The Top Ten Movies in Outer Space
by Christopher Stires
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Thirty-eight years ago, on the 20th of July 1969, Neil Armstrong spoke those words as he stepped onto the surface of the moon.
Also in 1969, Star Trek was canceled. One of the reasons given for the cancellation of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the crew of the Enterprise was that the show’s core audience was teenagers and children. They were not the groups the sponsors wanted to attract.
Little did the networks realize that a new era had begun.
While previous generations had been interested in seeing films about our past and roots, the younger generations were more interested in films about where we could go. Space travel was permanently part of their universe and fantasies.
Before World War Two, there were hardly any films that included space travel as element of the plot. French filmmakers made movies based on Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon in 1862 and H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moonin 1901. Beyond that, however, there were the ‘30s serials based on the exploits of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. And that was about it.
Then George Pal released Destination Moon in 1950. It starred John Archer and Warner Anderson. The plot revolved around America’s plan to beat the Russians to the moon. More movies that showed us venturing into space followed. During the decades of the Fifties and the Sixties, we saw such films as Rocketship X-M (1950), Conquest of Space(1953 — also by Pal), Forbidden Planet (1956), First Spaceship on Venus (1959), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Queen of Blood(1966), and Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966).
In 1968 however, as NASA prepared to put a man on the moon, three very different films were released that involved space travel. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur P. Jacobs’ Planet of the Apes, and Roger Vadim’s Barbarella. Each would tap into very different audiences but each showed that moviegoers were eager for these adventures. Filmmakers began looking seriously to the stars for new settings and stories.
2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and Forbidden Planet are all classics but the following list is the Top Ten Movies in Outer Space that were released after the moon landing, after travel to other planets became a reality.
10) Soldier (1998) Directed by Paul Anderson. Starring Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, and Gary Busey. Tagline: Left for dead on a remote planet for obsolete machines and people, a fallen hero has one last battle to fight. This is Shane in outer space. A guilty pleasure to be sure. A professional soldier (Russell), trained in the warrior arts since birth, is nearly killed by his bio-engineered replacement (Lee) then marooned on a garbage-heap planet. He is found by an outcast group of colonists. One family takes him in and he sees a side of humanity that he has never encountered before. Feelings he never knew he had begin to surface. A little bit anyway. But the other colonists fear him and they banish him. Then his former comrades return on a blood hunt.
Sandra: “You have feelings, don’t you?”
Todd: “Fear... fear and discipline.”
9) Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and Jonathan Frakes. Tagline: Resistance is Futile. The “Next Generation’s” crew does it right. The Enterprise, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (Stewart), chase the Borg into a space vortex and are whipped back in time before Earth technology had uncovered the secrets of warp speed that make space travel possible. If Picard and crew do not defeat the Borg, history will be rewritten and Earth will be lost.
The Borg Queen (to Picard): “Brave words. I’ve heard them before, from thousands of species across thousands of worlds, since long before you were created. But now they are all Borg.”
8) Galaxy Quest (1999) Directed by Dean Parisot. Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman. Tagline: The show has been canceled... but the adventure is just beginning. A tickler — one of those rare films that puts a smile on your face and keeps it there. The cast of a canceled TV series, who make a living attending sci-fi conventions and store openings, are recruited by aliens who believe that the episodes of their series are “historical documents.” The aliens are being attacked by another alien species and believe the actors can save them.
DeMarco (to the good aliens): “They’re not all ‘historical documents.’ Surely you don’t think Gilligan’s Island is a...”
The aliens moan sadly.
Alien Leader: “Those poor people.”
7) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy. Tagline: They traveled back to where 23rd century man had never gone before. To a mad, crazy, outrageous time: 1986. The original Star Trek crew show that they have a sense of humor and this becomes one of their best adventures. And (don’t tell anyone) it has a moral, too. A mysterious space probe approaches Earth and begins wrecking havoc on the planet. Spock (Nimoy) determines that the probe’s signal is an attempt to contact humpbacked whales that have been extinct for centuries. Kirk (Shatner) and crew in a captured spacecraft slingshot around the sun and jump back in time to 1986 San Francisco. Their plan is to locate two humpbacked whales and take them back to the 23rd Century.
Whale environmentalist: “Don’t tell me, you’re from outer space.
