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The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies

Updated February 10, 2020 968.2k views14 items

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.

  • 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.

  • Photo: Eagle-Lion Classics Inc.

    Destination Moon (1950) is often cited as the first science fiction film made in the United States that depicts space travel in a realistic fashion. The story centers on a group of men who come together to ensure that the US will be the first country in the world to put a man on the moon. Producer George Pal was set on not just making a fantasy film about space but a "documentary of the near future."

    Pal hired experts in science to consult on the film. Although not every single detail in the film is accurate, it is considered quite an achievement, especially considering that man would not actually walk on the moon for almost another twenty years. The film goes about explaining the basic principles of how a rocket is launched and the concept of gravity in layman's terms that the audience will understand.

    During production, the movie created quite a stir, as the idea of being able to land on the moon seemed to become a real possibility. The film also wound up having a great importance in the space race, as competition about which country would be the first to land on the moon was heating up around the world. A major narrative element in the movie questioned the ramifications on what would happen if one of America's cold war adversaries reached the moon first. 

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  • Photo: Universal Pictures

    Ron Howard's 1995 movie is based on the true story of the 13th Apollo mission to the moon. The narrative centers on the ill-fated 1970 flight of three astronauts who experience life-threatening complications after an oxygen tank explodes onboard the spacecraft. Howard and the actors wanted to not only get the historical facts as accurate as possible but also the science of space travel.

    All the zero-gravity scenes are not only scientifically accurate, but they are also real. Howard convinced NASA to let the production film in its reduced-gravity aircraft called the Vomit Comet. Ken Mattingly (the man played by Gary Sinise in the film who was bumped from the mission because he had the measles) admits that there are a few differences between the film and what really happened.

    For example, in the film, it does seem like the crew and NASA are just making up possible miracle scenarios to get the astronauts home. Mattingly notes that in actuality, NASA had already worked out several possible faulty scenarios and the procedures on how to try and fix them. However, Mattingly concedes that Hollywood movies work off of creating drama, and it's obviously a much more interesting story if the conflict onboard the Apollo appears totally chaotic.

    One thing that the Oscar-winning film did get wrong just also happens to be the movie's tagline. After the oxygen tank explodes in the movie, astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) reports to NASA, "Houston, we have a problem," when, in fact, the actual line was "Houston, we've had a problem here." Considering that the movie gets all the physics of space correct, it's probably okay that a couple words were changed.

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  • Photo: Paramount Pictures

    Mysterious alien space crafts land at twelve different locations around the world. However, no one knows why they are there and if they mean to do harm or good. A linguist named Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in to try and communicate with the aliens. Communication proves to be extremely difficult since the aliens speak by emitting a circular black cloud. After several sessions, however, Banks is able to interpret the black clouds and correctly assign English words to the images.

    According to astrophysicist Andy Howell, Arrival largely gets the science correct in the film. However, he points out that there is not a lot to compare the film with. We, of course, have never actually made contact with alien life.

    Howell further explains the fine line between entertainment and scientific accuracy:

    People think you have to choose between a movie being a blockbuster and getting the science right. But my point of view is that you can get the science right and still have an entertaining movie. And it often helps make a more entertaining movie. If you need to bend the rules to tell a better story, that’s fine. You get certain miracle exceptions for the conceit of the movie, but get the details right and be consistent.

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