Total Nerd The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies  

Ann Casano
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There are two main types of science fiction films. There are the films like Star Wars, which are rooted in fantasy and folklore, and don’t care about getting the scientific details correct. Then, there are the films on this list, the filmmakers of which pay great attention to scientific detail, and aim to get as much of the science correct as humanly possible. Here are the most accurate sci-fi movies ever made.

Many of these movies take place in the future. If filmmakers want to make accurate sci-fi movies about space, like in Interstellar or Moon, they have to think about the likelihood of future technology. Interstellar is on this list not because anyone thinks that we will be able to travel through a wormhole in the near future in order to reach a distant habitable planet in order to save the human race. That’s the fiction part of science fiction. It's on this list because the film’s Gargantua black hole is considered the most realistic depiction of a black hole ever seen in the movies.

It is incredible to think about just how accurate some of the predictions are in these movies. From space exploration in film to accurate movie spaceships, writers and directors worked tirelessly to not just entertain us but to wow all the astrophysicists in the audience as well. Let us know what impresses you the most about accurate sci-fi films in the comments section below.


2001: A Space Odyssey is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Stanley Kubrick's Academy Award-winning epic is often cited as the most accurate science fiction film ever made. It tells the story of evolution when the Earth started millions of years ago with the placing of a monolith. The movie flashes millions of years later when another monolith is discovered on the Moon, which signals another step in evolution. The final part of the film takes place on a spaceship that contains a five-man crew, aided by the insidious computer HAL, as they embark on a mission to Jupiter, where the fight between man and machine signals yet another step in the evolution process.

Director Stanley Kubrick was known as one of the most meticulous perfectionists in filmmaking. He wanted the science and look of the film to actually be ahead of what NASA was doing at the time. It's important to note that humans would not walk on the moon until 1969, one year after the film's release.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson lauds the efforts that the crew put into the movie, "I’d say it’s hard in that it’s well-researched and that it targets real science as much as it can. 2001 did that more than any movie had, at that point. They have the psychedelic journey and the encounter with this [alien] life, but any encounter with the ship and zero-G, that had foundations in real physics. You have to applaud all the efforts that went into that."

The astrophysicist also appreciates the aesthetic qualities of the film and the story. "Perhaps the first film to be all about the discovery of alien intelligence yet not show what it looks like, knowing that our imagination could surely do a better job than Hollywood. In any case, it was a visual orgy of space travel and space exploration that we remain far from achieving, even 13 years after the 33 years-in-the-future it portrayed."

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Interstellar is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Interstellar (2014) takes place in the not-too-distant future, where climate conditions have created a dire scarcity of food. The human race is facing inevitable extinction unless a group of explorers can travel through a wormhole and find a planet that is fit for human survival. Director Christopher Nolan worked alongside Kip Thorne, an astrophysicist, to make sure that the science in the movie was as precise as possible. That's not to say that every single plot point was 100% accurate, especially because a lot of what takes place in the film is considered "Speculative-Albeit-Imaginable Science."

Nolan and Thorne worked alongside the film's visual effects studio Double Negative to create the film's depiction of a black hole called Gargantua. It is considered the most realistic look at a black hole ever seen in the movies. In fact, it's been reported that the film's black hole led to an actual scientific discovery.

Thorne did later publish a report stating that Gargantua could have been depicted even more realistically and that it didn't lead to a scientific revelation. However, we do have to remember that it is a Hollywood movie. No one is (hopefully) going to use the film as a blueprint to travel through an actual black hole.

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The Martian is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies
Photo: 20th Centurty Fox

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets stranded alone on Mars following a massive storm. In order to survive, Watney has to figure out how to contact NASA and grow food on a planet with soil that does not contain the same nutrient-rich material found on Earth. Thankfully, Watney is also a botanist. He knows how to "science the sh*t" out of what he has and build a farm using soil fertilized with human waste and water made by removing hydrogen from rocket fuel.

Many scientists thought Ridley Scott's 2015 movie was one of the most realistic sci-fi films ever made. It was perceived by many spectators to be so accurate that they actually thought it was based on a true story. Much of the agriculture science is correct and most scientists think that the movie's imagery of Mars is spot on.

Perhaps the hardest part of the movie was getting NASA right. Astronaut Clayton Anderson talked about how The Martian nailed its depiction of NASA:

Rather for me, the highlight was the film’s refreshing and inspiring depiction of NASA. I’m not talking about physical depictions mind you (the Vertical Assembly Building does not reside at the Johnson Space Center) but instead the film’s sense of an ever-present drive on the part of NASA employees to pull together to win the day, even in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds. Just as I witnessed so often throughout my own 30-year NASA career, a team of ordinary, caring people with little regard to their personal needs put in just a little bit extra, to do something extraordinary.

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Woman in the Moon is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies
Photo: UFA

In Fritz Lang's 1929 German silent film, a scientist blasts off to the moon in search of gold. Woman in the Moon is often cited as the first science fiction film. It is also the first time the blast-off countdown from 10 to 1 is used on celluloid. It's the same countdown that NASA would eventually use for all their launches. 

It would be 40 years before the human race would actually get to the moon, which makes Lang's film even more impressive. Film scholars and military officials have lauded the film for its amazing accuracy. The scientists that served as advisers to the movie understood the basics of rocket travel and gravity. Lang consulted with German rocket expert Hermann Oberth to construct the film's rocket, which impressively gets the escape velocity that is needed to free itself from the Earth's orbit correct. When the rocket does finally land on the moon, its crew correctly experiences zero gravity.

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