One small step for man, no giant leap of imagination for directors. From as early as 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey directors have been obsessed with the concept of space and mankind travelling to the vast unknown, usually with disastrous consequences for those involved. Flirting with the possibility of man reaching stars light years away has been imagined by the likes of Stanley Kubrick to Christopher Nolan, all offering a glimmer of hope for humanity beyond the limited time we are told we have on Earth. Since 2013’s Gravity there has been a standard ‘space movie of the year’ which is adored by critics and almost certain to gross about half a billion dollars at the box office as word of mouth spreads about how it ‘needs to be watched in cinema for the experience’. Gravity is indeed the definition of a film that needs to be experienced on a massive IMAX screen to appreciate the beautiful visuals and breath-taking 10 minute long-shot that opens the film. Having originally watched Gravity on a small screen, it is possible to appreciate how majestic it would look in cinemas but it also feels like squinting at a Muse concert in the distance from your bedroom window.
Last year, the space epic was delivered by none other than director extraordinaire Christopher Nolan, of The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception fame, in the mind bending and “Murph!” heavy Interstellar. Nolan, as per usual, served up a story so complex it demands at least three viewings with a notepad and pen at the ready, but with strong performances and a gritty take on an age old genre, he breathed life into the dusty space epic. While the jury is still out regarding the ending, which some thought was anti-climactic, it’s undeniably a good watch, impressively being a different beast to the previous year’s Gravity. This year is no different with the Interstellar sized void being filled with The Martian, the Matt Damon vehicle, who also appeared ironically in a very different role in Interstellar. The film by Ridley Scott, who is no stranger to the space genre after giving audiences Alien and Blade Runner, which have since become milestones in cinema, sees Matt Damon’s character stranded on Mars and left for dead after a bit of a misunderstanding.
As seen in the aforementioned films there is a clear formula at work; a team/person conducting beneficial research for humanity is stranded in space/a remote planet with little hope of returning home and against all odds they miraculously survive and return home to a hero’s welcome. While The Martian conforms to this winning Hollywood formula, it takes itself a lot less seriously, with Matt Damon performing some cringe worthy dad dancing to ‘Hot Stuff’ in order to stave off boredom, and comic relief provided predominately by Donald Glover’s boy wonder scientist. This film, while simple in plot, marks a return to form for Matt Damon and Ridley Scott, in light of some of their more recent films, while also proving not all space disaster epics have to be broody and humourless.
As well as these more recent examples, it would be criminal to not give a mention to Apollo 13, which has allowed this recent genre to exist. Taking a look at the 90’s classic, it is obvious to see a clear template which other film-makers have attempted to copy or at least abide by. Looking ahead to 2016 it is already possible to locate the next sci-fi disaster romp which will feature Hollywood darlings Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, surely a match made in heaven if the box office and general Zeitgeist is to be believed. The film named Passengers focuses on a single passenger on a spaceship travelling to a distant colony who wakes up 60 years too early and scared of dying old and alone, wakes another unfortunate passenger. This certainly sounds like a different spin on a formula which could become very stale, very soon, and will probably make critics fall head over heels with praise, while grossing over $500 million at the box office. Here’s hoping it’s at least half as good as its brothers and sisters on this list.