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
have been even fewer non-fiction space
movies, with Apollo
13 being the first truely successful
While I treasure my
collection of Star Trek and Star
Wars videos, in keeping with the theme
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
As discussed in the Solar
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
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.
"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."
1929, UFA, Germany
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
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
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.
1936, London Films, England
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
The movie is primarily recognized for its stylish art-deco
props and pre-WWII prophecies.
Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson
Other early film projects:
Space Explorers - German pre-WWII space films
- Astronautix - Mark Wade describes the history
of two films - 'Zwischenfall im Weltraum' (Incident
in Space) and 'Weltraumschiff 18' (Spaceship 18) -
that were in developmed before WWII broke out. The
full length films were never finished. However, a
short short film - 'Weltraumschiff 1 startet' (Spaceship
1 Launches) - was released in Germany during the war.
In the 1950's the Hayden Planetarium sponsored a series
of short films popularizing space that used clips
from the German films.
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.
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
was a technical advisor. The film got an Oscar for special
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
1953, Galaxy Pictures
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.
"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
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.
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.
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 Astronautixshows a lot of images from the movie and does a
side-by-side comparison with 2001.
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
George Sanders plays the rival inventor Stuyvesant
Nicholl who seeks to sabotage Barbicane's mission.
1959, A.P. Dovzenko Filmstudio
A realistic space style movie that influenced Kubrik
on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Soviet and American spaceships are in a race to reach
Mars. The American vehicle runs into trouble and the
Soviets try to help but then run into trouble of their
A young Francis Ford Coppola recut the film for Roger
Corman for US release in 1962. It was shortened to 64
minutes and space monsters, etc. were inserted. It was
renamed Battle Beyond the Sun. It can be seen
2008 issue (pdf) of AIAA-Houston
Horizons magazine includes the article 2001:
A Space Odyssey - 40 Years Later Yesterday’s Tomorrow
by Al Jackson, Bob Mahoney, and Jon Rogers in which
they do an extensive survey of the technology in the
movie versus what is available today.
East German /Poland, Color, 130min original, US version
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
"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
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.
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
1979, United Artists
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.
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
Film score includes extracts from "Orchestral Tubular
Bells", "Orchestral Hergest Ridge", "Ommadawn", "Incantations"
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.