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Movie Space
Shooting space

2001: A Space Odyssey Poster
2001: A Space Odyssey film poster

While there have been many science fiction movies involving space, relatively few of them involve realistic depictions of current or near term exploration and development in our solar system.

There have been even fewer non-fiction space movies, with Apollo 13 being the first truely successful one.


While I treasure my collection of Star Trek and Star Wars videos, in keeping with the theme of HobbySpace, I concentrate here only Hard Science-Fiction movies, i.e. strong technical realism, about relative near term space exploration of our solar system. (But I'm not religious about it. There are a number of films here that don't exactly fit all these criteria.)

As discussed in the Solar Sci-Fi editorial, HobbySpace is dedicated to the idea that possible space futures in our own solar system over the next decades can in fact be depicted in just as thrilling a manner as these films of intragalactic travel and war.


Space Movie News Sources


Space Films at Space-for-All Blog

Older space movie news items are available in the archive ...


Space Movie Listing
 Part 1:  pre-1950
1950s
1960s
1970s
 
Part 2:

1980s
1990s
2000+


pre -1950

Le Voyage dans la Lune

Georges Méliès
1902, Star, France
BW, Silent, 14min

(A Trip to the Moon) Considered an early masterpiece of filmmaking, the story is based loosely on Jules Vernes' From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. Méliès invented some of the first special effects in movie making.

On line videos of the movie:

Le Voyage à travers l'impossible Georges Méliès
1904, Star, France
BW, Silent, 24min
(The Impossible Voyage) Adventurers travel with just about every form of transportation from the Alps to the sea to space to the sun.
Sky Splitter John Norling
1922, USA,
BW, Silent

According to IMDB summary:

"After years of testing, a professor who is intent on building a ship that can travel into space finally succeeds and finishes a working model. After he launches himself into space, he realizes that he had forgotten to take into account that aerodynamic controls have no effect in outer space. He drifts through space and lands on a planet 50 light years away, and proceeds to build a giant telescope with which he can see Earth."

 

Die Frau im Mond
(The Woman
in the Moon
)
Fritz Lang
1929, UFA, Germany
BW/Colorized,
Silent, 85min

A male and female scientist go to the moon along with a financier and a boy stowaway after reports of gold there. Conflict breaks out and an oxygen tank is burst by a stray bullet. There isn't enough oxygen for everyone to return to earth so the scientist volunteers to remain behind.

The film is famous to space historians because Herman Oberth, called the father of German rocketry, was the technical advisor. He was even asked to build and launch a real rocket to promote the film.

The depiction of the science in the film, however, was far less than realistic, e.g. the explorers didn't wear spacesuits on the Moon as he insisted. Oberth soon became disillusioned with the whole affair and left the job.

Kosmichesky Reis
(Space Flight or
Cosmic Voyage)
Vasili Zhuravlev
1935
Soviet Union
BW
Silent

One of the first Soviet sci-fi movies about space exploration. In fact, spaceflight pioneering thinker Konstantin Tsiolkovsky co-wrote the script and consulted on the movie. Unfortunately he died before it was released.

Things to Come

William C. Menzies
1936, London Films, England
BW, 100min

This film is based on H.G. Wells' novel and he wrote the screen play as well. A long world war followed by a plague destroys most of civilization. Out of this grows a technocracy that builds subterranean cities and develops spaceflight. Eventually an anti-technology rebellion occurs on the eve of the first flight to the moon.

The movie is primarily recognized for its stylish art-deco props and pre-WWII prophecies.

Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson

Other early film projects:


1950's
Destination Moon
_d
Irving Pichel
1950, MGM
US, Color, 92min

Based on a Robert Heinlein novel (Rocketship Galileo), this is one of the first Hollywood movies to take a serious and realistic approach to spaceflight. Got an Oscar for special effects. Heinlein also shared in the writing credits. Artist Chesley Bonestell contributed to the lunar set design and painted the backdrops.

Stars: Warner Anderson

A part of the soundtrack was sold on a 78 rpm record. Kiddie Records Weekly provides the album cover and a clip from the record:

When Worlds Collide Rudolph Mate
1951, Paramount
US, Color, 83min

Produced by George Pal, this film explores how people respond when a planet is found to be on a near collision course with Earth. Shows them at their worst and best. The film thus has some similarities to Deep Impact.

Chesley Bonestell was a technical advisor. The film got an Oscar for special effects.

