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The 20 best space movies you can launch right now

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Although Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson would like to tell you otherwise, the vast majority of humans will never go anywhere near space.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience it vicariously.

As well as tapping into a healthy dose of existential dread, space movies offer us a fleeting glimpse of planets and galaxies far beyond our wildest dreams, all from the safety of our own living rooms.

So, we’ve tracked down the best of them. The only rule? To make the list, the characters have to have actually travelled through space — although Arrival is a great space-related movie, for instance, it doesn’t make the cut because it’s based on Earth; Contact, meanwhile, although largely Earth-based, does squeak in due to a bit of wormhole-based travel.

NASA, aliens, and journeys through wormholes.

NASA, aliens, and journeys through wormholes.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Netflix / 20th Century Fox / Paramount Pictures / mashable composite

From quests to reignite the sun to extraterrestrial struggles, and in no particular order, these are some of the best space movies out there…

1. Sunshine

Spoiler alert: some of these people don't make it.

Spoiler alert: some of these people don’t make it.

Image: Fox Searchlight/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

With the sun dying, a team of astronauts attempts to save the planet by journeying through space to reignite it.

Why should you watch it?

Despite its stunning visuals and strong cast, Sunshine didn’t do all that well at the box office. It was a bit of a flop, in fact. Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller cost $40 million, and it only made $34.8 million when it hit the cinemas.

As is often the case, though, that’s no reflection of the film’s quality. The Trainspotting director’s foray into space movies is an absolute beauty, with Alwin Küchler’s blistering cinematography turning the film’s lighting effects into a character in their own right (yes, I know that sounds like a slightly weird thing to say, but it’ll make more sense when you see the movie).

At its fiery core, Sunshine has all the elements of a classic space thriller — there’s the mystery of an abandoned craft, a journey into the unknown, and the dawning realisation that most (if not all) of the characters probably won’t be making it back in one piece. Also, you get to see a pre-Avengers Chris Evans, which is a nice bonus. — Sam Haysom, Deputy UK Editor

Sunshine is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK and the U.S.

2. Moon

Sam Rockwell doesn't have an easy time of it in 'Moon.'

Sam Rockwell doesn’t have an easy time of it in ‘Moon.’

Image: Liberty Uk/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

A lonely astronaut working on the far side of the moon begins to suffer hallucinations.

Why should you watch it?

If travelling through space as part of a skeleton crew sounds like a potentially lonely task (which, if the other films on this list are anything to go by, it almost certainly is), then imagine how Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) feels in Moon. The poor guy is completely on his own mining helium-3 on the moon, with only a suspicious robot and a dodgy comms feed for company.

I absolutely love Moon. It starts off as a beautifully shot, psychological meditation on loneliness, then morphs into something else entirely as Bell gradually uncovers the secrets of the base he’s working on. The end result is like a cross between the dystopia of Black Mirror and the movie Gravity (which we’ll get to a bit later). — S.H.

Moon is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK, and stream on Showtime in the U.S.

3. Europa Report

Turns out there's some creepy stuff on one of Jupiter's moons.

Turns out there’s some creepy stuff on one of Jupiter’s moons.

Image: Moviestore/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

A team of astronauts tries to find life on one of Jupiter’s moons.

Why should you watch it?

On the surface, Europa Report has all the elements of a standard space horror hybrid: there’s the voyage to find other life, a case of mysterious lights, and the rapidly-escalating tension that comes from realising things are about to go horribly, horribly wrong.

But despite all that, Sebastián Cordero’s thriller doesn’t feel generic. The film’s found footage style gives it the same sense of realism that made The Blair Witch Project so creepy, and the central mystery of the lights — coupled with a crew that keeps getting picked off — builds a sense of suspense that ratchets up nicely as the film progresses.

Remember, just because something looks beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t deadly. — S.H.

Europa Report is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK, and stream on Hulu in the U.S.

4. Hidden Figures

What’s it about?

Three Black women whose work made modern space travel possible.

Why should you watch it?

Theodore Melfi’s 2016 film tells the true story of mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), three Black women working at NASA during the space race. Despite their historic importance, none of the film’s central women were household names, their story overshadowed by the racist era of the 1960s in which they worked. 

