Space, it’s the final frontier. It’s also the setting of a number of amazing science fiction movies. Now obviously when we’re talking space movies, a couple franchises with the word “Star” in their titles immediately come to mind. For the sake of not filling up the list with only those films (don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll get to ranking those at some point), we’ll have no “Treks” or “Wars” on this top five.
Continuing from the events of the much loved but short-lived cult sci-fi TV series Firefly this movie combines the space genre with the aesthetics and story tropes of a western. Nathan Fillion stars as a rebel space captain trying to protect a girl with special powers from a ruthless government agent who will stop at nothing to possess her and her abilities. The movie features a supporting cast of ragtag lovable crew members, a truly fantastic bad guy, and some absolutely thrilling action sequences.
Poor Matt Damon finds himself stranded alone on Mars and has to use his ingenuity and science know-how to let NASA know he’s alive and then survive until he can be rescued. This survival story has such high built-in stakes, plus audiences just loves Matt Damon. The key to the success of the film and the Andy Weir novel it is adapted from is the story’s winning sense of humor. You become endeared not only to the main character but the charming astronauts and scientists that work to save him.
This is kind of a cheat to get a Star Trek movie on the list, but it’s a very clever twist on the ubiquitous presence that franchise has in pop culture. We find the washed-up cast of a 1970’s space show actually being beamed into space to save a peaceful alien race from an evil conqueror. The movie mixes great jokes and characters with legitimately impressive special effects and action sequences. It also features breakout performances from future stars Sam Rockwell and Justin Long.
This is an absolutely nerve shattering film that finds Sandra Bullock’s astronaut main character hopelessly floating through space. It feels at no point can she reach actual safety, since she’s still in space and the movie does an amazing job of making space deadly terrifying. The movie has absolutely incredible imagery, which earned the film an Oscar for cinematography. However, it avoids getting lost in the mountain of special effects on screen by always centering the movie on the emotionally vulnerable performance of Bullock.
Yes, Scott has two films on this list and of course numerous other films were in competition for this top spot (I hear you 2001 fans), but at the end of the day this brilliant blend of sci-fi and horror has been oft imitated and rarely equaled. Scott described the film as “a haunted house movie in space” and it’s just as terrifying today as it was when it was released. We watch a crew of blue-collar space workers who struggle to stay alive as a vicious alien creature stalks them on board their ship. Scott keeps the movie dark and sparingly shows us the creature (despite being one of the all-time great creature designs) building a sense of impending dread that makes even the bravest audience member sweat. An undisputed classic from a master of the genre.