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Why Sunshine Is The Greatest Space Movie Ever Made

Updated September 20, 2018 542 votes 94 voters 5.3k views15 items

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When you think about the best Danny Boyle movies, a few that immediately come to mind: Trainspotting28 Days LaterSlumdog 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?

  • 1

    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.

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  • 2

    There Is A Happy Ending... Of Sorts

    Video: YouTube

    It takes eight minutes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth, as Capa tells his family in his last message. So they will know the mission was a success just moments after the payload is delivered - all they need to look for is the Sun getting a little bit brighter.

    Sunshine plays with the notion of hope and sacrifice throughout. Having Corazon find a sprouting plant in the ashes of the oxygen garden just before she's murdered is a cruel trick to play. Crew members sacrifice themselves for the mission, and at one point even vote on whether to kill someone to preserve oxygen. So it might seem strange to say Sunshine has a happy ending, considering the crew doesn't survive... except that the film ends with a shot of Capa's family back on Earth, witnessing a brighter Sun illuminate the land.

    The mission was a success. The crew of the Icarus II saved humanity. Endings don't get happier than that.

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  • 3

    They Cast Michelle Yeoh In A Part That Required No Asses To Kick

    Photo: Fox Searchlight

    It's a bold move hiring Michelle Yeoh and not giving her any fight sequences. After all, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress has been one of the premiere Hong Kong action stars for decades. But this isn't that kind of movie, and, frankly, any movie would be lucky to have a dash of Yeoh in it, so Boyle & Co. did the smart thing: they handed her the script and let her pick whatever part she wanted. Any role could be played by any gender, so she wasn't limited.

    And what part did she choose? The biologist and resident green thumb, Corazon. Seeing Yeoh at home in the oxygen garden makes it easy to forgive the lack of ass-kicking. And when it came to zero-gravity wire practice, she was a natural.

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  • 4

    Gold Spacesuits Are The Best Spacesuits

    Imagine the average space walk scene. It's all tension. Will the characters have enough air? Will their suits hold up? Will they make it back to the ship? Now imagine a space walk scene with the characters decked out in solid gold spacesuits. High tension meets high fashion.

    Okay, so the suits aren't made of pure gold. It's actually mylar, that shiny stuff that reflects light and heat, which is pretty crucial when you're out for a space walk near the sun. And that little design trick made the spacesuits in Sunshine stand out from all others. Seeing the dangerous light of the Sun reflected off a glowing gold suit turned a tense scene (repairing the panels of the shield) into a work of art. 

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