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Celebrating Apollo 11 with 12 of Our All-Time Favourite Space Movies

Matthew R. Davies
Welsh Bookworm, Horror-Nerd, Musician, Freelancer and Aspiring Writer of the Macabre

Apollo 11 50 Year Anniversary Banner

Apollo 11 Fiftieth Anniversary

On July 16, 1969 at 9:32 a.m. Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida and skyrocketed onto the pages of history by becoming the first manned mission to the Moon. After a tricky four-day expedition, Apollo 11 accomplished President John F. Kennedy’s renowned national goal by landing safely. This profound action would allow Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin to become the first human beings to ever walk on a celestial body (not forgetting to mention the extraordinary efforts of Command Module Pilot Michael Collins who helped facilitate this monumental achievement). 

Back on Earth, six hundred and fifty million people watched their television screens with baited breath (one fifth of the world’s population at the time) as Armstrong took his first steps out of the Lunar Module and onto the Moon’s surface. ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…’

An Astronaut Walking on the Moon

The crew spent a relatively short-lived twenty-one hours and thirty-six minutes on the Moon. However, their footprints would remain imprinted on the surface until modern times (apparently, they are clearly visible right now with the right technology so, what d’ya make of that one conspiracy nerds?). 

Leading up to the 1969 landing, NASA had successfully achieved the first spacewalk between two spacecraft, the first docking, built the single largest and most powerful rocket and completed the first crewed trans-lunar spaceflight.

The highly publicised space race that occurred between the U.S.A and Russia during the 1960s reactivated a life-long public wonderment with the universe. The Apollo mission gave the cosmos a tangibility to the citizens of Earth that provoked hope for further exploration, for adventure, for an opportunity to finally grasp a sense of our own origins. It would prod the imaginations of all those that dared to dream of spiralling galaxies, distant planets, collapsing stars and black holes. It would fuel unfathomable questions about the nature of reality, of time, of mass and it would reignite the ultimate existential question…is there life out there?

For us mere mortals, an opportunity to view the heavens first-hand is almost certainly unreachable. However, over the years, scores of talented filmmakers have delighted us with their own portrayals of the worlds that lie amongst the stars. The science fiction film, like the universe it attempts to unravel, remains eternally full of potential... 

To celebrate Apollo 11’s fifty-year anniversary, here are our all-time favourite space movies to help you consider your own place within this almighty galactic ether...

Space Rocket Blasting Off from Earth

Scene from Apollo 11 with Tom Hanks

1. Apollo 13 (1995)

Directed by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 is a superb historical dramatization of the third attempted Moon landing that occurred in 1970. Starring Tom Hanks as Commander James A. Lowell, Kevin Bacon as Command Module Pilot as John L. ‘Jack’ Swigert and the late, great Bill Paxton as Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise, the film details how an exploding oxygen tank on board the craft threatened the lives of the three men whilst they ventured precariously into outer space. Armed only with their training, their wits and a little help from Houston, they must undertake a series of crucial repairs before either suffocating or freezing to death. Apollo 13 is a tense but highly watchable Oscar nominated family movie. This is due mainly to an outstanding performance by the always loveable Tom Hanks.

Watch the Apollo 13 1995 Movie Trailer

Imagery from the Interstellar Movie

2. Interstellar (2014)

Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, The Prestige) is well known for his cerebral cinematic gems but in 2014’s Interstellar, Nolan stretched our imaginations to breaking point with one of the most beautifully visualised depictions of the cosmos ever witnessed on the big screen. The Earth is dying and Matthew McConaughey must venture to a distant galaxy to establish whether a few chosen planets may harbour the potential for human colonisation. This one is a visual feast with solid performances, an unforgettable score by Hans Zimmer and enough stabs at actual theoretical physics to keep you pondering for days after consumption. A heart-wrenching, nail-biting, tour-de-force.