The film even tries to sanitize this a little; Katherine’s supervisor is painted as consistently benevolent, and Buzz Aldrin makes a cameo (played by an actor) in which he treats her with respect. But what makes Hidden Figures shine so brightly is that for the most part, it keeps the focus on these incredible women. It does not ultimately give itself over to the white savior narrative or empathize with antagonists (see also: The Help) (to be clear: do not see it). It offers rich stories of Black joy, struggle, resilience, and triumph, with the sole goal of keeping these stories hidden no longer. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter

Hidden Figures is available to stream on All4 in the UK, and rent or buy from Prime Video in the U.S.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey

'2001' is packed full of so many memorable moments.

‘2001’ is packed full of so many memorable moments.

Image: Mgm/Stanley Kubrick Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

An astronaut travels on a mission to Jupiter with a sentient AI.

Why should you watch it?

Stanley Kubrick’s first and only foray into space is over 50 years old now, but it’s truly timeless. One of the most instantly recognisable science-fiction movies of all time, Kubrick’s Academy Award-winning, sprawling exploration of artificial intelligence and human advancement is not only beautifully shot, it also comes packed full of the kind of grand images and ideas that have since permeated popular culture. 

Even if you know very little about the film, you’ll likely have heard of Hal, the red-eyed AI who comes between Dave and his planned opening of the pod bay doors, or maybe you’ll have seen that famous image of a fetus floating among the stars. These, along with many other enduring moments, are thanks to 2001. You’ve at least heard the theme. — S.H.

2001: A Space Odyssey is available to stream on NOW TV in the UK, and HBO Max in the U.S.

6. Alien

Sigourney Weaver with Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm in 'Alien.'

Sigourney Weaver with Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm in ‘Alien.’

Image: Robert Penn/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

The crew of a spaceship encounters an unknown alien species while investigating a strange transmission.

Why should you watch it?

Alien isn’t just one of the best space movies of all time — it’s also one of the best movies of all time, full stop. Thanks to Ridley Scott’s direction and visual design led by Swiss artist H. R. Giger, this science-fiction horror film is genuinely creepy and claustrophobic, taking our intrinsic fear of dark and narrow corridors and using it to masterful effect.

In a lot of ways, Scott’s sci-fi behemoth set a template for future space movies. The sense of isolation, the rapidly-diminishing crew, the fear of AI, the body horror — all of these are tropes we’ve seen cropping up again and again over the years, including in some of the other films on this list. And while many of these descendants deploy those ideas well, few have managed to make the same gory splash that Alien did. (As a side note, Aliens — the second movie in the franchise — is also very much worth a watch). — S.H.

Alien is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK, and stream on HBO in the U.S.

7. Gravity

Sandra Bullock doesn't have a great time of it in 'Gravity.'

Sandra Bullock doesn’t have a great time of it in ‘Gravity.’

Image: Moviestore/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

After their NASA space shuttle is damaged by space debris, two stranded astronauts must find a way to return to Earth.

Why should you watch it?

I get a little nervy when it comes to heights. Back when I was a teenager, in fact, I distinctly remember the sense of vertigo I felt sitting at the very back of the cinema while watching Vertical Limit on the big screen.

Gravity is like that, only 10 times worse. It’s genuinely impressive how well director Alfonso Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and special effects company Framestore have managed to recreate the dizzying endlessness of space in this film — that horrible fear of falling, of tumbling backward through an empty black void, is constantly present.

Don’t watch this one if you suffer from acrophobia. Do watch it if you’re a fan of stunning visuals, Sandra Bullock, and the kind of tension that doesn’t ever seem to let up. — S.H.

Gravity is available to stream on NOW TV in the UK, and rent or buy on Prime Video in the U.S.

8. Star Wars

Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels in 'Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.'

Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.’

Image: Lucasfilm/Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

A truly colossal, multigenerational space battle between good and evil.

Why should you watch it?

Make the jump to lightspeed into a galaxy far, far away, to a moment when a young, determined George Lucas had the audacity to start an empire at Episode IV. As Mashable’s Chris Taylor notes in his book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (hey Chris!), you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars or at least knows about it as part of pop culture, whether they’re Rebel scum or a scruffy-looking nerf herder. 

