I’m going to preface this with one important thing: There are not many great space adventure movies. Seriously. There aren’t even many good space adventure movies. So, when Marvel announced Guardians of the Galaxy, a team of cosmic superheroes even I knew little about, I began compiling a list of space adventure movies to help measure where GotG would stack up on release. Turns out that there are so few good space adventure movies that I had to stretch the criteria a bit: 1) Movies must involve outer space as a driving force of plot and character action OR primarily take place in space. 2) If anybody mentions Pluto Nash I will personally send you an angry letter.
This is the first in a two-part feature. The second half will be released on Thursday so stay tuned to Audiences Everywhere to see what makes the top 25. For now, let’s look at these other space adventure movies.
Critters is 100% schlock. There’s no getting around that. But it’s fun schlock. It’s the schlock that deserves the time of day. It’s also an unintentional Gremlins rip-off (The script supposedly came before Gremlins, movie was released after). A cult-classic in the purest sense of the word. Grab some friends and laugh it up with the Crites.
49. The Black Hole
The Black Hole came about during the Star Wars craze where everyone wanted to go to space. The visuals are fun and plentiful, but don’t get too excited as the rest of the movie isn’t particularly memorable. It’s a nice background movie though.
Elysium is director Neil Blomkamp’s follow up to the hugely satisfying District 9. It’s also a bit of a disappointment. It beats you over the head with a hammer made of metaphors and obviousness. That being said, it’s still a pretty fun ride. The action is tight and the environments are gritty. The world of Elysium clearly took some inspiration from Blomkamps failed Halo movie from back in the day, so bonus points for that. +2 more points for Jodie Foster’s terrible future accent and a really great performance by Sharlto Copley.
Predators is a sequel to the original 2 Predator movies and thankfully avoids the AvP franchise entirely (because fuck that noise). For the first time in the franchise, we get a look at the Predator homeworld and a look at some interesting creature designs. The cast of characters is nowhere near as memorable as the band of machismos in the original film, but they’re worthy fodder for the deadliest space hunter. The Yakuza vs Predator scene is worth the price of admission. Oh, and you get to see someone’s brain torn out along with their spine. Kids these days.
I used to hate this movie. I really did. But I was a young, stupid kid when this movie came out. I don’t hate it. I just don’t understand who fixed the box office numbers to make this the highest grossing movie of all-time? Enough complaints. Avatar isn’t original, it just does what it sets out to do and it does it very well with some glossy special effects. Seriously. The uninspired story and cardboard cutout, stock characters can’t detract from the visual splendor this movie has to offer. If you can get by the “white man save indigenous people” clichés and god awful dialogue, this a Blu-Ray worth owning to show off your home sound theater.
45. Space Jam
Space Jam stars Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny as they take on the Monstars. It’s the ultimate example of the 90s in the sense that it would never be made today. It would also be a tragedy because it’s common knowledge that Space Jam is the greatest movie ever made. This scene solidifies that as such. Any counter-argument is not worth listening to.
44.Star Trek Into Darkness
The new Star Trek movies are certainly more Star Wars than Trek, and Star Trek Into Darkness is no different. It’s all about the fast-paced action and swooping hallway cinematography. The plot is a mess (Thanks, Orci and Kurtzman!) but the cast coasts by on charisma and chemistry. Benedict Cumberbatch in particular stands out as the villain (Khan) who may or may not be Khan (It’s Khan), named John Harrison (See previous parentheses). It’s decidedly not Star Trek and isn’t nearly as smart as it pretends to be with it’s constant, clumsy 9/11 parallels, but there’s more than enough to enjoy in this oddly named sequel to a rebooted franchise.
43. Treasure Planet
Disney hasn’t done many space movies but Treasure Planet is not nearly brought up enough in conversation. The narrative is a little wonky but a new take on the classic Treasure Island tale (IN SPACE) makes for a fine viewing experience. Watch for the classic source material, stay for the space visuals.
