In the run-up to this week’s release of Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan hasn’t been shy about revealing that his ambitions for the mega-budgeted science-fiction film are as expansive as its IMAX-assisted 70mm photography. In fact, both he and other media outlets have regularly dropped the “K”-word in reference to the movie—which tackles such deep questions as the state of humanity’s future, and to what lengths a father will go for his daughter—”K” as in “Kubrick,” the director of the landmark space odyssey, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As Nolan told Entertainment Weekly recently, ”[Interstellar] harkens back to the direct experience films of 2001, where you’re not just experiencing it through the characters, you are lost in it.”
Obviously, if you’ve somehow managed to miss out on 2001, you should highly consider changing that before Interstellar opens on Friday. But preparing for Nolan’s own odyssey to the stars doesn’t necessarily require you to travel all the way back to 1968, when Stanley Kubrick’s film first blew moviegoers’ minds. Below, are nine notable space-set movies from the first fourteen years of this new millennium that contain connections (both overt and subtle) to Interstellar.
Titan A.E. (2000)
Starring: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore and Bill Pullman
Directed by: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
Mission Log: After mankind’s homeworld is blown to smithereens by a warlike alien race in the distant 30th century, a small band of surviving humans search for the key to creating a new Earth.
Deep Thoughts: For producer David Kirschner, Titan A.E. is really a classic coming-of-age story placed on a galactic canvas. “A boy is thrown into a situation beyond his control, and told that the destiny of the world is in his hands,” he remarked in a making-of featurette.
Connection to Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey’s tearful astronaut Cooper is also on a quest to find another home for humanity, as Earth continues down its road to extinction. Unlike Titan A.E., though, Interstellar’s soundtrack probably won’t try and fool anyone into thinking that people will still be listening to bands like Lit and The Urge in a few decades and/or centuries.
Starring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Mission Log: A grief-stricken psychiatrist visits a distant space station hovering above the titular planet to help its troubled crew, only to have his own life altered by the strange phenomena they’ve been experiencing — like the dead returning to life.
Deep Thoughts: Re-making the revered Russian sci-fi film by Andrei Tarkovsky (based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem) got the self-confessed “optimistic atheist” thinking about God and stuff. “I wanted the film to be able to withstand a secular and a non-secular interpretation,” Soderbergh told the BBC. ”At the end of the day, I guess, I don’t know that it’s even relevant what we believe or what is true. It really comes down to: what do you do right now? What choice do you make?”
Connection to Interstellar: Much like Nolan (and Kubrick, for that matter) Soderbergh is often accused of being a clinical director, with a general disinterest in human emotion. On the other hand, many of Solaris’s defenders hail it was one of his most moving works —something that has also been said about Nolan’s Interstellar. Nolan can also take heart in the knowledge that he probably won’t receive the same scarlet “F” that Solaris got from CinemaScore.
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Mission Log: The outcast crew of a Firefly-class ship protects a young girl with a secret that could challenge the authority of the ‘verse’s ruling Alliance.
Deep Thoughts: "I think of this one as more of a platoon movie," Whedon told New York magazine in describing the process of retrofitting his short-lived TV series into a one-shot feature. “A gang of nine characters to quickly introduce to moviegoers who never had a chance to meet them. Then, I plunge them into a lot of danger and get as many of them out as fast as I can. Add wisecracks. Roll credits.”
Connection to Interstellar: Both Nolan and Whedon are directors of two of the biggest comic-book movie franchises of all time: The Dark Knight trilogy and The Avengers,respectively. And just as those superhero movies are vastly different in tone, so too is Whedon’s fleet, funny Serenity miles removed from Nolan’s somber, sizeable Interstellar. It’s fascinating — and instructive — to observe how two talented filmmakers can approach the same genre in such drastically diverse ways.
The Astronaut Farmer (2006)
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern
Directed by: Michael Polish
Mission Log: Staring down the barrel of foreclosure, a one-time spaceman-in-training decides to make a last-ditch attempt to discover whether that rocket he’s been building in his barn can actually transport him into Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Deep Thoughts: Polish intended for the unlikely tale of his astronaut farmer to be the embodiment of the American Dream. As he told the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine: "The rocket allows him to be something extraordinary. It could have been a dream of playing baseball or some sport, but building a rocket is such an extraordinary task. And the rocket can be a [symbol] for everybody. Everyone has a dream. Everybody’s got something they’re building in the garage."
