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Loved Interstellar? Here are 8 mind-bending space films to watch next

No need to travel to the fifth dimension for more movies like Interstellar.

Matthew McConaughey
Published: Sunday, 26th June 2022 at 8:00 am
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If you've seen Interstellar, you'll be aware that there's nothing out there quite like it.

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From the scientifically accurate depictions of black holes to debates about love crossing dimensions to Matthew McConaughey shouting "Murph!" every five minutes, Interstellar was one of the most ambitious space movies of recent times.

The list of films that similarly combine scientifically possible space travel with philosophical discussions is therefore rather small - but there are still plenty of mind-bending science fiction gems out there.

Interstellar itself was influenced by some of the all-time classics of science fiction cinema, while the 2010s, in particular, have seen an explosion of thoughtful astronaut movies as both visual effects and real-life aerospace engineering has improved.

So for some more ponderous space journeys, meticulous scientific accuracy or simply effects that are out of this world, here are some truly mind-bending movies that are interstellar by theme if not by name.

Don't be too alarmed though - not all of these films go quite as deep into theoretical physics as Interstellar!

1. Avatar

Neytiri (Zoë Saldana, right) teaches Jake (Sam Worthington) in Avatar (Sky, EH)

Judging by Avatar's box office, there are not many people who haven't seen Avatar, but if you're one of the few who are yet to experience James Cameron's breathtaking 3D epic then you're in for a real treat. An intergalactic take on Pocahontas, Avatar follows paraplegic marine Jake Sully who controls a genetically engineered body in order to infiltrate an alien tribe - only to be torn between his military orders and his new-found family.

While Avatar won't blow your mind for its painstaking scientific accuracy or deep dives into theoretical physics like Interstellar, it will almost certainly blow your mind with its visual effects. Cameron waited ten years for technology to catch up with his vision, and spent several more years developing groundbreaking new visual effects and motion capture technology to create the photorealistic alien characters in the film, which especially when seen in 3D makes for a truly mind-boggling experience. It paid off big time - Avatar became the highest-grossing film ever worldwide, with critics including Sue Robinson in our Avatar review praising the "breathtakingly beautiful CGI landscape that somehow pulls the audience in on this tale of profit and progress versus nature's power and infinite variety".

Unsurprisingly given Avatar's gargantuan unprecedented success, four sequels are now on the way, starting with Avatar: The Way of Water.

Where to watch: Disney+

2. Gravity

Sandra Bullock stars in Gravity (2013)
Sandra Bullock stars in Gravity (2013) SEAC

Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and, er, basically no one else, Gravity started a weird trend of critically acclaimed space movies releasing every autumn three years in a row, with Interstellar and The Martian following in consecutive years. The premise is simple, even if the groundbreaking effects were not; two astronauts attempt to return to Earth after their Space Shuttle is damaged, prompting an intense zero gravity race away from thousands (and thousands) of pieces of high-speed space debris.

Similarly to Avatar, much of Gravity's spectacle came from seeing the film's 3D presentation in cinemas, but the film holds up perfectly well in 2D as the visual effects arguably play second fiddle to Bullock's powerhouse performance and some truly masterful filmmaking. Gravity actually has more in common with Interstellar - the two both feature (mostly) scientifically accurate depictions of space, and despite an unearthly setting both are actually about humanity and the resilience of life against adversity. Both were critically acclaimed too, with our five-star review describing how "the special effects are tremendous, making full and immersive use of the 3D visuals, while Bullock's almost balletic performance imbues this vertiginous fantasy with a humanity and grace that beautifully complements director Alfonso Cuarón's breathtaking vision".

Where to watch: NOW

3. The Martian

The Martian
The Martian SEAC

If Interstellar has you craving films that feature Matt Damon stranded alone in space in particular, then boy are you in luck. Based on Andy Weir's bestselling novel, The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) who must survive on Mars long enough for rescue after he is accidentally left behind by his crewmates. Queue potato growing, swearing and an awful lot of maths.

Other than The Martian's obvious similarity with Interstellar - which reportedly made Damon initially hesitant to sign on - the two still have much in common, particularly their dedication to scientific accuracy. The film was made in co-operation with NASA, with Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA's Science Mission Directorate James L. Green working as an advisor, resulting in a film that has been celebrated for its use of science - though with a far bigger focus on engineering than Interstellar's foray into theoretical physics.

The film was celebrated for its entertainment value too, with our The Martian review praising the film's use of humour in what could have been a dark and depressing ordeal, noting that "Damon lives by his wits and trades on witticisms to get by, which makes him great company in the most dire straits" in a performance that saw him nominated for an Oscar.

Where to watch: Disney+

4. Contact

Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster in Contact

Matt Damon isn't the only Interstellar cast member to dabble in another hard science fiction film - Matthew McConaughey also took a lead role in this thoughtful 1997 effort. Based on the bestselling novel by renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, Contact stars Jodie Foster as Dr. Ellie Harroway, a SETI scientist who discovers proof of extraterrestrial life and is chosen to make first contact when instructions to build a mysterious machine are received.

