The Best Movie Ever: Outer Space
Ever since Georges Méliès sent audiences on A Trip to the Moon in 1902, filmmakers have had a fascination with outer space. It’s the one real-life location where hardly anyone on the planet will ever get to go, so movies tend to depict it as a fascinating and dangerous place filled with aliens, ennui and wonder.
Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar is no exception, painting outer space in a hopeful but mind-boggling light, capable of saving us all but brimming with high-concept dangers. And it got us thinking: after over a century of sci-fi spectaculars and high-minded films about our place in the universe, and what it will happen when we finally explore that universe, what really is The Best Outer Space Movie Ever?
We asked CraveOnline’s critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo to each pick a single film to highlight as The Best Outer Space Movie Ever, and to defend their choices before throwing the vote out to you, the reader. Read their picks and then scroll down to the bottom of the page, where you can let your own voice be heard in the infinite.
Check Out: The Best Movie Ever: Journalism
Witney Seibold’s Pick: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is not only the best movie made about outer space, but it’s one of the best of all movies. Here is a film that captures nothing smaller than the vastness of space, and the awe and mystery that accompanies humanity’s place in it. This is not just a film about space travel, the future, technology, or an enigmatic higher intelligence. This is a film about the very act of evolution.
In 1968, when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, America (and the rest of the world) was wiggling with anticipation over the thought of sending humanity to the moon. Sputnik had begun the space race, and all eyes were trained toward the heavens. That some nations were making progress into the realm of space travel only made optimism and wonder (not to mention terror) spread. Kubrick tapped directly into that awe and terror, teaming up with Arthur C. Clarke to write a screenplay that not only captured the infinite and ineffable qualities of space, but also the notion that space travel might very well be the next step in human evolution. Oh yes, not to mention it offers a healthy suspicion about our own technology. Our machines will aid us in our evolutionary quest, but that doesn’t mean a HAL won’t pop up and calmly murder us from time to time.
Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey is a transformative experience. It is an exciting sci-fi yarn, a contemplation of technology, a dark thriller, a grand meditation, a baffling experimental art project, a drug freak-out (my mom tells stories of hippies sneaking in the movie at intermission to watch the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” sequence while baked out of their gourds), and one of the best movies of all time.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Dark Star (1974)
Human beings tend to look up at the stars and see something wondrous: an infinite space of wonders, ripe for exploration and maybe even conquering. Most films about space travel, from 2001 to Interstellar and beyond, portray traveling through the stars as a beautiful experience in one form or another, and I’ve never really bought into that. I’ll accept that space travel is cool in something wholly unrealistic like Star Wars, but the practicalities of living out in the inky void make it seem more like a chore than an adventure in real life (for now, anyway).
That’s why I gravitate towards the impossibly cheap, existentially cynical Dark Star as my pick for the best outer space movie ever. The first film from John Carpenter (Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China) is about a quartet of astronauts living in cramped quarters, far from home, out of toilet paper and blowing up planets for no particularly well-explained reason. Space still has its wonders, but familiarity breeds contempt, and most of the crew can’t stand each other and only goes about their business because there’s nothing better to do.
It sounds pretty miserable, but if you’ve never seen it, try to imagine Dark Star as Office Space in outer space. There’s a dry but knowing wit to all of the action (and inaction), culminating in a philosophical duel to the death with a nuclear bomb that has become self-aware and can’t understand why it shouldn’t blow up, taking the whole crew with it. What is the point of existence if not fulfilling your function? The crew can’t come up with an answer that doesn’t involve BS doublespeak. There’s no point to anything except maybe – just maybe – to be what we are. We traveled to the stars only to find out that it was a pretty pointless endeavor. And also that there’s an alien beach ball out there somewhere which wants to kill us all.
Brian Formo’s Pick: The Tree of Life (2011)