What’s the Most Realistic Movie About Space? Here’s What 8 Movies Got Right—and Wrong


This 12 months marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the historic mission throughout which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin grew to become the primary people to land and walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. There are few occasions in American historical past that epitomize the intrigue and attract of area exploration as a lot as Apollo 11, a pivotal second on the peak of the area race that showcased the distinctive place the cosmos maintain in each our imaginations and tradition.

So maybe it ought to come as no shock that within the 5 a long time for the reason that mission came about, area journey has been an integral supply of inspiration for tales on the silver display. Whereas lots of the films take artistic liberties with actuality, veering into fantasies of the numerous unknowns of area, others have sought to painting the truth of what we all know of area to this point.

With that in thoughts, right here’s a take a look at eight of essentially the most real looking movies about area and the way they stack as much as actual life, as defined by NASA planetary scientist Rick Elphic.

Warning: Incorporates spoilers.

The Proper Stuff (1983)

Plot fundamentals: The movie adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s nonfiction novel of the identical title, The Proper Stuff particulars the origins of America’s first area program, Undertaking Mercury, which started with testing high-speed rocket plane after World Conflict II at an Air Power base in Southern California. It additionally options the choice of the primary American astronauts, generally known as the Mercury Seven.

Director: Philip Kaufman

Notable forged members: Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, and Barbara Hershey

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: Though it’s based mostly on Wolfe’s New Journalism masterpiece, Elphic says The Proper Stuff was extra rooted in a heroic narrative than historic accuracy.

“It was a fun book and a fun movie but beyond that, it really wasn’t telling a story about facts as much as it was telling a myth in some ways,” he says. “It was actually sort of just like the Illiad and Odyssey with legendary characters and from that standpoint, it wasn’t describing issues actually very precisely.”

Apollo 13 (1995)

Plot fundamentals: A dramatic re-telling of the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission, based mostly on the guide Misplaced Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by astronaut Jim Lovell, who was on board the spacecraft, and TIME editor-at-large, Jeffrey Kluger. Within the movie, Lovell and fellow astronauts Jack Swigert and Fred Haise are on Apollo 13 for the U.S.’ third moon touchdown mission. Nevertheless, after an explosion results in the spacecraft shedding most of its oxygen and energy, the mission is aborted, leaving the problem of getting the three males aboard house safely.

Director: Ron Howard

Notable forged members: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Invoice Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: Of all of the area movies within the canon, Elphic posits that Apollo 13 may be some of the correct, particularly when it got here to the science of area journey.

“The technical details of zero G and the actual explosion on the spacecraft that took place and took out the service module was very realistic,” he says. “I believed that it captured realism within the flight; I don’t assume it went to extremes like some movies do … to make it extra dramatic, as a result of I feel the flight was dramatic sufficient within the first place. I give Apollo 13 excessive marks for not solely drama and a very good storytelling endeavor, however the results and the accuracy.”

Contact (1997)

Plot fundamentals: Primarily based on the science-fiction novel by astronomer Carl Sagan, Contact facilities on the story of real-life astronomer Dr. Eleanor Arroway, who makes use of radio indicators to search out proof of extraterrestrial life, earlier than being chosen to make first contact.

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Notable forged members: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: Whereas some would possibly scoff on the premise of a movie in regards to the existence of extraterrestrials, a few of the film’s parts could possibly be thought of real looking.

“I suppose it’s plausible that you would have a radio contact initiated with an extraterrestrial civilization and that eventually you’d build up communication to the point that you could transmit plans back and forth,” Elphic says. However he provides that the portrayal of Dr. Arroway’s journey throughout the movie may not be as correct. “As for her travel to wherever it is she went, it was clearly physics that we really can’t describe right now, Hollywood physics, not ours — but it made for a really good story.”

Gravity (2013)

Plot fundamentals: Two American astronauts try and return to Earth after their shuttle is destroyed.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Notable forged members: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: Whereas Elphic admired the physics offered in Gravity, he did take concern with one of many film’s foremost plot factors: Sandra Bullock’s character touring to the close by Chinese language area station to try to return to Earth.

“The one thing that stood out to me as being highly unlikely is Sandra Bullock’s character is able to change orbits drastically from the shuttle’s orbit to that Chinese space station,” says Elphic. “It takes a lot of propulsion to change your orbit plane and your orbit altitude and that’s just not something you’re going to have in a [spacesuit] like what she was wearing. That part of it is not only far-fetched, but I would venture to say is impossible.”