Aside from the obvious outer space theme and a focus on the science aspect of science fiction, Contact has a remarkable amount in common with Interstellar behind the scenes. The work of Kip Thorne - who wrote the paper that was the basis for Interstellar - was incorporated into this film for the wormhole scenes, and the two movies share a producer in Lynda Obst. Sagan actually set up Thorne and Obst on a blind date, leading to the creation of Interstellar after the two conceived the premise based on Thorne's studies.

Similarly to Interstellar, Contact leans into speculation for its finale, but prior to that is focused on scientific realism and even the SETI Institute have acknowledged that Contact is the most accurate depiction of the search for extra-terrestrial life in Hollywood history. The entertainment value is still there, however - in our Contact review we noted that "director Robert Zemeckis utilises the special effects well, while the climactic pod journey features a truly transcendent performance from Foster".

Where to watch: Buy or rent on Amazon, iTunes and Sky Store.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

We can't talk about mind-blowing space films without mentioning the great-grandaddy of them all. Co-written by Stanley Kubrick and acclaimed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 follows the discovery of an alien monolith discovered beneath the lunar surface and the subsequent mission to Jupiter to investigate its origins.

As with pretty much every science fiction made since, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a pretty clear influence on Interstellar. Nolan has long been open about his love for the 1968 classic - even helping oversee a new 70mm print of the film - and there are plenty of references throughout Interstellar. For example, Interstellar's wormhole appears near Saturn as a homage to Kubrick's originally intended setting of 2001, the fifth-dimensional tesseract bears a visual resemblance to HAL 9000's memory core and TARS being programmed for 90% honesty is another reference to HAL and his inability to lie.

2001: A Space Odyssey has long been credited with launching the science fiction blockbuster genre, paving the way for serious big-budget space films such as Interstellar. 2001 too was lauded for its scientific accuracy and visual effects at the time as well as ambiguous scenes, resulting in "a slice of philosophy on how we all got started and where we ultimately go" according to our five-star review. "The movie continues to intrigue and perplex in equal measures," the review reads. "It's a must-see if you never have, even though its visual impact is seriously hampered by the small screen."

Where to watch: NOW

6. Ad Astra

For those who like their sci-fi deadly serious, it does not get more sombre than this. Ad Astra (Latin for 'To the Stars') sees the universe threatened by strange power surges, prompting astronaut Roy McBride to go on an Apocalypse Now-esque journey through space to find his lost father who went missing on a doomed mission thirty years ago.

Ad Astra continues the trend Interstellar started of estranged intergalactic father-child relationships, but also the trend of breathtaking space visuals and big questions about humanity's place in the universe. It's slower and far more pessimistic than Nolan's take on the genre, but for those who like their sci-fi to be restrained and ponderous then there are few better options. There was plenty of praise for Pitt as the emotionally detached Roy in particular in our Ad Astra review, which described the film as "a fine balancing act between philosophical chin-stroker and popcorn-chomping crowd-pleaser".

Where to watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes and Sky Store.

7. Moon

Moon
Sam Rockwell SEAC

David Bowie's director son Duncan Jones made his debut with Moon, another thoughtful examination of man's life in the stars in the near future. Sam Rockwell stars as Sam, the sole astronaut mining helium-3 on the far side of the moon nearing the end of his three-year contract when he experiences a personal crisis.

Moon only had a fraction of Interstellar's budget, but makes up for it with some impressive model work, stunningly simple production design and by asking some big existential questions. Both Jones and Rockwell were praised by critics, and although the film was only a moderate box office success it performed well on the festival circuit and won numerous awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. We were similarly impressed - describing Moon as an "intelligent, poignant science-fiction tale, which calls to mind the very best the genre had to offer in its 1970s heyday" in our Moon review.

Where to watch: Rent or buy on Amazon and Sky Store.

8. Stowaway

Stowaway
© 2021, Stowaway Productions, LLC, Augenschein Filmproduktion GmbH, RISE Filmproduktion GmbH. All rights reserved.

Netflix enters the serious space sci-fi race with this thoughtful and poignant exploration of survival on routine space travel. Toni Colette, Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim lead a starry cast as three astronauts on a mission to Mars who discover an accidental stowaway on board - prompting big questions when it becomes clear there won't be enough oxygen for everyone.

Stowaway is far more limited in scope (and budget) compared to Interstellar, but has similar goals when it comes to exploring humanity in the harshness of space under largely scientifically accurate conditions. Pacing problems and an abrupt ending threaten to derail Stowaway's ponderous examination of a heartbreaking and intriguing moral dilemma, but there are enough questions and emotions raised to keep you thinking once the credits have rolled. Our Stowaway review praised the "sober, science-based approach that proves absorbing up to a point" but had more love for the "strong performances from a careworn Collette and Kendrick in breezy prize-pupil mode".

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Where to watch: Netflix

If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide or visit our Movies hub for all the latest news.

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