First landing in 1977 and wrapping up in 2019, the series of films known as the Star Wars “Skywalker Saga” — Episodes I to IX, but not released in that order — has everything you want in a space movie: good versus evil, cool-jacketed heroes, well-caped villains, slim odds of success (just don’t tell Han Solo), weird weapons, enviable vehicles, strange planets and moons (and not-so-moons) to explore all with their own populations, industry-leading special effects, stunts, and costuming, and furious space battles that truly stay on target. Plus, they (obviously) have everything that makes a Star Wars film: that opening text crawl, lightsaber duels, quotes to live by, an ever-present mysterious Force, MY president Carrie Fisher, Han Solo’s laser-brain wisecracks, Luke Skywalker’s tolerance for blue milk, R2-D2 and C-3PO’s incessant bickering, Chewbacca’s rumbling recognition of human inadequacy, Lando Calrissian’s swindling style, Salacious B. Crumb’s soothing laugh, Yoda’s questionable stew and wise Jedi teachings, and questions that should never be answered.

It’s worth taking in all 11 Saga films, from the polarising prequels with their “roger, roger”-fuelled trade federations and sand everywhere, to the Porg-peppered, Millennium Falcon-paced new trilogy, not to mention the “A Star Wars Story” series with Solo, Rogue One, and The Mandalorian (starring the best being of the decade). But the original trilogy — Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi — is where you should always start if you’re yet to watch the films and boost your midi-chlorian count for a few hours. How has the Star Wars franchise managed to stand the test of time? Members of the Mashable team shared their ideas. — Shannon Connellan, Mashable UK Editor

Star Wars is available to stream on Disney+.

9. Solaris

George Clooney and Natascha McElhone in Steven Soderbergh's 2002 adaption of 'Solaris.'

George Clooney and Natascha McElhone in Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 adaption of ‘Solaris.’

Image: Bob Marshak/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

Following reports of some strange occurrences, a psychologist travels to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris.

Why should you watch it?

The first thing to make clear is that there are actually two movies called Solaris, both of which are based on the same 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem. First, there’s the 1972 film by Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky, and then there’s the 2002 Steven Soderbergh adaptation with George Clooney (i.e. the one pictured above). Both of these films are great, and both deserve a place on this list. For the sake of room, (there are a lot of films to cover, after all), we’ve grouped them into one entry.

So, why should you watch them? Well, while both films have their own distinct style, they share the same compelling story: a slow burn mystery that’s as much a psychological exploration of guilt as it is a tale about an unknowable alien planet. If you want guns and explosions, look elsewhere. But if you want creepy doppelgängers and a brain-melting final twist, this is the one for you. — S.H.

Solaris (2002) is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK, or stream on Hulu in the U.S. Solaris (1972) is available to stream on All4 in the UK, and rent or buy on Prime Video in the U.S.

10. Apollo 13

America's dad, jetting off into space.

America’s dad, jetting off into space.

Image: Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

Three men are trying to go to the moon, but then…they have a problem.

Why should you watch it?

Nominated for nine Oscars and winning two, Ron Howard’s gleaming recreation of the doomed 1970 moon mission is a masterclass in merging Hollywood blockbuster tension and emotional stakes with painstaking attention to historical and technical detail. On the narrative fulcrum of one little accident and the second-most famous line ever uttered in real-life space (albeit slightly tweaked from reality), Apollo 13 pivots from the shining-eyed optimism of the ’60s space program to an increasingly taut and literally suffocating scramble for survival. Years before Matt Damon scienced the shit out of some potatoes, a crew of some of the 1990s’ most famous and beloved white dads (Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and an iconically shouty Ed Harris down in the control room) had to not only find a way to get themselves back to Earth, but also a way to tell that story accurately and compellingly. It could have had so many problems, but it doesn’t — it’s just stellar across the board. 

Aside from That Quote, Apollo 13 also gave us Captain Mode Tom Hanks: America’s dad, capably but not quite stoically leading his crew through a crisis. It’s the blueprint for iconic performances in Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips, Sully, and his latest, Greyhound. — Caitlin Welsh, Mashable Australia Editor

Apollo 13 is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK, or stream on Netflix in the U.S.

11. Interstellar

What’s it about?

In an attempt to save humankind and find a new, habitable world, a team of astronauts journeys through a wormhole. 

Why should you watch it?

Interstellar already made our list of the best time travel movies, but frankly, we wouldn’t have felt right leaving it out of this one. Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning film is like a sci-fi love letter, with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s grand cinematography creating the kind of images that are equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying (seriously, just a quick Google search will have you wanting to hang those bad boys up on your wall in poster form).

