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©2018 Reaching Space Science. 

Space in TV and Film

September 18, 2018

Screenshot of the characters of the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).


The film and television industries have produced some of its most influential works with topics and settings involving space. Perhaps most obviously, the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises have held a significant cultural impact on society. Set in galaxies “far, far away”, these sagas have each drawn public curiosity in possible future technologies of spaceflight. Early films such as the 1968 science fiction feature 2001: A Space Odyssey encouraged futuristic thinking by its audiences about the capabilities of spaceflight and widespread human presence in space. The film was based on a screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick and was released with Clarke’s science fiction novel of the same name after the film’s debut. Clarke is still remembered as an important pioneer in popularizing space travel and futuristic thinking. Shortly thereafter, 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial helped to develop general wonderment about the possibility of other alien life forms. These early pioneers in the film industry helped to inspire future works.


Theatrical poster for 2009's Avatar (20th Century Fox)


Many of the most successful films of the past decade were set in space-related environments beyond Earth. A strong example of this is the highest-grossing film of all time, 2009’s Avatar, in which humans are colonizing a distant moon in another galaxy and features other alien life forms. Drawing interest from younger audiences was the 2008 Pixar film Wall-E. The robot’s tale on a large spaceship showed a possible future in which the Earth is no longer cared for and of the effects of our dependence to technology. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the 2013 hit Gravity grossed over $720 million USD around the world by telling a story of survival after a crew’s space station is destroyed. The visual effects showing the view of the Earth from space captivated audiences by giving a glimpse of what sights astronauts are fortunate to experience. The movie’s release in the United States also took place during World Space Week. Black holes and wormholes were featured in the successful 2014 film Interstellar, in which a crew travels through a wormhole to search for other habitable planets once Earth’s resources have run out. Grossing over $675 million USD worldwide, this film tackled challenging physics concepts including gravitational singularities, time travel and added dimensions.


The popular 2015 film The Martian tells the story of NASA astronaut Mark Watney who is accidentally abandoned on Mars and was produced with help from scientists and space industry representatives, including NASA staff. The space agency also participated in marketing efforts for the film by having a screening of the movie on the International Space Station shortly after its release to theatres. The film made more than $600 million USD worldwide and helped grow public interest and excitement for human missions to Mars in the coming decades.


Most recently, the highly acclaimed 2017 film Hidden Figures highlighted the important work of black female pioneers at NASA in the 1960’s and is regarded as an inspirational film for young girls aiming to pursue technical and scientific fields. Many organizations have used the film’s release to improve youth awareness about opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


Other popular examples of films that have hosted storylines in space include The Avengers films, those of the Alien franchise, Apollo 13 (1995), Planet of the Apes (1968), Space Jam (1996) and Independence Day (1996).


In August 2018, the movie First Man premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will be released in theatres worldwide in Fall 2018. The film stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, based on the book by James R. Hansen called First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.


Theatrical posters for the space-themed films The Martian (2015), Interstellar (2014) and Hidden Figures (2017).






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