This past Sunday in Hollywood, the 86th Annual Academy Awards honored Gravity with seven Oscars including one for Best director. The film falls into a tradition of space exploration in the movies. From action blockbusters to survival stories of the human condition, the movies have always had a fascination with Outer Space – it’s darkness, emptiness, optimism and theoretical possibilities. We count down the top ten highest grossing films set in Space. The figures are calculated from domestic box office returns and just remember, “In Space…”, you know the rest.
10. Contact $101 Million
The Jodie Foster space exploration drama was a hit back in the lat 90’s due in part to it’s clever screenplay based on the 1985 Carl Sagan novel, star-studded cast including recent Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey, and state-of-the-art special effects. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back To The Future) and ended up grossing over 100 million dollars at the box office. Foster plays a NASA analyst driven by the death of her father to explore the furthest reaches of space and time. The film culminates in equal parts science-fiction spectacle and emotional closure.
9. Total Recall $119 Million
Not including the recent Collin Farrell remake which was all set on our dear planet Earth, the original Schwarzenegger was a violent and kitschy action film set on the Colonies of Mars. Blending unique matte painting with animatronic make-up effects, this version of Total Recall was the movie was helmed by Robocop director Paul Verhoeven who took audiences to the surface of Mars and ended up with almost $120 million at the box office. The film’s script was based on a Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkley) short-story.
8. Deep Impact $140 Million
The first of two movies on this list depicting Earth awaiting its destruction via a giant meteor (asteroid, comet, etc.), Deep Impact was released to theaters in 1998 before Michael Bay‘s catastrophe space epic, Armageddon. Yet, the film’s have almost interchangeable story lines. Deep Impact didn’t under perform and ended up with $140 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing film directed by a woman until Catherine Hardwicke took the reigns on the first Twilight movie in 2008.
7. Apollo 13 $174 Million
Ron Howard‘s film based on the true story of the Space shuttle: Apollo 13’s on-board emergency was a prestigious film relying more on the strength of the human body than on the strength of it’s visual effects budget. Tom Hanks headed an all-star cast in a film that was the front-runner at that year’s Academy Awards until Mel Gibson‘s Braveheart took home gold. The film was a critical darling and brought in the third highest grossing numbers of that year.
6. Armageddon $202 Million
The Michael Bay visual effects extravaganza stormed on to screens in the summer of 1998. The film showcased a rag-tag group of roughneck oil drillers becoming astronauts to thwart the trajectory of a killer-asteroid heading towards Earth. Bruce Willis lead a cast that included Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thorton, Liv Tyler, Owen Wilson, Steve Buscemi, and Will Patton (just to name a few). Though the movie was a critical disaster, audiences flocked to theaters, bringing in over $200 million dollars at the domestic box office. Though Michael Bay has gone on to top his over-produced blockbusters, this title is usually at the forefront when talking about the state of Hollywood’s obsession of destroying our own planet on film.
5. Wall-E $224 Million
Pixar released the touching story of a tiny robot ordered to clean up the Earth we once inhabited before taking to the skies and leaving it in dismay and destruction. While performing his duties, Wall-E comes across the robot EVE and falls in love. He blasts off with her to the space shuttle carrying the human race’s obese and product-obsessed future selves. Though the film is a Pixar animated feature, the social and cultural allegories are rich and lend themselves to a meaningful message by film’s end. Wall-E ended up grossing $224 million at the box office in 2008 and setting a standard for all animated films to follow.
4. Gravity $271 Million (As of March 3rd, 2014)
If one were going by the numbers at this year’s 86th Annual Academy Awards, you would assume Gravity was the true winner taking home a total of seven Oscars including one for Alfonso Cuaron’s direction. The film is a heart-pounding survival story containing only two leads (Ed Harris voices Mission Control in a clever wink to Apollo 13) and incredibly elaborate long-takes. The film is an original story by Cuaron and his son, Jonas, and was quite the risk for Warner Brothers Pictures who had to wait years to invent the technology used in the film. The casting of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney only helped earn this film $271 Million and with recent Oscar glory, who knows where the film could end up domestically and worldwide. It is a nightmarish experience filled with an amazing performance from Bullock and incredible visuals. See it and experience it.
3. Star Wars $274 Million (Franchise Average)
A franchise 30 years in the making, George Lucas set out to make a modest budgeted science fiction action film in the vein of old swashbucklers and samurai films he had grown up watching. He accomplished so much more than that. The original was released in 1977 and the world of film, of advertising & marketing, and of commercial production has never been the same. Instead of including just one of the films, this figure is representative of the franchises average earnings overall. J.J. Abrams will helm a new three-film trilogy and this figure will undoubtedly change once more. This is the alpha and omega of fantasy films and set the standard for space operas for all time.
2. Independence Day $306 Million
The image is ingrained in our minds, the sights of a giant alien laser beam disseminating the White House in a blaze of explosions and inferno. Independence Day was another in a series of disaster films centered on outer space attacking our world and made a super star out of Will Smith. It’s Super Bowl fame heightened advertising and marketing for a new generation and though it was met with lukewarm reviews from critics, audiences were enthralled by the spectacle, patriotism, and humor of the whole thing. Plans for a sequel have been in the works for sometime but the grosses for this film should have no problem proving that potential to studios.
1. Avatar $761 Million
James Cameron eclipsed his own film, Titanic, in sheer size and grosses. For 12 years, Titanic held the record for highest grossing film of all time until this digital extravaganza hit theaters in the winter of 2009. It shattered box office records and set a new standard for even filmmaking by combining word-of-mouth and multiple ways to see the film. Those who had not seen it in IMAX 3D were encouraged to do so and by adding surcharges and additional fees to see the film bigger, louder and in the third dimension aided in the film’s continuous success over those months. The Academy Awards took notice as well and in a rare occasion, the highest grossing film all designed digitally and with fantasy elements became an Oscar hopeful for Best Picture. It ultimately lost to Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker (Cameron and Bigelow were married for a time), the film still holds the record as the highest grossing film of all time and also the top of our list as the highest grossing film set in space. Not too shabby!