For me, this kind of scope and beauty is what makes a great space film. It’s like a magnified version of the feeling you get looking up at the stars on a clear night, amazed by the sheer, sprawling scope of the universe, and just a little bit scared by it, too. — S.H.

Interstellar is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK and the U.S.

12. Contact

Jodie Foster in 'Contact.'

Jodie Foster in ‘Contact.’

Image: Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros/Southside Amusement Co/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

After discovering evidence of alien life, a scientist is chosen to make first contact.

Why should you watch it?

The lone scientist who gets ignored by the big bosses only to go on and make a huge discovery is one of the oldest Hollywood plot devices in the book. But there are few times that it’s been used to better effect than in Robert Zemeckis’ sprawling sci-fi mystery.

Contact is one of those films that perfectly combines a whole host of intriguing, space-y ideas. There’s the possibility of an alien signal being picked up over the radio, perplexing coded messages, and ultimately, the concept of a machine that could be used to teleport a person through a series of wormholes.

The thing I really love about this film is the central mystery. From the moment Dr. Arroway (Jodie Foster) listens to her first radio emissions, we pretty much know where the film is going. But it’s that tantalising inevitability — that Arroway may actually discover something, and even communicate with that something — that really fuels the story. — S.H.

Contact is available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the UK or the U.S.

13. The Martian

What’s it about?

After he’s been accidentally left for dead during his crew’s evacuation of Mars, NASA astronaut and biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) must stay alive on the Red Planet long enough for a risky rescue to arrive. 

Why should you watch it?

The Martian is more fun than it has any right to be. Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 novel mixes drama and high stakes with humor and a killer soundtrack. It’s not a grip-the-edge-of-your-seat stress fest the way Gravity is from start to finish, but you’ll be holding your breath as you wait to see if Damon’s character can pull off his latest desperate scheme. Of course he can, but there are just so many ways for things to go wrong. In that sense, the film is similar to Apollo 13, where everything has to go just right in order for (further) disaster to be averted. You know the ending, but it’s no less tense as you’re observing all the close calls. The supporting cast is full of big names who make the side plots worth watching, too, including Donald Glover, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, and Kristen Wiig. 

The Martian alternates between Watney stranded on Mars, the crew on the ship who left him, and the NASA officials trying to figure out what to do. Damon carries much of the movie in his scenes alone, talking to himself or recording messages to send home, but he stays remarkably level-headed and relatable throughout the whole film. There isn’t a tragic male anti-hero here. The writing is excellent, with a long list of quotes that will stick with you. There’s enough science to feel plausible but the pacing is so steady that you’re never bored. If you ever come across The Martian playing on cable, it’s nearly impossible not to watch the next 30 minutes of it, and then the rest of whatever is left. 

Finally, Watney’s attitude is a model of resilience and grace under adversity, which is a reassuring stance in 2020. The idea that if you solve enough problems, you’ll get to go home. — Alex Hazlett, Director of Special Projects

The Martian is available to stream on Netflix in the UK and FX in the U.S.

14. Aniara

What’s it about? 

A transport ship strays from its course en route to Mars, leaving its passengers stuck on board indefinitely. 

Why should you watch it?

Aniara imagines a bleak future in which climate change has rendered the Earth nigh uninhabitable. Then it goes even bleaker with a narrative about a group of passengers trying to escape this ruined Earth for Mars, only to find themselves stuck in the endless void of space for, possibly, forever. Despair, nihilism, hedonism, and fanaticism run rampant through the ship, as people figure out how to live with their new reality — or don’t. 

Our window into this hopeless microcosm is MR (a stunning Emilie Jonsson), the unassuming caretaker of a sentient AI called the Mima, which pulls from human memories to reflect a hyper-real vision of the Earth as it once was. We watch over months, then years, as she struggles and suffers, celebrates joy and pleasure, experiences love (with a former pilot named Isagel, played by Bianca Cruzeiro) and loss. Less an action-packed adventure than a cerebral meditation on the human condition, Aniara ultimately leaves us with the reminder that we are, ourselves, trapped on our own little spaceship called Earth, hurtling through space for the rest of eternity with one another. — Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor

Aniara is available on to stream on BFI Player in the UK Hulu in the U.S.

