The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

Published 6 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 7:49 am,

human spaceflight 09 The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

Everyone has looked up into a clear evening sky to conduct their own survey of distant pinpricks in the regularly-occurring blackness. Passing aircraft, the stars and that which is always largest in the night sky – the Moon.

July 20, 2009, marks the 40th Anniversary of man landing on the Moon, and to showcase a different flavor of that same obsession, Screen Rant‘s newest writer (yours truly), dons his newly-minted writing/explorer spacesuit to provide a listing of the Top 5 Astronaut Movies – a look back at the best storytelling that put you into the shoes of those who have TRULY gone boldly where we hope many more men (and women) will eventually go.

Cultures that predate written records have told stories of the moon. From the legendary tales of ancient African tribes, to the technology-laden yarns of  NASA and the men of Apollo, we have become familiar with the process of learning more about the moon. Whether it’s the cyclic paragraphs of the moon’s perpetual chase of the sun, or the detail conveying 12 brave men who set foot on the moon in the late 60s and 70s, our obsession with the moon and human spaceflight continues to this day, in the form of modern cinema.

Read on below and be sure to chime in with YOUR thoughts on other great astronaut/space movies that make your heart soar even higher than a Saturn 5 rocket breaking Earth’s gravitational bond.


5.) Apollo 13 (1995):

apollo 13 The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

While I had only just been born when the events of Apollo 13 unfolded in real life, this movie (courtesy of director Ron Howard, and a star-studded cast of “root-for” actors) provides you with great (though at time dramatized) perspectives that truly showcased what the American Space Program meant back then and how it should serve as a shining sample of teamwork and problem-solving. The soundtrack by revered composer James Horner serves as a double helping of astronaut-based greatness that didn’t win the Academy Awards that year, but surely could have. It’s a movie that captures the best of America, of technology and the can-do spirit – which might be why I love all of these human spaceflight films in general.

SPECIAL MOMENT: When Tom Hanks (as Astronaut Jim Lovell) explains to his youngest son not only how the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) will couple with the Command Module (CM), but also explains how advances have been made to ensure that another disaster like the one that befell the astronauts of Apollo 1 on a crisp January morning never happened again. Magical.


4.) Magnificent Desolation (2005):

magnificent desolation The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

Tom Hanks – who has always been a dedicated and zealous human spaceflight maverick himself – provides you with what I can only WISH I had seen in IMAX format. Magnificent Desolation offers up a quick, no-holds barred educational immersion in the efforts of the American space effort that got us literally from “The Earth to The Moon,” and conveys just about every aspect you’ll hear about traveling to and from the Moon. With some landmark special effects and brilliant voiceover work, this program is sure to make any American swell with pride, understanding and the hope that we will eventually get our collective space-faring asses back in suits and head to the stars.

SPECIAL MOMENT: One of the children that is a pseudo-host of the program (and folks, I try DESPERATELY not to get caught in children-based emotional traps) looks ahead to what awaits us on the Moon of the future. I didn’t have a box of tissue big enough, mostly because I have a 6-year-old daughter that not only watches all of these great films with me – but wants to BE that older child on the moon when she grows up. Again, magical.


3.) The Right Stuff (1983):

the right stuff The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

Every now and then a movie comes along that truly shows you not only how well great stories hold up, but how GREAT a pool of acting talent we had (and have) in Hollywood. The Right Stuff provides you with firey moments: Not only from the mechanized effort to get the experience and technology ready in order to get to the moon – but from the actors themselves, who convey the often-difficult choices faced by every astronaut and astronaut family – and even the decision makers that want to get us from the Earth to the Moon. The acting meter is off the charts for this film and it gives you a decidedly real taste of what it was like to be one of the “7″.

SPECIAL MOMENT: I can’t possibly narrow down a single moment from the cachophany of actors in this film, so I’m going to go the special effects route. Not so surprisingly, this film was done before Computer Generator Imagery (CGI) and the F/X offerings here are some of the best of the time. The breaking the sound barrier scene alone will provide at least 4-5 pints of brand-new oxygenated blood instantly.


2.) In the Shadow of The Moon (2007):

in the shadow of the moon The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

I am a professional podcaster and have been for 5 years. I’m terribly familiar with the power of first-person perspective storytelling and this film, In the Shadow of the Moon, offers some of the best ever perspective storytelling from the people that were actually DOING THE THINGS WE ONLY DREAM OF. Hearing people “tell tales that sound like science fiction” that are actually real accomplishments is more than magical – it transports you to a time, a date, and series of events that held the attention span of everyone on our planet. The perspectives of Michael Collins and Gene Cernan in particular are moments that will stay with me until I die – not because they’re “so important” but because they inspire me to be more than I am and to convey things that are important so others can learn from my efforts, mistakes and perspective.

SPECIAL MOMENT: You will NOT BELIEVE the visually stunning real-time mission elements that are used in this presentation. They are one-of-a-kind and could all be posters that I would like to adorn every single inch of space in my home with. For those of you that have any interst in space, astronauts, rockets and more, you have something special that awaits you with this film.


1.) From the Earth to the Moon (1998):

from the earth to the moon The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time

It might be that this series from HBO came out when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life (a terrible car accident leaving me disabled for 3 months), but this series of 12 episodes offers some of the most captivating, inspirational and educational stories in entertainment – ever. This series continues to guide me while I’m working on projects, working in the yard or – dare I say it – compiling a listing of all-time greatest Human Spaceflight-inspired entertainment.

The brilliance of all of this series isn’t just that it’s about space – it’s not even that it conveys the inner-workings of the Astronaut corps. The brilliance of From the Earth to the Moon is that it provides a sense of TRUE TEAMWORK – working towards a common goal, whether it be in your personal life, in your community or in your career, where the decisions you make really do mean something. The soundtrack here is also something to revel in. Mason Daring (who provided much of what you hear in this series) is well showcased and while I’ve overused the word “magical” in this review already, his compositions here make every single episode not only start and end with brilliance, but pushes the pulse of every episode in a direction that requires you tend to it.

SPECIAL MOMENT: (exhales) Damn me for only allowing ONE MOMENT for a 12-part series! Probably the most played disc of the series (in my house) is disc 2, featuring an episode called “SPIDER” that details the culmination of thought, work and real-life must-dos to get men on the moon in the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). I admire this episode mostly because it showcases what I wish I could have more of in my life -  both in my workplaces and beyond: planning and teamwork. I’ve been a pioneer of a lot of hard work and projects in my time, but the sense of accomplishment, growth, and success that I see in this episode is something I will truly cherish when I achieve it for myself. Those of you that have not yet been graced with  the viewing of this series are in for a real treat. The closed-captioning provided in From the Earth to the Moon is some of the best ever, conveying not only the dialog, but sound effects, music lyrics and environmental sounds that help to push this series to the top of my listing.


And thus, you now have at least enough to keep you entertained on a real-life trip TO the Moon, as well as enough education required to complete a series of equipment-cycling maneuvers during a real human spaceflight (ok, so maybe not the latter). As this review closes, I wonder (to mirror the narrating words of Tom Hanks towards the end of From The Earth to the Moon), When will we go back?

Chime in with your thoughts on the list, as well as other Astronaut-inspired films that I may have missed and thanks again for taking the itme to read my column here at Screen Rant.

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  1. Dang Mike, phenomenal first article. Nicely done!


  2. How is Armageddon not on this list absolute great movie with a great cast

  3. @Eric Rosenberg

    PLEASE tell me that’s a joke. 8)


  4. @Eric
    Armageddon was fine, but it is purely an action flick. These movies are about space and our exploration of it.
    Along that note your list is good enough for me Mike, although I would have placed Apollo 13 a little higher. (Perhaps because I grew up with that being one of my family’s favorite movies.) I’ve also seen From the Earth to the Moon, and I’d have to agree with you completely that Spider is the best episode of the series. (A side note, maybe if you spent seven strait years working on a project, you’d see progression. :))

    On the subject of space, I believe that no matter how, or why we go back into space, the ultimate goal should be simply to just GET BACK INTO SPACE. As long as we progress in the exploration and colonization of outer space I’ll be happy. Specifically, an innovation that could rocket us (pardon the pun) into outer space; at far cheaper cost than blasting shuttles from ground level, is the space elevator. Using the nanotube technologies space exploration would turn into a far more common, and commercial practice. Anyway, just adding my “two scents”. Both of which keep people at bay. ;) Oh, and by the way, great article Mike.

  5. I think Armageddon is more about the action and Bay’s graphic fest than really about astronauts or feats in space. Not that it’s a bad movie, but it’s just not really fitting for this list. It’s odd that Apollo 13 is the only one on that list that I’ve seen, guess my “movies to rent” list just grew a little.

  6. Just a quick question… And not trying to be mean or anything but at the top it says the top 5 astronaut “movies” of the year… Yet for your number one pick you have a hbo series. I mean i agree with the list except for the number one just for that fact alone. Not saying that i didn’t like from the earth to the moon just asking why is it on the list…?

  7. you should go watch moon

    though that could fall under scifi but im not saying it falls in this category.

    I just think you would appreciate sam rockwells acting and a simple yet intriguing story about certain things.

  8. Wonderful article Mike.
    Welcome to Screen Rant.
    I love the personal element too.
    Never shy away from that.

  9. I LOVE From The Earth to The Moon.
    HBO just doesnt show it often enough.

  10. Couldn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey be counted as an Astronaut movie? I mean, it’s not set on the Moon, but…

  11. Great article, Mike. I, too, would have rated Apollo 13 higher.

    I loved From the Earth to the Moon, except for the episode dealing with the Apollo 13 crisis. Somehow, the fake “drama” between the fictional anchorman and the TV reporter didn’t do the rest of the series justice.

