Finding a good sci-fi film about space exploration can be a tough job. It needs to walk that perfect line between realism and imagination, all while taking you to fantastic new places and presenting you with captivating circumstances. Luckily for sci-fi fans, not only have the past few years seen a boon in good flicks like Interstellar, Sunshine, and Moon, but there are also quite a few old school gems just waiting to be watched or even rewatched, in many cases. We’ve selected six of our favorite old school space exploration films (and by “old school”, we mean pre- Star Wars) that deserve to be seen if you haven’t given them a try just yet.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
We’re going all the way back to the beginning of film for the first spot on our list. This 1902 French silent film was directed by Georges Méliès, who was one of the most prolific special effects innovators in his day (he accidentally discovered the substitution stop trick, along with a number of other cool effects). A Trip to the Moon was heavily influenced by the works of Jules Verne and follows a group of scientists on – you guessed it – a trip to the moon. The film is not only often cited as being one of the first sci-fi films, but is widely considered to be one of the most influential films in cinema history. A Trip to the Moon might be short and lacking in the dialogue that we’re used to these days, but the pure creativity and special effects are something to see, considering it was made over 100 years ago. It’s iconic for a reason.
Destination Moon (1950)
Destination Moon, which follows a group of astronauts on their difficult journey to the moon and back, was the first major sci-fi film in the US to portray the technicalities of space exploration. Well, the second film – on hearing about production delays, Rocketship X-M was hurriedly put together in 18 days and rushed into theaters before the release of Destination Moon, riding on the much bigger film’s wave of publicity. Destination Moon was based on material from the works of sci-fi megastar Robert A. Heinlein, who also helped with the screenplay and served as technical advisor. In addition to its top-notch story, the film features spectacular visuals, even earning an Academy Award in Visual Effects.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Naturally, the first sci-fi film to both be set entirely on another world and to show humans traveling in a starship deserves to be on our list. In this film, a starship crew heads to a colonized planet in order to investigate a suspicious silence, only to discover that just two inhabitants remain. Forbidden Planet has it all, from romance to talking robots, and even movie goers that aren’t sci-fi fans are likely to love it. For those that do love space movies, it’s often cited as being the best sci-fi film of all time – but that’s a debate for another day.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This film probably goes without saying, but our list simply wouldn’t be complete without Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. Co-written by Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the uncontested king of space exploration films. No other film incorporates beautiful imagery, powerful themes, and scientific accuracy quite like this one does. If you haven’t given it a watch just yet, it should be on the top of your list.
Co-written and directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris is an adaptation of Stanis?aw Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name. The film follows a psychologist who travels to a space station in order to understand why its inhabitants have gone insane. Solaris is much more than a mere sci-fi film – it’s also a journey into the human psyche. Fair warning that this is one of those love it or hate it films, but for those that don’t mind a slow pace setting up a creeping feeling of anxiety and emptiness, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Silent Running (1972)
A true product of its era, Silent Running has a heavy focus on environmental issues, creating a story in which Earth is barren and the few remaining examples of life are maintained in containers near Saturn. Fans claim that Silent Running makes a poignant statement about Earth and its resources, while others say the film is too simple and lacks action. We’ll leave it up to you to decide, but it’s worth a watch in our book.
Which of your favorite old school space films do you think we should have included? Let us know in the comments below.