Connection to Interstellar: Thornton’s love for his family — and their tolerance for his obsession with space travel — are echoed in McConaughey’s Interstellar character. Also, both actors are good ol’ Southern boys.
The Fountain (2006)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Mission Log: One man pursues the secret of eternal life for his lady love in three different time periods: The past, the present, and inside a giant space bubble in the far-off future.
Deep Thoughts: Watching the film’s golden color palette is one key to unlocking the its many mysteries. “The entire film is this movement from darkness into light,” Aronofsky told About.com. “It’s about a guy afraid of death moving towards death. I think it probably started with the conquistador element of how conquistadors are always searching for gold. We kind of connected gold to the knowledge and the information that the scientists are searching for in the lab. It also completely tied into the nebula, which often take on that color, so it all kind of worked together.”
Connection to Interstellar: Aronofsky also had Kubrick on the brain when he set out to make The Fountain, aiming to depict the space sequences with the same painterly beauty and tactile realism on display in 2001. And the endings of both films will likely inspire the same mixture of “Wow!” and “Wha-?”
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Mission Log: With our sun about to flicker out of existence millions of years ahead of schedule, a spaceship crew heads out to restore its golden glow with the aid of a nuclear device.
Deep Thoughts: According to Boyle, the point of Sunshine is to give audiences a renewed appreciation for Earth’s little yellow helper. “Laypeople like me take the sun for granted,” he explained to Popular Mechanics. “And in a way, because of global warming, we’ve taken our eyes off its importance. All life is either a bit of a star or is kept alive by its power. How could you not make a film about that?”
Connection to Interstellar: Sunshine effectively captures the day-to-day routine of a long-haul space mission, as well as the clash of personalities that can bubble up amongst the crew — both things that the realism-minded Nolan tries to depict as well.
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Mission Log: The lone human employee of the moon-based Lunar Industries discovers the frightening secret behind his solitary confinement.
Deep Thoughts: Being the offspring of space oddity David Bowie, it’s perhaps no surprise that Jones confesses to a lifelong fascination with the moon. “For me, the Moon has this weird mythic nature to it,” he remarked to The Independent. “As a location, it bridges the gap between science-fiction and science fact. It is something so close and so plausible and yet at the same time, we really don’t know that much about it.”
Connection to Interstellar: Nolan’s film may travel far beyond the moon, but it still touches on the feelings of loneliness that accompanies an off-world life amongst the stars.
Another Earth (2011)
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother
Directed by: Mike Cahill
Mission Log: After a second, identical Earth is discovered in the sky above our own, an emotionally troubled young woman enters a contest to visit this mirror world.
Deep Thoughts: In The A.V. Club, Cahill expressed his excitement about the possibility of meeting an alternate, Earth 2 version of himself. “I think there’s this primal feeling that we have as humans that we are alone, and no matter how many people are around us, we are very much alone. I think we have this subconscious desire to connect, and the idea of a duplicate soul, or another version of you, for some reason fulfills that fantasy. Even though this story is twisted and strange, that feeling fulfills that fantasy that we have, to not be alone. So I think there would be some peace in meeting yourself.”
Connection to Interstellar: Without giving too much away, when McConaughey and his crew finally return home from their mission, it feels as if they’ve arrived on another Earth.
Europa Report (2013)
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist
Directed by: Sebastián Cordero
Mission Log: Shipboard cameras record a mission to explore one of Jupiter’s moons and capture everything that goes horribly wrong.
Deep Thoughts: Working on the movie convinced Cordero that we’re probably not alone in the universe. “The energy behind life is so strong that I think it’s not something that is just confined to this Earth,” he told Collider. “I don’t know what will ultimately be found [on Europa], but I think there are real possibilities.”
Connection to Interstellar: Both Cordero and Nolan are geeks for science fact; Europa Report was made with a lot of input from actual NASA scientists, while the wormhole-assisted space travel in Interstellar relies heavily on notions worked out by theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne.
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Photos:AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, ©Everett