Now Streaming | The Best Space Movies

“It’s a great big universe,” the Animaniacs once told us. “And we’re all really puny.” That’s true, but leave it to movies to find a way to make the infinite vastness of space seem inviting, thrilling and beautiful, instead of depressing as hell. 

This week, Ridley Scott unveils his latest sci-fi adventure, The Martian, in which Matt Damon struggles to stay alive on the surface of Mars long after his expiration date is supposed to have passed. It’s a fantastic film, we can’t recommend it enough, but it’s just one of many great space movies out there. Many of these impressive cinematic accomplishments can be viewed at home, with the click of a button, and without paying an extra penny beyond your monthly service fee.

So join us as this week’s Now Streaming boldly goes where all of these movies have before, and invite you along for the ride. These are the best space movies on instant streaming, where the wonders of traveling outside of our orbit are brought to impressive life.

Related | TIFF 2015 Review: ‘The Martian’ Sciences All The Science

Treasure Planet (Netflix)

Walt Disney

Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was, to be fair, a very, VERY loose adaptation. The directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin re-envisioned the classic tale of mutiny, piracy and treasure-hunting as a steampunk adventure in space, in which a cyborg Long John Silver (Brian Murray) bonds with naive young hero Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) before revealing his true colors as the film’s villain. It’s an Oscar-nominated fantasy, but it still has an atrocious reputation as one of the biggest bombs in Disney history.

Which is a shame, because Treasure Planet is glorious. The relationship between Silver and Hawkins is one of the most intriguing father/son relationships in the history of the company, but more to the point the universe which they inhabit is rich with wonders. Solar sails propel gorgeous frigates through outer space, equating travel through the stars with 19th century fantasies of escaping into the Seven Seas. There is a sense of extempore in Treasure Planet that few of Disney’s 21st Century efforts aspire to, let alone achieve. It may not be the studio’s best film, but it’s an underrated adventure that makes space travel seem marvelous again.

Zathura (Netflix)

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Before he directed Iron Man, Jon Favreau cut his sci-fi chops on this adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book about a pair of bored kids who play a board game that turns excitingly real. Yes, it’s basically Jumanji but in space. (Chris Van Allsburg created Jumanji too, actually, and the books are directly connected.) But when played back-to-back, it’s Zathura that feels like the superior accomplishment.

The image of a suburban home hurtling through outer space, the hapless inhabitants encountering lost astronauts and vicious aliens, is so timeless and fantastic that it’s a wonder Zathura didn’t hit pay dirt with audiences. Perhaps if co-stars Kristen Stewart (Twilight) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) were household names already, it would have. But the real star here is Favreau, whose sense of awe and ability to elicit natural performances from actors in unnatural situations is on full display. It’s easy to see why Marvel took a chance on Favreau to jumpstart their blockbuster movie franchise, even if Zathura itself was a dud at the box office. It deserves to be discovered by future generations of film lovers. Fortunately, all it takes is a click of a button.

Explorers (Netflix)

Paramount Pictures

The kids in Zathura traveled to outer space by playing a board game. The kids in Joe Dante’s sci-fi classic Explorers had to build the whole ship themselves. Well, almost. Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix co-star as pubescent dreamers whose nightly visions of alien circuit boards lead them to invent a spherical force field capable of moving at terrific speeds, and before long they decide to travel to the stars because… why the hell not?

Joe Dante has always been one of the best genre directors, and even though Explorers was rushed out of post-production, much to his dismay, the film itself is a marvel. The hectic nonsense of everyday life pushes our heroes to achieve great things, even if nobody else believes it’s possible, and once they finally do take to the stars… I won’t reveal a damned thing, other than to say that what they find is wholly unexpected, thematically perfect, and way better than the copout finale of Contact. Dante’s Explorers is the real deal.

A Trip to the Moon (Amazon PrimeNetflix)

Public Domain

But George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon is the ORIGINAL deal. Méliès wrote, directed, produced and starred in this influential short film, which featured innovative visual effects and became proof positive that science-fiction could work on camera. A Trip to the Moon was perhaps the very first blockbuster, even though Méliès himself hardly saw a dime from its success and wound up vanishing until… actually, did you ever see Hugo? See Hugo. That’ll give you the gist of it.

A simple story by modern measure, A Trip to the Moon finds a group of astronomers traveling to the moon, hitting the poor man in the moon in the eye, and running afoul of the mean ol’ local species, the Selenites. Méliès’ film features surreal images, a mixture of mythology and sci-fi, and pioneering ideas that would eventually take root in actual science (the idea for a launch countdown, for example, originates here). It’s a short film, it’s required viewing for everyone who loves movies, and it’s free, so you have absolutely no excuse but to watch it.

Oh yes, and A Trip to the Moon is also available in color, but who in the hell would want to see that?

Gravity (HBO Go)

Warner Bros.

The thing about space is, as incredible as its vastness may be, it’s also utterly horrifying. And no film has captured the sheer terror of outer space as effectively as Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning visual effects spectacular Gravity. The film stars Sandra Bullock as an astronaut caught in a debris storm, circling the planet, running out of air, and desperately trying to find a way – and a reason – to stay alive when the entire universe has been especially designed to kill her.

Much has been made of Gravity‘s incredibly experiential filmmaking, which puts the audience in the void right next to Bullock. But although the story is simplistic it is also wholly important, equating the urge to survive amidst a sea of futility with the daily struggles we all face, dramatizing that sometimes nagging sense that our existence is small to the point of meaninglessness. Gravity isn’t just a technical magic trick, it’s a poetic intervention for anybody who feels like they’re at the end of their rope. Climb the rope, Cuaron seems to be saying, because when everything is against you, merely living is its own glorious reward.


William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.