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Moon Landing 50th Anniversary: The Best Films & TV Series About Apollo 11, NASA and Beyond

Stacy Lambe‍
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Moon Landing 50th Anniversary: The Best Films & TV Series About Apollo 11, NASA and Beyond

ET's viewing guide to some of the best documentaries, scripted dramas and fictional accounts of mankind’s journey through space. 

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy decreed that the U.S. had a singular goal “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Before the end of the decade, he said, an American would set foot on Earth’s permanent natural satellite. Over the next eight years, the U.S. would get closer and closer until the Apollo 11 mission, which launched on July 16, 1969, became the first to land on the moon. Eight days later, on July 20, astronaut Neil Armstrong would become the first man to step on the lunar surface, proclaiming, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Now, as the moon landing turns 50, people are looking back on the monumental moment. While there are a number of news programs and specials -- from Smithsonian Channel’s Apollo’s Moon Shot and The Day We Walked on the Moon to BBC America’s Wonders of the Moon -- that not only revisit the space program but look at the science and wonders of the lunar body orbiting Earth, ET has rounded up some of Hollywood’s best documentaries, scripted dramas and fictional, yet realistic accounts about NASA, the space race and what traveling to Mars, man’s next stop, might look like.  

Here's what to watch (and where to stream) to celebrate  the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing:

Documentaries

CNN Films / Gravitas / Netflix

Apollo 11 (2019)
While there are a number of new specials about the Apollo 11 mission, Todd Douglas Miller’s CNN film stands alone as the must-watch. Created from previously unseen footage and thousands of hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, the documentary follows Apollo 11 from launch to landing in what feels like a real-time experience. The only narration is audio heard in the moment, helping to recreate the anxiety and anticipation of each step of the mission.
Where to Watch:Hulu

In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
Presented by Ron Howard, the 2007 film follows the crewed missions to the moon, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17. Ten of those astronauts appear on screen to recount their experiences being up in space and on the lunar surface. It’s one of the few projects to bring most of the living Apollo crew members together -- Neil Armstrong notably did not participate. 
Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon/iTunes

The Last Man on the Moon (2014)
While Armstrong will famously be remembered as the first man to step on the moon, Gene Cernan has the distinction of being the last, leaving not only his footprints on the surface but his daughter’s initials carved into the lunar dust. The film dives deep into his personal journey that led him to Apollo 17, NASA’s final manned mission to the moon. 
Where to Watch:Netflix

Mercury 13 (2018)
Before man could land on the moon, he had to figure out how to get into space. Prior to the Apollo missions, NASA’s Mercury program first launched a man into space and orbited him around the Earth. While the first group of astronauts tasked with these missions -- known as the Mercury 7 -- became American royalty, there was another group no one heard of: the Mercury 13. They were a group of women that underwent the same physiological screening tests as the men to prove that women were suitable for space exploration.  
Where to Watch:Netflix

Scripted Dramas

ABC / Universal Pictures / 20th Century Fox / HBO

Apollo 13 (1995)
This 1995 docudrama starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton depicts the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, which experienced an explosion on its way to the moon, forcing it to abort its plans to land on the lunar surface. Directed by Ron Howard, the acclaimed film was a box office hit and was nominated for nine Academy Awards.
Where to Watch:Starz

The Astronaut Wives Club (2015)
While a bit soapy, this limited series depicts the lives of the Mercury 7 from the perspective of the wives, who were busy taking care of their households while also expected to go on national TV before and after each harrowing mission into space. The ensemble series stars Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Luke Kirby (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). 
Where to Watch:ABC

First Man (2018)
Following the success of La La Land,  director Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling reunited to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, who famously internalized his darkest emotions while keeping a placid grin on his face. In addition to showing Armstrong’s cathartic journey to the moon, the film offers some breathtaking views and recreations of being on the lunar surface.  
Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon/iTunes

From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
From Tom Hanks and Ron Howard comes this 12-part miniseries depicting America’s race to the moon, from the early days of the Mercury program to the final days of the Apollo missions. Each episode depicts a specific mission or key moment over the course of two decades, offering compelling and untold perspectives on the space program and the people who came together to make it happen. 
Where to Watch:HBO

Hidden Figures (2016)
Like the Astronaut Wives Club, this film focuses on the women behind the Mercury 7. However, these were the African American women, who, despite being segregated by race and gender, played key roles in the success of Mercury-Atlas 6, which was the first American orbital spaceflight. The acclaimed ensemble film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.   
Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon/iTunes

The Right Stuff (1983)
This historical drama, which was adapted from Tom Wolfe’s novel of the same name, depicted the lives of the test pilots responsible for the aeronautical research leading up to the early Mercury missions. Featuring an ensemble cast, the film stars Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and Sam Shepard. 
Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon/iTunes

Fictional Dramas

20th Century Fox / Hulu / Warner Bros Pictures

The First (2018)
While the films above depict past missions to the moon, recounting the perseverance that went into getting a man on the lunar surface, The First looks at the next step in our journey: a manned mission to Mars. This character drama starring Sean Penn looks at an unlikely group of astronauts who are selected to go to the red planet after the first mission explodes during launch. 
Where to Watch:Hulu

Gravity (2013)
Sandra Bullock stars as the sole survivor of a freak space accident that leaves her stranded. Over the course of 90 minutes, she eventually makes her way to safety and attempts to return to Earth. While this depicts a failed mission, it’s not one to be missed for its amazing, heart-pounding space sequences that will leave you spinning just like Bullock.
Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon/iTunes

The Martian (2015)
What happens when we do reach Mars? Well, hopefully not what plays out in this Ridley Scott film about an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded on the red planet, forced to wait years alone before another mission can rescue him -- if he even survives that long.  
Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon/iTunes

 

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