Special Report

The Best Movies About Outer Space of All Time

“Space. The final frontier.” So said Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” television series. For explorers like Kirk and also for movie directors, space is a frontier of limitless possibilities. Because no one knows exactly what is out there in the dark, starry night, screenwriters and directors can let their imaginations run wild.

In outer space films, no plot is too outlandish because who can say whatever story the director and screenwriter hatches up is true or not? Crime stories and historical dramas must be rooted in some semblance of reality, but sci-fi features aren’t bound by such restrictions. The scenarios and costumes can be as far out as the earth to Mars.

With advances in special effects technology, movie makers possess another tool in portraying their fictional outer space worlds in vivid detail. And moviegoers enjoy a trip into fantastic, unknown realms from the safety of their seats.

To determine the best movies of all time about outer space — or the creatures who came from there — 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, current as of October 2021. All ratings were weighted equally. Only movies tagged with the keyword “outer space” on IMDb were considered, though not all actually take place or have scenes set on other planets or in other galaxies.

The films on this list are diverse. Of course, “bad-aliens” action movies like “Independence Day” and “Alien” figure prominently. But not all creatures from outer space are bad, as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” reassuringly tell us.

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Some outer space movies take a comedic tact, like “Spaceballs” and “Men in Black.” Others are based on real-life stories. “Apollo 13” traces an aborted mission to the moon, and “The Right Stuff” follows a group of test pilots who later become the first astronauts. (For more on real-life space adventures, see the 26 biggest milestones in the space race.)

Although sci-fi movies may sometimes be dismissed as pure fantasy, the films can tell us a lot about our current world. An animated feature set in the far future, “WALL-E” is about a space-traveling robot, yet it warns us to take better care of Earth right now. And of course no list of outer space flicks would be complete without notable entries from the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” series. (You may think you’re a fan, but can you answer these real “Jeopardy!” clues about “Star Wars?”)