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The 5 best movies set in space, ranked

Humanity has long dreamt of what life would be like off planet Earth, so some of the most popular and gripping films of all time have been known to take place in outer space. Whether they’re fantastical sci-fi adventures or real-life accounts of humanity’s journeys through the cosmos, space movies have succeeded in getting audiences to fill seats at the theaters.

So as humanity grows closer to colonizing the stars, here’s a look back at the greatest films that have inspired everyone to look up at them and dream.

5. WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E reaching out to a ring system in "WALL-E."
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Set hundreds of years in a post-apocalyptic Earth, this film follows the titular robot who spends his days cleaning up the mountains of garbage humanity left behind when they abandoned the planet. But when he falls in love with a visiting robot, he takes part in a grand adventure as he follows her back to humanity’s ark across the stars.

While some might brush off WALL-E as a kids’ film, the story deals with a variety of adult issues, such as humanity’s negative impact on the environment and how corporate greed and consumerism have dominated society. And in true Pixar fashion, WALL-E uses breathtaking computer animation to bring its cosmic world to life.

WALL-E is now streaming on Disney+.

4. Alien (1979)

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” This chilling tagline heralded one of the most terrifying sci-fi films in cinema history. Alien follows the unwitting crew of “space truckers” aboard the ship Nostromo who inadvertently bring a killer alien onto their vessel, giving birth to countless horrors.

Director Ridley Scott took the horror genre to a whole new level by turning the spaceship Nostromo into a haunted house. Many moments in this film are considered iconic pieces of cinema, such as when the alien bursts out of Kane’s body, Dallas gets ambushed by the creature, and Ash is revealed to be an android. And with the mysterious killer alien hunting down its crew with frightening precision, this movie perfectly encapsulates the Lovecraftian fear of the unknown.

Alien is streaming on Hulu.

3. Apollo 13 (1995)

The cast of Apollo 13.
Universal Pictures

This classic film tells the true story of Apollo 13‘s ill-fated trip to the Moon and NASA’s desperate attempts to bring the ship’s three crew members home alive. With this movie, director Ron Howard created one of the most realistic portrayals of space travel in cinema, due in part to how he simulated the astronauts floating weightlessly through their vessel. The film is elevated even higher by the fantastic performances of Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Kathleen Quinlan, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris.

Apollo 13 is a thrilling and poignant portrayal of one of humanity’s most infamous attempts at traveling through space. Even though everyone knows the crew survives in the end, that doesn’t stop this film from being a suspenseful and heart-pounding drama. It also didn’t prevent it from receiving nine Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, and winning in two categories.

Apollo 13 is now streaming on Peacock.

2. Star Wars (1977)

Lucasfilm

It’s impossible to understate the impact Star Wars had on pop culture. George Lucas revolutionized cinema with his epic space opera set in the galaxy far, far away. Everyone knows the story of Luke Skywalker and how he left his farm on the desert planet Tatooine to rescue Princess Leia from the clutches of Darth Vader and his evil Empire.

Star Wars was a picture unlike anything the world had ever seen before its release, blending elements from classic westerns, samurai films, World War II dogfights, and numerous myths and religions. And thanks to its groundbreaking special effects, Star Wars helped reinvigorate the sci-fi genre and started a franchise filled with countless sequels, prequels, TV shows, and video games.

Star Wars is streaming on Disney+.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi classic follows a team of astronauts traveling to Jupiter to investigate a monolith of alien origin found floating near the planet, only for their ship’s AI supercomputer to go haywire and homicidal. Even though this film was released in 1968, its visual effects and depiction of space travel and advanced technology still hold up over fifty years later. In fact, it was so realistic that it fueled conspiracy theories that Kubrick helped NASA stage the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

This film helped make sci-fi what it is today, having inspired many renowned directors and special effects artists, including George Lucas, and proved that the genre could be both successful and taken seriously. From prehistoric times to the distant future, 2001 is a terrifying but beautiful voyage through the boundless regions of space that explores the impact unseen aliens have on humanity’s evolution. Everything culminates in a dazzling and mind-bending trip through a wormhole across time and space that will leave audiences in a state of religious awe.

2001 is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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