A Trip to the Moon

When Neil Armstrong’s family suggested that every time we caught sight of the moon we “give Neil a wink” in remembrance, I immediately pictured Georges Melies’ moon in this famed short film – which in turn gave me the idea for compiling this list. So let’s start with that wink, shall we?


The Right Stuff

Next up, Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film, which focuses on the lives of the original Mercury astronauts during the formation of America’s space program, has it all: the cast (Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid), the bravado, the humanity, and, most importantly, the walk.



Apollo 13

I dare you to watch the launch scene from Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 without getting all verklmept. Goose-bumps at the very least. Go ahead. I dare you:


And for a little film-geeky fun, check out Rob Legato’s TED Talk, “The Art of Creating Awe,” in which Legato, who was the visual effects supervisor for Apollo 13, discusses exactly how he ensured that scene would be particularly goose-bump inducing.


Another Earth

This is one film on the list which doesn’t take place in outer space, but the promise of outer space is there, looming in a blue speck that grows closer and closer to reveal itself as a duplicate of earth and everyone on it. Rhoda Williams (played by Brit Marling, who co-wrote the film with director Mike Cahill) tries to get on a spaceflight out in hopes of reversing the downward spiral of her life.



A group of eighties NASA Space Camp kids get launched into outer space by mistake, and one of them is an adorable little smarty-pants Joaquin Phoenix. It’s on this list for the kitsch factor … and the mall hair.


Space Cowboys

Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland star in this Eastwood-directed 2000 film about elderly astronauts given a second chance. All this movie needs is Robert Duvall to round out my grandpa crushes.


2001: A Space Odyssey

Ah, the space films all space films since owe a little something to, whether it’s for the effects, the look (I’m convinced this film is the reason most sci-fi interiors are white), the epic scope, or the story. Few of those films, though, achieve Stanley Kubrick’s level of mastery.



Say you make that trip to the moon. Say you have to stay there, alone, for three years. Say you find someone who looks exactly like you who’s a bit of an asshole. That’s about all I can tell you regarding Duncan Jones’ moody and cerebral Moon, starring Sam Rockwell, without spoiling it.


The tagline for Moonraker in 1979 was, “Other movies may promise you the moon, but we deliver!” And where else would Bond go in the year of Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture but after a stolen space shuttle?



Hey, The Right Stuff, I will see your astronauts-in-cool-space-suits-slo-mo-walking-scene-to-the-launch-pad and raise you one ginormous American flag, a Bible verse, double the rockets, and Bruce Effing Willis.


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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

7 responses to “Winking at the Moon: A Top-Ten Cinematic Send-Off for 
Neil Armstrong”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    Neil Armstrong was offered Jim Lovell as part of his team for the Apollo 11 mission, but Armstrong turned him down because he thought Lovell deserved to command his own crew and not serve as a third in command.

    Meanwhile, Moonraker was meant to be For Your Eyes Only, but Star Wars had just come out. The original novel has nothing to do with going to the Moon… nor does it feature arched eyebrows or hover-gondolas. Q’s line at the end of Moonraker is still my favourite line of innuendo in any film ever.

    Somebody should make an Armstrong biopic. He was a Navy pilot in the 1950s, and had to eject off the coast of Korea during the war and very nearly died. Also, he walked on the Moon. It’d basically be Top Gun meets The First Men in the Moon…

    • Ah, I thought of you, Irwin, when I put Moonraker on here! Glad you stopped by to comment. It’s not the best of the bunch, is it, but at least Jaws makes an appearance. When I was a kid, I remember thinking it was very Buck Rogersy for a Bond flick.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I sort of like how they went and put Roger Moore in space for no real reason. Astoundingly it isn’t even close to being the worst Bond film, or the most far fetched— Die Another Day is both ridiculous and awful. It is easily the worst of all 22, beating A View to a Kill by a considerable distance. And I’d still rather watch Moonraker over Quantum of Solace, The World is Not Enough, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The Man with the Golden Gun. And probably Diamonds are Forever.

        I’m ridiculously excited for Skyfall. I’m just hoping to make it back to England before it leaves cinemas… I’ve already decided it’s going to be the best Bond film since From Russia with Love.

        • Yes, I’ll be happy if it’s at least better than Quantum of Solace. You should review Skyfall. For real. I’d love to read it!

          • James D. Irwin says:

            It would probably be incredibly biased. I saw the full trailer when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises, and suddenly Batman seemed kind of boring…

            Unfortunately I’ll be working abroad when it gets released. Hopefully Tbilisi has a cinema that will show the English language cut… if not I’ll have to wait…

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    I can’t watch Space Cowboys. Dead Tommy Lee Jones on the moon makes me hysterically sad. This is a seriously raw movie moment for me. Hits just about every weepy nerve I have.

    • I believe Hawk lives in the original draft, but they only think he’s a goner for five seconds or something. I’m imagining Eastwood snarling, “Nah. Kill him. Becky Palapala and Cynthia Hawkins won’t be able to handle it. And then they’ll never forget this movie.

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