Movies That Show The Cramped Loneliness of Space Travel

Illustration for article titled Movies That Show The Cramped Loneliness of Space Travel

Yuri Gagarin only wished he could have a big flight deck, like the spacious bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, when he went into space. Real-life space travel remains claustrophobic and lonesome, as every inch of space inside the vehicle counts.


Here are some movies (and a few television shows) that actually come close to showing the real experience of being an astronaut in a tiny enclosure, millions of miles from home.

Odyssey 5

It's a space shuttle rather than a rocket, but the first episode of this underrated show conveys the "sardine can" feeling incredibly well. Still one of the best first episodes ever.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Still one of the greatest portrayals of humans in space — even though there's actually quite a bit of elbow room in some of these sets, you still get the sense of being alone out in the middle of the great unknown, and Stanley Kubrick does manage to get a great sense of claustrophobia at times.

Apollo 13

As a true-to-life dramatization of the 1970 "successful failure" of a Moon mission, this movie goes to great lengths to show the real conditions inside a Moon rocket. Lots of tight close-ups on Tom Hanks' face.

Doctor Who, "Ambassadors of Death"

I can't help it, I still love this tangled mess of an episode. And for once in the show's long history, we get a very un-glamorous look at space travel, very obviously copied very closely from the Moon landing the year before. Jon Pertwee looks genuinely uncomfortable in his little capsule.

You Only Live Twice

Blofeld is stealing space capsules and it's up to James Bond and his army of ninjas to stop him. A fair amount of care is taken with the space capsule scenes, to make them slightly more realistic than your usual Bond splashiness.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

The trailer says it right there: this is a totally accurate representation of space travel, only a few minutes behind our actual reality. Robinson Crusoe is trapped in a teeny little capsule, with only a monkey for company. And then they land on the Red Planet...

The Cape

No, it's not the TV show about the guy who dresses up in a magic cloak and fights gangsters who don't want to give him cake. It's the 1996 TV show of the same name, that set out to show the real lives of astronauts, starring Corbin Bernsen.

Destination Moon

This 1950 movie set out to be one of the first realistic portrayals of humans landing on the Moon, and it still looks pretty good today.

Space Cowboys

Clint Eastwood may be getting on in years, but he's still got the Right Stuff. Watch him prove it by sitting in a teeny space shuttle control room, arthritis be damned.

The Right Stuff

Speaking of which... another dramatization of the space program takes a fair bit of trouble to show a somewhat more accurate view.

Stowaway to the Moon

Okay this 1975 TV movie isn't exactly great stuff... but they do create reasonably accurate-looking space capsule sets, even if the idea that a little kid could stow away on board without being noticed is kind of awesomely insane. Somehow the kid avoids being injured during take off despite not being strapped in and wearing no protective gear other than his glasses.

The Reluctant Astronaut

Poor Don Knotts is shot into space — whether he wants to be or not. If you want to see Barney Fife/Ralph Furley having insane slapstick in zero-G with a weird rag doll, then this movie is like a dream come true. It will give you space-sickness, so that's a major point in its favor.

First Man Into Space

That is one cramped cockpit. An American (of course) becomes the first human in space, only to return as a bloodsucking space vampire.

The Crawling Hand

Speaking of goofy horror/comedy films about an astronaut (or part of him) who comes back... wrong, there's this all-time classic, which was featured in MST3K. The opening credits show the back of the astronaut's head in tight focus, staring at a weirdly off-kilter tetrahedron of a screen as space rushes past. A terrible film, but oddly claustrophobic and stark in its opening scenes.


Please feel free to suggest any examples we missed in the comments!

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Corpore Metal

Okay, it's good that you included 2001 here. Plus a zillion for cluefulness!


I'd include Alien in this because despite the staggering size of the Nostromo, were it seems like the Narcissus takes a few 5 or 7 seconds to blast clear the freighter at the end, the actual crew quarters, especially the bridge and engine sections, are cramped or sterile looking with lots of sharp edges and hard to walk around in. Throughout the entire production Dan O'Bannon and Ridley Scott tried to have sets and equipment designed and built in such a way as to dwarf or confine the actors to convey the isolation, close quarters, tension and boredom of deep space freight mission.

Another I'd include is Dark Star. It was comedy but, again, the set design, story and filming by John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon was set up in such a way as to convey the boredom, isolation and tension of extreme deep space missions.

And, ahem, Moon? Personally I had some problems with Moon but Jones did do a good job giving the audience the feeling of isolation, boredom and tension of work in space.

Oh and by the way, that horny, ribald astronaut in the "Odyssey 5" clip? Someone please chuck him out the airlock! Never saw the show before but, aside from being impressed by Weller's always low key but good performances, I took an instant dislike to the obligatory horndog. Gordo Cooper in the Right Stuff was enough for me.