Damien Chazelle’s First Man is a surefire Oscar contender, but it’s hardly the first space movie to set its sites on winning big. Take a look at our rank of every Oscar-nominated space movie since 2000.
For as long as movies have been made, filmmakers have looked to the stars and journeyed to space. French director Georges Melies, who pioneered the very medium that we know today, made his film A Trip to the Moon in 1902, a whole 116 years before Damien Chazelle’s made the same trip in his film First Man.
The history of cinema is chalk full of space movies; Ambitious art house movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, horror films like Alien, and biopics like Apollo 13.
When Star Wars premiered in 1977, it demonstrated the potential to turn space into a new frontier for action adventure films. We can still see that legacy at work today, as space movies continue to be a trademark of cineplexes every year.
With First Man now in theaters and sure to end up an Oscar nominee in just a few short months, we take a look back at all the space movies nominated for Academy Awards since 2000. Check it out!
17. ‘Space Cowboys’ (2000)
Trust me when I say there is absolutely no reason you ever need to see Clint Eastwood’s movie about four geriatric astronauts that insist on going to space one last time. This is not the rodeo you’re looking for.
16. ‘Passengers’ (2016)
Passengers was one of those movies everyone thought would be Oscar bait and it turned out to be plain bad. Somehow the movie still managed two Oscar nominations for original score and production design. Don’t let anyone tell you only good movies get nominated for Oscars!
15. ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ (2013)
14. ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ (2016)
The Star Trek sequels that followed the 2009 franchise reboot have seen diminishing returns. Into Darkness suffered from doing too much while Beyond simply didn’t do enough. Alas, both movies managed to snag Oscar nominations.
13. ‘Rogue One’ (2016)
12. ‘Attack of the Clones’ (2002)
11. ‘Revenge of the Sith'(2005)
Be it the the popularity of the franchise or the size of Disney and Lucasfilm’s advertising budget, Star Wars movies never fail to pull in a few Oscar nominations. As is the case with most movies of this scale, they’re all rather middling. They offer a few impressive set pieces, cool action sequences, and some kind of plot that’s meant to tie everything together. Something all three of these movies have in common is that they were all working towards an end already established by the original trilogy. That doesn’t stop them from pulling in a nomination or two apiece – typically for visual effects. On the other hand, the sole nomination for Revenge of the Sith was for Best Achievement in Makeup.
10. ‘Avatar’ (2009)
Do you remember Avatar? I know I saw Avatar. I know a lot of other people did too – after all, it grossed over $750 million in the United States alone. I remember I saw it. I remember being entertained. As to it’s quality, your guess is as good as mine. All I know now is that James Cameron has been saying for almost a decade that we would get a sequel to his 2009 film, but rather than actually making a movie, he’s just saying that instead of one sequel, we’re getting two, three, four, five more! Placing this squarely in the middle of the list because where the heck else am I going to put it?
9. ‘Star Trek’ (2009)
Another perfectly good movie that excels as a both an introduction to the Trekkie world for new fans and an homage for longtime fans. Helped out by some pretty great casting – Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura – Star Trek is a slick action adventure movie that entertains and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
8. ‘The Martian’ (2015)
Not unlike , Ridley Scott’s The Martian was, for a brief moment, a cultural phenomenon that raked in over $200 million. Starring Matt Damon as a scientist stranded on Mars, the movie follows him as he finds a way to survive on the planet as his crew comes back to save him. It’s a perfectly fine movie that holds up just fine, save for the fact that no one has thought about it since it came out.
7. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (2015)
Helmed by J.J. Abrams, the same guy trusted to bring the Star Trek franchise back to life, The Force Awakens marked the return of the Star Wars franchise. Less than ten years after George Lucas completed his prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens brought new characters to the forefront of the galaxy and saw the return of fan favorites like Princess Leia (now General Organa) and Han Solo.
6. ‘Interstellar’ (2014)
Christopher Nolan’s journey to space is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most ambitious movies on this list. Not only does the movie travel to space, but it also journeys through time and dimensions in a way challenges viewers in exciting ways. The movie also invests a lot of time in developing a sincere emotional landscape that transcends the vast distances that the characters travel. While not Nolan’s most popular movie, it’s certainly the one that commands the most significant scale. Incredible cinematography, a larger than life score, and commanding performances from Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway make Interstellar one of the best and most memorable movies on this list.
5. ‘Gravity’ (2013)
Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director at the Oscars for his film Gravity. The movie also took home awards for cinematography, editing, visual effects, original score, and more. Gravity is an undeniable technical marvel that also delivers a deeply human story of survival. Cuaron’s singular vision for the movie elevates the final product and makes for a visceral movie-going experience that makes outerspace feel terrifyingly real.
4. ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)
Of all the Star Wars movies nominated for Oscars, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is hands down the best of the bunch. Johnson reinvigorated the franchise by radically reorienting the direction of the story away from the Skywalker lineage and the “Chosen One” narrative. Not only does The Last Jedi complicate the boundaries between good and evil more than ever before, but it raises the dramatic stakes higher than we’ve seen the franchise go before. For the first time since the original trilogy, there’s no telling how this story might end. With the vastness of space before them, the rebels find their options dwindling – like a ship stuck in a storm, The Last Jedi turns space into a fight for survival and it’s a real accomplishment.
3. ‘Hidden Figures’ (2016)
Like all the movies ranked near the top of this list, Hidden Figures makes space real, humanizing it so it’s more than just an empty void but a place where dreams come true and hope springs anew. What’s particularly unique about Hidden Figures is that it gives a voice and a platform to those people who made going to space possible in the first place.. Sure, the protagonists in Hidden Figures – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – film never go to space themselves, but it’s only because of their hard work, dedication, and sheer brilliance that we made it to space at all.
2. ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011)
Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life isn’t exactly a space movie, but given the film’s operatic beginning that traces the beginning of the universe all the way from the big bang, it would be unfair to leave it out. In an extraordinarily bold choice (and no doubt a tedious one for some audiences), Malick leads the audience through over 30 minutes of space-scapes that slowly but surely take us forward in time. Once the movie finally reaches the the present, telling the story of one family in the 1950s, it succeeds in making the audience feel the size and scale of the universe. Whereas most space movies make space feel punishing and dangerous, Malick reminds us that it is, in fact, home.
1. ‘WALL-E’ (2008)
Pixar’s WALL-E may seem like an odd choice to take the number one spot, but it epitomizes all the reasons why we keep returning to movies in and about space. With a humble trash collecting robot as its protagonist, WALL-E knows what it’s like to be small in the universe, but shows us how much of a difference one person – or yes, one robot – can have. WALL-E is a moving story of love and companionship that advocates for environmental conservation. WALL-E may be about a robot that takes us with him to space, but all the while he reminds us what it’s like to be human.
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