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. You forgot “For All Mankind”, a magnificent 1989 documentary by Apollo 13 co-writer Al Reinert. Definitely better than In the Shadow of the Moon (which is very good, btw).

  2. I wouldn’t worry Vic; Ken doesn’t realize that he was the T-800 that went back in time and stopped himself from making those comments. :-D

  3. If you would like to buy The Right Stuff, Amazon has it on sale in the “2 for $10″ DVD area. If you buy it by itself, it $5.99. I ordered it this morning.

  4. @Vic

    I know, I was kidding around, but those messages did post, I even refreshed the page and they were there, then they were gone, very strange. But I know you wouldn’t just censor someone especially without emailing me telling me what an idiot I was for posting something worth deleting, lol. I don’t know what happened, but didn’t really think you deleted them.

  5. I had the same thing happen to me, Ken, on the Indiana Jones 5 thread. I posted, it appeared, then disappeared, so I thought I made a mistake, posted it again, it did not appear, saying that I had already posted the comment.

    So, I left it, and when I came back the next day, it was there! I thought I must have said something naughty. :(

    Maybe it was a glitch?

  6. Yah, most likely, except my comment still didn’t come back, lol.

  7. I am old enough to remember the space program and the incredible patriotism it generated for all Americans. The closest I’ve seen to that as an adult was in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s a lost generation of unbridled optimism and naivete that nothing bad could ever happen to us with so much good we were accomplishing. Your post really resonates that goodwill, Mike. In fact the magical teamwork you keep mentioning was the essence of that patriotism. Americans were joined in a common vision that was so profound that we all had to check in with one another nightly on our 3-channel news or outside at a bbq with our neighbors just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Engineers (like my dad) were way cool then. (They are today too but in more of a geeky way- and I mean that affectionately). Thx for sharing your wonder. It makes me want to go rent them all again and reread Tom Wolfe’s book, TRS, which I first read the summer after I graduated college and was riveted. I’d never for a moment realized how much danger these astronauts deliberately inserted themselves into, not only for the good of the program and b/c they were highly competitive w one another, but because they–like we–just had to KNOW what was OUT THERE!

  8. Guys, sorry, I don’t know what’s happening there with the comments.


  9. Why isn’t Armageddon with Bruce Willis here?

  10. Hi Darren!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on The Top 5 Astronaut Movies of All Time here at Screen Rant! we really appreciate it!

    The reason you don’t see Armageddon on the listing, is that we have 5 slots, and – for me and clearly a number of others – it doesn’t fare any better than the ones I listed in the top 5 listing. ;)

    I remember seeing Armageddon in the theaters and wondering why every, single, meaningless shot have to be “moving”. There’s something to be said for a dynamic camera, but every now and again, watching things go by the frame with a static camera also helps out a film.

    Thanks for your question and have a great day!

  11. Thanks to the many of you that provided listings of other Astronaut films. I’m glad that you’ve helped me build a new listing of “need to gets” that include some more great Astronaut movies.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and keep ‘em coming!

  12. what? No love for capricorn one, deep impact, space 1999 :-)

  13. Chill went down my spine when you mentioned spider as a special moment, this was my favorite story in the series and am pretty sure i wore out a VHS tape prior to getting the dvd’s.

  14. I liked the ‘Spider’ episode too. It was very touching when they played the lullaby whenever the engineers were looking at the LEM. Growing up near Grumman there was a lot of pride that it was one of the greatest vehicles ever made.

    Like you I wish I could have been involved in something great in my career.

  15. Can someone tell me why 2001: A Space Odyssey is not on this list?

    Not only one of the best SPACE movies, but one of the best films of all time!

  16. @Steve

    Look again closely at the list. ALL the movies are about ACTUAL space exploration.


  17. Suprised Marooned didn’t make the list.

  18. Thanks for the list.

    I thought October Sky was excellent as well.

  19. Channel 4 just showed In The Shadow Of The Moon in the UK. Amazing stuff – lots of footage I’d never seen before. Michael Collins and Charlie Duke came across especially well I thought.

  20. gottarhyme – Many thanks to you for submitting a movie that I not only never heard of, but that accounts a story I’ve never heard of either! As a self-professed Apollo Whore, I am almost ashamed that I hadn’t heard the story of Parkes Observatory in Australia that was used to help provide video and radio connectivity from the Moon landing and — PROVIDED THE FIRST IMAGES AS PRIMARY CREW! I recommend this film also to everyone (and I don’t think it would have trumped any in my listing). The only hiccup I thought was an actor I am devoted to: Sam Neil. He’s from Norther Ireland/UK and – how is it he wasn’t able to/encouraged to adopt an Aussie accent for this role!?!?! Every other person (other than the people from America, hello?) had that thick Drawwwwl that we’ve all come to love yet, Sam Neil provides us an english representation that showcases that he didn’t even TRY one? :) Stymied but a great movie for sure. Thanks, gottarhyme!

  21. Granted that this list is about movies, has anyone here seen the series when we left earth, the nasa missions? probably one of the best documentary series i have ever seen.

  22. This is a great list! The comments on other great movies is helpful too! Loved The Right Stuff, and though I’m late to the game, will catch myself up on the rest of the movies. Thanks J.R., I’m also on my way to rent When We Left Earth.
    Irishscribe, I second your mention of, For All Mankind. The footage they took from several early missions is really breathtaking.

  23. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure.

  24. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it has been a question that has not ever been answered ever since it was asked.
    I am extremely surprised that the US managed to land on the Moon many times without conflict over 40 years ago but it is now impossible for them to do it again, even though they have all the same scientific equipment as they did back then but even actually far more improved equipment and Research and Development. All the while spending hundreds of millions more on simple satellites which take photos of the moon from far away.
    Please don’t take this the wrong way, instead enlighten me so that I can understand.
    Thank you to all who respond!

    • @rodken writes, “it is now impossible for them to do it again”. Impossible? This would presume that NASA has tried repeatedly to go back to the moon in the intervening 40 years since the Apollo program ended. That isn’t the case. Having successfully landed 6 times at various locations on the surface, explored, brought back samples, there is no need to go back. Does mankind really need to land on the moon once a decade just to prove we still can? I’d rather see NASA spend its decreasing budging on exploration of other planets. Just like they are doing with Curiosity on Mars.