25 best space movies of all time

Written by:
February 1, 2021
Warner Bros.

25 best space movies of all time

For as long as there have been humans, we’ve looked up at the night sky and wondered what lies beyond the ever-present border of our atmosphere. Our ancestors had myths to explain the formation of the stars, and today we have cinema as a tool to share theories of our own. Stacker compiled a list of the best space movies of all time according to the Stacker score, which equally weighs a film’s IMDb user score and Metascore, so both critics' and fans' opinions are taken into account.

Science fiction has always addressed the big questions surrounding the nature of life, what it means to be human, and what being alone in the universe (or not) would mean for human civilization. Are we just a pale blue dot in an ocean of darkness? Or are we one of many civilizations with a delusional belief in the exceptionalism of our species?

The films on this list include soaring space operas, faithful docudramas, gripping thrillers, and speculative musings, but all of them deal with space to some degree. These films span the recent history of cinema, and thus a chronological progression can be observed, with the early successes influencing later films.

Though some movies got the dates wrong, many of the themes explored in the best space movies deal directly with our day-to-day lives. “Gattaca” explores the perils of the creation of so-called “designer babies.” “WALL-E,” “Blade Runner,” and “Planet of the Apes” muse on what will happen to the Earth when humans destroy it. Another is responsible for taking us back to one of humanity’s greatest scientific achievements—the moon landing—where we witness the sheer amount of effort and creativity needed to accomplish such a feat.

All films with over 1,000 IMDb votes and at least four Metacritic reviews were counted, so read carefully through the list for some hidden gems. Read on to find out which animated film takes the top spot, and where fan favorites “Star Wars” and “E.T.” land.

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1 / 25
APJAC Productions

#25. Planet of the Apes (1968)

- Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
- Stacker score: 88.8
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 112 minutes

One of the most famous sci-fi films of all time, “Planet of the Apes” sees a crashed spaceship’s crew wander a planet dominated by primates, only to discover a dark secret. With groundbreaking prosthetics that hold up to this day, it’s worth watching or re-watching just for the famous quote: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

2 / 25
Lucasfilm

#24. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Stacker score: 88.8
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 138 minutes

Achieving a higher place on this list than its sequel, “The Last Jedi,” this first entry in the third “Star Wars” trilogy introduces a new cast of characters and brings back some fan favorites to fight against the First Order, the next iteration of the franchise’s evil colonialist empire. Featuring standout performances from newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac, and an anti-heroic return to form for Harrison Ford, “The Force Awakens” will fill you with the same childlike wonder of the original trilogy.

3 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#23. Interstellar (2014)

- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Stacker score: 89.4
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 169 minutes

Christopher Nolan is known for making mind-bending films that challenge and enthrall the viewer, and 2014’s “Interstellar” is a worthy addition to that canon. In a not-too-distant future, humanity suffers the widespread effects of climate change. Abandoning Earth is the only hope, and when a mysterious wormhole opens up at the end of the solar system, a daring crew travels through. Working against impossible odds and the forces of space and time, the crew must do everything possible to survive in this three-hour epic starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.

4 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#22. The Martian (2015)

- Director: Ridley Scott
- Stacker score: 89.4
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 144 minutes

Based on the popular novel, “The Martian” is about mankind joining for a singular mission: save astronaut Mark Watney, who was abandoned on Mars after the rest of his crew made an emergency exit during a dust storm. Played by a charismatic Matt Damon, Watney is a genius scientist who works in tandem with the forces on Earth to return home. A fantastic ensemble cast assists him in his efforts, including Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover, among many others.

5 / 25
Lava Bear Films

#21. Arrival (2016)

- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- Stacker score: 89.4
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 116 minutes

In many movies on this list, humankind ventures far out into the galaxy, discovering alien planets and their inhabitants. In 2016’s enigmatic “Arrival,” the aliens come here. Whether they’re bearing gifts or baring their teeth remains to be seen; it’s up to a linguist (Amy Adams) and a physicist (Jeremy Renner) to interpret the alien language. Villeneuve has already shown himself to be a powerful force in the speculative science fiction genre, and “Arrival” is a head-spinning masterpiece.

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6 / 25
TriStar Pictures

#20. District 9 (2009)

- Director: Neill Blomkamp
- Stacker score: 89.4
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 112 minutes

“District 9” sees an alien species set up camp on Earth. Using the xenophobia humans display against aliens as an allegory for the racism of South Africa’s apartheid, this found-footage mockumentary turns the glamour of interspecies contact into a biting critique of contemporary affairs.

7 / 25
Warner Bros.