    And Armageddon is one of the biggest turds I’ve ever had the displeasure of smelling.

  12. One more thing to add – Clint Howard played a NASA flight controller in two of these movies. I’ll give a cookie to the first person who names the two OTHER movies where he plays a flight controller (and no fair looking at the IMDB).

  13. Great piece, Mike. I’d like to add Countdown from `67 with Robert Duvall and James Caan, and Marooned from `69 with Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman. They might seem a little pedestrian now in terms of their scripts and special effects, but both attempted an almost documentary feel, and captured without the standard Hollywood fanfare the dangers involved in the embryonic business of spaceflight in that decade. Not to mention the bravery and dedication of all those involved, both on the ground and strapped into those capsules.

    You’ve definitely made me want to hunt down From The Earth To The Moon, and as a similar testament to the teamwork involved in the Apollo missions I’d like to recommend Norman Mailer’s A Fire On The Moon: a stunning work of journalism, documentation and contemplation.

  14. I mentioned this elsewhere, but ‘The Dish’ is a fantastic little Aussie gem of a movie that centres around the Apollo 11 moon landing, and The Parkes Radio Telescope’s hand in beaming the first pictures back to earth.

    It’s a very funny film about not taking yourself too seriously.

  15. @gottarhyme

    It was actually “Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station” that transmitted the first images, it was 5-10min into the transmission that USA realized they forgot to flick a switch(literally) which transferred the signal to the more sensitive “Parkes radio telescope”

  16. Firstly Mike, I congratulate you for an exceptional article. ScreenRant really has a knack for bringing forth talented and imaginative writers. Kudos to them for bringing yet another on board!
    As a child of the sixties, I was lucky enough to have parents that made sure to interest my brother and I in the seminal efforts of man to explore our little slice of the universe. We would get up very early to watch the mercury (an subsequent Apollo) astronauts as they were launched from Florida, and the spectacle (even on a tiny black and white screen…) left an indelible mark on my earliest imaginings of what we could achieve given the opportunity.
    Looking back now, I can’t express how fortunate I feel for having witnessed the “New Age” explorers that dared to dream, and in achieving their dreams made us all feel like not only the sky, but our future, was limitless!
    I pray that in the very near future the children of this generation will be able to witness and capture the same sense of wonder and excitement.

  17. The Dish is brilliant. I love that movie.

    As for astronaut movies, did think of 2001, and also the Planet of the Apes.
    Ok, more about weird obelisks and talking apes, but very good films with astronauts in. ;)

  18. Great article, but I have two disagreements. First, I would put Apollo 13 ahead of The Right Stuff. And, like some others, I loved From the Earth to the Moon (even own it), but am not sure that a series can count as the best movie. I agree with Scott’s comment about the Apollo 13 episode on FTETTM; it was so soon after the movie I guess Hanks did not want to do another version of the movie, so they come up with that. The only poor episode in an otherwise brilliant series!

  19. Good job Mike….but where is my Pal 790? Remember there are many of us who do not believe this happened. Rather impossible to have happened.

  20. I don’t know Vic; I may have to give the best writer cookie to Mike. :-)

    Wonderful article Mike, and welcome. I agree that The Right Stuff is the best, followed by Apollo 13. I haven’t seen the others. Some are commenting that movies like Moon and Armageddon should be on the list but I think you are refering to movies based on historical events, which those movies aren’t. Everytime I see The Right Stuff, I just get goose bumps and that feeling of something great happening. A truly stellar cast and movie.

  21. Great article, and though I agree with most of your picks, I’m surprised that there was no mention of “For All Mankind”. Not quite as good as “In the Shadow…..” but a tunning piece of documentary making, and oh, that soundtrack………

    And I concur. Armageddon……ya gotta be kiddin!!!Sheeesh!

  22. Uhhh…………Stunning piece of documentary making. ;)

  23. That’s so weird, I made a few posts yesterday with my blackberry and the posts actually showed up and everything after I posted them. Now they are all gone. I didn’t curse anyone out, lol. I made one here saying I want to see “The Right Stuff” now due to this article’s recommendation and the fact that it has Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid. I made a comment in the fan made avengers trailer post about how it looks like a bunch of randomness thrown together and doesn’t really make much sense, and some others… Now they are gone… Vic must be deleting my posts because I made fun of his bald head… :-D

  24. Why isn’t ‘Space Cowboys’ with Tommy Lee Jones here?

    OK, it may be a LITTLE fictional, but the scene where he is sitting on the moon looking out at the Earthrise for eternity after crashing his rocket is just amazing!

  25. Geez, thanks for giving away the ending of Space Cowboys… Now I’m not going to watch it… :-D

  26. LOL! Everyone has seen that movie, surely?

    Pretend I never said it. ;)

  27. I’ve never seen it, but now I might as well consider that I have… :-P

  28. Boo hoo!

    Sorry. Although it is fantastic. One of Tommy Lee Jones’ best roles.

  29. @Ken J

    I haven’t deleted a single one of your comments, dude.