50 years ago today, the Apollo 11 space mission became the first to land men on the surface of the moon. No other manned spaceflight before or since has exceeded the achievement that occurred on July 20, 1969. It remains one of the biggest moments in human history.
On the 50th anniversary of that momentous event, we thought it would be a good time to give our picks for the best realistic space movies and TV shows that you can watch via streaming services like Netflix, HBO Now and others. All of these movies and series depict realistic space flight with past and current technology. No aliens or warp drives will be found in this list; just astronauts that take off from Earth in old-fashioned liquid-fueled rockets, so they can make those first small steps towards the final frontier.
Realistic space movies and TV shows
- First Man
- Apollo 11
- Apollo 13
- From the Earth to the Moon
- Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo
1. First Man
It’s hard to believe that there was never a major feature film about the first manned moon landing until 2018, when First Man finally was released to theaters. Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) offers an emotional and human story about the events that led up to the Apollo 11 moon landing. Actor Ryan Gosling does an excellent job portraying astronaut Neil Armstrong, a man who remains a somewhat enigmatic figure in the history of space exploration. First Man is being shown on HBO on July 20 (naturally), and it will be available for streaming to HBO Now subscribers the day afterward.
2. Apollo 11
If you want the real unfiltered story behind the moon landing 50 years ago, check out this recently released documentary that’s now available to stream on Hulu. When we say “unfiltered” we mean it; this film only uses footage, taken from over 11,000 hours of film and video, that was made as part the Apollo 11 mission, including some 70mm film that previously was not seen the public. There’s no narration, interviews or special effects to recreate any of the scenes. It’s about as close as you can get to being a part of the original flight.
3. Apollo 13
This 1995 film dramatizes the 1970 mission of Apollo 13, the mission that, a few days after launch, suffered a massive equipment failure in the ship’s service module. While we know the final outcome of this mission, the film still manages to offer a high degree of tension, as the astronauts onboard try to survive and the team at NASA’s Mission Control try to figure out how to get the crippled spaceship, and its crew, home safely. There are tons of great performances in this movie, and they are anchored by Tom Hanks as he portrays Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell. The movie is currently available to stream via the Starz cable network, which is also available for non-cable TV subscribers as a standalone streaming service for $8.99 a month, with a free seven-day trial.
4. From the Earth to the Moon
After starring in Apollo 13, Tom Hanks extended his time in space with this 1998 HBO mini-series. This 12-episode series chronicles the history of U.S. space exploration, from the founding of NASA, to the first Apollo missions, all the way to the end with the last manned lunar landing with Apollo 17. Hanks directs the first episode of this series, and wrote or co-wrote several others. There are a ton of well-known actors playing roles in this mini-series, including Tony Goldwyn, Bryan Cranston, Cary Elwes Gary Cole, Sally Field and many more. It’s perhaps the best TV series to depict the real events of the Apollo space program. It’s available to stream with an HBO Now subscription.
5. Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo
All of the movies on this list put much of their emphasis on the astronauts of the Apollo missions. However, this 2017 documentary on Netflix focuses on the people at NASA’s space flight center in Houston who were the backbone of the entire manned spaceflight program since the beginning. The movie uses actual footage of Mission Control combined with new interviews with the NASA team members who worked there. The result is a fascinating look back at how manned spaceflight, and in particular the Apollo moon missions, would never have happened without a ton of support and work back on Earth.
Realistic space movies and TV shows – Honorable mentions
There are other space movies and TV shows that you might want to check out on various streaming services, although some of them are less realistic than the ones on this list, including some that take place in the future.
- Apollo 18 – This 2011 found footage movie, currently on Netflix, is a fictional account of a “lost” Apollo mission. It’s a bit silly, but you might want to watch it anyway to get some entertainment after all of the serious films on this list (it also has some kind of aliens, but we will let that go this time)
- Mars – This National Geographic series, currently shown on Netflix, combines a fictional account of a future mission to Mars with interviews with real experts on how such a mission could be accomplished.
- The First – Ths one-season series, exclusive to Hulu, stars Sean Penn as he tries to get a near-future mission to Mars underway. Hulu may have canceled the series, but it’s still an interesting look at how mankind might journey to the red planet.
Upcoming – For All Mankind on Apple TV Plus
We would be remiss in our duty if we didn’t mention this upcoming series that will be a launch show for the upcoming Apple TV Plus streaming service. For All Mankind is a fictional series set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but in an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union is the first country to place a man on the surface of the moon. The series depicts the U.S. space program trying to catch up once again with the U.S.S.R. in an extension of the space race.
What space movies and TV shows do you plan to watch today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing?