November 07, 2014

The 25 Best Space Movies of All Time

Our film critics didn't come away from Christopher Nolan's space epic Interstellar with much praise, but it did get us thinking about other flicks -- epics, comedies, and truly weird classics -- set in or about the great beyond. Below are our 25 favorite space movies since the Big Bang.

See also:
The 20 Best Modern Vampire Movies, 1979 to the Present
The Top 20 NYC Summer Movies

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25. Ice Pirates (1984)
In this undistinguished parody of the sci-fi genre, Robert Urich is Jason, who leads a band of pirates in redistributing the wealth of the few to the coffers of the needy. He also joins up with Princess Karina Mary Crosby in searching for her father and a possible source of water in the next galaxy. Meant to be a campy romp, the film stops short of achieving a goal that should have been effortless. -- Eleanor Mannikka
25. Ice Pirates (1984)
In this undistinguished parody of the sci-fi genre, Robert Urich is Jason, who leads a band of pirates in redistributing the wealth of the few to the coffers of the needy. He also joins up with Princess Karina Mary Crosby in searching for her father and a possible source of water in the next galaxy. Meant to be a campy romp, the film stops short of achieving a goal that should have been effortless. -- Eleanor Mannikka
24. Event Horizon (1997)
In this sci-fi/horror scarefest, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) is a scientist who has designed a spacecraft called the Event Horizon that will explore the outer reaches of space past the planet Neptune; the ship employs a special transport mechanism that, in effect, creates a black hole that the ship can pass through, allowing it to travel tremendous distances in a few seconds. The Event Horizon mysteriously disappears in the midst of a mission, with no trace of either the ship or its crew, but it reappears in Neptune's orbit after a seven-year absence, and it's sending out a distress signal. The spaceship Lewis and Clark, and Dr. Weir, are sent to investigate; the crew -- Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee), engineer Justin (Jack Noseworthy), navigator Starck (Joely Richardson), physician D.J. (Jason Isaacs), and emergency technicians Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones) -- are already tired and unenthusiastic about this assignment, and somewhat confused by Weir's reports. The crew of the Lewis and Clark are convinced that Weir is not telling them something, and when they discover the Event Horizon, they find that things are not what they seem, and an evil presence has taken over the ship. Incidentally, the term event horizon describes the outer boundaries of a black hole. -- Mark Deming
© Copyright 1997 - Paramount Pictures - All rights reserved.
24. Event Horizon (1997)
In this sci-fi/horror scarefest, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) is a scientist who has designed a spacecraft called the Event Horizon that will explore the outer reaches of space past the planet Neptune; the ship employs a special transport mechanism that, in effect, creates a black hole that the ship can pass through, allowing it to travel tremendous distances in a few seconds. The Event Horizon mysteriously disappears in the midst of a mission, with no trace of either the ship or its crew, but it reappears in Neptune's orbit after a seven-year absence, and it's sending out a distress signal. The spaceship Lewis and Clark, and Dr. Weir, are sent to investigate; the crew -- Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee), engineer Justin (Jack Noseworthy), navigator Starck (Joely Richardson), physician D.J. (Jason Isaacs), and emergency technicians Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones) -- are already tired and unenthusiastic about this assignment, and somewhat confused by Weir's reports. The crew of the Lewis and Clark are convinced that Weir is not telling them something, and when they discover the Event Horizon, they find that things are not what they seem, and an evil presence has taken over the ship. Incidentally, the term event horizon describes the outer boundaries of a black hole. -- Mark Deming
23. Contact (1997)
From our 1997 review: Adapted from the Reagan-era bestseller written by the late public-TV astro-populizer Carl Sagan, this account of the most benign interplanetary interaction since the heyday of E.T. falls somewhere between the golden anniversary of the Roswell Event and NASA's own summer blockbuster, Pathfinder on Mars. Mainly, however, it's a search for the lost daddy -- a spectacle at once laughable and glum. ¶ The orphan of Bedford Falls, astrogenius Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), has developed her precocious interest in ham radio to an obsessive search for life in the cosmos, most pithily (if pitifully) summarized by the flashback to her prepubescent postfuneral shortwave plea: "Dad -- are you there?" Never less than earnest, even when enjoying a postcoital snuggle with resident hunk Matthew McConaughey, Foster battles the bureaucratic blob blocking her "journey to the heart of the universe," but seems most at home in the role of a grade-school teacher. She's a gracious fount of wisdom who ends the movie posed as Rodin's Thinker. -- J. Hoberman
23. Contact (1997)
From our 1997 review: Adapted from the Reagan-era bestseller written by the late public-TV astro-populizer Carl Sagan, this account of the most benign interplanetary interaction since the heyday of E.T. falls somewhere between the golden anniversary of the Roswell Event and NASA's own summer blockbuster, Pathfinder on Mars. Mainly, however, it's a search for the lost daddy -- a spectacle at once laughable and glum. ¶ The orphan of Bedford Falls, astrogenius Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), has developed her precocious interest in ham radio to an obsessive search for life in the cosmos, most pithily (if pitifully) summarized by the flashback to her prepubescent postfuneral shortwave plea: "Dad -- are you there?" Never less than earnest, even when enjoying a postcoital snuggle with resident hunk Matthew McConaughey, Foster battles the bureaucratic blob blocking her "journey to the heart of the universe," but seems most at home in the role of a grade-school teacher. She's a gracious fount of wisdom who ends the movie posed as Rodin's Thinker. -- J. Hoberman