Watch the Interstellar 2014 Movie Trailer

The Facehugger Scene from the Alien 1979 Film

3. Alien (1979)

In space, no one can you hear you scream…Ridley Scott’s 1979 Sci-Fi Horror masterpiece Alien remains one of cinema’s most frightening visual experiences. Journeying home from outer space, the crew of the Nostromo are awakened from hyper sleep by the ship’s computer after receiving a distress signal from a nearby planet. Upon investigation, the team encounters a field laden with bizarre pods that contain alien parasites capable of rapid growth. What follows is a brooding, Gothic slasher set in the bowels of the Nostromo as the fully grown Xenomorph (designed by H. R. Giger) stalks its human prey. Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver desperately attempts to thwart what is essentially, a giant predatory insect bent on nothing but its base desires; to feed and to reproduce. This one is not for the squeamish...

Watch the Alien 1979 Movie Trailer

A Scene from The Martian 2015 Movie with Matt Damon Sat on the Surface of Mars

4. The Martian (2015)

The Martian is a more recent foray into Sci-Fi for Ridley Scott who adapted the bestselling novel of the same name for this thrilling 2015 survival story. Discourses surrounding the colonisation of Mars feature prevalently within our media in current times and this feature film visualises the reality of such an endeavour with depth and imagination. The Martian stars Matt Damon (also in Interstellar) as astronaut Mark Watney, the plucky survivor of a Mars mission gone awry. The film is enthusiastically (and often funnily) comprised of Mark’s various toils as he attempts to re-establish a connection with NASA. Back on Earth, a team of crack scientists desperately attempt to bring the unfortunate man home...

Watch The Martian 2015 Movie Trailer

A Scene from the Total Recall 1990 Film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger

5. Total Recall (1990)

Get your ass to Mars! Featuring one of Arnie’s most interesting and hilarious roles, Total Recall stands out as an absolute classic and must-see from within the genre. Directed by Paul Verhoeven (of the equally brilliant Starship Troopers and Robocop), the plot follows Arnie, a 21st century construction worker suffering from an existential crisis after discovering his entire life is built out of false memories from a chip implanted in his brain. See, Arnie was once a secret agent and posed a threat to the shady government that operates within this dystopian future. Arnie must get his ass to Mars to discover his true identity while wasting a few baddies along the way in increasingly gory and amusing ways. This is a violent one that includes Verhoeven’s trademark social satire. Highly recommended.

Watch the Total Recall 1990 Movie Trailer

Imagery of the 2001: A Space Odyssey Film

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Any list about space movies cannot consider itself complete without including Kubrick’s game changing masterpiece. The most influential of all Sci-Fi films, 2001 was a landmark achievement for visual effects and broke the mould for the shaping of cinematic narratives. Structured in partnership with Arthur C. Clarke (the renowned futurist and science fiction writer), the film is a poetic meditation that expounds the course of human history. From the dawn of early man, to the origins of life itself, the scale of this film’s enterprise is breath-taking but it would prove controversial due to its incredibly slow pacing. This is one for the true cinema nerds. Not an easy watch but an important one for anybody who wishes to understand the history of science fiction film.

Watch the 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 Movie Trailer

A Scene from the Beginning of the Annihilation 2018 Film

7. Annihilation (2018)

Although not strictly set in space, Annihilation terrifyingly reveals how little we know about the wider universe and how an interaction with other forms of life may have stark implications on our notion of humanity and even more bizarrely, our notion of physical reality. This mind-bending, visually astonishing film features Natalie Portman, a cellular biologist sent on a mission into a forbidden zone known as ‘The Shimmer’ where, after experiencing a meteor crash three years prior has begun to mutate in extraordinary ways. This film is a hidden gem which unfortunately did not get the big screen outing it truly deserved but fortunately, it found its way to Netflix. It’s scary, thought-provoking and truly unforgettable.

Watch the Annihilation 2018 Movie Trailer

A Scene from the Event Horizon 1997 Film Showing the Black Hole Machine

8. Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon often gets labelled as Lovecraftian Horror in space and it's fairly simple to understand why. The plot follows an interplanetary rescue team as they attempt to locate the ship ‘Event Horizon’ after losing contact with it during its expedition to the furthest reaches of space. The ship possesses the ability to utilise black holes as a method of transportation to reach extraordinarily far distances in the unknown blackness of the cosmos. Little do the rescuers realise, the ship has returned and it has brought back a powerful and eldritch ancient force, one that views humans with very little regard indeed. Starring Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne, the film is a bit of a cult classic and is an enjoyable feature for those who aren’t afraid of their Sci-Fi being a bit on the spooky side...