#19. The Lego Movie (2014)

- Directors: Christopher Miller, Phil Lord
- Stacker score: 89.4
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Many were skeptical that a concept as vague as “Lego” could be adapted into a compelling film. Lord and Miller, rising stars in the comedy and animation genres, proved even the most serious doubters wrong. “The Lego Movie” is 100 minutes of intense action, side-splitting dialogue, and creative animation. Anchored by an all-star cast, “The Lego Movie” is family friendly perfection.

8 / 25
Alcon Entertainment

#18. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- Stacker score: 89.9
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 164 minutes

Previously in this slideshow, we referred to director Denis Villeneuve as “a powerful force in the speculative science fiction genre.” Consider this film Exhibit B. “Blade Runner 2049” is beautiful in its tragedy, or perhaps tragic in its beauty. Anchored by a deeply empathetic performance from Ryan Gosling and featuring Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davis, Jared Leto, and others, “Blade Runner 2049” is a worthy sequel to its groundbreaking predecessor.

9 / 25
Paramount

#17. Star Trek (2009)

- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Stacker score: 89.9
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 127 minutes

Like “The Force Awakens,” this film was preceded on this list by its sequel, “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” 2009’s “Star Trek” likewise contains all the charm of the original series, with big-budget special effects and a stellar (pun intended) cast.

10 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#16. Avatar (2009)

- Director: James Cameron
- Stacker score: 89.9
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 162 minutes

The highest-grossing movie of all time, despite the ongoing efforts of “Avengers: Endgame,” “Avatar” brought eye-popping CGI to a global audience in a classic story of colonialism, romance, and resistance. Cameron waited nearly a decade, until 2005, to make the film as the technology wasn’t advanced enough in the 1990s to complete his vision. The wait paid off, both financially and in the stunning visuals of the film, which hold up very well 10 years later.

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11 / 25
Marvel Studio

#15. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

- Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
- Stacker score: 90.5
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 181 minutes

The climax fans waited a decade for, “Avengers: Endgame” sees the titular characters reeling from the events of the prior film and navigating a strange world. Some are focused on undoing the fallout of Infinity War, while others just want to move on and accept the world as it is. The three-hour runtime flies by as our heroes find a promising way forward.

12 / 25
The Ladd Company

#14. Blade Runner (1982)

- Director: Ridley Scott
- Stacker score: 92.2
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 117 minutes

Directed by Alien’s Ridley Scott and loosely based on a book by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick, “Blade Runner” focuses on Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, a retired “blade runner,” tasked with hunting down and killing renegade androids known as replicants, just like he used to. The film takes place entirely on Earth; however, it’s a grimy and squalid one, as anyone with significant wealth has already left for the off-world colonies. Though space travel doesn’t feature directly, the film questions technology’s effect on the environment and human interactions.

13 / 25
Warner Bros.

#13. The Iron Giant (1999)

- Director: Brad Bird
- Stacker score: 92.2
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Sci-fi films have a peculiar tendency of underperforming at the box office, only to be treated as a cult classic and idolized long after they left the theatres. Such is the case with “The Iron Giant,” the directorial debut of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” director Brad Bird, which sees a young boy befriending a giant robot who fell from the sky. Featuring an all-star cast of voice actors, including Vin Diesel as the titular automaton, “The Iron Giant” is a gem in Bird’s stellar filmography.

14 / 25
Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips Productions

#12. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Stacker score: 92.7
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 138 minutes

Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is considered one of best science-fiction films of all time. A smash hit with critics and audiences alike, the movie is about a blue-collar Indiana man who finds his life completely changed after a chance encounter with a UFO. Praised for its originality, the movie has been instrumental in leading many to believe we may not be alone after all.

15 / 25
MGM

#11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

- Director: Stanley Kubrick
- Stacker score: 93.3
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 149 minutes

Sci-fi movies would look a lot different without “2001,” undoubtedly the most influential film of the genre ever to hit the silver screen. The precarity of artificial intelligence, the vastness of space, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life are among the themes explored by Kubrick’s masterpiece. From the visuals to the score, “2001” earns its spot among the greatest films of all time.

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16 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#10. Aliens (1986)

- Director: James Cameron
- Stacker score: 93.3
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 137 minutes

In several places on this list, sequels fared worse in the hearts of critics and audiences than the film that came before. Such is the case with “Aliens,” the sequel to 1979’s “Alien,” though Empire magazine named it the greatest sequel of all time. The franchise has yet to recapture the magic since “Aliens,” a terrifying thriller of galactic proportions starring Sigourney Weaver in an Emmy-nominated performance as Ellen Ripley, a hero for a spacefaring generation.