22. Cocoon (1985)
Cocoon is a warm-hearted science-fiction fable that avoids becoming overly corny thanks to the performances of its mostly senior cast. Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, and Hume Cronyn are three old-timers who sneak out of their retirement home a few days a week to swim in the large pool on an abandoned estate next door. When the threesome begins to feel curiously younger, they discover strange pods on the floor of the pool. These pods are alien cocoons, which are being pulled from the ocean by a team of extraterrestrials in human form led by Walter (Brian Dennehy), who has hired a local charter operator (Steve Guttenberg) to assist him. Walter explains to the seniors that energy from the cocoons is restoring youth and vigor to the older men every time they go for a dip. The aliens agree to let the men continue to swim in secret, but of course they can't keep their discovery to themselves. Soon the pool is swarming with retirees, with the notable exception of Bernie (Jack Gilford), who has no interest in prolonging life any longer than necessary. The aliens ultimately prepare to return home and offer the retirees eternal life if they leave Earth behind as well. Director Ron Howard treats his old-timers with care and dignity, and they respond with deeply sympathetic performances (Ameche won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar); the film's science-fiction trappings ably sustain the story's all-too-human ruminations on youth, aging, life, and death. -- Don Kaye
22. Cocoon (1985)
Cocoon is a warm-hearted science-fiction fable that avoids becoming overly corny thanks to the performances of its mostly senior cast. Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, and Hume Cronyn are three old-timers who sneak out of their retirement home a few days a week to swim in the large pool on an abandoned estate next door. When the threesome begins to feel curiously younger, they discover strange pods on the floor of the pool. These pods are alien cocoons, which are being pulled from the ocean by a team of extraterrestrials in human form led by Walter (Brian Dennehy), who has hired a local charter operator (Steve Guttenberg) to assist him. Walter explains to the seniors that energy from the cocoons is restoring youth and vigor to the older men every time they go for a dip. The aliens agree to let the men continue to swim in secret, but of course they can't keep their discovery to themselves. Soon the pool is swarming with retirees, with the notable exception of Bernie (Jack Gilford), who has no interest in prolonging life any longer than necessary. The aliens ultimately prepare to return home and offer the retirees eternal life if they leave Earth behind as well. Director Ron Howard treats his old-timers with care and dignity, and they respond with deeply sympathetic performances (Ameche won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar); the film's science-fiction trappings ably sustain the story's all-too-human ruminations on youth, aging, life, and death. -- Don Kaye
21. Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)
A campy tale about a team of astronauts who land on the moon and find it inhabited by telepathic cat-women who scheme to get a ride to Earth.
21. Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)
A campy tale about a team of astronauts who land on the moon and find it inhabited by telepathic cat-women who scheme to get a ride to Earth.
20. Barbarella (1968)
The ridiculously long tagline for the camp sci-fi flick Barbarella asks: "Who seduces an angel? Who strips in space? Who conveys love by hand? Who gives up the pill? Who takes sex to outer space?" Why, it's Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy, of course. Set in the year 40,000, the film follows our sexy heroine on a mission to stop the evil scientist Durand Durand (and yes, in case you're wondering, that's where they got their name) from destroying the galaxy with his sexually sinful ways. Her journey takes her to the heights and depths of carnal desire as she encounters orgasmic musical instruments, a lesbian sorceress who can turn fantasies into reality, and hookah-smoking ladies who inhale the "essence of man." The film was a box-office bomb back in its day but has since become a cult classic, influencing many musicians, among others (such as Prince, Jamiroquai, and Matmos). -- Eudie Pak
© 1968 - Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
20. Barbarella (1968)
The ridiculously long tagline for the camp sci-fi flick Barbarella asks: "Who seduces an angel? Who strips in space? Who conveys love by hand? Who gives up the pill? Who takes sex to outer space?" Why, it's Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy, of course. Set in the year 40,000, the film follows our sexy heroine on a mission to stop the evil scientist Durand Durand (and yes, in case you're wondering, that's where they got their name) from destroying the galaxy with his sexually sinful ways. Her journey takes her to the heights and depths of carnal desire as she encounters orgasmic musical instruments, a lesbian sorceress who can turn fantasies into reality, and hookah-smoking ladies who inhale the "essence of man." The film was a box-office bomb back in its day but has since become a cult classic, influencing many musicians, among others (such as Prince, Jamiroquai, and Matmos). -- Eudie Pak
19. Apollo 13 (1995)
Ron Howard re-created the drama of the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 moon mission -- the failure that showed NASA at its best -- with nail-biting detail and spectacular visual integrity.