15. Jupiter Ascending

What’s it about? 

An ordinary human discovers that she is the heir to an intergalactic dynasty, sparking a battle for the future of Earth. 

Why should you watch it? 

The Wachowskis’ lavish space opera bombed on arrival, but in the years since it’s accumulated something of a cult following thanks to its earnest, playful, swing-for-the-fences weirdness.

If Stefon from SNL were to recommend a movie, it would surely be this one. Because Jupiter Ascending has everything: Channing Tatum as a half-wolf space warrior zipping around on flying rollerblades; Eddie Redmayne whisper-shouting about destruction while swanning around in a series of majestic capes; Sean Bean as a former soldier who is part bee and named Stinger, because that’s the kind of movie this is. There’s attempted incest, and bees that can sense royalty, and a Terry Gilliam tribute, and Mila Kunis, as Jupiter, hitting on Tatum’s canine character by breathily explaining that she’s always loved dogs. 

Buried within all that, there’s even a thoughtful message about the pitfalls of capitalism. All of it adds up to a distinctly feminine fantasy that combines princess tropes with action-hero ones, packaged in some of the most eye-popping CG landscapes you’ll see in a big-budget would-be blockbuster. If you, like Jupiter, want a taste of a life less ordinary, Jupiter Ascending is here for you. — A.H.

Jupiter Ascending is available to stream on Netflix in the UK and the U.S.

16. Event Horizon

Laurence Fishburne and Joely Richardson have no idea what they're in for.

Laurence Fishburne and Joely Richardson have no idea what they’re in for.

Image: Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

When a vanished ship suddenly reappears in Neptune’s orbit, a rescue vessel goes to investigate.

Why should you watch it?

OK, this one’s a bit of a wildcard. Event Horizon‘s status as one of the “best space movies” is definitely up for debate (a quick check on the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page shows as much), but it makes the list purely because of its cult status.

Is the whole thing a bit hammy in places? Absolutely. But the creep factor, the nightmarish visions, and the concept of a ship that may have left the bounds of our known universe are frankly too tempting to resist. Plus you also get to see Sam Neill as a possessed, havoc-wreaking doctor, who at one point (spoiler alert!) cheerfully gouges out his own eyes after being consumed by an evil presence.

If you want thought-provoking beauty, go for Sunshine or Interstellar. But if you’re looking for some entertaining space horror to watch in a group setting, you could do a lot worse. — S.H.

Event Horizon is available to stream on NOW TV in the UK, and Showtime in the U.S.

17. Guardians of the Galaxy

What’s it about?

Extraterrestrial bounty hunters, smugglers, and assassins all vie for possession of a strange orb.

Why should you watch it?

Space is a pretty dark and serious business, and most of the films on this list reflect that. But you can’t have all that darkness without a little bit of light, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy is pure, popcorn-munching fun from the get-go. Space feels less like an unknowable void in this movie and more like a treasure trove of opportunities, packed full of more quirky characters than you can shake a talking tree at. James Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s script — which is full of genuinely amusing quips and one-liners — zips along at rocket-speed, jumping from one larger-than-life situation to the next and pulling us along in its giddy slipstream. Pair all that with one awesome soundtrack courtesy of main character Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord, who is never far from his trusty mixtape — you’d better believe that thing contains plenty of catchy ’70s bangers.

This film has very little in common with Alien, except for the fact it does have a sequel — and like the follow-up to Alien, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is also very much worth watching. — S.H.

Guardians of the Galaxy is available to stream on Disney+.

18. First Man

What’s it about?

The buildup to the 1969 moon landing.

Why should you watch it?

La La Land‘s director Damien Chazelle, composer Justin Hurwitz, and star Ryan Gosling team up for the most unlikely sequel to their Oscar-winning musical. First Man focuses on the inner and outer life of Neil Armstrong as he prepares to become the first man on the moon — a mission that appeared at the time to be more foolhardy and perilous than anything else. 

Yet through its shaky closeups and soulful score, First Man suggests this was Armstrong’s destiny. The moon calls to him, even when calculations don’t add up and test flights go horribly wrong, even when his family — alive, happy, healthy — awaits at home. — P.K.

First Man is available to stream on NOW TV in the UK and HBO Max in the U.S.

