Top Space Movies, Part 3

Star Trek (2009) / Director: J.J. Abrams / Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Chris Hemsworth, Leonard Nimoy

Hot-blooded James T. Kirk tries is called upon to live up to his father’s legacy while teaming with cool Mr. Spock and other crew members to stop a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan from destroying the Federation one planet at a time. A great re-introduction of the franchise.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Wrath of Khan has been called Moby Dick in space, with Khan stealing a starship to avenge his wife, whom Captain Kirk apparently abandoned to her death years before. This installment is still the favorite of many hardcore Trekkies because of its sophisticated use of plot, character, spectacle, and drama. (Fantasy Island’s Ricardo Montalban as a villain? Who knew?)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Leslie Nielsen plays the commander of the C-57D, in this reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (the faraway planet standing in for the Bard’s island of oddities). Nielsen is a sort of proto-Captain Kirk in what is in many ways a nascent version of the Star Trek scenario (Gene Roddenberry would acknowledge his debt to this film). Finding only the mysterious Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) on the planet Altair IV, Nielsen’s character eventually learns that there is another resident. Shot in CinemaScope, Forbidden Planet was a big-budget project for the day and holds up remarkably well, despite the deservedly cheesy reputation of most 1950s-era sci-fi films.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Space movies are usually about the dangers of space. This entry is unusual in its focus on the wonder and privilege of first contact, not the horrific consequences. This is the film that established Spielberg’s signature viewing the extraordinary through the eyes of ordinary, everyday laypeople, a trope the director would repeat in E.T. and War of the Worlds.

Avatar (2009)

Avatar is about a man who went in search of a new life and found it, just not in the way he thought. It’s a simple story with a regrettably simplistic script (the oh-so-noble, flawless, nature-loving natives and the vicious, power-addled human interlopers… in other words, Dances With Wolves in space). But it is visually stunning, and the first use of 3D as a storytelling tool, rather than just a gimmick (although, let’s face it, a good story doesn’t need 3-D, including this one).