Photo by Universal Pictures - © 1995
19. Apollo 13 (1995)
Ron Howard re-created the drama of the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 moon mission -- the failure that showed NASA at its best -- with nail-biting detail and spectacular visual integrity.
18. Zardoz (1974)
A resident of 23rd-century Earth becomes involved in a revolution after discovering the hidden truth about society's rulers in director John Boorman's sci-fi drama. Sean Connery plays Zed, the central rebel, who begins the film as a member of the Exterminators, a band of skilled assassins who exact a reign of terror over the lesser Brutals. The Exterminators answer only to their god, a gigantic stone image known as Zardoz. Haunted by doubt about Zardoz's true divinity, Zed chooses to investigate. His disbelief is confirmed when the god proves to be a fraudulent tool of the Eternals, a secret society of brilliant immortals who pretend to divinity in order to exploit the masses. Knowing the truth, Zed sets out to reveal the hoax and destroy the Eternals' unjust rule. -- Judd Blaise
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2011 Silver Screen Collection
18. Zardoz (1974)
A resident of 23rd-century Earth becomes involved in a revolution after discovering the hidden truth about society's rulers in director John Boorman's sci-fi drama. Sean Connery plays Zed, the central rebel, who begins the film as a member of the Exterminators, a band of skilled assassins who exact a reign of terror over the lesser Brutals. The Exterminators answer only to their god, a gigantic stone image known as Zardoz. Haunted by doubt about Zardoz's true divinity, Zed chooses to investigate. His disbelief is confirmed when the god proves to be a fraudulent tool of the Eternals, a secret society of brilliant immortals who pretend to divinity in order to exploit the masses. Knowing the truth, Zed sets out to reveal the hoax and destroy the Eternals' unjust rule. -- Judd Blaise
10. Mission to Mars (2000)
Despite an ending that out-Spielbergs the master, Mission to Mars mainly coarsens 2001 in its mix of cosmic consciousness and "naturalistic" product placement (Dr. Pepper bloblets and multicolored M&M's floating around the cockpit). As in the Kubrick trip, the middle voyage is best. Halfway through, [Brian] De Palma literally explodes his narrative to orchestrate a superb deep-space float-opera replete with runaway modules, high-tech lassos, dramatic self-sacrifice, and, in the most surprising maneuver, a montage-driven modicum of actual suspense. -- J. Hoberman
Photo by Touchstone Pictures - © 2000 Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
10. Mission to Mars (2000)
Despite an ending that out-Spielbergs the master, Mission to Mars mainly coarsens 2001 in its mix of cosmic consciousness and "naturalistic" product placement (Dr. Pepper bloblets and multicolored M&M's floating around the cockpit). As in the Kubrick trip, the middle voyage is best. Halfway through, [Brian] De Palma literally explodes his narrative to orchestrate a superb deep-space float-opera replete with runaway modules, high-tech lassos, dramatic self-sacrifice, and, in the most surprising maneuver, a montage-driven modicum of actual suspense. -- J. Hoberman
9. Forbidden Planet (1956)
A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair provides astonishing evidence of a populace a million years more advanced than earthlings. There are many wonders on Altair-4, but none is greater or more deadly than the human mind. Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come. Leslie Nielsen portrays the commander who brings his spacecruiser crew to the green-skied Altair-4 world that's home to Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter (Anne Francis), the remarkable Robby...and to a mysterious terror.
9. Forbidden Planet (1956)
A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair provides astonishing evidence of a populace a million years more advanced than earthlings. There are many wonders on Altair-4, but none is greater or more deadly than the human mind. Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come. Leslie Nielsen portrays the commander who brings his spacecruiser crew to the green-skied Altair-4 world that's home to Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter (Anne Francis), the remarkable Robby...and to a mysterious terror.