Choosing my top 5 films set in outer space was difficult. Especially knowing that hardcore sci-fi film fans will find it deplorable that I am omitting beloved classics such as; The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Prometheus. However the films I’ve chosen are all set in outer space (and on other planets) and they show how completely different films which take place in space can all be equally superb to watch.
Originally made by the Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky, this 2002 remake was directed by Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11, Out of Sight). George Clooney plays a psychologist called Chris Kelvin who is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. With nearly all of the crew dead or missing the mysterious events taking place seem to affect Kelvin as well. This psychological drama doesn’t contain intergalactic fight scenes and a good guy versus a bad guy; instead there are pensive moments and Kelvin dealing with loss, grief and his perception of reality. There is a certain amount of restraint and minimalism that Soderbergh uses throughout the film (muted and clean set pieces and minimal dialogue) that stay true to the original and make this a worthwhile film to watch.
Paul Verhoeven’s over the top vision of Philip K Dicks short story We Can Only Remember It for You Wholesale still remains a favourite for sci-fi lovers and Arnold Schwarzenegger fans. Set on Mars this film is full of the typical Arnie one liners and violence that make you squirm at times. Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid a construction worker whose visit to a memory implant service goes pear; shaped and he has no idea whether his memories are real or implanted. Total Recall may not have the finesse of Solaris but that doesn’t make it less enjoyable.
Pitch Black was not only the film that introduced us to Vin Diesel but it was also proved that low budget science fiction films could be as gripping and entertaining as the big studio films. Vin Diesel stars as a mercenary called Riddick who is an anti-hero. As a convict on his way to prison, Riddick and a group of passengers find themselves stranded on a seemingly desolate planet after their ship crashes. Unfortunately the planet they are on is about to undergo a four week eclipse, which doesn‘t bode well for their chances of survival. With an interesting script and action packed scenes it is no surprise that this film became a cult classic.
It was a toss-up between Ridley Scott’s atmospheric sci-fi horror and James Cameron’s action packed sequel. In this case I decided to go with the original film. We all know what Alien is about and how it set the benchmark for the science fiction genre, but the reason why Scott’s film is a classic is that it begins at a steady and calm pace which changes as you are introduced to this xenomorph that starts killing the crew members one by one. This film has a perfect balance of meditative scenes like 2001 or Solaris yet it is as scary as horror films like Halloween.
A team of the world’s elite in their specific fields are sent into space on a mission to re-ignite the dying sun. That is until they get side-tracked by the discovery of the spacecraft which failed to complete the same mission years earlier. There may be a few similarities to Alien throughout the film but this was a conscious decision Danny Boyle wanted to take when venturing into the sci-fi genre. While paying homage to Ridley Scott, Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick, Danny Boyle is able to create his own world of intense claustrophobia and fear. The drama surrounding doomed crew of the Icarus I and earth’s possible extinction make the similarities to other science fiction films irrelevant because it doesn’t stop Sunshine from being one of the best films set in space in a long time.