In addition to the article about the best games about space exploration, we offer you a selection of the best films, in our opinion, dedicated to the first stage of space exploration, i.e. the space race between the USSR and the USA.

The space race was a rivalry between the USSR and the US in space exploration in 1957-1975. The US took the launch of the first satellite and the first Soviet cosmonaut quite painfully, so it gave 100% to catch up with the USSR. After winning the race to the moon and the failure of the Soviet lunar program, the rivalry waned. The USSR concentrated on the space station program and long-duration flights, while the United States focused on reusable shuttles and automated deep space missions.


Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

Year of release: 2022 | IMDb: 7,2

Apollo 10½ is the story of the moon landing from the point of view of a teenager, in which the boy’s own fantasies, whose father works in some minor position at NASA, are intertwined with the real events of the summer of 1969. This animated film presents a very interesting slice of that era, the mood of ordinary Americans, and the American way of life in the late 1960s.

Apollo 10½ is directed and written by Richard Linklater, known for A Scanner Darkly (2006), Fast Food Nation (2006), and Boyhood (2014). And yes, visually, Apollo 10½ resembles A Scanner Darkly.


Apollo 11

Year of release: 2019 | IMDb: 8,1

Apollo 11 is a large-scale documentary compiled exclusively from archival footage and conversations recorded during the moon mission. No interviews or eyewitness commentary, only authentic footage, including never-before-seen footage, and incredible editing by Todd Douglas Miller, which gives the viewer a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the summer of 1969 at Cape Canaveral.

The film’s production team processed 11,000 hours of archival audio, including 30-channel recordings from all the stations of the control center, made during the entire 195 hours of the lunar mission. The amount of video material is a bit more modest – only a few hundred hours.


Apollo 13

Year of release: 1995 | IMDb: 7,7

The legendary film directed by Ron Howard (Cocoon, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) and starring Tom Hanks. Dedicated to the dramatic flight of Apollo 13, the film has won numerous awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Editing and Best Sound (the film received 7 Oscar nominations in total).

With an impressive dramatization, fantastic music and sound, cool sets and visual effects, and a whole galaxy of good actors (Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris and others), this movie is worth watching.


Failure Is Not an Option

Year of release: 2003 | IMDb: 8,7

The phrase Failure Is Not an Option is attributed to NASA’s space mission director Gene Krantz. He supposedly uttered it during the very dramatic Apollo 13 mission. In fact, the writers of the movie Apollo 13. put it in the mouth of Ed Harris, who played Gene Krantz. Krantz liked the phrase so much that he chose it as the title of his own memoirs, which were published in 2000.

The History Channel documentary Failure Is Not an Option tells the story of the American space program and the most famous missions of 1957-1975 from the perspective of people who worked at Mission Control. And yes, Gene Krantz also appears in the movie.


First Man

Year of release: 2018 | IMDb: 7,3

A biographical drama directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land), based on the book by James R. Hansen “The First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong”. It is the author’s interpretation of what the first man to set foot on the moon might have felt while preparing for the mission of a lifetime.

The film is interesting not as a historical film, but as a kind of hymn to a man who was at the center of the most important events in human history. First Man is worth watching if only for the powerful performances of Ryan Gosling (Neil Armstrong) and Claire Foy (Janet Sharon, Armstrong’s wife). Plus, it has a powerful soundtrack, impressive sound and visual effects.


Hidden Figures

Year of release: 2016 | IMDb: 7,8

A biographical film based on the documentary book of the same name by writer Margot Lee Shetterly, dedicated to black women mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1950s and 60s and made a significant contribution to calculating the trajectories of spacecraft during the first manned launches of the United States.

Hidden Figures is worth watching if only for its impressive cast. The movie stars: Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, and Mahershala Ali.


I Aim at the Stars

Year of release: 1960 | IMDb: 6,3

Another title of the film I Aim at the Stars is Wernher von Braun, and it is indeed a story about the career of rocket and space technology designer Wernher von Braun, filmed at the height of the space race. The filmmakers seemed to want to understand the complex figure of von Braun by showing both his work on Nazi weapons and his fanatical obsession with space, but the audience did not appreciate it. Especially in the United Kingdom, where von Braun’s rockets killed 2,754 people and injured another 6,523.

The title of the movie comes from von Braun’s own phrase: “We aim for the stars, but sometimes we hit London.” The main role in the film is played by the famous Austrian actor Kurd Jurgens. Despite the scandals that accompanied the film’s premiere in 1960, it is a very interesting document of the era.


Mercury 13

Year of release: 2018 | IMDb: 7,0

The Netflix documentary focuses on the unofficial program of testing women pilots for fitness for space flight that took place between 1959 and 1962. The program was not supported by NASA and the US government, which caused both hearings in the US Congress and a surge in the feminist movement in the country. Due to the failure of the program, the USSR thumbed its nose at the US again, being the first to launch a woman into space in 1963.

The first American astronaut, Sally Ride, who went into space in 1983, was inspired by the women of the Mercury 13 program.

Wally Funk, one of the 13 women who participated in the program, eventually made a suborbital space flight on the New Shepard spacecraft (Blue Origin NS-16 mission) in 2021.


October Sky

Year of release: 1999 | IMDb: 7,8

October Sky is based on the first part of NASA engineer Homer Hickam’s memoir and tells the story of how a few boys from a small mining town got involved in amateur rocketry. One of those boys later joined NASA.

Like the Apollo 10½ cartoon, October Sky very accurately conveys the atmosphere that prevailed in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the widespread fascination with space and rockets, especially among teenagers.

October Sky has a very powerful cast. Young Homer Hickam was played by a very young Jake Gyllenhaal, his father by actor Chris Cooper, and Miss Riley’s teacher by actress Laura Dern.


The Right Stuff

Year of release: 1983 | IMDb: 7,8

An epic (192 minutes long) film by Philip Kaufman, based on the 1979 book of the same name by Tom Wolfe, about the US test pilots who were selected to participate in the first manned space flights, the legendary Mercury Seven.

The Right Stuff failed at the box office, but was nominated for eight Oscars, four of which it won for editing, sound, music and sound editing. In 2013, the film was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

In 2020, the same book was adapted by National Geographic and Disney+ as a limited series The Right Stuff. We think the original movie is better.