Interstellar (2014)

Plot fundamentals: Interstellar portrays a future through which the Earth is almost uninhabitable due to a worldwide crop blight and a second Mud Bowl. A NASA physicist makes an attempt to avoid wasting mankind by making a wormhole that humankind can journey by way of to get someplace extra hospitable, however NASA researchers should first journey by way of the wormhole to resolve which planet shall be their new house.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Notable forged members: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Michael Caine

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: Whereas a lot of the physics in Interstellar are pretty correct, Elphic had points with the touring and the wormholes.

“I had a tough time understanding what Interstellar was attempting to point out us as a result of they weren’t solely touring in area however in time, forwards and backwards as nicely,” says Elphic. “One of many issues that I used to be questioning with that film is that when you’re going to be someplace within the neighborhood of a black gap, you’re coping with numerous radiation from the black gap setting, a lot in order that it will kill you in a matter of minutes, however that may make for a fairly abrupt finish of a film, so I suppose they couldn’t try this.

“Black holes are also notorious for ripping things like stars apart so the tidal forces that you see in the vicinity of a black hole; that’s not going to be a place where a space craft could survive,” he provides.

The Martian (2015)

Plot fundamentals: After an astronaut is left behind on Mars, he rallies to outlive with restricted sources whereas scientists and his crew work to discover a technique to carry him again to Earth.

Director: Ridley Scott

Notable forged members: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: When it got here to representing Mars, there have been each real looking and unbelievable parts of the movie. Elphic, who praised The Martian as a “rollicking space flick,” mentioned that the film’s illustration of the floor of Mars was correct, though he took concern with its therapy of the weather.

“The only issue I had is that the atmosphere on Mars is pretty thin, and even if you had 100 mile-an-hour winds blowing, the force that those winds exert on anything we make, like a spacecraft or a habitat, are going to be really, really small forces,” Elphic says. “So you’re not going to be threatening to push over an ascent vehicle or anything like that with a Martian wind. The dust storm and the high winds were the main thing that introduced the whole story and you don’t have a story without that, but the reality of that is going to be a little bit different.”

Elphic additionally identified that the collection of errors that occurred to Matt Damon’s character would have most likely resulted in an aborted mission in actual life.

“One aspect that kind of had me shaking my head was that in space flight, you have to prepare for things to go wrong, and you can even prepare for a couple of things to go wrong in sequence and deal with that,” he says. “Usually beyond that, it’s the end of the mission. Since Matt Damon’s character had to deal with half-a-dozen failures all along the way, the likelihood of him making it through that was pretty much vanishingly small, but then you don’t have much of a story. There’s this disconnect between a good story and actual space flight.”

Hidden Figures (2016)

Plot fundamentals: Primarily based on the nonfiction novel of the identical title by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures focuses on three black feminine mathematicians (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson) who labored at NASA throughout the area race, taking part in a significant position in Project Mercury and different missions.

Director: Theodore Melfi

Notable forged members: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: The movie’s deal with the largely unacknowledged black feminine mathematicians whose laborious work as “human computers” made America’s area journey potential does justice to their heroic real-life counterparts who made the Mercury and Apollo missions potential. The one a part of the film that gave Elphic pause was the depiction of the mathematics.

“I wondered a little bit about the accuracy of doing real-time calculations on a blackboard for space flight, but maybe it really did happen that way,” Elphic says. “It was a story that should have been told a lot sooner about the involvement of these folks.”

First Man (2018)

Plot fundamentals: Tailored from the James R. Hansen biography of the identical title, First Man focuses on the life and experiences of astronaut Neil Armstrong, who grew to become the primary man to stroll on the moon throughout the historic Apollo 11 space mission.

Director: Damien Chazelle

Notable forged members: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

What the film will get incorrect and what it will get proper: With regards to accuracy, First Man stayed true to the weather of the actual Apollo 11 mission. One main issue that helped maintain the film real looking? It was probably aided by the precise footage from the mission, one thing that Elphic mentioned is fascinating to observe side-by-side.

“One of many cool issues about First Man is you can really go and discover on YouTube, touchdown footage of Apollo 11, and evaluate it to what they present within the film and I feel it’s fairly correct,” he says. “I don’t think they tried to be overly dramatic with that and they tried to represent what it was really like and they did that really well.”

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.


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