42. Starship Troopers
Starship Troopers is not a bad movie at all. There’s a popular misconception that it’s so bad that it’s good, but it’s much smarter than it has any right to be. It’s a play on military propaganda with a healthy dose of B movie-isms. So you have two ways to enjoy it. Turn your brain off and laugh at the preposterousness of it all, or look at the inherent fascist themes on display. Everybody wins! (SIGN UP FOR THE SPACE MILITARY TODAY)
41. Independence Day
More 90s goodness coming at you with Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith going head to head with aliens. The White House gets blown up for one of the greatest money shots ever! Bill Pullman makes an American holiday an everywhere holiday! Will Smith punches an alien in the face! Fuck yeah! *Punches a hole through the computer screen* Must watch viewing every 4th of July or you can get the hell out of my gotdang America.
40. Total Recall
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the second Paul Verhoeven movie on the list. No, this isn’t the mediocre reboot starring the almighty Bryan Cranston. This is the classic movie that deals with questioning reality while letting Arnold do what he does best. Kick some serious ass. “Consider that a divorce” for best line to end a relationship.
39. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a disappointment coming off a series high, but still a solid film in its own right. Christopher Lloyd plays a pretty great villain and the movie still carries the emotional weight from the previous installment, functioning as a satisfactory middle chapter of the trilogy that started with The Wrath of Khan and ended with…
38. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The one with the whales. It’s silly in the best type of Star Trek way with a sense of adventure, some time-travel, and whales! It is also the most family friendly of the series. Lookout for a scene with Kirk and Spock on a bus in San Francisco.
If you ask me, Jon Favreau is a pretty underrated director. He gave us Elf, Iron Man, and this year’s quiet but charming Chef. The guy has range. All of his movies are imbued with a passion for storytelling. Zathura is no different. What essentially could be seen as a Jumanji rip-off is actually still totally a Jumanji rip-off but never loses sight of what makes that movie special; A sharp eye for cinematography and action in response to character motivations, but in space! And it features a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart who actually succeeds at acting!
36. The Fifth Element
I did not understand the appeal of The Fifth Element when I first watched it. I thought it was insane (it is) and without more merit than a generic action movie (it isn’t). Credit has to be given to Luc Besson who totally commits to his vision of a story between good vs evil and the sheer audacity of certain characters (Chris Tucker FTW).
35. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
It is common knowledge that The Wrath of Khan is the best Star Trek movie but someone once explained to my why they thought Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was also a worthy competitor: 1) It actually feels like Star Trek. 2) The political intrigue was relevant as fuck for the time and still mostly relevant today. 3) It’s a bitter-sweet end for the original crew of the Enterprise that was way better than Star Trek V.
Danny Boyle is responsible for my favorite zombie movie so it only makes sense I mention him here. Sunshine is the story of humanity heading to space to save earth. So it’s like Armageddon minus the Michael Bay and Aerosmith and instead of blowing up an asteroid, they’re trying to reignite the sun. It’s all in good fun though, as the crew discuss moral dilemmas and philosophies of science vs religion. Not quite on the level of 28 Days Later, but definitely worth checking out. If anything, it helped me understand why Chris Evans was chosen as Captain America in spite of being in two awful superhero movies prior.
33. Titan AE
Titan AE is a movie you probably haven’t heard of but you totally should. Directed by the severely over-looked master of animation, Don Bluth, with a script by our lord and savior, Joss Whedon, Titan AE simply rocks. It’s a prime example of animation succeeding where live-action wouldn’t cut it. The voice cast is shockingly good with Nathan Lane as the standout (You’ll know who he is exactly when he walks onscreen). The story is a bit predictable but never lazy. It’s only an hour and a half long but you’ll want to watch it again and again (It’s also a personal favorite). As far as I know, there’s no Blu-Ray for this one. Somebody start a petition immediately.
