On Moon Day, channelise your inner astronaut with these top 5 space movies

The moon has always fascinated film-makers and movie lovers. On the anniversary of the Apollo 11 touch down on the lunar surface 50 years ago, we suggest a list of movies that you must watch

Fifty years ago, a mighty rocket lifted off from Florida, carrying a crew that would take one “giant leap for mankind”. Nasa’s historic Apollo 11 mission, a significant moment in human history, also marked a giant leap for the movies. For film-makers and sci-fi writers had been running the space race for as long as moon missions were being planned.

It was way back in 1865 that Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon, in which three US astronauts from Florida make their way to the moon. In A Trip to the Moon, a 1902 French adventure film directed by Georges Méliès, a rocket ship lands in the “eye of the man in the moon”.

Destination Moon, a space exploration sci-fi drama, took man to our neighbour in 1950, and warned that “This is THE END...of the Beginning”. And Star Trek was on TV almost three years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted their feet on the lunar surface.

Space, the last frontier, has clearly fascinated film-makers as much as it has astronauts and space agencies. This Moon Day, even as the world is keen to storm the next frontier, Mars, we list down some of the best space exploration-themed movies you can watch this weekend.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Produced and directed by Stanley Kubrik, this epic sic-fi film is said to be one of the “greatest and most influential films ever made”. Inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's short story The Sentinel, 2001: A Space Odyssey may have received mixed reactions on release, but it has gone on to garner a cult following.

Things begin with the revelation of an imposing black structure that connects mankind’s past and future.

A team of astronauts sets out on a mysterious mission (to Jupiter, not the moon!), and the stage is set for a man-machine showdown after their craft’s computer system, HAL, begins to display strange behaviour. Themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, AI, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life are touched upon in this film that uses sound and dialogue exceedingly sparingly. 

The mind-bending trek through space and time has been called “a multisensory ode to cosmic mystery, fate and the future”.

The Right Stuff (1983)

The Right Stuff (1983)

Adapted from Tom Wolfe's best-selling 1979 book of the same name, The Right Stuff, which tanked when it was released, is now well known as an epic historical drama film. Written and directed by Philip Kaufman, it details out the stories of Navy, Marine, and Air Force test pilots involved in aeronautical research at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and Mercury Seven, the seven military pilots chosen to be part of Project Mercury, the US’ first manned spaceflight.

The film won huge critical acclaim, snagging eight Oscar nominations at the 56th Academy Awards (it won four), and was among the movies chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

For All Mankind (1989)

The 80-minute documentary draws its title from US President John F Kennedy's address to Rice University on the nation's space effort in 1962. Director Al Reinert sifted through nearly 100 hours of film and sound recordings recovered from NASA (these were shot between December 1968 and November 1972), and used the original footage of NASA's Apollo programme to create this critically acclaimed documentary.

For All Mankind, a bracing depiction of an incredible human achievement, tells us the story of the men who handed on the moon and how. Done montage-style with voice-over interviews and comments from participating astronauts, it was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar in 1989.

Space Cowboys (2000)

Space Cowboys (2000)

When Clint Eastwood is involved, there can be cowboys in space! The adventure drama, directed and produced by Eastwood, stars him as a retired “space cowboy” who leads a group of former astronauts (Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner) on a dangerous mission 40 years after their original space mission was scrapped.

They may have been cocky and unconventional back then, but Team Daedalus must act after a Russian satellite fails and is about to crash into earth. Can their specialised help them go into space and save the day?

The four veteran actors bring a surfeit of charm and screen presence, and we know - even when things are an "emergency situation" - that all will be well with the world.

Apollo 13 (1995)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Directed by Ron Howard, this space docudrama is acclaimed by movie lovers and critics alike. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris, the film showcases the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission.

The screenplay, by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, is an adaptation of the book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by astronaut Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. The film follows the journey of astronauts Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise as they set out on the US’ third moon landing mission on-board Apollo 13.

After an on-board explosion robs their spacecraft of most of its oxygen supply and electric power (“Houston, we’ve a problem”), NASA's flight controllers decide to abort the moon landing. There’s now a new mission: getting the three men home safely despite obstacle course space presents.

To make his film more real than reel, Howard obtained NASA’s technical assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for his cast. He even got permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to realistically depict the “weightlessness” experienced in space. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, Apollo 13 continues to remain a fan favourite.

Apart from these five films, there’s a bunch of other movies that continue to awe and inspire. If you have the time and inclination, we suggest streaming Apollo 18, the American-Canadian alternate-history, found-footage sci-fi horror film; Sandra Bullock-fronted Gravity; director Christopher Nolan's Interstellar; Ridley Scott and Mark Damon's The Martian; Duncan Jones' under-rated Moon, and all-time kiddie fav Wall E. Despite the Chadrayaan-2 launch being called off, we bet you'll be over the moon!


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