5 Movies About Astronauts That You Have to See
Movies have helped shape the way that we think about outer space since the dawn of cinema, with the 1902 short A Trip to the Moon by the French director Georges Melies being one of the first films ever made. Likewise, ever since NASA was created to help us explore space, Hollywood has glamorized the profession of the astronaut, making it look like one of the most cool, intense, dangerous, and difficult jobs that only true heroes are up to the task for. Here’s a look at five movies that make NASA astronauts look awesome.
Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey as a former astronaut who, after a long time working in engineering, is called back to pilot a mission to discover a new planet for humanity to inhabit as Earth’s renewable resources dwindle and humanity runs out of the necessities of life. McConaughey, who’s having a real moment in Hollywood right now, was a natural choice to play a man faced with the decision to leave his family behind in order to save the entire human race. Director Christopher Nolan said that he wanted to bring back the idea that being an astronaut is a worthy ambition.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction. I grew up being amazed by science fiction — 2001, Star Wars. But I grew up in a time when being an astronaut was the highest ambition. And the idea that we would keep exploring space and pushing further and further out seemed inevitable,” Nolan said of the movie at Comic Con, per Indie Wire. “That has fallen out in the past couple of decades. Technology has gone through a huge change. I think we’re on the new cusp of a brand new era of exploration.”
In 2014, Alfonso Cuarón’s space disaster movie Gravity swept the Academy Awards, taking home seven Oscars and making Cuarón the first Mexican national to win for Best Director. Sandra Bullock was nominated but didn’t win for a performance that saw her carrying the movie alone as the brilliant engineer but brand new astronaut Ryan Stone, who is abandoned in space after a freak accident separates her from the rest of the crew. The film’s cinematography does an excellent job of mimicking how disorienting being in space with zero gravity and few spatial reference points would feel. It was also lauded for featuring an un-sexualized female scientist as the heroic lead character, something not often seen in Hollywood as a whole, and definitely not in movies about astronauts.
3. Apollo 13
Apollo 13 is Ron Howard’s painstakingly accurate portrayal of the events surrounding NASA’s attempted third moon landing in 1970, which was derailed by an explosion on the spaceship that turned the mission into an attempt to get three astronauts home safely. NASA heavily cooperated with the movie by providing technical assistance to the actors that included astronaut and flight training, as well as permission to film aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to get the most accurate shots of weightlessness possible. The famous quote “Houston, we have a problem” comes from this movie, which is slightly altered from what was actually said during the Apollo 13 emergency. In the film we see Tom Hanks utter those lines playing the heroic astronaut Jim Lovell.
Armageddon is Michael Bay’s typically bombastic space movie about a ragtag group of deep core drillers recruited by NASA who must save Earth from an astroid the size of Texas that’s on a collision course for the planet. They have just 18 days to send a nuclear bomb deep into the asteroid to blow it in half and cause the two separate pieces to miss contact with Earth. Billy Bob Thornton plays the lead NASA scientist planning the nuclear detonation. Bruce Willis plays the man considered to be the best deep-sea oil driller in the world who’s put through training by NASA in order to help with the endeavor. While the movie was criticized for not being all that scientifically accurate, it was a huge box office success and was the highest-grossing film of 1998, with $201.6 million made domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.
5. Space Cowboys
Space Cowboys is kind of like the NASA version of The Expendables. Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this drama about a group of retired NASA engineers who are called out of retirement to help investigate the activities of a deteriorating Russian satellite. Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner star as astronauts who are sent into space to thinking they are just doing a routine investigation, only to realize that the Soviet satellite is equipped with nuclear weapons that they must deactivate. NASA cooperated with the making of the movie, allowing the team to shoot in the organization’s space centers in Houston, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.