Although there’s been a number of good space movies made over the years, so very few actually take place predominantly in outer space with the majority set on an alien planet somewhere. As well as satisfying this specific requirement, I consider each of the movies mentioned here as also having an original, compelling storyline that raises some profound questions about humanity and science. With that said, here is my selection of the best sci-fi movies set in outer space, listed in chronological order:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
IMDB Rating: 8.4
A mysterious monolith suddenly appears and jolts the brains of our prehistoric ape-ancestors who’s brains begin to evolve. Many millennia later, people achieve space flight, and once again encounter an identical monolith, this time on the surface of the Moon. The four million year old black monolith is then found to have a powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter and 18 months later the US spaceship Discovery One is sent on a mission of exploration to the planet. Amongst the crew of five is astronaut Dr. David Bowman, as well as the ship’s powerful talking AI computer HAL 9000, but as the spaceship nears its destination Bowman must overcome an increasingly bizarre acting HAL before he can journey to “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.”
In the mid 22nd century, the scout ship Dark Star and its crew have been in space for twenty years (only aged 3 years, though!) destroying unstable planets in various star systems ahead of future colonization. The crew consists of surf enthusiast Lt. Doolittle, the eccentric and sensitive Sgt. Pinback, the broody navigator and helmsman Boiler, the reclusive Talby, and the dead Commander Powell who is still able to give advice when called upon from his cryogenic chamber. After the on-board computer begins to malfunction, the ship’s crew are in a race against time to recapture a runaway alien, as well as defuse a philosophical “Exponential Thermostellar Smart Bomb” stuck in the bomb bay and primed to detonate.
Star Wars (1977)
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
IMDB Rating: 8.8
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and newly found allies space rogue Han Solo, a wookiee named Chewbacca, exiled Jedi Knight Ben Kenobi, and the droids C-3PO, and R2-D2 set off to rescue the rebel leader Princess Leia from the evil Empire and its tyrannical enforcer Darth Vader. On his adventure Luke Skywalker is instructed in the ways of the Jedi, an order of warrior monks trained in the use of the light side of the mystical Force, and this epic culminates in an organized attack on the Empires most powerful and destructive weapon, the Death Star.
On a return journey from Thedus to Earth the computer on-board the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo awakens the seven crew members from their stasis in order to investigate an SOS signal from a nearby planet. By the time the computer has deciphered the transmission to be a warning signal from an alien vessel, a three-member exploratory team has already disturbed a hive colony of creatures inside the spaceship with horrific consequences for the crew.
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Director: Peter Hyams
Writers: Arthur C. Clarke, Peter Hyams
IMDB Rating: 6.7
This sequel to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ sees a joint US-Soviet space expedition sent to Jupiter to learn what happened to the failed Discovery One mission nine years earlier. As well as investigating the malfunction of the HAL 9000 computer, the crew (Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, John Lithgow) are also tasked with making sense of Dave Bowman’s last mysterious transmission regarding the Monolith: “The thing’s hollow! It goes on forever, and oh my God, it’s full of stars!”
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
IMDB Rating: 8
In the 26th century, captain of the rogue spacecraft Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds, and his small crew of galactic smugglers eke out a living on the outskirts of the galaxy, whilst evading the attentions of the Alliance, a totalitarian regime ruling the universe. After Simon and his telepathic sister manage to escape from the regime and become passengers on board Serenity, The Operative, a sinister assassin leads the mission to get the girl back, with the Alliance hot on the trial.
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Alex Garland
IMDB Rating: 7.3
In 2050, life on Earth was threatened from its dying Sun which had left the planet in a solar winter. A spaceship named Icarus I was sent to reignite the star with a massive nuclear bomb but after the ship is mysteriously lost Icarus II is sent seven years later to complete the mission. Things subsequently take a turn for the surreal after they encounter the original spacecraft.
The year is 2174 and an Earth in turmoil having been ravished by overpopulation and warfare. Consequently, a ship called the Elysium has been launched into Space with thousands of human beings in cryogenic animation on-board in order to colonize a distant planet called Tanus. After Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Cpl. Bower (Ben Foster) awaken in their hyper-sleep chamber to discover a seemingly abandoned spacecraft they soon begin to uncover a terrifying reality which threatens the survival of mankind itself.
Star Trek tells the story of a young crew’s maiden voyage on board the Federation flagship U.S.S. Enterprise, and is an absolute classic filled with action, comedy and cosmic peril. It is 2233 and the fate of the Galaxy is threatened by an evil menace hell bent on vengeance. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the rest of the team as they battle to combat an advanced Romulan ship which threatens to plunge the whole Federation into chaos.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
IMDB Rating: 8.7
In the future, Earth undergoes a devastating climate shift, along with famines and droughts which threaten the very existence of the human race. Renowned physicist Professor Brand subsequently sends the Endurance spaceship, consisting of NASA pilot Cooper, a team of astronauts, and three U.S. Marine Corps robots, through a mysterious wormhole near Saturn to explore an alternate habitable home for mankind. Interstellar then depicts a heroic journey to the farthest regions of our scientific knowledge.