Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films a lot.
From the very beginning of our existence, outer space has always been an inspiring entity for our ambitions and creativity. A lot of our greatest fiction takes place in space. Here we'll cover the best space (travel) movies of all time.
In the 20th century, the arrival of cinema and the space race exponentially multiplied the creation of stories about trying to grasp the unknown beyond our planet. Currently, that feedback is still more valid than ever. Space can be scary. It can be full of surprises or be a dark void. It can mean life or death.
This will not be limited to classic space travel films. Telling a story in space invites a lot of genres: horror, science-fiction (duh), comedy, animation, adventure, and biopic.
In this best space movies ever made list, we will try to include the greatest space tales ever shot, from all exponents of all genres. Of course, there are a lot of movies missing. I could've added Ad Astra, the 2019 Brad Pitt space travel movie, but I wanted to touch enough variation in the genres influencing space cinema. We could call this list a ranking, but because of the diversity in themes and genres, a lot of it is up to personal taste and what you look for in space movies.
20) "Zathura: A Space Adventure" (2005)
Jumanji in space. That's basically the setting of this movie directed by Jon Favreau, long before he created the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Baby Yoda.
However, to just stay with that comparison is a reductionism. Yes, it includes children and a themed board game with very real risks, which this time includes space travel, reptilian aliens, astronauts, and killer robots. But Zathura's Amblin feeling is his forte: this is a story about a sibling rivalry (starring a very young Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo), with a lot of heart in its core. A campy fun space adventure film?
Also, it includes a very expressive (no, really) Kristen Stewart, a charismatic Dax Shepard, and a fatherly Tim Robbins.
19) "Star Trek" (2009)
Sorry, Wrath of Khan fans, but this reboot of the beloved franchise directed by J.J. Abrams encompasses a little better the spirit of space odyssey that we are looking for in this list.
The stakes were very high. The odds of failing, huge. Expectations, impossible. And yet this reinterpretation of the beloved characters managed to work at the box office and with the critics, with a lot of action, great chemistry between the cast and the already iconic J.J.'s lens flares.
The biggest success of this reboot is its stellar casting. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban offer a different and unique version of Kirk, Spock, and Bones. The "secondary" characters also shine every time they appear on the screen. Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin make up the rest of the iconic Enterprise crew.
Not only is this a solid reboot, but one of the best Star Trek entries.
18) "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (2017)
The iconic French sci/fi comic Valérian and Laureline had decades calling for a decent adaptation to the seventh art.
Luc Besson finally did it. Sure, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had mixed reviews and wasn't a box office hit, but this is one of those cases in which the results don't reflect reality.
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Valerian is one of the most visually beautiful and creative space operas ever filmed. The number of characters, gadgets, planets, aliens, colors, and twists can be overwhelming and yes, it can disconnect you from the story and emotions, but it will never bore you. It's just one of the best space fantasy films of recent times.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne work perfectly as the main couple. Perhaps, by its source, their European approach could be considered by more Americanized audiences as distant or with little chemistry. It's just different and unique. Get off the cheeseburger cynicism and enjoy the ride.
17) "Titan A.E." (2000)
Titan A.E. has aged gloriously. Taking advantage of the last wave of that beautiful style of animation displayed in legendary pieces like Dragon’s Lair, Anastasia, or An American Tail, this futuristic post-apocalyptic tale about humans and aliens looking for a new planet to live in; equally caters to its child and adult audience.
Its cast is a perfect summary of the turn of the millennium: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, and Janeane Garofalo, among others.
However, perhaps it is its soundtrack the reason why Titan A.E. It is still remembered. That strange and risky mix between Lit, Powerman 5000, Luscious Jackson, Fun Lovin ’Criminals, and Jamiroquai is both a beautiful time capsule and a unique personality proclamation of this animation with memorable character design.
16) "Event Horizon" (1997)
Paramount rushed it, executive penguins cut it, director Paul W. S. Anderson got furious, the original footage was destroyed, and in the end, Event Horizon was a critical and commercial failure.
But over time, a loyal fandom bought the DVDs and turned it into a cult movie. Against all odds, Event Horizon managed to deliver a solid tale to its audience. It deserved its redemption. This is a weird and unique hybrid between psychological, sci-fi, religious, and even body horror, that has inspired countless artists since then.
Here, the unknown aspect of space is really disturbing.
If what Doctor Weir tells us is true, this ship has been beyond the boundaries of our universe, of known scientific reality. Who knows where it's been, what it's seen... or what it's brought back with it?”
— Event Horizon
15) "Galaxy Quest" (1999)
Galaxy Quest is one of those ideas that seems to limit the resulting piece to a very specific niche. In this case, Trekkies and fans of really scarce sci-fi comedies like Spaceballs.
Because in this story, a group of failed actors from an old TV Show a-la-Star Trek, end up involved in a true intergalactic battle.
