The Best Space Film Ever Done

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed my rants about the movie Gravity (which my head insists on calling Graffiti for some reason) a while back. I didn’t like the film, but that’s not unusual with me and current Hollywood films. However, it then won the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and I wondered if I had watched a completely different film than everyone else. Because really? A film whose only merit is its visual effects is considered an outstanding dramatic presentation? Weak story, no-dimensional characters, and a Perils of Pauline ending that is just a joke are apparently amazing cinema nowadays. You even have someone like James Cameron saying “I think it’s the best space film ever done…”


Okay, Jim, I get it. You’re first and last an artistic director, and you’re damned good at it. And Graffiti Gravity is a gorgeous film. The effects and CGI are amazing. I won’t argue with you about that.

But the best space film ever done? For that you also need a, um, what do they call it? A story! That’s it. And characters the viewer can give a damn about. Gravity doesn’t have either of those. At least for this viewer.

Here’s a list of “space films” I will happily watch instead of having to watch Gravity again. My definition of space film is pretty basic. A good chunk of the film takes place… in space. There you go. Oh, and they’re in chronological order, based on year of release, not in any order of preference.

And for the record, my dislike of Gravity doesn’t translate to me negatively judging folks who did like it. Taste is a very personal thing. To each her own.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

space odyssey

In some ways, 2001: A Space Odyssey hasn’t aged well. The women’s costumes, for one thing, scream “1968!” instead of “The Future!” as do their roles in the film. No challenging the status quo there. But I still love this movie. The special effects remain very cool, and it still makes me think. Plus, it remains the only–I think–space film with actual silence in space!

Star Wars (1977/1980)


By Star Wars I mean the first three. Well, the first two, actually: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Return of the Jedi is way too sappy for my tastes. Plus ewoks. Blech. We won’t discuss the other three.

Alien (1979)


Sorry, no face hugger pic for you. Space films require pics of space, so you get one of the few shots taken outside the ship. I dig Alien a lot. It’s not perfect, but damn, the scares hold up. And Sigourney Weaver is awesome. Plus it’s always amusing when Alpha Reader and I discuss it, and he reminds me that “It’s just a rip-off of It! The Terror from Beyond Space, you know.” He loves Alien, too.

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


Sure, go ahead and mock me for having this one on my list. I don’t care. It’s my favorite Star Trek film and it happens in space.

Apollo 13 (1995)


Watched this one again last night. Apollo 13 is the film on this list that comes closest to home. Ron Howard’s movie tells the story of the moon mission that could have gone even more horribly wrong than it did, but didn’t, thanks to all the folks at Mission Control and the Apollo 13 astronauts themselves. It’s a good story from back when I believed the U.S. could do anything it set its mind to (I was 7-going-on-8 when the events took place and still have an Apollo 13 patch I got when my family visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston that year. And yes, this was before I became the woman Marshall Crenshaw was looking for.). The movie sucked me in and had me crying like the 50-something woman that I am by the end. (Not just at the end, actually. I’m cynical, but I’m also a big sap.)

Plus Roger Corman has a fun cameo as the Congressman questioning Tom Hanks while touring the space center. He has the perfect oily delivery.

Alpha Reader’s remark when the movie ended last night. “Yep. Better than Gravity.”

Serenity (2005)


Apparently, the there-must-always-be-sound people got to Whedon when he was making Serenity. *sigh* This, and his invocation of the “I can kill anyone I like anytime” rule are my main disappointments with the film. That said, there’s a lot to love about Serenity. It looks great, has cool Shakespearean references in it, and River’s big fight scene is one of my favorites ever.

Moon (2009)


Moon is a smart, thought-provoking film about a miner (Sam Rockwell) serving out a three-year contract extracting helium-3 on the dark side of the moon. His only companion is the station’s robot GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who attends to Bell’s daily needs. I love this movie. It’s beautifully filmed, and Rockwell and Spacey are great.

Europa Report (2013)


This space film came out the same year as Gravity. It’s very pretty and tells an interesting story of a crew of scientists/astronauts making their way to Jupiter to explore one of its moons: Europa. Told through found footage (Blair Witch in space popped into my head as it started), it gives an intimate view into the lives of these six people as their mission unfolds. It’s not perfect. The characters don’t really come across as professionally trained astronauts (a problem with a lot of space movies), there’s way more melodrama than necessary, and it’s contrived in places. One thing I thought was very cool, though: the two women in the film are part of the team–capable, smart, just as interesting as their male cohorts. There are no sexual politics getting in the way. No onboard romances to muck things up. And no broken women for the men to take care of. Rather refreshing.

So, that’s the list of my favorite space films. What’s on yours?

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8 thoughts on “The Best Space Film Ever Done

  1. I know it’s not a movie, but there was a short-lived TV series called Defying Gravity that really caught me. I wish there had been more of it.

  2. Fenny

    I love this list.

  3. karengadient

    Haven’t seen Gravity, but think your list has to beat it.

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