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Lost in space: From ‘Spaceballs’ and ‘Apollo 13’ to ‘Alien,’ these six films are ready for liftoff

UPDATED: Thu., July 30, 2020

Rick Moranis stars as Dark Helmet in 1987's "Spaceballs." (MGM)
Rick Moranis stars as Dark Helmet in 1987's "Spaceballs." (MGM)

In honor of Project Apollo and all of NASA’s Apollo space missions, here are six space-themed movies that captured the imagination of the public each in their own way.

From utterly ridiculous comedies (“Spaceballs”) to outright horror films (“Alien”), this list should get you through a brief space-movie obsession with tons of variety to (space) boot.

“Spaceballs” (1987): Mel Brooks’ “Star Wars” parody “Spaceballs” is a cornerstone piece of the genre. Taking the world-building cinematic work of George Lucas and turning it on its head comes naturally to Brooks as his cast of sort-of-heroes save the planet Druidia from having all of its fresh air sucked away by the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), who has managed to kidnap Druidia’s Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga). Naturally, the princess’s only hope is space-RV-inhabitant Lone Starr and his dog-ish companion, Barf. This movie is not to be taken seriously at any moment.

“Apollo 13” (1995): Detailing perhaps the most intense space mission in U.S. history, “Apollo 13” follows the disastrous flight of Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jim Swigert (Kevin Bacon) as they attempt to survive a moon-landing attempt gone wrong. In an era just after the successful moon landing of Apollo 11, this mission captivated the American people as they watched in horrid suspense three of their own battle life threat after life threat, all in space. The movie – which was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two – does its best to follow these events, even consulting NASA and running the actors through simulations.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968): Stanley Kubrick’s classic and immensely influential film “2001: A Space Odyssey” has been around for more than 50 years. A tale of epic proportion, it loosely follows the evolution of mankind in the presence of other higher beings. A black monolith appears and kickstarts human evolution. A second one is uncovered thousands of years later on the moon, which releases a signal of some kind. An earthen space mission is sent in search of that signal’s destination with the assistance of AI computer HAL 9000. The film – which was nominated for four Academy Awards and won one – is a directorial masterpiece, a composition itself of visual and sonic aspects to form one of the most atmospheric movies ever made. It is a cult classic and revered for its influence.

“Interstellar” (2014): In a future where Earth is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, mankind struggles against dust storms and other natural disasters to source food. A NASA scientist pulls a former scientist, engineer and extraordinary pilot out of his rural lifestyle for a dangerous mission upon which the future of mankind would seem to rest: traveling through a wormhole in search of a replacement planet. This race against the clock is among the most visually stunning movies ever made, and it was well-received, garnering five Oscar nominations and one win (for Best Visual Effects). A truly epic tale of love, space and survival, “Interstellar” does not disappoint.

“Galaxy Quest” (1999): The washed-up cast of a TV space show are tracked down by a group of aliens in need of leadership. Having watched the space show, which was apparently broadcast across the universe, the aliens believe Alan Rickman, Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and their co-stars are their only hope for survival. The group is abducted and made captain of a real spaceship with no experience and are soon facing the frightening (and hilarious) realities of battling through a space full of hostile alien lifeforms. Can the onscreen heroes make the cut in real life?

“Alien” (1979): Ridley Scott is a master of manipulating light, and in his 1979 film “Alien” – which won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects – he makes ample use of that talent and others to create the greatest sci-fi horror film ever made, and one of the best films outright. A crew aboard a commercial spacecraft receives a distress signal from a nearby moon and sets off to check it out. They find an alien spacecraft and a room full of mysterious eggs, one of which – when touched by a crew member – leaps into life. Thus ensues a tense and frightening survival attempt by the crew as they seek to kill the bloodthirsty alien stowing away on their ship before it kills them.

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