However, the enormous quality of those involved raised Galaxy Quest to the Olympus of comedy. Star Trek fans, of course, LOVE this parody, but, Galaxy Quest did its own merits to overcome the specificity. Made sense: with names like Sigourney Weaver (an absolute sci-fi royalty), Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub and Rainn Wilson, the chances of going unnoticed were very slim.
14) "High Life" (2018)
This recent work by legendary French director Claire Denis is on the most self-destructive and pessimistic side of the space tale spectrum.
But Denis' feat is that this story full of fragile and broken humans facing extinction, of violent and badly channeled sexual energy, terrible deaths, and continuing disappointments and anguish, is actually deeply human and quite beautiful.
In addition to Denis' expertise, the work of cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (Carlos, Little Women), and Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche and Mia Goth must be highlighted. They managed to find and portray the beauty of humanity in this context where technology has oppressed human impulses to terrifying levels.
13) "Sunshine" (2007)
Danny Boyle, perhaps the most versatile and integral director that has ever lived, takes his shot at space with a story about getting too close to the sun looking for life.
From the damn name of the space suicide mission (Icarus II?… come on, not only Icarus, but II!), the story of this group of diverse humans wanting to save humanity from a dying sun by detonating it with a nuclear charge makes clear that in no way this will end well for those involved, but at least their sacrifice will be inspiring.
Although it has a somewhat unstable third act that at times does not handle the suspension of disbelief well, Sunshine is one of the most interesting and tense space movies ever made. Boyle fills the action with interesting twists and memorable characters, embodied by a talented cast led by Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, and Cliff Curtis.
12) "Moon" (2009)
Moon is the Citizen Kane of films created by a director whose father created and sang space hymns like Space Oddity and Hallo Spaceboy that, of course, made him unconsciously create a great space debut film.
Duncan Jones, David Bowie's son, proves to have his own artistic light with this great indie space first movie (a mixture always VERY difficult to achieve: little budget and space setting) in which Sam Rockwell slowly and progressively realizes that he is a disposable pawn of interstellar capitalism.
Besides, it has an A.I. character voiced by Kevin Spacey, which, YES, is even scarier today than 10 years ago, when this movie was released.
Doppelgängers, paranoia and corporate space greed. What a combo.
11) "Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977)
What more can be said about the masterpiece of George Lucas?
Simple: no matter how massive and multimillionaire the Star Wars saga is today, and how corporate and devourer-of-small-artistic-efforts it can become under Disney's hands, no one can take away its genesis: A young filmmaker who, inspired by the unknown space, decided to create his own galactic mythology.
Many cite The Empire Strikes Back as the best film in the original trilogy. They may be right, but A New Hope better encompasses the spirit of fiction created in the context of space: A big risk to the unknown, a ton of heart, and a huge amount of wild creativity. Probably the most space travel-oriented classic film in the star wars universe.
10) "Apollo 13" (1995)
A fundamental part of scientific experimentation involves dealing with failures. And, barring big tragedies like the 1986’s space shuttle Challenger one, there is no real great space travel film story about failure as important as that of Apollo 13.
Apollo 13 is as epic as it can be. Director Ron Howard dedicated himself to making the film as true as possible to reality, working side by side with NASA to achieve the greatest possible fidelity. James Horner musicalized with the depth and relevance that history deserves.
And with great acting titans like Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and Ed Harris (who should be named the most important actor in space movies), it's clear that this film couldn't be ignored from this list. Luckily it doesn't feel like Tom Hanks' Apollo 13 film, but a nice combined effort from the cast.
9) "The Martian" (2015)
Every once in a while appears a movie that seeks to clean the palate among all the cynicism and technophobia surrounding the sci-fi genre.
After a particularly dark period with movies like Prometheus and The Counselor, legendary and veteran director Ridley Scott turned to this optimistic and inspiring project written by Drew Goddard (the beautiful mind behind Cabin in the Woods and Bad Times at the Royale) with a smart false biopic style, which sometimes makes us forget that we are not seeing a story based on real events.
With Matt Damon as the absolute protagonist, this kinda “Cast Away on Mars” is not only a wonderful and tense space survival story but a peculiar positive approach to science, the problems it solves, and the confidence in our own abilities as inventors and experimenters. We consider this one of the best 'realistic' space movies to date.
I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us - seems like an awful waste of space, right?”
— Ellie Arroway - "Contact" (1997)
8) "Contact" (1997)
Watching Carl Sagan's book being adapted to cinema is simply a privilege. Furthermore, when the original source is respected in its beauty and simplicity, by a blockbuster director like Robert Zemeckis, the result is simply one of the best sci-fi movies of all time.
With Jodie Foster at the top of her game, the epic Alan Silvestri placing the right musical notes, and a beautiful but contained direction by Zemeckis, this is one of the most breathtaking and emotional extraterrestrial contact stories ever filmed.