Stars: Richard Derr, Barbara Rush
Grand Central Rocket

Flight to Mars

Lesley Selander
1951, Monogram
US, Color, 72min

An early50's sci-fi flick with cheap special effects and Martians intent on conquering earth:

"A newspaper reporter and a bunch of scientists fly a rocket to Mars just to find out that Martians look exactly like us. Mars is running low on one of their natural resources (Corium), and plan to steal the Earth astronauts' rocket and conquer Earth. The Martian underground helps the Earthmen stop the insidious plan." - Amazon

Flight To Mars at SciFi Station

Project Moon Base Richard Talmadge
1953, Galaxy Pictures
US, 63min,
B&W, mono

Three Americans leave an orbiting space station on the first trip to the moon. But one of them is a spy intent on destroying the station. Although Robert Heinlein co-wrote the story, its low budget shows through.

Spaceways Terence Fisher
1953, Hammer
UK/US, 76min
B&W, mono

"A small group of closely-guarded British scientists test their first rocket amidst indications of matrimonial strife in the community. After the partial failure of the firing, a couple go missing - have they gone off together or are their murdered bodies circling the earth in the remains of the rocket? " - Amazon

Spaceways at SciFi Station

Conquest of Space Byron Haskin
1955, Paramount
US, Color, 81min

Producer George Pal, who also made War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide, was inspired by the book THE CONQUEST OF SPACE by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell to make this film to illustrate life in space. The plot involves the first trip to Mars.

Stars: Eric Fleming

Toward the Unknown Mervyn LeRoy
1956, Toluca/ Warner
US, B&W, 115 min

Not a space picture but about the experimental X plane program, which was expected to lead to space vehicles.

Forbidden Planet Fred M. Wilcox
1956, MGM
US, Color
98 min

This was not a solar sci-fi story but it seems churlish not to include it in this list. It was one of the very few high production values, big budget space sci-fi movies made in Hollywoood before 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Wars (1977).

It had a major influence on Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. Like many Star Trek episodes, it was intended as general entertainment but it also explored a serious idea, in this case the power of primal impulses even in the technicaly advanced and highly educated. There is also a loose connection to Shakespeare's Tempest.

The Space Explorers William Cayton & Fred Ladd
1957
Animation

Animated film about space exploration. Included educational material. It was later re-edited into 6-minute episodes to insert into childrens' programs on TV.

Sequel: The New Adventures of the Space Explorers

The Space Explorers: Chuck Scholtz Takes a Look at the Animated Series - About Classic TV - Feb.24.04

Road to the Stars
(Doroga k zvyezdam)
at IMDB
& at
Astronautix

Pavel Klushantsev
1958
Soviet Union,
Color, 52min
Mono

Ambitious documentary about the history and future of spaceflight. The first rate special effects give a realistic depiction of a rocket launch, a space station (rotating like von Brauns wheel design), a Moon landing and a moon base.

The special effects were very ambitious and many scenes are reminiscent of the 2001 space station and Moon colony segments, though the film predated 2001 by a decade.

The page at Astronautix shows a lot of images from the movie and does a side-by-side comparison with 2001.

Video of the documentary in Russian - rutube.ru

From the Earth to the Moon Byron Haskin
1958, Warner Bros.
US, Color, 101min.

Another version of Jules Verne's famous book about the first flight to the moon. Joseph Cotton plays the brilliant inventor Victor Barbicane who uses his new explosive, Power X, to launch a manned vessel to the moon.

George Sanders plays the rival inventor Stuyvesant Nicholl who seeks to sabotage Barbicane's mission.

The Day the Sky Exploded Paolo Hueusch
1958
Italy, 89 min

An errant nuclear rocket causes a congomeration of asteroids to head for earth.

Destination Space Joseph Pevney
1959, Paramount
US, BW
50 minutes

A TV pilot from Paramount pitched to CBS but not taken up as a series. Involved a space station damaged by a meteorite and efforts to send a rescue mission.

Der Schweigende Stern
(First Spaceship
on Venus
- US version)
Kurt Maetzig
1959, Iluzjon Filmunit,
East Germany/ Poland
Original -130min
US - 80

Based on a novel (The Astronauts) by the famous Polish sci-fi author Stanislaw Lem, the film involves an expedition to Venus to investigate the source of an alien spacecraft that exploded on earth.

The US version was cut by almost an hour and the story line destroyed


1960's

2001: A Space Odyssey

_d

Stanley Kubrick
1968, MGM
US, 70mm, 6track,
139 final cut
156 premiere cut

Either the greatest movie ever made or the most boring depending on your point of view. People generally have a strong opinion on this film one way or the other.

See the music section for a discussion of the famous 2001 soundtrack.

