Warning: the following article contains spoilers, but we don’t care. If you haven’t seen “Gravity,” we recommend you skip down to the movie recommendations (and skip “Gravity,” in general!).
We admit: the first two-thirds of “Gravity” are great. Breathtaking cinematography and break-neck pace. Had the Academy judges stopped watching then, we could understand why they nominated “Gravity” for Best Picture.
Those opening 50 or so minutes are utterly unique, especially if you were in optimal viewing conditions – popcorn in one hand, fist clenched in the other, bottom planted in an exorbitant seat inside an IMAX 3D theater. Watching Sandra and George whirl around in the vacuum of space felt like riding the loop-de-loop attraction at a carnival. (But since when does nausea constitute a positive reaction to a movie?)
But then, disaster strikes. From the moment George Clooney reappears (having earlier floated off, sans oxygen, into the cosmos), the good ship “Gravity” takes a nose-dive.
Sandra Bullock, rescued from abject despair through a psychic visitation from her dead comrade, pores over the rescue craft’s instruction manual like a determined consumer hooking up her DVD player. Surely now she will pilot this Chinese spaceship she’s never before seen, much less maneuvered, and survive.
After all, if you’ve got enough pluck, you can do most anything, even return alone from deep space and land in a tropical paradise that looks like the next town over from Oz.
Anyhow, our advice is to defy “Gravity,” and check out (again or for the first time) these five seminal outer space movies that maintain course throughout their respective missions.
"Forbidden Planet" (1956)- The granddaddy of all outer space movies, unless you count Melies’s “A Trip To The Moon” (1903), which is beginning to show its age. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, “Planet” should feel great about itself, as countless movies and TV shows have copied it shamelessly since its release. And Robby the Robot makes R2-D2 look like a wimp. Click here to stream it now!
2001: A Space Odyssey
"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)- Kubrick’s classic of machine over man is a cautionary tale that’s only more relevant today as technology takes over the world, nullifying human interaction. It may feel somewhat slow to younger viewers; we advise they take whatever medication allows them to lean forward and fully absorb this classic. Their attention will be amply rewarded. Click here to stream it now!
"Solaris" (1972)- Brilliant work from Andrei Tarkovsky is another deliberately paced, cerebral outing about a psychologist sent to investigate the mental state of cosmonauts at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris (never heard of it). This trippy, mind-bending Russian entry requires no hallucinogens- they’re built into the film. This handily trumps the Soderbergh re-make. Click here to stream it now!
The Right Stuff
"The Right Stuff" (1983)- Philip Kaufman’s flag-waving epic provides a gripping history lesson as it details the early history of NASA and the Space Age. It garnered eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and took home four. Featuring breakout performances from Ed Harris (playing look-alike John Glenn) and Dennis Quaid, “The Right Stuff” is one aptly named movie. Yay, America! Click here to stream it now!
"Apollo 13" (1995)- Perhaps our favorite Ron Howard film, this nail-biting recreation of the fraught Apollo 13 mission features a charismatic star turn by Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, with Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton playing his crew, and Ed Harris (again! he loves space pictures!) winning himself an Oscar nod as NASA man-on-the-ground Gene Kranz. Strong advice: don’t watch this movie before taking a space flight yourself. Click here to stream it now!
Blast off, movie fans.
Previously: 3 Great Films Co-Starring Disgruntled Robots