17 / 25
Lucasfilm

#9. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

- Director: Irvin Kershner
- Stacker score: 94.4
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Runtime: 124 minutes

Another of the best-received sequels of all time, Empire had a lot to live up to when it premiered three years after “Star Wars: Episode IV.” Luckily, the story matured from “chosen one saves universe” into a more complex series of blows and counter-attacks. With cinema’s most famous twist in the middle, Empire recaptures all the magic of the original and further explores the galaxy far, far away.

18 / 25
The Ladd Company

#8. The Right Stuff (1983)

- Director: Philip Kaufman
- Stacker score: 94.4
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 193 minutes

The films on this list that deal with America’s space program each focus on a different period. Such is the case with “The Right Stuff,” which focuses on the Mercury program of supersonic flight, sometimes in the sub-orbital region of space, which took place between 1958 and 1963. Based on the bestselling book by the same name, “The Right Stuff” was, like many others on this list, a box office failure though it was beloved by critics and remains a modern classic.

19 / 25
Universal Studios

#7. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Stacker score: 94.4
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 115 minutes

“E.T. phone home,” mutters the titular character as he attempts to contact his home planet, and audiences around the world fell in love. The timeless story of an intimate friendship between a boy and his alien friend, “E.T.” has resonated with generations of families, and is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time.

20 / 25
CNN Films

#6. Apollo 11 (2019)

- Director: Todd Douglas Miller
- Stacker score: 95
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 93 minutes

The only documentary on this list, “Apollo 11” consists solely of archival footage and is absent of narration, commentary from talking heads, or re-creations. The film presents the story of the titular mission, moonwalk and all. There’s not much else to say here, just a word of advice: see it on the biggest screen you can find.

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21 / 25
Mosfilm

#5. Solaris (1972)

- Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
- Stacker score: 95.5
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 167 minutes

At the same time Americans were celebrating a comeback victory in the Space Race, Soviet Russians were dealing with their own questions of space travel and communism’s place in the future. Such is the case with “Solaris,” a Soviet film, which questions the limits of human rationality in a gorgeous, haunting, nearly three-hour production.

22 / 25
Brandywine Productions

#4. Alien (1979)

- Director: Ridley Scott
- Stacker score: 96.6
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 117 minutes

Facehugger, Xenomorph, Chestburster; the titular alien in “Alien” takes many forms, all of them terrifying, as the creation of gory special effects and a dark imagination. The crew of the spaceship Nostromo is hopelessly outmatched against this unique evil, though they never stop trying to kill it, even as more and more humans fall victim to the alien’s attacks. A straightforward human-versus-nature story, the movie manages to slip in a biting critique of mega-corporations which are more interested in the bottom line than human lives.

23 / 25
Warner Bros.

#3. Gravity (2013)

- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- Stacker score: 96.6
- Metascore: 96
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 91 minutes

Cuarón, the five-time Oscar winner and director of “Children of Men” and “Roma,” tried his hand at an outer-space thriller in 2013’s seven-time Oscar winner “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as stranded astronauts doing whatever it takes to return home. As evidenced by the awards, Gravity was received warmly by both critics and fans, who praised the realistic visuals, performances from the leads, and stirring score.

24 / 25
Lucasfilm

#2. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

- Director: George Lucas
- Stacker score: 98.3
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 121 minutes

What is there to say about “Star Wars?” The 1977 film has established itself in every corner of our collective consciousness, from the global fame of its cast to the innumerable sci-fi and adventure films it influenced, not to mention the films in the franchise still being released every couple of years. The soundtrack is iconic, the characters are legendary, and the story of a chosen hero leading the galaxy to victory has inspired millions of young people all across the globe.

25 / 25
Disney/Pixar

#1. WALL·E (2008)

- Director: Andrew Stanton
- Stacker score: 100
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 98 minutes

“WALL·E’s” striking depiction of Earth as a barren wasteland, destroyed by the forces of climate and human overconsumption, is made even more impactful through the film’s choice to not include human dialogue for much of the film. The titular robot is an emotive trash compactor, the only one left on Earth, meant to clean up the planet’s waste; imagine his shock when a futuristic robot arrives, searching the planet for any sign of organic life. When humans are finally shown, they’re nearly comatose and incapable of social relationships, as work has become obsolete thanks to automation. A story about finding a purpose in the universe's vastness, “WALL·E” has the right mix of charm, complex storytelling, beautiful visuals and soul-searching questions to land at the top of our list.

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