The Best and the Worst (Serious) Films About Space Travel and Mars

01
of 11

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The Best!

Let's get this one out of the way first.  When you've got a Top 10 list about space travel and astronaut movies, it's almost a rule that somewhere on your list, you have to include 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Kubrick's master work, released in 1968, was so far ahead of its time, and set the design for so much of how the future would feel, that it's really the base genetic code of every other space move to follow in its footsteps.  Although the actual movie has both brilliant moments and "what the hell?" moments, its historical prestige deserves it an honorary spot on the "Best" list.

02
of 11

Interstellar (2014)

The Worst!

I know I'm in the minority camp for not liking this film, but for a movie that portends to be a mature example of space drama, it sure plays with a lot of contrivances of the sort that you find in stupid action movies:  Like astronauts explaining the worm hole to each other while they're in the spaceship about to approach the worm hole.  Come on, that sort of dumbing down the moment for the audience is distracting.  Just as is the inexplicable choices that Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) makes throughout the film:  A good-bye of about 10 seconds with his son, a departure to fly off into space just hours after he arrives home, and a whole thirty seconds of time spent with his daughter in the future, after a lifetime of missing her, before running off.  And that whole ending of an infinity time loop in the bedroom is just a gimmick too far for this fanboy.  (Here's more examples of what I didn't like about the film.)

03
of 11

Mission to Mars (2000)

The Worst!

This 2000 film has been utterly and wholly forgotten by society.  Directed by Brian DePalma and starring Tim Robbins and a few other B-level actors, it involves, like The Martian, astronauts in peril on the surface of Mars, but it makes the fatal mistake of believing that "only" a rescue mission could not sustain audiences and necessarily includes a second half which involves:  The secret truth of Mars, the original seeding of planet Earth, alien life, and cosmic transcendence.  Add in awful dialogue and a film where nothing quite connects and you understand why this film has been entirely and wholly forgotten.

04
of 11

Red Planet (2000)

The Worst!

Another forgotten Mars movie.  This one involves astronauts investigating a colony on Mars that has gone to radio silence.  There's the out of control robot that's supposed to assist the astronauts.  And there's an alien parasite lifeforms.  Oh yes!  And a crew of actors that never gel or seem as if they're a real crew at all.  Sort of a horror movie, sort of not.  Most definitely a mess.  Stars Val Kilmer.

05
of 11

Gravity (2013)

The Best!

Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity featured the sort of light speed leap forward in special effects that a film only delivers a few times in a lifetime.  This simple story of astronauts in peril outside of the space station was captivating and riveting, one of the few experiences watching a movie where you entirely forget where your physical body is and are entirely transported into the show.  

06
of 11

Solaris (2002)

The Best!

This 2002 Steven Soderbergh film, also starring Clooney, is an under-appreciated gem.  (Though a very creepy, disturbing gem.)  Clooney, a psychologist, arrives at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to investigate the reason the crew does not want to leave.  The reason soon becomes clear to him as he begins seeing (and interacting) with apparitions of his dead wife.  The planet seemingly brings to life people's memories of their dead loved ones.  The film is a space drama, but it's more simply a setting for a film about love, loss, grief, regret, and the desire for a second chance.  This is not a film with a happy ending, or easy solutions, but it is a good film.

07
of 11

The Martian (2015)

 The Best!

This Matt Damon film about a botanist stranded on Mars and forced to "science" his way to survival is a visually compelling, dramatically fascinating feast of entertainment.  Though strangely, the film decided to dial down the potential drama that could have been yielded had they spent even a few moments dedicated to the protagonist's personal relationships back home on planet Earth.  (Read my review here.)

08
of 11

Sunshine

The Best! 

This Danny Boyle film has its faults, but its merits outweigh them.  Faced with a dying star, a team of astronauts is on a mission to re-ignite the son with a nuclear payload.  The film is at is best when it plays up the spiritual implications of the sun, the giver of life, and the almost religious effects that their journey has on the crew.  Its as it worst at the end when it devolves into a serial killer stalker the ship story, but even this part is done so artfully that I had to forgive it.

09
of 11

Alien

14752_aliens.jpg
Aliens.

The Best!

This list is supposed to be for "serious" films, but does that mean Alien is excluded?  Part of our War Movie Enemies list, hostile alien forces have never been better realised than as the lead antagonist in the film series Alien.  The legacy of this film is that it's perhaps the best film to feature the empty void of space as horrific...where no one can hear you scream.  (Click here for the Best and Worst Sci-Fi War Films.)

10
of 11

Moon (2009)

The Best!

Sam Rockwell stars, as pretty much the only actor in this film, about an astronaut alone at a lunar station, about to end his rotation and head back to Earth when he starts to go crazy.  The filmmakers made fantastic sets with very little money.  Moon is an adept and interesting film about the psychological toll of isolation.  And, of course, there is a twist to the film that nothing is quite what you think it is.

11
of 11

Total Recall

The Worst!

Back when Arnold still had a career, Total Recall was one of his big hit films.  This is certainly not a serious space film, but it does feature Mars.  And in the 1990s, it seemed a glorious and exciting vision of Mars, at least to this teenage kid.  A more recent viewing though showed it as existing of sitcom television quality sets and bad alien make-up.  Oh yes, and lots of Arnold silliness.  One of the first films to really spend any time on Mars and this first vision of Mars was not good.