As Star Trek reminds us, space really is the final frontier. The astronauts who boldly went where no man has gone before — and the teams of scientists and engineers who helped them get there — are the subject of so many movies for a reason: the rest of us can only imagine what it’s like to launch ourselves out of the atmosphere. Space is dangerous, mysterious and cool. Here 6 movies that do an excellent job of telling American space-heroes’ stories, including a highly acclaimed documentary that just hit the Box and On Demand.
The Right Stuff – This 1983 adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s best-selling book focuses on the first 15 years of the US space program, as well as the personal lives of the “Mercury Seven”: the seven military pilots picked to be part of the first manned spaceflight in US history. It’s easy to forget just how many obstacles the country faced back then, and the fact that this film won four Oscars is proof that director Philip Kaufman was able to deftly channel the zeitgeist of the time.
Hidden Figures – At the exact same time the Mercury Seven were in training, a team of brilliant, female, African-American “human computers” at NASA — including Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — were figuring out how to even up the Space Race and launch John Glenn into orbit, despite the egregious discrimination and racism they faced on a daily basis.. It’s an inspiring, and still timely, story of determination and resilience.
Apollo 11 – Once Glenn survived space travel, the goal became landing men on the moon. The astonishing Apollo 11, new to the Box and On Demand, is a documentary about how NASA pulled it off. Consisting entirely of archival footage (some never-before-seen until now), it puts the audience right in the center of the action, and it’s nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll be so engrossed you might forget you already know how this (happy) story ends.
First Man – In the mood for a double-feature? Apollo 11 and First Man would make a great duo, with the former consisting solely of real footage, and the latter being a biopic focusing solely on Neil Armstrong’s (Ryan Gosling) life and career leading up to him taking that infamous “one small step.”
Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo – This is another excellent documentary about what went on behind the scenes at NASA — specifically, it’s about the men who built Mission Control. You may have seen footage or pictures of the Mission Control team before, but the people who worked there were unknown to the average American. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it’s fascinating to learn about all that went into their operation through several lively interviews with key players who are now in their golden years.
Apollo 13 – Wanna do another double-feature? Pair Mission Control with Apollo 13 to get a full view of what went down when Houston infamously had a problem. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise star alongside Ed Harris (as Gene Kranz, lead flight director at Mission Control) in this beloved 1995 drama that won two Oscars and was nominated for seven more.
What’s your favorite space movie of all time?