19. The Right Stuff

Dennis Quaid playing American astronaut Gordon Cooper  in 'The Right Stuff.'

Dennis Quaid playing American astronaut Gordon Cooper  in ‘The Right Stuff.’

Image: Ladd Company/Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

What’s it about?

It’s 1957. The Russians just put Sputnik into space, and the Americans are scrambling to catch up. Seven pilots sign up for America’s first space program, Project Mercury, while the best of them all, Chuck Yeager, refuses to go.

Why should you watch it?

Let’s start at the top. We begin with a rattle of drums and the empty horizon. We are in the air, flying fast, twisting sinuously into a bank of clouds. After a second or two, The Band’s Levon Helm drawls the most under-appreciated opening lines in American cinema: “There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die.” The demon is the sound barrier, still unbroken at this point in the movie, and it is about to destroy a test plane and take a life. I don’t know whose idea it was to have Levon Helm narrate Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, but they were a genius — the man who sang “The Weight” quickly sets a similarly defiant, nostalgic, even slightly mystical mood here. For all the things that happen in The Right Stuff, which is very long and doesn’t feel like it, the first quality it masters is mood. We encounter many demons in the air in this 1983 movie, and because of the power of that opening scene, the air is a dangerous, volatile place from the first frame.

So much comes from The Right Stuff, little bits picked and pulled not just by a lot of movies, but an incredible variety of them. First Man’s focus on Neil Armstrong’s fraught marriage effectively remakes long stretches of it. That shot in Armageddon of the spacesuited crew marching in slow motion to the ship? That’s a carbon copy of one of this film’s best shots. Even that recruiting-the-old-guys section of Space Cowboys has got The Right Stuff’s fingerprints all over it. And it makes sense because The Right Stuff is a million movies at once. There’s the comedy starring Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer as anonymous G-men trying to draft astronauts from acrobats and demolition derby drivers (“They already have their own helmets”). Next to that is the domestic tragedy about the military wives left behind in shabby rooms that rattle with the explosions of their husbands’ test planes. There’s also the laconic western starring Sam Shepard riding a horse through the high desert. And, first and foremost, there is the epic drama connecting it all, the story of the stubborn, ugly scrabble up to space. 

That connective tissue is really what separates this movie from the pack. The sheer achievement of spaceflight is easy to forget now. After all, we’ve been doing it since long before most of us were born. And that’s often reflected on the screen. In so many of these films, people go into a capsule, shut the door, and just fly away, but every frame of The Right Stuff is infused with a visceral sense of how difficult is it to build and fly a spaceship, with the lonely yearning and half-crazy ambition it takes to want to leave the Earth in the first place. Astronauts here aren’t just astronauts — they’re monkish ascetics, or overcompensating bullshitters, or calculating politicians, and what brought each to the cockpit affects how they handle the voyage. One by one, each goes up alone to a fistfight with gravity, with the atmosphere, and with the absurd fragility of the human body. There are demons in the air in The Right Stuff, and we’re never allowed to forget it. — John D’Amico, Head of Video

The Right Stuff is available to rent on Prime Video in the UK or stream on HBO Max in the U.S.

20. High Life

What’s it about?

A ship on a one-way trip from Earth into deep space, populated by a handful of convicts and an unstable doctor fixated on sex.

Why should you watch it?

Claire Denis’ masterful, almost plot-free take on the existential space horror-odyssey — her first English-language film — might be set on a bleak box of a spaceship prison, but it oozes humanity. Literally: blood, breast milk, sweat. Despair, too, seems to drip off the walls of the set (designed by installation art superstar Olafur Eliasson). A hypnotically expressionless Robert Pattinson plays the last survivor of a doomed group of young prisoners (including Andre ‘3000’ Benjamin and Mia Goth, in flashback) on their way to a black hole; they’re watched over by the ship doctor Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who is obsessed with sex and reproduction. As the film spools out the hideous, haunting monotony of the journey, it also gives you small moments of beauty as fingerholds; as those walls close in, the unforgiving vacuum and absolute mystery outside beckon. It’s ugly in a way that films set in space rarely are, that will make you uncomfortably conscious of the weirdness and fragility of your own body as an object, and burrow into your brain. — C.W.

High Life is available to rent on BFI Player in the UK, or on Prime Video in the U.S.

Need some more sci-fi mystery in your life? Check out our list of the best time travel movies.

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