When you think about the best Danny Boyle movies, a few that immediately come to mind: Trainspotting. 28 Days Later. Slumdog Millionaire (which him an Academy Award for Best Director). In his 30-year career, Boyle has never allowed himself to be pigeonholed by a genre or even medium - he famously directed a production of Frankenstein for the Royal National Theatre in 2011, for which Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller traded off the roles of doctor and creature, and even tackled the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. The man has made something for just about everyone, from thrillers to horror to biopics, feel good films to movies that will keep you up at night. Oh, and he also made the best space movie ever: Sunshine.
Released in 2007, Sunshine very quietly turned 10 in 2017, as good a reason as any to revisit and unpack this modern classic. It didn't get the critical or popular response it deserved upon release (it didn't even make back it's $40 million production budget during its theatrical release, let alone whatever was spent on marketing), and, sadly, it often goes unmentioned in discussions of the best sci-fi movies ever and best space movies ever (if you're wondering what the difference is, Gravity is a space movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a sci-fi movie; a lot of great sci-fi, such as Blade Runner or Children of Men, is mostly earthbound, but space movies can be sci-fi movies, if they take place in space).
Yet make no mistake: Sunshine is a great sci-fi movie.
While there are a lot of great movies that take place in space, ones with aliens and treks and wars, Sunshine stands out from the pack with it's unique science, gorgeous design, incredible casting, so many more reasons. If you're a doubter or a hater or just unsure of what you think about the movie, this list is here to tell you why Sunshine is the best space movie ever made. If you haven't watched it yet, what are you waiting for? You don't want this list to spoil all the fun for you, do you?
Finally, A Movie About The Sun
Movies that take place in space often treat it as the final frontier - a place of discovery, of new planets and life forms and reaching the unreachable. Or they envision a future with an intergalactic community, where traveling between planets is analogous to hopping a flight to a different country. Plenty of space movies include stars, but very few focus on our star: the center of our solar system, the celestial body that makes life on our planet possible. The Sun. And this makes Sunshine's premise completely unique.
Even the opening of the film, in which the Fox Searchlight title sequence runs in reverse to end on the emerging Sun, exposes the film's focus. Sunshine takes place in 2057. The Sun is dying, the Earth is entering a solar winter as a result. The film focuses on the crew of the Icarus II, a ship tasked with delivering a stellar bomb into the heart of the Sun as a last ditch effort to kick-start it and save humanity.
But the Sun is no mere destination - it's a character, perhaps even a God, looming ever larger outside the ship. There's no way to predict the success of the mission, because time and space distort the closer Icarus II gets to its destination (as demonstrated with freezing frames and jumpy edits during the film's climax). Scientifically, the Sun is nearly unknowable. The source of life for our planet is also the greatest threat to the crew's existence - hope, fear, and mystery, all in one burning gaseous ball. And it is absolutely gorgeous to behold.
Danny Boyle, Alex Garland, And Cillian Murphy Are A Winning Combo
In 2000, Danny Boyle made The Beach, which was adapted from Alex Garland's novel of the same name. The book is a terrific beach read (no pun intended), though the film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, failed to leave a mark on audiences. Luckily, the pair didn't let that deter them from their budding partnership. They worked together again in 2002, on horror classic 28 Days Later, with Garland penning the screenplay, Boyle directing, and Cillian Murphy playing the lead in what was his breakout role.
As you surely know, 28 Days Later turned the zombie genre on its head, working as a political parable and cautionary tale; at the end of the world, the people to be afraid of aren't always the undead ones (it was released a few months before the first Walking Dead comic was published, in case you're wondering). Together, Boyle and Garland have a knack for elevating genre fare, which they did to the sci-fi and space genres with Sunshine three years after 28 Days Later arrived in cinemas and also starred Murphy.
Murphy proves, in both films, to be a captivating lead, drawing audiences in and steering them through the emotional ups and downs of survival. Both films have great dangers - zombies, a burning ball of gas - but choose to explore the human side of the experience; they examine the ingenuity, bravery, and even savagery that the threat of extinction inspires in people.
The Icarus II Is Pop Culture's Ultimate Spacecraft
The Millennium Falcon. The USS Enterprise. The Serenity. The Nostromo. Flying saucers, cubes, even Winnebagos - pop culture is littered with memorable spaceships. But none combine form and function as well as the Icarus II. The ship's design sticks in your brain because... well, no other spaceship looks like a giant flying space umbrella.
At the front of Icarus II is a huge shield, reflecting the Sun's damaging rays. Behind that is the payload, a bomb the size of Manhattan with booster rockets to send it into the heart of the Sun. Beyond that is the main body of the ship - the handle of the umbrella, if you will. And it looks so pitifully small compared to the rest, even though it houses the crew. Small enough to hide safely in the shield's shadow. Small enough that the crew can shout to each through the corridors.
On the outside of the crew section of Icarus II are spines, which are communications towers. They send packaged bursts of video to Earth as conditions allow. Inside the crew area are all the usual facilities - the control room, the kitchen - as well as some unusual ones. The oxygen garden, the observation room, the Earth Room (the Icarus II's version of a holodeck, allowing the crew to artificially feel like they are in nature).
Over the course of the film, viewers become familiar with every aspect of the ship. Truly, the Icarus II is as classical as its name, which should be a little too on-the-nose, but works perfectly. It's a ship designed to fly too close to the sun, a sign of man's hubris - only this time, there's a success even in failure.
It Puts The Science Front And Center In Science Fiction
Too often, science fiction focuses on the "fiction" side of things, but Sunshine puts the science front and center. The premise of a dying sun? That isn't fiction, that's a fact - albeit one that's billions of years away. The film just moves the conceit up to the near future. So when nature is your enemy, who do you call? A team of scientists and engineers.
It's no wonder the most important person on the crew of Icarus II is the physicist, Capa, played by Cillian Murphy. He's isn't just the protagonist in the eyes of the audience - he's the expert in charge of delivering the payload that will re-ignite the sun, which makes him indispensable to completing the mission.
A key moment in the plot involves the discovery of the Icarus I, the mysteriously failed previous mission to save Earth. The decision of whether to investigate is left up to Capa, who determines their chances of success will be doubled if the payload on the first ship is still intact - after all, two last hopes are better than one. Logically, he isn't wrong - but a minor miscalculation jeopardizes the mission. Though the angle of approach is adjusted to bring the ships together, the shield alignment isn't adjusted to match, which results in the sun damaging panels on the ship and, eventually, triggering a fire that destroyed the oxygen garden.
It doesn't take aliens or battles to risk lives in space, just a little bad math.