Some links with regard to the 2001 year:

2001 has many web sites devoted to it. Here are a few:

Yes, an astronaut could survive 10-20 secs of vacuum exposure as David Bowman did in the film. See Geoffrey Landis page discussing the details:
Explosive Decompression and Vacuum Exposure

Sites dealing with "Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory" by Leonard F. Wheat:

I Aim at the Stars J. Lee Thompson
1960, Columbia
US, B&W
107 min

A dramatized biography of Dr. Werner von Braun up throught the start of the Moon Race period.

X-15 Richard Donner
1961, Essex/UA
US, Technicolor
107min

Charles Bronson plays a pilot of the world's first spaceplane, the X-15, which had begun flying in 1959.

This editor has not seen the film but it is said to have great footage of the vehicle in flight but a dull plot when back on the ground.

  • X-15: The Hollywood Version: Charles Bronson starred. The Pentagon had a few minor corrections - Air & Space - Oct/Nov.2007
First Spaceship on Venus Hugo Grimald
1962,
East German /Poland, Color, 130min original, US version 80min.
Anti-war parable based on a novel of the Polish science fiction legend Stanislaw Lem. After an alien artifact is discovered on earth, an expedition is sent to Venus. They find the remains of a great civilisation but no Venusians.
German version released in 1959. US version severely cut and story line destroyed.
Planeta Bur
(Planet of Storms)
Pavel Klushantsev
1962
Soviet Union
Color/Russian

Considered the first pure sci-fi "rocketship" movie during the Soviet Union period. A mission to Venus runs into dinosaurs, man-eating plants and various other terrors. Special effects considered good for the time.

Janice Page of Boston Globe says,

"Planet of Storms" is worth seeing because it's good ; not just "get a load of those aliens" good, but also intelligent, involving, and, yes, ahead of its time. OK, so it's full of communist propaganda. There's more than one way to run a galaxy, and this film is actually less strident than most sci-fi adventures about waving its colors.

More reviews and resources:

Ikarie XB-1
(Voyage to the End of the Universe)

Jindrich Polák
1963
Czechslovakia
B&W
86 min (81 min US)

A high production value, well acted film said to have influenced both Stanley Kubrik and Gene Roddenberry. Here is the plot synopsis from Wikipedia:

In the year 2163 the starship Ikarie XB-1 (Ikarus XB-1) is sent to the mysterious "White Planet" orbiting the star Alpha Centauri. Travelling at near-light speed, the journey takes around 28 months for the astronauts, although the effects of relativity mean that 15 years will have elapsed on Earth by the time they reach their destination.

During the flight the 40-strong multinational crew must adjust to life in space, as well as dealing with various hazards they encounter, including a derelict 20th century spaceship armed with nuclear weapons, a deadly radioactive 'dark star' and the mental breakdown of one of the crew, who threatens to destroy the spacecraft.

More resources:

Rendezvous in Space Frank Capra
1964
US
18 min, 30 sec

This short film was Capra's last. He wrote, produced, and directed it for the Martin-Marietta Corporation and it was shown shown at the Hall of Science Pavillion during the World's Fair in New York City from 1964 through 1965.

There is little documentation about the film (e.g. nothing at the imdb.com site.) This newsgroup posting 35mm print of Frank Capra's NY world's Fair Film on Ebay - Google Search /rec.arts.movies.past-films archive - Sept.25.98 states that the film influenced Kubrick and 2001. Also,

"[t]he film stars Danny Thomas and features Sigorney Weaver's uncle (Doodles), Sid Melton and Charles Lane. The animated sequence has the voices of Jim Bacus and (as a carrot) Mel Blanc. The film is in 35mm and Cinema Scope."

Besides the print that this person was trying to sell, there are only two other copies known to exist (one at the Library of Congress and one at NY University in the Everson Collection)."

Oct.28.03 - David Hammer bought the above print on eBay and he contacted me and provided some additional info and a image of the title shot.

..
Robinson Crusoe On Mars Byron Haskin
1964, Paramount
US, Color, 110min.

A mission is sent to Mars with 2 astronauts but the landing results in a crash, killing one of the crew. The movie follows the struggles of the survivor and his pet monkey to live off the Martian land. Not a classic but a fun late, late show that I enjoyed a lot as a kid.

Paul Mantee, Vic Lundin

Countdown Robert Altman
1967, Warner
US, Color,101min.

Robert Altman, better known for Mash and Nashville, made his debut with this low-budget film. The story involves a desperate attempt to beat the Russians to the Moon by sending a single astronaut there on a one way trip. He will use a shelter previously launched to live in until a later mission comes to rescue him.

Entertaining but not a great movie, Altman claims he was removed before he was finished and that the studio changed the ending to be more exciting.

