A movie predominantly set in space does not necessarily mean that it’s a work of science fiction. Sure, there are plenty of space movies that do fall in that category, but there is also plenty of room for space movies than lean towards comedy or fantasy. But the most effective films on this list are the films that really put us there and make us feel the emptiness, and danger, of space all around us. Zip up your suit and make sure it’s on tight, because there’s no escaping this spacewalk: it’s time to take a look at our list of the best space movies of all time.
Flying through space in this movie is almost like walking across the street, and wow, it’s a blast. A miraculous fable about space farmers, space smugglers, space princesses, space fascists, space wizards, and fascist space wizards, this is the film that taught us that incredible technology is nothing next to the power of belief. Star Wars is far from the most realistic depiction of space travel, but try to find a movie set in space that’s more fun or more powerful. Hop on board the Millenium Falcon and blast a TIE Fighter - you can't get better than Star Wars.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick made space seem utterly majestic and incredibly frightening. This is a slow burn of a movie for sure, but if you are in the right mood (and the right mindset) this is a space journey like no other. Space is vast and humanity is such a small part of existence. The astronauts seem constantly swallowed by space itself, to the point where we also feel completely overwhelmed. Of all the space movies here, this is the one where space feels the most realistic and, then, feels so unreal that it captures the unknowable nature of the great void.
Those other movies made you afraid of space, that’s interesting…how about we trap you on the equivalent of a haunted house in space? How would that be? Not only does the actual science of navigating space feel painfully real (cryo-sleep included), but, as the title suggests, an alien is involved. No matter how many times we watch this Ridley Scott classic, it makes us squirm in terror. A fine example of humanity going where it does not belong, space has never been this quiet or this deadly.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
It’s certainly not the best Star Trek movie, not by a long shot, but it is the best depiction of space in a Trek film. Far from the floating hotels of some of the other Trek entries, the Enterprise in this movie is not a cozy place. Everything feels off and once we’re underway, something within us just wants the ship to go back to spacedock. Things get far worse when V’Ger snatches up the ship and Spock actually straps on a rocket pack to take a solo journey outside of the ship. Only the zero-G scene from Star Trek: First Contact comes close - and even then, it’s got nothing on this.
Pixar makes us fall in love with the film's robotic lead right off the bat, then blasts him off on an interstellar adventure where the little guy finds the remnants of humanity. The sequences on the garbage-packed Earth are bursting with character, but it’s the space scenes (of course) that really make this film take off. WALL-E’s “space dance” with his beloved (using a fire extinguisher for mobility) is a highlight, but the vistas of space simply seen from the decks of the Starship Axiom are almost as glorious.
A journey through time as well as space, the imagery is extraordinary in Christopher Nolan's mind-bender. When Hans Zimmer’s score is added in, it’s almost a religious experience. The human cast is great, the robots are some of the best in any space movie, and the ending is as emotional as they come. No other film marries technology and humanity so deeply in space.
Never give up, never surrender, and never leave this movie off of a list of space movies. Not just another spoof, its heart and love for the genre makes this riff on Star Trek is a fully satisfying space movie in its own right. Much of this has to do with the cast, including genre legend Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, and the incredible Alan Rickman. Rickman’s hapless Shakespearean actor who can’t rise above his television work as the Spockish alien Dr. Lazarus is what really earns this movie its classic status. By Grabthar’s hammer, by the sons of Morvan, we miss Alan Rickman - and we love this movie.
The Fifth Element
There’s space-weird and then there’s Luc Besson space-weird. Nothing can possibly prepare you for your first time with this movie, but if you’ve already seen it, you know what we’re talking about. A full-on space opera gone manically wild with reptilian villains, ambling robot saviors, Gary Oldman with a southern twang, and Milla Jovovich charmingly saying “multi-pass” every few seconds, this movie's beautiful space imagery is overwhelmed by its wild cast of characters. Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod truly makes this movie feel like it comes from another world and - set against a backdrop of the stars - makes the film a cosmic event worth dying for.
The genius of Alfonso Cuaron makes you believe that you’re in as much trouble as the space-stranded Sandra Bullock. You’re mostly waiting to get down on your knees and kiss solid ground for the entire film. You feel every jostle, every bump, and every spin thanks to Cuaron's signature long takes. Add the beauty of the “floating statue of Marvin the Martian” shot to the well-earned symbolism of the ending and you have one hell of a ride.
At first seeming like a campy mess, this film blindsides you with an entertaining and endlessly subversive trip through the galaxy. Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside, Neil Patrick Harris, and Dina Meyer run the show while the space sequences hold up surprisingly well even by today’s standards. But the constant alerts of a space-age propaganda service make this movie a hilarious, always pertinent classic.