Watch the Event Horizon 1997 Movie Trailer

A Scene from the Armageddon 1998 Film Showing characters walking to the NASA Space Ship

9. Armageddon (1998)

Despite boasting one of the most ridiculously hilarious premises in action cinema history, Armageddon remains a highly enjoyable popcorn flick that exudes with a bombast that only Michael Bay could achieve. Bruce Willis and Co are oil drillers trained up as astronauts to land a nuclear device on an approaching asteroid to hopefully, divert its course away from Earth (sigh we know, surely it would be easier to train up highly skilled and intelligent NASA employees to undertake the drilling?) Featuring the iconic Aerosmith song, I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing, Armageddon is a fun family movie that everyone should enjoy on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Watch the Armageddon 1998 Movie Trailer

A Scene from end of the the E.T 1982 Film showing E.T. and friends on Bikes

10. E.T the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Steven Spielberg’s heart-warming tale of intergalactic homesickness and childhood is one of the most memorable and timeless movies of the 1980s. Young Elliot, disengaged from his older siblings and parents, finds friendship in the most unlikely of places, in his garden shed. E.T. the loveable stranded alien seeks a way home before the dastardly government snoops steal him away to perform experiments on him. This cherished film boasts an extraordinarily talented group of child actors including a very young Drew Barrymore and impressive practical effects work. The prosthetic E.T. reportedly cost a whopping one and half million dollars to create, but the film would prove to be one of the highest grossing in history. Featuring an iconic and haunting score by John Williams, E.T. is so rewatchable, we believe it’s impossible to ever get bored of! Great for kids and grown-ups alike.

Watch the E.T the Extra-Terrestrial 1982 Movie Trailer

Film Poster of the Independence Day 1996 Film Showing Invading Space Craft above City Skyscrapers

11. Independence Day (1996)

With its unforgettable imagery, snappy dialogue, explosions and sheer unadulterated Americanness, Independence Day is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Starring Will Smith as the all-action pilot and Jeff Goldblum as the geeky environmentalist, the plot follows the classic alien invasion story. As enormous U.F.Os begin to appear over major cities around the world, the inhabitants of Earth begin to nervously wonder about their ultimate fate. Goldblum discovers a hidden countdown within the mysterious signals and carnage ensues. Humanity’s survivors band together in a last stand against the invading force and of course, it’s the courageous Americans who lead the way...

Watch the Independence Day 1996 Movie Trailer

A Scene from the Sunshine 2007 Film Showing Cillian Murphy's Character Looking into Space at the Sun

12. Sunshine (2007)

Danny Boyle's reputation for making quality films would appear untouchable. Having directed Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, The Beach, Shallow Grave and 127 Hours to name a few, Sunshine rightly deserves a spot on this list of great space movies. Starring Cillian Murphy (Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Peaky Blinders), Sunshine is a pre-apocalypse movie that involves the death of the sun and the last-ditch attempt by a group of individuals to reignite its embers with a nuclear device. Although the premise is familiar, the film is handled delicately and contains psychologically driven performances and a haunting score. Sunshine also boasts stunning visuals and intelligent action sequences. A highly underrated film that that is worth any Sci-Fi fanatic’s due care and attention.

Watch the Sunshine 2007 Movie Trailer

So, there you have it, our all-time favourite space movies. Although we have missed a few obvious ones (Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy being two particularly noteworthy mentions), this writer decided to pay attention to a few films that may have escaped your attention over the years (as well as reiterating a few classics). Now, we wonder what your opinions are on this list? This writer for one, could prattle on about Science Fiction films all day and produce at least 100 more entries quite easily. 

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below and if anybody has any thoughts as to what was actually going on at the end of Annihilation, please do illuminate us. That Skeleton-bear thing was Creepy...