It took eight days for the crew of Apollo 11 to travel to the moon and back in July 1969. In commemoration, here are eight movies, television shows and podcasts that illuminate just how revolutionary that journey was.
‘Apollo 11’ (2019)
Even if you have seen a number of moon-landing documentaries and have a familiarity with their footage, Todd Douglas Miller’s film is something special. The director obtained access to 65-millimeter Panavision footage that was shot on the ground leading up to the launch. Much of it had been sitting in the National Archives and was never shown publicly. Miller weaves a narrative of the launch, landing, return and recovery of the astronauts, all from archival footage (including the discovered footage) and audio.
It is a marvel to see on the big screen if you can. Science museums have been screening it in their theaters this spring and summer, and CNN is airing the movie in the lead-up to the July anniversary.
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)
One year before Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the moon, Stanley Kubrick’s astonishing film helped prepare audiences for what it might look like to get there. The meticulously researched film was prescient in the way it presented the moon’s visuals, the approach of the lunar module to the surface and more. While the movie has much more than the moon on its mind, it primed a generation of people for sights their eyes might not have otherwise believed.
‘13 Minutes to the Moon’ Podcast (2019)
The 13-minute period between the time the Apollo 11 crew members started the Eagle’s engine and when they touched down on the moon may have been brief. But it was packed with an entire podcast series’s worth of drama. The BBC dives in with this program, hosted by Kevin Fong. It uses these brief moments as a springboard to talk about how NASA navigated the many challenges faced by the space program. And the music, by the film composer Hans Zimmer, adds to the excitement.
Listen to it on the BBC website, or download it with your preferred podcast app.
While “2001” gives us spectacle, Duncan Jones’s sci-fi drama provides something much more spare. As it imagines a future where resources for Earth are harvested off-planet, it captures both the intrigue and the loneliness of space voyages. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man who mines lunar soil for fuel that helps power the Earth. He is the only one on the mission, and his isolation might call to mind that of Michael Collins, who had to spend time alone aboard Apollo 11’s command module while his colleagues were exploring the lunar surface. The film heads to complicated places and asks ethical questions about how far humans could, or should, go to maintain species survival.
‘For All Mankind’ (1990)
Al Reinert’s captivating documentary takes footage from multiple Apollo missions and creates a kind of moon-mission supercut. It is achieved with breathtaking footage, some shot by the astronauts themselves. In her New York Times review, Caryn James wrote that Reinert “changes points of view so smoothly and quickly that he evokes an omniscient sense of being everywhere at once.”
‘From the Earth to the Moon’ (1998)
Before bingeable programming, and before the limited series concept became ubiquitous, HBO released this 12-part, visually ambitious and epic narrative of America’s quest to win the space race. Executive produced by Tom Hanks, the series was, at the time, the most expensive television project in history ($68 million, without adjusting for inflation). With 10 different directors (including Hanks and Sally Field) at the helm for individual episodes, the series takes on multiple moods and personalities. In his Variety review, Ray Richmond wrote that it “manages to achieve its improbable goal of getting us excited about exploring the heavens again.”
For the moon mission anniversary, the series has been remastered, with a computer-generated update to its visual effects, based on reference models from NASA. Beginning July 15, this version will be available on digital download and for streaming on HBO’s platforms. The HD Blu-ray will be out July 16.
‘Moonstruck’ Podcast (2018)
This informative podcast devotes each episode to a different element of the history of human spaceflight. Episode 3 explores a more granular aspect of the Apollo 11 mission. Rather than focusing on the landing, it looks at the days after, when the crew was quarantined. It interviews NASA officials about the details of what was done over those days, arguing that sometimes it is the smallest stories “that teach us the most about ourselves and remind us why we went to space in the first place.”
Listen to the series at its website, or download it with your preferred podcast app.
‘First Man’ (2018)
Damien Chazelle’s biopic is as equally interested in following Neil Armstrong on his walk through family life as it is with his walk on the moon. Ryan Gosling plays him as a stoic with a cool surface you are aching to peer beneath. But when the movie gets to the moon, it pulls no punches in the visual dazzle department. The scenes, shot with Imax cameras in a quarry landscaped to look like the moon’s surface, are so wondrous and realistic that you will feel as if you were taking that one small step yourself.