00 in just four days and ranking at number 9. P.S. nearly any Star Wars movie can be on this list so let that be known.
10. Star Trek
Many people considered director JJ Abrams a brave man when he directed this movie. He took on a revered franchise and recast many iconic characters, such as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. This 2009 movie was met with anticipation from avid fans of Star Trek as they couldn’t wait to see how Abrams had reinvented the Trek Universe. This movie incorporated new stories and a time travel plotline that Maintained A link to the old Star Trek with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. This intriguing storyline was achieved by writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Starring in the movie were John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Ben Cross, Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, and Karl Urban.
9. Total Recall
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone star in this 1990 film which was later remade in 2012 with Kate Beckinsale and Colin Farrell in the leading roles. Based on the story by Philip K. Dick about false memories and how reality is limited by perception, this movie was directed by Paul Verhoeven. Schwarzenegger plays the role of a man with spy mission memories implanted within his brain. Viewers are left in suspense over whether he is the hero he believes before seeing the reality that brings his character’s world crashing down. Others who starred in this movie include Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox. This movie grossed $261,299,840 at the worldwide box office and debuted at number one.
WALL-E is a 2009 computer animated film by Pixar that depicts the tale of two robots that fall in love. The opening scene is one of the highlights of the film as there is 20 minutes that is completely dialogue free showing a scene where Earth has been abandoned leaving only the ruins of a large corporation. WALL-E is a cleaning robot and it is his task to clear up the mess left behind by humanity. When he meets EVE, a surveillance robot, he is completely in love. Despite being aimed at children, the subplots of this movie are surprisingly sophisticated with topics including the destruction of the environment, consumerism and the atomization of society. The movie was directed by Andrew Stanton and his aim was to get a look that appeared as though the movie was shot with real cameras. To achieve this, he recruited the help of Roger Deakins, a legendary cinematographer, to advise him about lighting.
7. The Fifth Element
Director Luc Besson co-wrote this movie with Robert Mark Kamen. Released in 1997, ‘The Fifth Element’ starred Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, Ian Holm, and Mila Jovovich.It is a science-fiction action films that received great acclaim for many different aspects of its creation, including the sets and the costumes. The film sets consisted of outrageous futuristic scenes that were designed by Jean-Claude MÃ©ziÃ¨res and Jean Giraud, two comic-book artists. The film was costumed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Although it was criticized for a weak plotline, this movie was a visual triumph.
In this 2013 science-fiction action film, the setting is a desolate earth with the majority of humans living in desolate shanty town and the elite one percent living aboard a luxurious space station that is based on the design of the NASA’s 1970s Stanford Torus. The film was written, produced, and directed by Neill Blomkamp. He wanted the set to resemble the classic sci-fi films that were popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s. ‘Elysium’ starred Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, Diego Luna, Alice Braga, William Fichtner, and Wagner Moura. In 2014, this movie won the Leo Award for Best Visual Effects Motion Picture.
5. Apollo 13
This 1995 movie is a dramatized version of the aborted Apollo 13 lunar mission on 1970. The screenplay for this space adventure docudrama film was written by Al Reinhart and William Boyles Jr. ‘Apollo 13′ was directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinise. The director used experts from NASA to help him ensure that the movie was technically accurate. This movie was a massive box office success as its worldwide box office gross reached $355,237,933. It was also critically well received and has a rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Alien is a 1979 science-fiction horror movie that is widely considered a classic in this genre. The plot of a monster hunting down the crew of a spaceship was a typical B-movie plotline but director Ridley Scott took this premise to a new level. Imagery was important to Scott, possibly because he had a background in advertising. Therefore, one of the key features of this film is the visual effects and the impact they have on the audience. The monster in this movie is particularly interesting as it was designed by HR Giger in such a way that it was sexual as well as eerie. The screenplay was written by Dan O’Brannon and the movie starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Ian Holm.
Duncan Jones directed this British science-fiction drama movie which he also co-wrote with Nathan Parker. This 2009 movie starred Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Robin Chalk, Kaya Scodelario, Matt Berry, and Benedict Wong. The film is about a lone astronaut who is stuck in a mining station on the Moon and it is highly influenced by many of the sci-fi classics. It was a modest financial success as it grossed $9,760,104 at the worldwide box office.
2. 2001: Space Odyssey
This 1968 epic science-fiction film has tremendous attention to detail thanks to the director and producer, Stanley Kubrick. He also co-wrote the screenplay for this movie with Arthur C. Clarke. It was inspired by a short story written by Clarke titled ‘The Sentinel’. Following the release of the movie, Clarke wrote a novel that was also called ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. The storyline involves a sentient computer called Hal going on a voyage to Jupiter when a mysterious mass is discovered that may affect the evolution of humans. Many of the films ideas of how space travel would develop in the 21st-century are surprisingly accurate. This film starred Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. This movie won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
This 1986 movie is the sequel to the 1979 creeping horror movie ‘Alien’ which was directed by Ridley Scott. Aliens was directed by James Cameron and he switched genres to make this an action-based film rather than a horror. He used the experience of the Americans fighting in the Vietnam War as his inspiration for the Space Marines. Ripley, the heroine, was a blue-collar worker in the first film, but in this sequel, she is a surrogate mother to Newt, a xenomorph survivor. In this movie, it is also revealed that Ripley has missed her daughter’s entire life as she has spent 57 years in stasis. Aliens starred Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Micahel Biehn, Jenette Goldstein, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and William Hope.
*P.S. I know there are other movies that could be on this list but it’s hard to define “space movie” as opposed to “alien movie.” We tried to stick with movies that actually centered around being in space. With that said we’re aware of movies like Armageddon, The Martian, District 9, Deep Impact, Starman, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc etc etc.