It's International Star Wars Day this weekend – May the 4th be with you.
To mark the occasion, we've rounded up 25 of the best space movies ever. To infinity and beyond! Wait, wrong movie...
1. Aliens (1986)
Where Ridley Scott's Alien was a creeping horror, for the sequel, director James Cameron swapped genres, delivering an all-guns-blazing action movie. That's not to say that it's unsophisticated; Cameron was inspired by America's experience in the Vietnam War in depicting how the gung-ho Space Marines are undone by a technologically-inferior enemy.
Heroine Ripley's character was fleshed out too, with the blue-collar worker of the first film recast as a surrogate mother to xenomorph survivor Newt – in Cameron's director's cut, he added further layers with the revelation that after 57 years in stasis, she missed her daughter's entire life.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Nothing if not ambitious, Stanley Kubrick set out to create the "proverbial good science fiction film" with 2001: A Space Odyssey. And he did so with his usual painstaking attention to detail, enlisting sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke to write the script, and former NASA staff Frederick Ordway and Harry Lange to design the spaceships. So accurate was the film's depiction of future space travel that NASA's head of manned spaceflight, George Mueller, dubbed the 2001 soundstage "NASA East".
2001 is memorable for so many things – the prehistoric intro, that iconic graphic match cut from the bone to the spaceship, the Blue Danube, creepy computer HAL, the mysterious monoliths… it's a film that deserves to be savoured, like a fine wine.
3. Moon (2009)
Sam Rockwell stars as an lone astronaut stuck in a numbing routine on a Moon mining station – but there's something amiss aboard Sarang Base. Director Duncan Jones's debut film, Moon pays tribute to classic sci-fi films – including many of those on this list.
It inherits its chilly, claustrophobic feel and AI companion GERTY from 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the design is heavily influenced by Ridley Scott's films Alien and Blade Runner. It also harks back to earlier sci-fi films in its heavy use of models and practical visual effects – albeit augmented with modern CGI VFX.
4. Alien (1979)
“In space no one can hear you scream,” as the chilling tagline put it. Director Ridley Scott took a B-movie premise – a monster hunting the crew of a spaceship – and elevated it to new heights, creating a cinematic icon in the process.
Many directors are described as “visionary,” but Scott genuinely is – with a background in advertising, he has a keen eye for the importance of the image. So it’s no surprise that Alien looked unlike anything that had come before – where previous movie monsters looked like men in rubber suits, Scott enlisted designer HR Giger to create a truly unearthly creature in his signature biomechanical style. Giger’s eerie, overtly sexual imagery turned the film’s parasitic Xenomorph from a simple exercise in body-horror to something altogether more complex and Freudian.
To contrast with Giger’s alien designs, Scott made the human crew more relatable than the stiff-necked military types found in the likes of Star Trek and Forbidden Planet. Instead of crisp, uniformed explorers – Ripley, Dallas and the rest of the Nostromo’s crew were blue-collar workers; truckers in space.
But one of the film’s most important contributions to cinema came at the scripting stage: the writers, wanting to concentrate on the Xenomorph’s life cycle, consciously left the human crew underwritten, adding a note that it was “unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” Scott went on to cast Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, who inspired a generation of writers and actors to create action heroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sarah Connor.
5. Apollo 13 (1995)
"Houston, we have a problem." Who knew that one of the most incredible real-life dramas of the 20th century would be brought so successfully to our screens by Fonzie's freckly friend, Ron Howard?
The former Happy Days star didn't need to resort to Hollywood storytelling tricks – the rescue of Apollo 13 after its oxygen tank exploded on the way to the Moon was dramatic enough in its own right. Howard went above and beyond in his efforts to create a realistic depiction of the crisis – the replica pressure suits worn by actors Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton were so accurate they were actually airtight, while the stars took physics training to get into character as astronauts. For some of the zero-gravity shots, Howard went so far as to build sets aboard a KC-135 aircraft, used to train astronauts by flying in parabolic arcs to place them into freefall.
In fact, one of the film's few inaccuracies is the line "Houston, we have a problem" – in the actual mission transcripts, it's "Houston, we've had a problem."