Contrary to popular belief, Marvel has already dipped their toes into the space adventure realm. Thor is more Shakespearean drama than space adventure, but since science and magic are all the same in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I guess that makes Thor a space adventure movie. The movie has many flaws, but the character stuff here works soo well. The natural progression of Loki from jealous prince, to slighted maniac is tragic. Thor learning from his experience on Earth. The fish out of water antics are such good fun that they’ll have you shouting, “Another!” and don’t worry, you got another one. Though the hallways are littered with dutch angles (WHY?) the space scenery is remarkable to behold. The closing credits and Bifrost scenes are particularly beautiful as they took images over several months from the Hubble telescope and incorporated them in the scenery. SCIENCE!
31. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World is controversial. Some people think it’s worse than Iron Man 2. Others call it the most fun chapter in the standalone franchises. I’m leaning more towards the fun, but wouldn’t consider it the best of the franchise either. I think TDW ups the action in a good way from the first one, but loses sight of the character elements. But when the action hits the screen, it hits in a big way. The final fight with Malekith (The blandest villain since Mickey Rourke in IM2) is a mix of the God of War and Portal gameplay. There’s a good argument for switching 32 and 31 but this is my list, so too bad.
30. Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek (2009) There’s a reason none of the next generation Star Trek movies are on this list: Most of them are terrible. Even the best of them don’t constitute more than one viewing. Nemesis is particularly bad. It was so bad that the franchise went into hiding because of it. Then JJ Abrams came along and hired a cast of young actors to portray younger versions of the original crew. The world shouted: “What is this? Star Trek: BABIES?” and we weren’t totally wrong but none of us could have guessed just how much fun this movie would be. The opening 10 minutes might even rank among the best Star Trek moments in general. It’s Star Trek for both fanboys and the mainstream. I’d go as far to say it does a better Star Wars than the Star Wars prequels.
29. Forbidden Planet
Forbidden Planet is a futuristic reworking of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Half the fun of watching the movie is noticing the similarities and looking at how situations and character were altered to fit the futuristic setting. The other fun half is looking and listening. The visuals still hold a candle to the generic clean landscapes that we see nowadays in our space movies while the electronic soundtrack is appropriately alien. Shout-out to Robby the Robot for being the original supporting Robot character that actually had personality.
28. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
KHAAAAAAN’t you see how good this movie is? Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is inspired by an episode of Star Trek that dealt with the Enterprise’s deadliest adversary. An Asian warlord (played by a Mexican man with an inexplicable mullet) who survived 300 years in a space prison, only to escape and try to conquer worlds both seen and unseen. Khan Noonien Sing and his crew of super powered humans were left stranded on a planet with a crewmember of the Enterprise (She betrayed them so it’s okay). But when Khan makes his way off that planet, Khan and Kirk play a deadly game of cat and mouse that pushes the Enterprise to its breaking point. Ricardo Montalban’s pecks were real and I just think that’s something worth noting.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is on several movies here. Why? Because he kicked ass back in the day, especially when he led a team of several All-American badasses against an alien Predator. The space aspect isn’t as important as it is in Predators, but the Predator still comes from space… shut up. I had to stretch criteria dammit. It also gave us Jesse Ventura calling himself a sexual tyrannosaurus, “Get to da choppa!” and Shane Black’s classic echo joke.
If I had to sum up Starman in one word, it would be: Endearing. John Carpenter is known for his gritty and ultra-violent works of The Thing and Escape from New York, but Starman is an endearing story about two people (One human, one not) who connect with each other on a spiritual level. It doesn’t devolve into standard genre fare. It evolves into something that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Seriously, John Carpenter did this. Amazing.
Thanks for reading through these! Check back here on Thursday for the second half of this two-part look at the best space adventure movies. If you disagree (Yeah, I put Space Jam above Avatar) or just want to compliment me on my list-making skills, hit the comment board to start a discussion. Remember, live long and prosper.