The Best Space Movies of All Time Remind Us What It Means to Be Human

The Best Space Movies of All Time Remind Us What It Means to Be Human Movies

Space, man. It’s just up there, floating and so far beyond the regular comprehension of us plebeians stuck down here on Earth. (The billionaires are, of course, exempt from our land-locked status.) We sit down here on the big blue planet and imagine what it might be like out there. We do it so often, in fact, that we regularly turn the concept into a movie. That leads us to this, the ranking of the best space movies of all time. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind, but did they walk an animal cracker up and down Liv Tyler’s stomach? I think not. Leave the science to the geniuses. Leave the kitschy, nausea-inducing space flicks to us.

15. Armageddon

This is the absolute best of the worst space movies. When a giant asteroid is headed for Earth, Billy Bob Thornton enlists the drilling expertise of Bruce Willis because the only way to stop this bad boy of a space rock is to drill a giant hole into it, drop in a bomb, and blow it up in space. Why not just teach astronauts how to drill? Who knows!? At least there’s also a strangely erotic scene where Ben Affleck runs an animal cookie across Liv Tyler’s body while explaining space.

14. Independence Day

Independence Day is America wrapped right up in a movie. There’s not a lot that happens in actual space—a knock that keeps it from ranking higher—but it does involve Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum going to space to fight aliens who are looking to destroy humanity and the world they inhabit, so it tracks.

13. The Martian

Ah, the 127 Hours of space movies. Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars after a giant space storm in The Martian, leaving him to fend for himself. Like many space films, this one hones in on human resilience and also shines a wonderful musical spotlight on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”

12. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s visually-stunning space epic follows Matthew McConaughey as a pilot tasked with finding a new home for the human species. His character sets off into the unknown leaving his family on a dust-filled Earth that’s rapidly becoming unable to support life. Prepare to bend your brain trying to understand the concept of relativity as McConaughey races against the clock in an extremely sci-fi way.

11. Galaxy Quest

On paper, Galaxy Quest sounds like just a throwaway space comedy about a group of washed up sci-fi actors who accidentally get embroiled in a real intergalactic battle. But with a brilliant cast that consists of Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, and Sam Rockwell—Galaxy Quest goes well beyond its expectations. In hindsight, this might be the greatest sci-fi comedy this side of Spaceballs.

10. Spaceballs

Spaceballs is a fully insane Mel Brooks comedy, running at warp speed. Even if it’s not his best movie, it’s hard to make a space movie list without including the best space comedy of all time (come at me, Mars Attack!). A brilliant parody of Star Wars, Spaceballs brilliantly weaves together the Darth Vader-lite Dark Helmet with the Han Solo-adjacent Lone Starr and his trusty dog-ish sidekick Barf.

9. Contact

This Jodie Foster film is a special kind of space beast. Playing Dr. Arroway, she is contacted by a something off in the far reaches of the universe and must race to figure out exactly who is contacting Earth. Sure, there’s not much actual space until the brilliant closing scenes, but it had to be on this list for being a patient, intelligent sci-fi movie that involves the unknown of what’s beyond our little planet.

8. Wall-E

Hanging out on Earth to literally clean up humanity’s mess, Wall-E finds another robot on a scanning mission who was sent to what remains of the third rock from the sun. Together, the two go on a universe-spanning adventure that will warm your heart unlike any other space story. Wall-E remains one of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments thanks to its stunning visuals and an ever more important environmental message.

7. Moon

Sam Rockwell stars in Moon, a film about a miner in the future who is sent to bring alternative fuel home to Earth. But as he’s about to come home, his health takes a serious turn for the worse. Things get even stranger when he runs into a younger version of himself, and he’s tasked along with his clone with figuring out what the hell is going on before they both pay the price of being discovered. This quiet, incredible sci-fi thriller marked a stunning debut for director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son.

6. Gravity

With its orbital camera and ultra-realism, this Alfonso Cuarón-directed sci-fi masterpiece showcases the phenomenal ability of Sandra Bullock, who spends the majority of this movie isolated and surviving the terrors of space. Wanted to be an astronaut when you grow up? Not after seeing this thriller, where the villain is the unforgiving vacuum of space.

5. Apollo 13

How do you argue with Ron Howard? His 1995 summer blockbuster about the near-fatal moon mission gone awry is one of the best space movies to ever exist. Like many of the top films in this genre, this Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon film relies on the ingenuity, fears, and intelligence that make us truly human.

4. Hidden Figures

In the rundown of damn good space movies, one of the absolute best never actually features its stars getting off the ground. Hidden Figures tells the true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and the deeply integral role those three women played in getting John Glenn into space to orbit Earth.

3. Alien

Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece at once revolutionized the horror and sci-fi genres. Beneath the surface of this space terror bubbles themes tackling everything from feminism to Freudian sex to traditional gender roles and reproduction. Along with that, Alien debuted one of the best heroes in film history with Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley, along with one of the greatest monster’s in film history with the titular Alien.

2. Star Wars

It’s the greatest sci-fi franchise in film history, and much of moviemaking as we know it today would not have been possible without George Lucas’ original Star Wars. Though it lifted much of its structure and characters from pulp action-adventure of the time, everything from the special effects to the concept of “droids” were absolutely groundbreaking.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

More than years later, humanity has gotten no closer to unraveling the mystery that is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It remains a mind-bending achievement of imagination and technical filmmaking that is the Hollywood equivalent of putting a man on the moon. And, to that end, Kubrick’s directing is so good in A Space Odyssey, people still believe that he’s the one who helped the U.S. Government fake the moon landing. Yes it’s slow, yes it’s baffling—but in terms of ideas and visual mastery, 2001 is incomparable. It remains the standard for sci-fi movies and laid the groundwork for the genre as we know it today.

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