The 14 Most Scientifically Accurate Sci-Fi Movies

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.

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  • Sam Rockwell gives the performance of his career in what is essentially a one-man show in Duncan Jones's stripped-down, low-budget directorial debut Moon (2009). Rockwell plays astronaut Sam Bell, who is on a solitary three-year lunar mission mining for Helium-3. His only companion is the HAL-esque ship robot GERTY, which is voiced by Kevin Spacey. All seems well and good until Bell finds what seems to be a duplicate version of himself aboard the ship. Don't worry, no spoilers here, but Moon does take some interesting twists and turns.

    The main scientific question regarding the movie Moon is whether the actual Moon contains mineable Helium-3. According to many scientists, there is a possibility that the Moon does, in fact, contain many useful materials. Helium-3 is very rare on Earth.

    The idea that in the future we will be able to harvest a clean form of energy from the Moon is a possibility that scientists have explored for years. While the Earth is protected by a magnetic field, the Moon has been hit with large quantities of Helium-3. Scientists think there is a possibility that Helium-3 can one day provide a safer nuclear energy since it's not radioactive. 

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  • Planet of the Apes
    Photo: 20th Century Fox

    The original 1968 sci-fi classic is about an astronaut who crash lands on a far away planet where the apes are the ones in charge and the humans are enslaved. In case you haven't seen Planet of the Apes, it also features one of the best twist endings in movie history. Renowned astrophysicist and cinephile Neil deGrasse Tyson is a big fan of the way the movie is a reflection of the actual ranking order of society.

    He said of the Academy Award-nominated film:

    Saw this again recently and it held up over all these years in many important details. Had not appreciated when I first saw it. The hierarchy of apes that ran the planet, chimps were the academics, baboons were the soldiers, orangutans were the diplomats. An action-adventure movie that was an insightful mirror to our lives and our civilization.

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  • The Martian
    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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  • Interstellar
    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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  • Woman in the Moon
    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.

  • Destination Moon
    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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