What was your favorite space movie as a kid? Don’t think about it. I want the first one that pops into your head.
Walk into any strip-mall video store in the 1980s or 90s and you’d be met with a plethora of options. We were obsessed with exploring and conquering the vastness of our universe and defeating the alien invaders that sought to wipe the earth of the human race. There are people with advanced degrees that can speak to the political and cultural arguments these movies invoke and I’m not one of them. I’m just here to share gifs, a fun fact or two, and take you on a stroll down memory lane.
10 Childhood Space Movies Millennials Know & Love
In no particular order, here are 10 childhood space movies featuring aliens, astronauts, rockets, and the galaxies beyond.
ET the Extraterrestrial, 1982
OK. I know I just said "no particular order," but starting with anything else just feels wrong. This Reese's Pieces-loving creature is enshrined in the hearts and memories of an entire generation of movie lovers.
Two 90s icons, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Juliette Lewis, auditioned for the role of Gertie, famously played by a precocious Drew Barrymore. Lewis's father reportedly made her turn it down.
Star Wars (the original trilogy), 1977; 1980; 1983
I can’t write a list of space movies without including the original Star Wars trilogy. I’d lose my nerd card for sure. I won’t pick just one, lest I anger the Star Wars fandom.
Spoiler alert: Darth Vader is Luke and Leia's father. When George Lucas was developing Return of the Jedi he considered having Luke turn to the dark side and take on the mantle of Darth Vader. Thankfully, that idea got scrapped, but, unfortunately, some good ideas were cut, too. Scenes depicting female Rebel Alliance fighter pilots were also nixed from the final cut.
Some of us didn’t grow up on Star Wars and had to watch all three trilogies in our late 30s (I'm some of us). Some of us instead had our lives shaped by Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. How could we not with a cast of comic legends like Joan Rivers (RIP), John Candy (RIP), Rick Moranis, and Michael Winslow?
A cast of improv greats is going to include a ton of off-the-cuff comedy. Rick Moranis improvised the entire scene in which Dark Helmet plays with his dolls. Mel Brooks came up with the idea on set. When John Candy tried standing up without undoing his seatbelt, his ad-libbed line, "Oh, that's gonna leave a mark," was born.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977
If you’re of a certain age, the melody from this movie is seared into your brain as a core memory. I don’t remember anything else from this movie except this scene.
Steven Spielberg almost didn't cast Richard Dreyfuss as Roy because he thought Dreyfuss was too young for the role. Dreyfuss' child-like characteristics worked in his favor, however, and Spielberg cast him in the part.
Flight of the Navigator, 1986
Much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I don’t remember much about Flight of the Navigator. I remember loving it and being absolutely in awe of it. It was one of those movies I remember watching any time it was on TV.
Back to the Future nerds may spot the flux capacitor symbol etched on a tile in the NASA hanger. The original time travel movie, Back to the Future was released the previous year.
Independence Day, 1996
Independence Day definitely hits different for millennials of a certain age. Will Smith was at the top of his career, Jeff Goldblum just saved the world from dinosaurs and now he’s taking on aliens. The special effects were expensive and flashy. Whatta time.
Back in my day, even big blockbuster action films used miniature models. Independence Day holds the most miniature model work to appear in one film and likely more than any two films combined. Since since we do everything with computers now, it's unlikely this record will ever be broken.
In a genre dominated by male heroes, Aliens brought us Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and all her glory. I'll let the gif speak for itself.
Sigourney Weaver made history when she was the first actress in an action or sci-fi movie nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.
Armageddon is less a space movie and more a highlight reel of the hottest celebrities of the 90s. Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Owen Wilson, just to name a few. And we can’t forget how Liv Tyler made the jump from music videos to blockbuster action movies.
Michael Bay left so many errors in this movie just for the entertainment value that NASA shows the film during their management training program. New managers can spot up to 168 errors.
Apollo 13, 1995
Aliens and space monsters are scary, sure. But knowing that very real people experienced the terrifying events of the Apollo 13 mission just makes this movie give all the hurty-feels.
To simulate zero gravity, the cast and crew did more than 600 parabolic arcs in NASA's KC-135 airplane with each arc giving them 20 seconds of weightlessness. Nicknamed the Vomit Comet, Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon all report not succumbing to the craft's nickname. The crew on the other hand... well, that went about as well as you could expect.
Toy Story, 1995
If you’re wondering why I put Toy Story on this list of space movies, I’m going to refer you to this episode (Unlock 5 Fascinating Secrets of the New Artemis II Mission) for the answer. But, Toy Story is a movie about a toy based on a character from an in-universe space movie, so if you just Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-it then it totally counts.
Early scripts featured Barbie as Woody's love interest, but Mattel wouldn't agree to feature the doll because they thought the movie would fail. Mattel shamelessly jumped on board for the second movie after the success of the first.
Obviously, this list is only a handful of examples from a genre that spans more than half a century. If this post unlocked some memories for you, rocket-launch yourself over to our social media channels and tell us about it.
May the force be with you.