Top 10 BEST SPACE DOCUMENTARIES You HAVE to Watch
As much as we love the idea of space exploration and discovering what lies in the deep black, it’s often difficult for us to fully cover every astrological topic. That’s when we turn to these top ten space film and TV documentaries, to fill in the gaps that our own Archives aren’t quite long enough to discuss in their entirety.
Through the Wormhole
If you’re looking for a new show to binge watch, Through the Wormhole, narrated by yours truly, should be high on your list! Alright, so Morgan Freeman narrates, but… well, nevermind. Sixty-two episodes tackle numerous aspects of science and seek to answer questions many of us ponder as we try to fall asleep, such as “Is there life after death,” but we’re here for space and the show does not disappoint! When it comes to the universe, the galaxies, black holes, the concept of extraterrestrials, and so much more, Through the Wormhole is unprecedented in its discussion of complex topics. Try and muscle through or skip over episodes dedicated to purely theoretical topics like “did God create evolution” as there is plenty of space exploration to be had in over 2,400 minutes of incredibly informational and well-spoken television.
When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions
Definitely not a documentary series for Flat Earthers, The NASA Missions details the history of human spaceflight, dating as far back as the very first Mercury mission. Hear first-hand the trials and tribulations of spaceflight through the men that experienced it through interviews with John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. The six-part series is a fascinating and detailed look at the Space Race that led to the launching of the Mercury Program, the disasters of the Columbia and Challenger flights that temporarily sidelined the Space Shuttle program, and the successful lunar landing of Apollo 11.
Wonders of the Universe
Brian Cox is no strange face in the science community with books like Why Does E=MC2? and The Quantum Universe, and he showed off his prowess for the scientific and the unknown again with the 4-part documentary series Wonders of the Universe. Released in 2011, Wonders of the Universe eclipses its predecessor simply because it opens its scope further, exploring deeper aspects of the universe and how common elements may affect deeper regions of space. Starting close to home with our own cycles of time, the series wastes no time to explore the vastness of space with time spent on the Crab Pulsar and the Big Bang’s “invisible light.”
It doesn’t get much more direct than this 1999 BBC documentary, which foregoes fancy cinematography and quirky animations in favor of delivering straight facts about the planets within our solar system. Even though it’s almost 20-years-old, the documentary is an essential resource for anyone interested in our solar system, and at 400 minutes long, you know there is much to discuss. Definitely a great companion on your quest to better understand the universe, our galaxy, and our neighboring planets.
Hubble: Universe in Motion
If space exploration and discovery is something you tend to gravitate towards, 2015’s Universe in Motion is the film for you. If not for the Hubble Space Telescope, much of what we know about the universe would still be a mystery, and this movie pays tribute to its technological importance and many of its astounding findings. The Hubble’s 25-year-lifespan is detailed in this 50-minute-long documentary, giving the viewer a look into amazing finds like the violent formation of stars. See the universe in crystal clear clarity through images captured by the Hubble since its launch in 1990.
Who's Afraid of a Big Black Hole?
The documentary asks and we have an answer – We’re afraid of a big black hole! Though the title of Stephen Cooter’s space documentary sounds more like a b-grade sci-fi horror flick, it’s a scientifically detailed look into the strangest concepts of space. How do we research something that can’t be seen? Can these anomalies be used to build a timeline of space, dating before the Big Bang Theory? Samuel West’s narration covers these inquiries and more through research of theoretical physicists, though being an eight-year-old film, expect to come across outdated concepts and theories already proven or debunked.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Nowadays, it’s almost blasphemous to discuss science without Neil deGrasse Tyson’s name coming up at least once. The astrophysicist headlined the 13-episode long follow-up to the 1980’s Carl Sagan Cosmos documentary series. Rather than reiterate or correct some of the science of the original series, A Spacetime Odyssey, which exists partially thanks to Seth MacFarlane, tackles subjects like black holes, the wave theory of light, star composition, and the works of scientists like Michael Faraday, Isaac Newton, and Clair Patterson. Even with Tyson as host, the series tends to focus on drawing in a broad audience, ensuring that its science isn’t too complex for the casual viewer.
Monster of the Milky Way
If the title of this NOVA special isn’t enticing enough, consider that the 2007 documentary covers one of the most destructive forces in the universe – supermassive black holes. Digging through past and present black hole research, Monsters of the Milky Way forces viewers to consider what would happen if such a force were to consume our galaxy. Literally, forces them through computer-generated simulations and visually disturbing recreations of such an event. Though the film tends to treat the super massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way as a working theory, there is little doubt today that one was discovered at Sagittarius A.
Seeing in the Dark
This 2007 PBS documentary by Timothy Ferris is less an educational film and more about the practice of and serenity that comes with stargazing. The film, while detailed in the methods of how the most extreme stargazers peer out into the night sky, tries less to teach through a lectured narration and focuses more on trying to tempt viewers to make their own experience of it. You’ll hear about historic stargazers like Edward Emerson Barnard and William Herschel while viewing the stunning images captured by the documentary’s subjects.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
If you have the time to sit through Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter’s 13-part television documentary, Cosmos was an incredible introduction not just to the cosmos but also to the world of science-themed television. Originally released in the fourth quarter of 1980, Cosmos is 780 minutes of Sagan narrating topics including Mars, the concept of time and space, and the bountiful galaxies within the great beyond. While much of the subject matter is dated compared to what we know today, Sagan’s journey through space and time is a fascinating introduction to the cosmos. And look at those effects!