In honour of Neil Armstrong’s passing, we thought we’d knock our heads together to make a definitive list of the finest moon-related films in existence. So grab your popcorn (or perhaps cheese would be more appropriate) and land one of these on your Blu-ray player.
A creepy, gripping space oddity (appropriate given that it’s directed by David Bowie’s son), Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a man contracted to work at a lunar base for three years. Except for friendly robot GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), he’s all alone up there. Or is he? Beautifully directed and acted, with a gripping score, this is surprisingly intelligent and affecting film.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Possibly the best-known and most highly-regarded science fiction movie of all time, Kubrick’s masterpiece isn’t specifically about the moon, but it does loom large in the plot as the site of mankind’s discovery of a mysterious black monolith – last seen on Earth during the evolution of primal humanity. This monolith, presumably placed there by extraterrestrials, is transmitting a radio signal to Jupiter, and thus sparks off the mission that makes up the bulk of the film.
In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
A British-made documentary about NASA’s manned missions to the moon, ITSOTM features beautiful archive footage (lovingly restored in high definition) and no commentary – simply letting the images, the footage and interviews with surviving astronauts tell the stories. Neil Armstrong, sadly, declined to take part, but this remains one of the definitive and most moving of all records of the Apollo missions.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
A be-wigged Sean Connery’s return as Bond (after George Lazenby briefly assumed the mantle - the less said the better) is riotously campy and silly – few scenes more so than when Bond stumbles across a film set being used for fake moon landing footage, evades the slow-moving “astronauts” and makes off into the Nevada desert in a surprisingly speedy moon buggy.
The First Men in the Moon (2010)
Written by and starring The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss, this BBC adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel concerns a mission to the moon 60 years before Apollo 11, in which a pair of British oddballs use an anti-gravity substance to fly into space. But when they arrive on the lunar surface, they discover that there’s already something there…
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Georges Méliès’ 14-minute film is the first science fiction movie ever made, and at its time exceptionally advanced in terms of its special effects and use of animation. Based very loosely on works by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells (yes, The First Men in the Moon again), it was not available in its complete form until 2002, when the ending sequence was discovered in a French barn; you can catch the newly-restored version on the 2012 Blu-ray release.
Transformers 3: The Dark of the Moon (2011)
Yes, the Transformers trilogy is often held up as an example of the worst excesses of modern Hollywood filmmaking, but there’s no denying that the moon looms large in Michael Bay’s third outing, in which the dark side of the heavenly body conceals a mysterious Cybertronian spacecraft. Also features a cameo from none other than Buzz Aldrin… as himself, which actually makes it a worthy addition to the list.
A Grand Day Out (1989)
Wallace and Gromit’s first adventure propelled the pair into the hearts of millions – and onto the moon in a homemade rocket. Which, as we all know, is the best place to go if you run out of cheese and need to restock. The 23-minute film was nominated for an Oscar, only to lose out to Creature Comforts, another film made by the same Nick Park-led Aardman Animations team.
From the Earth to the Moon (1958)
Based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name (which also inspired A Trip to the Moon), this Technicolor romp, set just after the end of the American Civil War, concerns a munitions expert that invents the most powerful explosive of all time – in other words, the perfect propellent for a rocket to the Moon. Sadly (and somewhat hilariously), a slashing of the budget due to studio RKO’s collapse led to all the scenes taking place on the moon being cut.
Apollo 13 (1995)
“Houston, we have a problem,” says Tom Hanks in one of the the biggest understatements in movie history. Apollo 13 is the true story of the lunar mission that never landed on the moon, but had to abort and return to Earth after an oxygen tank exploded. The zero gravity scenes were filmed aboard a “Vomit Comet” plane performing parabolic arcs to achieve genuine weightlessness – and the cast and crew had to go through over 500 of them. Having been through a Comet flight myself... that's a LOT.
A young Joaquin Phoenix is among the group of kids who, when attending NASA’s summer space camp, mistakenly launch themselves into space with the help of a sentient robot. Stop tittering at the back: it could happen to anyone. Released in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster, this film would have struggled even if it had been good – but it’s far from a classic.
Magnificent Desolation (2005)
3D is now commonplace in cinemas, but back in 2005 it was a rarity, and this film – named after Buzz Aldrin’s description of the lunar landscape – was both 3D and designed for IMAX theatres. With Tom Hanks as writer and producer, it’s a documentary about NASA’s moon missions that uses both actual footage and CGI, plus a star-studded voice cast to tell its compelling stories.