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50 best space movies of all time

  • 50 best space movies of all time

    On May 30, 2020, SpaceX sent NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station. The space flight, which took off from the same launch pad once used to send people to the moon, represented other milestones, as well: It's the first time a private company sent people to space, and it was the first space launch since 2011 to leave from the United States.

    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 has 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 (data from October 2020), 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, from 1956 to 2020, 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 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. Several films take us back to one of humanity’s greatest scientific achievements—the moon landing—and 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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  • #50. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)

    - Directors: Shin'ichirô Watanabe, Tensai Okamura, Hiroyuki Okiura, Yoshiyuki Takei
    - Stacker score: 78.2
    - Metascore: 61
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 115 minutes

    If you’re not already into anime, “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie” may not be the best place to start. It’s based on a series by the same name, and while it’s not necessary that you watch the show before the film, you might be confused by the fast-paced action without proper context. But if you’re an anime fan looking for a space epic filled with bounty hunters, a nanomachine-based biological weapon, and a dog with human-level intelligence all set on the surface of Mars, look no further.

  • #49. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

    - Director: Richard Marquand
    - Stacker score: 78.8
    - Metascore: 58
    - IMDb user rating: 8.3
    - Runtime: 131 minutes

    The original “Star Wars” trilogy will always be remembered for bringing blockbusters to Hollywood, with all their action, adventure, and exorbitant budgets. The third entry, “Return of the Jedi,” is generally considered by fans and critics to be the worst of the three, though it’s no less-beloved than the first two. The Rebels, beaten time and time again, finally take their stand against the Empire, as allegiances are tested and secrets are revealed.

  • #48. Mr. Nobody (2009)

    - Director: Jaco Van Dormael
    - Stacker score: 78.8
    - Metascore: 63
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 141 minutes

    This list comprises space movies, after all that’s what you came here for, but “Mr. Nobody” is one of a few time movies too. Jared Leto portrays the protagonist, Nemo Nobody, the last mortal left on Earth after everyone else achieves immortality through cellular regenerative technology. Though the movie largely takes place on Earth, Nemo at points writes a story about space travel to Mars, which is visually presented in gorgeous detail.

  • #47. Gattaca (1997)

    - Director: Andrew Niccol
    - Stacker score: 79.3
    - Metascore: 64
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 106 minutes

    Twenty-one years after the release of “Gattaca,” the scientific community was forced to confront an issue raised by the film: gene editing. Using CRISPR technology, scientists can now selectively edit portions of DNA in embryos, creating artificial resistance against diseases like HIV, smallpox, and cholera. Eventually, this technology could determine many human traits, from intelligence to eye color, exactly to the parents’ desire. In the world of “Gattaca,” a man born naturally—without any genes edited—poses as another man to sidestep genetic discrimination and fulfill his dreams to travel to space, and raising important questions about whether gene editing is just a novel form of eugenics.

  • #46. THX 1138 (1971)

    - Director: George Lucas
    - Stacker score: 79.3
    - Metascore: 75
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Runtime: 86 minutes

    “THX 1138” was a failure. That is, until George Lucas gained notoriety for “Star Wars” and fans went back to watch his first film, which depicts a totalitarian dystopia controlled by mind-altering chemicals and an android police force. The title refers to the film’s protagonist, played by Robert Duvall; to encourage conformity, names are simply three initials and four digits.

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  • #45. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

    - Director: Gareth Edwards
    - Stacker score: 79.9
    - Metascore: 65
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 133 minutes

    Many fans found inconvenient truths (without revealing spoilers) at the end of “Star Wars: Episode IV.” 39 years later, “Rogue One,” which takes place right before “Episode IV,” sets the stage for that famous climax, explaining the story behind how the heroic band of rebels was able to strike a decisive blow against the Empire. The first “Star Wars” film to be set outside the three major trilogies, “Rogue One” was played for its no-holds-barred action, fast-paced storyline, and memorable cameos from beloved characters.

  • #44. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    - Director: James Gunn
    - Stacker score: 79.9
    - Metascore: 67
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Runtime: 136 minutes

    Until 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were mostly confined to Earth, with a few sojourns to Asgard with Thor. However, like its predecessor which appears further down this list, “Guardians 2” is set entirely in space, where Chris Pratt’s Peter “Star-Lord” Quill was raised following his childhood abduction from Earth. With only retro songs to remember his home planet by, Star-Lord searches for answers with his band of reluctant heroes, among them a talking raccoon and sentient tree.

  • #43. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)

    - Director: George Lucas
    - Stacker score: 79.9
    - Metascore: 68
    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Runtime: 140 minutes

    Though the trilogy of films that served as prequels to “Star Wars: Episode IV” generated ire from fans and critics alike, there’s a lot to enjoy in “Revenge of the Sith,” in which Anakin Skywalker must choose between the light side of the Jedi and the dark power of the Sith. Though the romance between Hayden Christensen’s Anakin and Natalie Portman’s Padmé is… unconvincing, the twists and turns are exciting enough to watch that they’ve now been immortalized as viral memes.

  • #42. Galaxy Quest (1999)

    - Director: Dean Parisot
    - Stacker score: 79.9
    - Metascore: 70
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Runtime: 102 minutes

    What does Sigourney Weaver do after finally escaping from the aliens in “Alien” and “Aliens?” Poke fun at another staple of the sci-fi genre in “Galaxy Quest,” a transparent but nonetheless hilarious send-up of “Star Trek” and its fans. Also starring Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and Daryl Mitchell, this cult classic is beloved by the very fans it made fun of, a surefire mark of a great film.

  • #41. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

    - Director: Nicholas Meyer
    - Stacker score: 80.4
    - Metascore: 67
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Runtime: 113 minutes

    Nowadays, with the ubiquity of computer-generated images, or CGI, in blockbuster cinemas, it’s charming to remember of time of carefully painted miniatures and fireworks explosions comprising much of what we consider “special effects.” “The Wrath of Khan,” the first film to have a sequence comprised entirely of CGI, was a harbinger of this new era. Beloved by fans, William Shatner’s James Tiberius Kirk leads a war against Khan, who has sworn revenge on the Starship Enterprise, in this classic space opera.

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