That vast expanse. The glorious wonders of the universe. And Brad Pitt or Natalie Portman to take us there. If you work in Hollywood long enough, eventually your star may rise high enough to reach, like, actual stars. For decades, the industry has relied on famous names to send space movies (and hopefully their box office) into the stratosphere. This fall, Disney (by way of its recent acquisitions 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight) is bringing us the star-driven space movies Ad Astra and Lucy in the Sky. Here is a look at the tradition of big names in big space movies, and how it worked out for them.
Ad Astra (2019)
The Star: Brad Pitt. The Reason: The actor has played almost every kind of big-screen role over more than three decades. And yet his roles have gotten quieter and more contemplative of late. Now seems like the best moment in his onscreen life to have him contemplate space. The Space Dilemma: Pitt’s character’s father went out for a mission and didn’t come back. The son’s been searching for him ever since. The Spectacle: An action sequence involving a fight with moon pirates is breathtaking. The Suit: Looks like he was born to wear it.
Lucy in the Sky (2019)
The Star: Natalie Portman. The Reason: In a 25-year career that includes an Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan and nominated turns in Jackie and Closer, the actress has been hired to bring quality and dramatic weight to a movie. The Space Dilemma: Portman plays Lucy Cola, an astronaut who is having trouble coping back on planet Earth after a life-changing spacewalk. The Spectacle: A visually haunting moment early on shows the character hovering above the earth beatifically. The Suit: She nearly gets lost in it, but ultimately takes command.
High Life (2019)
The Star: Robert Pattinson. The Reason: Since Twilight made him a superstar, Pattinson has opted for smaller films with respected directors. His presence in this artful space oddity from the French director Claire Denis is probably why this movie got financing. The Space Dilemma: In the future, Pattinson is part of a crew of criminals sent on a space mission as an alternative to the death penalty. Things get weird. The Spectacle: Shots inside the spacecraft, shaded in deep blues and reds and yellows, are more mysterious and stunning than the shots of black holes. The Suit: It has a handcrafted, vintage quality that suggests 1940s flight expeditions, not something from the future.
First Man (2018)
The Star: Ryan Gosling. The Reason: The actor seems like the most Everyman fit for the Everyman astronaut Neil Armstrong. The Space Dilemma: How to get to the moon in one piece. The Spectacle: The film’s breathtaking recreation of the moon landing makes it seem as if we’re experiencing it for the first time. The Suit: Majestic and fits like a glove.
The Martian (2015)
The Star: Matt Damon. The Reason: He’d conquered Earth as a superstar. Why not go to Mars and do the same? The Space Dilemma: In the near future, a crew is exploring Mars when a storm threatens the mission and strands one member. He can’t be rescued for years, so he has to figure out how to grow food on a planet where nothing grows. Luckily, he’s a botanist. The Spectacle: Damon’s character uses smarts, a Mars Pathfinder and some gaffer tape to communicate with Earth. The Suit: Orange and tan neoprene. It resembles a cool combination of wet suit and racing uniform.
The Star: Sandra Bullock. The Reason: She had been one of Hollywood’s most bankable actresses. Her space movie was long overdue. The Space Dilemma: An astronaut stranded on a mission contemplates the, ahem, gravity of her situation. The Spectacle: A single-shot sequence in which an accident leaves Bullock mercilessly rotating in space. The Suit: In shades of gunmetal that bring out the most triumphant in Bullock.
The Star: George Clooney. The Reason: The actor, working again with Steven Soderbergh, had just finished Ocean’s 11 and was exhibiting the kind of contemplative cool then that Pitt inhabits now. The Space Dilemma: A psychologist goes to a space station and ends up in his own head trip. The Spectacle: The ways Soderbergh uses light and the lack thereof. The Suit: A mix of modern and retro, but great-looking when bathed in a warm glow.
Apollo 13 (1995)
The Star: Tom Hanks. The Reason: After back-to-back Oscars, who else? The Space Dilemma: They had a problem. The Spectacle: A nine-second sequence in which the camera follows the wiring through the craft all the way to its exploding oxygen tank. The Suit: Lovingly patriotic.