Many movies feature space flight though some of the older ones are overacted and contain inherent technical inaccuracies. Good space movies, in my opinion, are not just social event movies that happen to have a sequence or two of space flight. Space flight should be an integral part of the plot. Below are some of my favorites.

2001: A Space Odyssey

One of my all time favorites, not only because the technical aspects are accurate, but also for the sequence of inter-dimensional transport. The composed, professional manner the astronauts project are a little more realistic than an emotional Captain Kirk. Criticized as dull due to the long spacecraft traverse scenes with classical background music, the movie is 99% technically credible. Probably adding to the disinterest are only two instances of family relationships (both involving birthdays), and almost no romantic interactions.

2010: The Year We Make Contact

The sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey has some great space walk sequences. Putting travelers in suspended animation for the trip to reduce consumable supplies is a smart idea. It also contains some details like the collection of volcanic sulfur dust from Jupiter’s moon Io on the Discovery spacecraft that had been in orbit around that moon for a decade. The producers and director involved family and romantic interests this time. The conversion of Jupiter into a star is, of course, fantasy, but it makes a good story.

Destination Moon

A 1950 overdramatized, but accurate, movie depicting an actual moon landing, likeable for people who are not interested in outlandish aliens or flying saucers. Though the portrayed technology is simple in appearance, and using stock footage of rockets, the basis is credible. An underlying story line involves the differences between governmental controls of space flight vs. private industry, and cold war overtones. The animation and 1/6th moon’s gravity simulation are good. A prophetic line in the screenplay was the proposal to build the mission in Texas; a decade and a half before Lyndon Johnson made it happen.

Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets

This was really a mini-series, not well advertized, about a voyage through the solar system. It portrays a realistic succession of planet and moon visitations including the difficulties encountered with being away from Earth for years; including facing death onboard. The special effects are good and the science is accurate. It is a long miniseries, though.

Alien

I’m normally not a fan of scary or shock movies that frighten audiences, but this one had me hooked in the first scenes with a planet of extreme weather where commerce astronauts passing by are investigating a distress call, and contact with Antarctica station (makes sense for an interstellar space craft). The encounter with a nasty alien made the point that should we ever find life forms elsewhere, we should approach them cautiously.

Star Wars

Most episodes; these movies are great fun and were well produced. Aside from the numerous fantastic creatures, the stories take advantage of convenient advanced technology (tractor beams, spacecraft of seemingly unlimited power and thrust without refueling, Jedi levitation ability, light sabers, etc.).

Star Trek

The first four movies; the movies are also great entertainment. The first Star Trek movie involved the real spacecraft Voyager, obviously long forgotten by the depicted year of the events of the movie. This made the movie interesting to space aficionados. The Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, and The Return Home were well produced and enjoyable. The fantastic technologies, smoothly mixed with realistic scenarios, made the story easy to accept.

X-15

A space movie only because the research aircraft eventually reaches the technical definition of space (100 kilometers); the film mixes stock footage of real X-15 flights with animation, and includes dramatizations based on these videos. Charles Bronson and Mary Tyler Moore star in this Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie) 1961 motion picture.

Deep Impact

Probably the best of the Earth destruction by meteor movies, I liked the special effects and the sociological aspects were not too sappy. Really, the best way to deal with a large meteor is not to blow it up, but just push it away with rocket motors, given that you have time.

Docudrama Space Movies

I am a little surprised there are not more dramatized versions of historical space flights given we are forty to fifty years from the first space flights. My favorites are:

Apollo 13

Technically accurate with only a few deviations from actual events for artistic enhancement (for example, Ken Mattingly was not the capsule communicator during Apollo 13’s return through the atmosphere). The production and direction kept the audience in suspense even though everyone knows the outcome.

The Right Stuff

Based on Tom Wolfe’s book, this movie recounts the escapades of the original seven American astronauts. One of them, Walter Schirra (now deceased), reportedly called this movie the “Animal House” of spaceflight. The acting was hammy. Nevertheless, the history and technical aspects were relatively accurate. I suppose if the actors acted as the astronauts did in real life, the movie would be quite boring.

From Earth to the Moon

This miniseries is a good dramatization of important events during the Apollo program. The story was not just the actual flights, but also the preparations beginning years before Apollo 11. My favorite episode was “That’s All There Is”, the story of Apollo 12.