Kirk: “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”
6) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy. Tagline: At the end of the universe lies the beginning of vengeance. Without this film, the Star Trek franchise more than likely would have ended. Star Trek II showed what the series was all about and pitted Kirk (Shatner) against a great villain, Khan (Ricardo Montalban). While on a cadet-training exercise, the Enterprise encounters another Federation ship that has been hijacked by an old enemy who has also commandeered a top-secret device called Genesis.
Spock: “If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.”
Kirk: “I would not presume to debate you.”
Spock: “That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Kirk: “Or the one.”
Spock: “You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.”
5) Apollo 13 (1995) Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris. Tagline: Houston, we have a problem. Terrific, solid film. True story and, despite the fact that we know the ending, keeps us on the edge of our seats. Three astronauts are stranded two hundred thousand miles from Earth in their crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft. How they return home with the help and aid of the crew at Mission Control is the story of real heroes.
NASA executive: “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.”
Kranz: “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going be our finest hour.”
4) Alien (1979) Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, and Veronica Cartwright. Tagline: In space no one can hear you scream. An awesome, terrifying film. The crew of the cargo ship Nostromo is awakened from deep sleep to investigate an SOS signal coming from a desolate planet they are passing. While exploring an area, a crew member (John Hurt) is attacked and the injured man is taken back to the ship. Big mistake. The alien creature designed by H.R. Giger is astonishing.
Ripley: “Ash, that transmission — Mother’s deciphered part of it. It doesn’t look like an SOS.”
Ash: “What is it, then?”
Ripley: “Well, it looks like a warning. I’m gonna go out after them.”
Ash: “What’s the point? I mean by the time it takes to get there, you’ll... they’ll know if it’s a warning or not, yes?”
3) Star Wars (1977) Directed by George Lucas. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. Tagline: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... A touchstone film. Audiences stood in line for hours to see this film and then stood in line again and again. It redefined how films were marketed and when they were released. One of the most successful films of all time. A young farm boy (Hamill) acquires two robots who lead him to a mysterious hermit (Sir Alec Guinness) then into a space adventure to rescue a princess (Fisher) from the clutches of the evil Darth Vader and the Empire. Sheer fun from beginning to end with audiences cheering the heroes and booing the villains. A cultural event.
Obi-Wan: “Luke, there was nothing you could have done had you been there. You would have been killed, too, and the droids would now be in the hands of the Empire.”
Luke: “I want to come with you to Alderaan. There is nothing here for me now. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”
2) Aliens (1986) Directed by James Cameron. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, and Lance Henriksen. Tagline: This time it’s war. A major edge-of-your-seat movie. Ripley (Weaver), the sole survivor of the Nostromo, is found and awakened after fifty-seven years in deep sleep. She is asked by the Company to return to the planet where her crew first encountered the alien. A colony was established there and contact with the colonists has been lost. Reluctantly she agrees, and along with a team of heavily armed Space Marines, returns to the planet. The battle royal that follows is total suspense.
1) The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Directed by Irvin Kershner. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. Tagline: The Adventure Continues... And it did... with aces. Darker in tone than Star Wars and Return of the Jedi and stronger for it. Darth Vader and the Empire want their revenge for the destruction of their prized Deathstar and hit back at the rebel forces with all their might. After a magnificent battle on the ice planet Hoth, our heroes separate. Luke (Hamill) travels to Dagobah for training by the Jedi master, Yoda, to become a knight and learn the ways of the Force. Solo (Ford), Leia (Fisher), and Chewbacca journey to Cloud City which is run by Solo’s old friend. Or is it? While the ending is a cliffhanger (to be resolved in Return), this film is a roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. Sheer fun and a feast for the eyes and for the imagination. Movie-making (and movie-watching) at its best.
Ripley: “These people are here to protect you. They are soldiers.”
Little Girl Survivor: “It won’t make any difference.”
Yoda (to Luke): “Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm... What he was doing? Hmph... Adventure. Heh... Excitement. Heh... A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.”
Jedi knights may not crave excitement but moviegoers do and, in outer space, films can literally deliver the stars and they have in the ten examples cited. Where do the movies go from here? The best answer is a quote from the intrepid space adventurer in Toy Story.
Buzz Lightyear: “To infinity, and beyond!”
Copyright © 2007 by Christopher Stires