By now, the space shuttle Atlantis is docked and the astronauts have hung up their space suits for the last time. The space race is finally finished, 20 years after the Cold War ended (some say the space race ended in 1975, but a new poll suggests attitudes haven't really changed since).
It would be easy for us to just write off the last 60 years as misguided, macho battle with our Communist rivals that was fought out on chalkboards and in labs. But we are all earthlings, and we have had a fascination with the cosmos since time began. We see it throughout history with (Galileo). We see it in literature (H.G. Wells). We see it in art (Vincent van Gogh). We even hear it in children's songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." My point is, we, as human beings, love space. We are and always have been intrigued by its breadth, its mystery and its beauty, and the end of the shuttle program will not change that.
As the shuttle program advanced, though, so did films about space and the space program, meaning we could look at the cosmos in a whole new way. The special effects made for entertaining spectacle, while the darkness, unknowability and sheer size of the universe made great metaphors for life, spirituality and our own inquisitive nature.
Here are five of our favorite films about space.
5. October Sky
Ironically, none of this movie actually takes place in space, but space has an unseen, ghostlike presence. From the moment Homer sees Sputnik race across the night sky, space is in every single scene.
4. Apollo 13
Though Ron Howard's film gets kudos for depicting the terror and the heroism that took place during the ill-fated mission, it also gets props for setting up the time and place for us. Turns out they still used slide rules in 1970.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
With its dreamlike space sequences and terrifying bone-smashing apes, this movie remains a classic. When we realize the entire film comprises a tiny speck on the evolutionary timeline, we have never felt so small or insignificant. Kind of like when we look up at the stars.
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Space is de-romanticized in this 2009 film (in which Sam Rockwell, the sole on-camera actor, gives a mind-blowing performance), which uses it as a metaphor for isolation and loneliness.
1. The Right Stuff
This movie has it all: Bar-hopping astronauts, the best Lyndon Johnson impersonation ever, and a damn great chronicle of the early days of the space program that's as funny as it is tragic.