Space is super terrifying…and maybe a little sad?

In the past year, I’ve watched two space movies that showed up on Netflix–The Midnight Sky and Stowaway. At the end of Stowaway I noted that both movies are pretty quiet pensive little movies that leave you on a note of hope but also seem to be permeated with melancholy throughout.

Is that a common feature of space movies, I wondered, or do these two in particular seem to speak to living through a pandemic? Both were written and filmed before the pandemic hit, so they’re not a commentary on the way things have been for the last year. Then, I thought, maybe space movies always have been a reflection of the pandemic and we just never realized it.

People trapped in a small space, trying to get along because they have no other options. Being forced to reckon with how deadly to go outside.

Purple night sky over a horizon dotted with stars.
It looks innocent now, but it will try to kill you.

Because the last year has been frustrating and claustrophobic and terrifying and also really sad, I thought it was fitting to pick some space movies I’ve watched recently and rank them. First, in order of how terrifying space is and then in order of how sad it makes you feel. Just like 2020.

This fits. There’s something here.

There are so many movies I could have included but didn’t, so if you think a movie needs to be on this list, let me know! I won’t add it, but I’ll let you know how terrifying or sad I think it is.

In space, no one can hear you scream

These movies have been scientifically ranked from least scary to most scary. Don’t argue with the formula.

  • The Midnight Sky
    • Something has happened to earth and it’s basically going to implode and kill everyone. That’s messed up, but it makes the earth scary, not space. There is a scene with the astronauts that proves space is deadly, but honestly, I mostly left this movie feeling like that space station was pretty cozy.
  • The Martian
    • This movie is one big fight to keep a guy alive when Mars and space keep trying to kill him. But there are lots of jokes. The scariest part is probably Matt Damon near the end and how bad he must smell.
  • Apollo 13
    • The whole movie centers around trying to get astronauts home and it’s suspenseful because space will definitely kill you! But it’s also a wholesome film about people doing a lot of creative problem solving. So it’s tense, the threat is there, but ultimately you get wrapped in a warm emotional blanket.
  • Interstellar
    • This is another movie where earth is really scarier than space because it’s so messed up. However, Interstellar gets bumped up the list because space can also turn thirty minutes for you into like three decades on earth and then you miss out on everything like your kids growing up. That’s scary.
  • Deep Impact
    • A giant asteroid could come wipe out the planet and there’s very little we could do to stop it. Even with an intrepid crew of brave astronauts. This move is pretty goofy and often corny, but it’s not that unrealistic. We know that earth has been visited by mass extinction events from space in the past.
  • Stowaway
    • The whole premise of this movie centers around space being hostile. Your equipment breaks, your plants die, all of you are going down. Also, the spacewalk in this movie literally made me so sick to my stomach, I had to look away from the television until my husband told me it was safe again.
  • Gravity
    • Space is so scary in this movie, it starts to verge on comic by the end. But literally everything that can go wrong will go wrong and it will remind you why space is a terrible idea! Don’t go to space! Just don’t do it!
  • Event Horizon
    • I don’t remember this movie very well, but it has eternally scarred my psyche.

Ugly crying brought to you by the stars

Now we take the same group and rank them from least sad to most sad.

  • Event Horizon
    • I don’t know we can even count this one. It will haunt your dreams but it exists somewhere outside of the sadness scale.
  • The Martian
    • Too many jokes! I am not sad. I am delighted.
  • Apollo 13
    • There is a strain of sadness in this movie (I’m bummed they didn’t get to land on the moon). But ultimately everything ends up okay. People figure it out! There is hope for us yet.
  • Interstellar
    • Everyone cries in this movie. Matthew McConaughey misses his children growing up. Anne Hathaway lost her boyfriend. Matt Damon was trapped on an inhospitable planet alone and sobs when he sees another person again. (Honestly, relatable content.) Even the ending is pretty bittersweet. But then all the weird stuff in the third act distracts from the sadness enough to kick it down the list.
  • Gravity
    • Is there a rule that astronauts have to have tragic backstories? Why must Sandra Bullock’s child be dead in this film? George Clooney floats away into nothingness to save her. Sad people trying to cope in traumatic situations is a whole genre and this one slides right in.
  • Stowaway
    • These scientists were going to get to figure out some cool stuff. Instead all of their experiments were ruined. And this guy who didn’t want to be on the ship might never see his little sister again. And he and his sister are orphans after an apartment fire from when they were kids. Plus the characters have to wrestle with a deep ethical question. As a final piece of sadness, Toni Collette is good in this movie and I wish she got to do more.
  • Deep Impact
    • Hear me out. This movie is mostly goofy and I don’t think it’s probably that good, but when the astronauts are saying good-bye to their families at the end and then the teenage girl gets her baby brother shoved in her arms by her mom? I was bawling real tears, my friends.
  • The Midnight Sky
    • This movie radiates melancholy. My goodness. Earth is not in a good place, George Clooney has a tragic past/present, and while he accomplishes his goal of preventing the astronauts from returning to earth, it’s not like all the people left on earth are going to end up that great. If you think about the implications of this movie for too long, you will get real sad.

There it is. The official rankings. I’d say that I don’t make the rules, but I totally made the rules here. Pick something to make your evening scarier or sadder. And if you’re watching Stowaway, consider having a barf bag on hand.

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