The Reel Dad’s seven favorite films about astronauts
The pride we feel when we achieve in space can, at troubled moments, bring people together on land. And, since people began to explore beyond our world, movies have celebrated big dreams about places far beyond.
Prompted by Saturday’s historic launch of a new era in human spaceflight, here are my seven favorite movies about astronauts.
Take a look.
The Right Stuff (1983): How people dream of traveling beyond what they experience every day fuels this look at two examples of American bravery, when test pilots dare to break the speed of sound in the 1940s and, some 20 years later, when astronauts first venture beyond the earth’s protective atmosphere. Sam Shepard captures the can-do determination that defines the U.S. spirit while Ed Harris quietly makes John Glenn an everyman hero who brings the possibilities of space back to earth.
Apollo 13 (1995): How American ingenuity solves big problems ignites this Ron Howard epic about a tough trip that three astronauts take to the moon and back in 1970. Tom Hanks makes us believe in what lures an astronaut into space while trying to keep everything settled back at home. And this is more than a star performance; Hanks makes certain that co-stars Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and, especially, Gary Sinise have their days in the sun as well.
The Martian (2015): How lonely space travel can be frames this magical story of an astronaut left behind on a distant planet. Without letting circumstance define his perspective, this solitary man creates a new life based on new truth he must confront. Matt Damon reminds us, in his clear portrayal, how the adventure of space reaches beyond what we seek to experience to what we hope to understand. And that, sometimes, we can only see in front of us when we look from far away.
Hidden Figures (2016): How people behind the scenes, and on the ground, make a difference to the ambitions of the U.S. space program come to life in this exhilarating celebration of sisterhood. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe teach us what people can do when they focus on real work while Kevin Costner touches with his calming leadership at a time when everyone around him seems to swirl. This celebration of unsung heroes will make anyone proud.
First Man (2018): How Neil Armstrong tries to balance his life on earth with his ambitions to walk on the moon frames this well-intentioned epic from Damien Chazelle. In the director’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “La La Land,” the moviemaker explores what drives Armstrong to push everyone around him to support his dreams of space-age accomplishment. That the movie lacks a sense of tension that defines similar films may be because this hero can remain so stoic.
Apollo 11 (2019): How astronauts on that historic first flight to the moon prepare for and manage such a moment in history receives the first-class treatment in this critically-acclaimed documentary. Using rarely-seen footage, and recently-discovered interviews, the film celebrates the precisions that big dreams demand. Moviemaker Todd Douglas Miller doesn’t apologize for the familiarity of the story; instead he celebrates that we know how this saga will ultimately end.
Marooned (1969): How fictional astronauts deal with the dangers of space travel fills a big-screen epic in the best and worst traditions of Hollywood excess. Leave it to Gregory Peck, as a driven but human NASA administrator, to bring a voice of calm to the panic of the day when three astronauts find themselves, as the title suggests, lost in space. Lee Grant, in the small role of a stricken astronaut’s wife, captures the anxiety that family members must feel when their loved ones soar at risk.
How proud we feel when we come together to celebrate what we achieve. And how much we need that now.
See you at the movies.