7) "Gravity" (2013)
The greatest merit of this wonderful film directed by Alfonso Cuarón is that it manages to balance the space and psychological horror with an inspiring survival story. The "horror" is of a claustrophobic, spinning in empty space kind, it's one of the best astronaut movies to grace the screens.
Gravity's tale is quite straightforward: a first-time astronaut doctor (Sandra Bullock) has lost communication and is at risk of drifting in the overwhelming and dark space, so she has to return to Earth (which is quite close) in any way possible.
However, Gravity is one of those cases where the "how" matters more than the "why". The direction of Cuarón is fantastic. The way it conveys danger in space, where the sound is not conducted, is just masterful. Gravity is one of the reasons why cinema exists: to make us feel plausible, improbable and inspiring stories.
Also, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is the MVP of this, with a breathtaking opening 13-minute sequence shot that took many months to design.
6) "Interstellar" (2014)
Always with time as his eternal motif, visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan decided in 2014 to tackle our exploratory human nature through that filter.
A decidedly inspiring and pro-science film, Interstellar sees time as inevitable but never as destructive. With an impressive soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and the superb performances of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain, this is a film that inevitably invites you to dream and imagine the evolution of our humanity and its relationship with our galaxy.
Nolan may have managed to find the exact barrier between scientific rigor and sci-fi. Interstellar follows the Sagaians steps of previous films like Contact to motivate us to continue looking up to the stars. If there is one movie that nearly perfectly captures all that is great about space travel movies it's Nolan's Interstellar.
5) "Solaris" (1972)
Stanislaw Lem channeled by Andrei Tarkovsky. In a cinematic genre marked by shallow entertainment and loud spectacle, Solaris wanted to provide a necessary depth to the act of living in outer space.
Placing in parallel the unknown of space exploration with emotional loss, depersonalization, and depression, Solaris manages to commune both the outer and the inner through cinematic existentialism cooked over low heat.
In a world that mainly perceives the Soviet Union as a ghost of the past, this Tarkovsky gem of that era doesn't look anachronistic and remains relevant.
4) "Wall-E" (2008)
Wall-E could be a 3D animated film about a garbage collector robot that falls in love with another robot but make no mistake: this is pure cinema.
His first half-hour, almost silent, should be taught everywhere as a wonderful example of how the narrative in cinema should be.
But beyond its form, its beautiful ecological message (delivered in a not-naive way, figures) balances very well its point of view on technology: we can't allow it to take the reins of our lives at risk of losing our humanity, but at the same time we shouldn't fear it, because it's a fundamental piece to our evolution.
By far, the best movie Pixar has ever made and also the best space animation movie ever to grace the big screen. And boy, the bar is high in that regard.
3) "Alien" (1979)
Sigourney Weaver's Ripley and a Xenomorph. A human facing a monster. A story as old as history itself, masterfully reimagined in space by a group of geniuses impossible to assemble: Ridley Scott in the direction, Dan O'Bannon in the script, H.R. Giger in the artistic design, and Jerry Goldsmith in the musicalization.
The fear of the unknown, which sometimes even camouflages itself in our own technological advances. A hostile alien who violates bodies and uses their carcasses to breed offspring. The horror. Space technophobia at its best.
Alien and its tale about human strength through necessary female empowerment will always occupy a place of honor in world cinema. If you are looking for horror in space movies this will be at the top of the list.
2) "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
While creating this list, we realized that as our real science advances, sci-fi fiction has an increasingly greater challenge of not looking absurd and dated over time.
So, it's even more admirable that this late 60s film is still at the very top of the rankings of thousands of cinephiles. I know for many people this will be the top pick on a best space movies ever made list.
Yes, you should never doubt Stanley Kubrick. The director is and will remain legendary for a reason.
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those reasons. Its delicate combination of deep themes such as evolution, violence, existentialism and artificial intelligence, macerated with classical pieces by Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss II, remains a masterpiece that we will continue to discuss and dissect 100 years from now.
I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
— HAL - "2001: A Space Odyssey"
1) "The Right Stuff" (1983)
Neither wonderful existentialist sci/fi symbolisms nor giant killer aliens. We decided to place The Right Stuff at the very top of this list because there is no better way to celebrate space movies than with the best film ever created about our very real space ambition.
During 192 minutes, Philip Kaufman adapts the fantastic book by legendary journalist Tom Wolfe about Project Mercury. Seeing the process of transitioning from pilots to astronauts will never cease to be inspiring. Understanding that everything is based on our reality, is almost magical.
The only negative thing that can come out of watching The Right Stuff, is to realize that there's still no decent counterpart from the Soviet point of view. That would be ideal to have a complete history of our first steps into space.
This is a western that is becoming a space odyssey, it is one of the best astronaut movies of all time, a spellbinding space movie. Its tagline, in addition to being wonderful, is completely accurate and summarizes its relevance: how the future began.
We hope you've enjoyed our best space movies of all-time list. These films can bring you a little closer to reaching the stars.
© 2021 Sam Shepards