With First Man opening this weekend, we get a new film from Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) and a new entry in films about American astronauts. For those of us who grew up during the era of NASA space missions and remember the excitement of every new photograph from space, we feel excited when a new movie returns to those glory days, those days where the lofty goal of reaching the moon seemed crazy but possible. First Man, which tells the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, may get you excited for other movies and shows about astronauts.
The Right Stuff (1983): One of the first films that looked back at those early astronauts, The Right Stuff script had great source material with Tom Wolfe’s book. Focusing on the early days of NASA and the Mercury missions, the movie often played the entire venture for laughs, with its frustrated bureaucrats, overly competitive test pilots, their resigned wives and the pressure of catching up to the Soviet Union, which was always a step ahead. Directed by Philip Kaufman, it starred Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager, the man who first broke the sound barrier; Randy Quaid, Ed Harris and Scott Glenn as Mercury astronauts; and Pamela Reed, Veronica Cartwright and Mary Jo Deschanel as wives. Nominated for an Oscar, The Right Stuff set a standard for movies bringing those true stories about astronauts to the big screen.
Apollo 13 (1995): With its focus on one moon mission, Apollo 13 also finds heroes in the people who stayed on Earth and supported each moon mission. Directed by Ron Howard, this film stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris and Gary Sinise, and gives us the Apollo 13 astronauts who suddenly have a disabled spacecraft as they travel to the moon. Watching them handle each new emergency and seeing how the people in mission control solve each problem makes Apollo 13 an inspiring and thrilling film.
From the Earth to the Moon (1998): HBO’s mini-series may not be easy to find now, but this look at the Apollo mission was produced by Tom Hanks, another person who grew up excited about NASA’s manned missions. From the early days after Sputnik to the dramatization of each Apollo mission, every episode offers an interesting take on what it felt like to be part of the space program. There’s even an episode that focuses on the wives.
In the Shadow of the Moon (2007): Using archival footage and interviews, this 2007 documentary brings us stories about what it felt like to be in space and walk on the moon from the astronauts themselves . It’s currently on Amazon and is free for Prime users.