James Caan, Robert Duvall

The Reluctant Astronaut Edward Montagne
1967, Universal
US, Color, 102min

Comedy starring Don Knotts as a janitor at the Johnson space center who gets chosen by NASA as the first lay person in space.

Marooned
_d
John Sturges
1969, Columbia
US, Color, 134min

Three astronauts returning to the earth from a stay in a space station become stranded in their Apollo capsule.

Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman

Film 'Marooned' Hit Cape with Hurricane in 1969 - Space.com Sep.14.99

Moon Zero Two Roy Ward Baker
1969, Hammer
UK, Color, 100min

IMBD synopsis:

"A space salvage expert and his partner become involved with a group of criminals intent on hijacking a small asteroid made of sapphire and crashing it into the moon for later recovery. The only place that they can bring the asteroid down without drawing attention to themselves is a far side mining claim. But first they must dispose of the miner. Little known to them, however, is the fact that the miners sister has hired the same salvage team to help her locate her missing brother."

More resources:


1970's
Moonwalk One Theo Kamecke
1970
US, 96 minutes

Documentary about the Apollo 11 mission.

Earth II Tom Gries
1971
US, 100 min.

A made-for-TV film that was a pilot for a series about life on a large space station. The cast was led by Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. The plot for the film involved efforts to stop a nuclear weapon launched by the Chinese from reaching the station.

Silent Running
Douglas Trumbell
1972, Universal
US, Technicolor

Trumbell, who did the special effects for 2001 and later for Close Encounters, directed this eco-thriller. After a devastating war, huge biospheres are put into orbit so that they may later be used to rebuild the earth's ecosystem.

Bruce Dern is in charge of the stations and takes drastic action when the earth authorities decide to destroy them.

Solaris Andrey Tarkovskiy
1972
Soviet

Not a solar sci-fi movie but it is space based and since it is considered one of the best science fiction movies every made, it is included here. Based on the Stanislaw Lem novel.

Stowaway to the Moon

A. V. McLaglen
1975
TV/US

A m ade-for-TV movie with Lloyd Bridges and John Carradine about a 11 year old boy stowing away on an Apollo style Moon mission.

Real astronaut Charles (Pete) Conrad (Apollo 12) makes a cameo appearance as a news reporter.

Return to Earth

Jud Taylor
1976
TV/US

A made for TV movie based on Buzz Aldrin's autobiography detailing his severe difficulties, including depression and divorce, resulting from the letdown after Apollo 11.

Cliff Robertson plays Aldrin.

Capricorn One Peters Hyams
1978, ITC/LewGrade
US

An early X-Files type conspiracy story about NASA faking the Moon landings and a Mars mission.

James Brolin, Elliot Gould, O. J. Simpson.

Moonraker

Lewis Gilbert
1979, United Artists
UK, Technicolor,
126min.

A typical James Bond flick based on a hijacking of a space shuttle. However, the shuttle launch sequences, done before any real shuttle flights, look quite convincing and the film received an Oscar for special effects.

Note that many of the Bond pictures involve space, e.g. death rays from orbiting battle stations, but this is the only one in which he actually goes there.

The Shape of Things to Come George McCowan
1979,
Canada
98 min.

IMDB plot summary:

Planet Earth is a devastated wasteland, and what's left of humanity has colonized the Moon in domed cities. Humanity's continued survival depends on an anti-radiation drug only available on planet Delta Three, which has been taken over by Omus, a brilliant but mad mechanic who places no value on human life. Omus wants to come to the Moon to rule and intends to attack it by ramming robot-controlled spaceships into the domes. Dr. John Caball, his son Jason, Jason's friend, Kim, and a robot named Sparks embark on Caball's space battlecruiser on an unauthorized mission to Delta Three to stop Omus.

Other resources:

The Space Movie Tony Palmer
1979, Virgin Films
UK, Color
78min

Documentary using space footage with a soundtrack by Mike Oldfield. Though little known, it seems to be well liked by those who've seen it.

It is currently available on video tape but not on DVD.

From Amadian - The Mike Oldfield Discography :

Film score includes extracts from "Orchestral Tubular Bells", "Orchestral Hergest Ridge", "Ommadawn", "Incantations" and "Portsmouth".

Music written by Mike Oldfield except "Portsmouth" which is traditional. Directed by Tony Palmer

A film first televised in 1979 and later edited on vhs in 1983. "The Space Movie" contains footage specially made avaliable by NASA and The U.S. National Archive of the lunar landscape to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the first man landing on the moon.

The soundtrack was supposed to be released as an album, including the otherwise unreleased "Orchestral Hergest Ridge", but it never was.

 

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