Guy Cry Cinema

The Most Pants-Wetting Terrifying Space Peril Movies


DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“Space Peril Movies”

In the coming weeks we will see the film adaptation of The Martian, which can be summarized as “Apollo 13, but on Mars and is fiction.” Hopefully it’s successful in throwing off the shackles of humans never having made a good movie about the red planet (I maintain Total Recall was awesomely bad, but not good). Things can and do go wrong in space, both in film and real life. However, only in movies do we get excited at the vacuum-surrounded peril, waiting with bated breath to see how our fearless heroes or unwitting every-joes will find their way to safety. Perhaps it’s good that we run these frightening scenarios out in the safety of our cinematic imaginations before engaging them for reals, because many of these catastrophes are downright horrific. Below are a list of five excellent examples of what can go wrong in space, and how we shed tears of hope that the stories have happy endings. Note: this is sticking mainly to near-future or present-day movies, so no Wars or Trekking in space.

1. Gravity
A nightmare for anyone who’s afraid of the reality of space, this film has Sandra Bullock delivering a Tom Hanks in Cast Away level performance. I all but loaded a bazooka full of Oscars and fired them at the movie screen. One of the rare space movies that tries it’s hardest to be true to the silence that space truly holds, some of the scariest parts are when things are exploding behind Sandra but she has no indication to look. Between ex-Batman’s all-but-too eager self-sacrifice to Sandra showing the world that she can float in space with the best of them, this is a great movie to instill the fear of low Earth orbit into anyone.

The part that truly got to me is the core of her character, and what ultimately starts Sandra’s arc. Once a mother, Sandra escapes to space physically in an attempt to metaphorically escape the death of her child. The child died by falling in just the right way next to a hard surface at just the wrong time, and the randomness of that all but destroyed her. As a father myself, I can bubble wrap the world only so much and cannot fathom what I would do if the one square foot I missed ended up being his undoing. I’d probably want to leave the planet as well.

2. Interstellar
Matthew McConaughay makes me mad. There, I said it. When he accepted his Oscar and bleated out one of his infamous “alright, alright, alright” sounds, I all but peed on my TV. But dammit if this movie didn’t make me appreciate him just a little bit. Though the film is flawed in a few parts (like being on the wrong side of the line between mysterious and vague for no reason), ultimately it’s a win in my book. The smarts employed in this film are astounding, between the cutting edge understanding of time dilation to one of the most accurate visual depictions of theoretical cosmic events. I’m not going to attempt to summarize the plot, but it’s fun.

The part that will hit any guy or gal in the feels is when Matthew has to watch his children grow up without him through a series of videos. Due to time dilation, he basically gets the cliff notes of the life he left behind, tragedy and all. Imagine seeing your daughter cry about all her breakups from her entire life in one sitting, and not being able to talk back because of a mistake you made. Ouch.

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
While slow for modern audiences, this film still holds some of the awards in my mind for most realistic space movie. Maybe not that psychedelic whirlwind ending, but some accolades are still held. A contemplation on the leaps humanity has made in our evolution and where we’re going, with a touch of aliens/transdimensional beings mixed into the margins. The main focus, however, is a seemingly harmless A.I. that goes batshit-bananas, earning a place in cinematic history as one of the great villains of all time. HAL-9000, an oversized desktop tower with a solid, unblinking red eye and a calm, uncaring voice. Perfect.

What part makes guys cry? It’s the loss of control we feel at that pivotal part where HAL utters his most famous line “I can’t do that, Dave.” For anyone who’s wrestled with modern computers, you know the frustration of not even knowing if the damn thing is hearing your instructions. Imaging if the computer flat out says “Yes, I hear what you want. But I’m not going to do it. Not because I don’t understand, but because I don’t recognize your authority.” Now add in the fact that your life is on the line. Dammit, HAL. Just…dammit.

4. Mission to Mars

The sister movie to Red Planet but somewhat less dumb, this film tried to walk the path between realism and crazy spaaaacy adventures. Really, you watch it because The Martian hadn’t come out yet, but there are some good parts. In my mind the film has two good ideas: a sound-lock that challenges you to complete a DNA puzzle in order to open a door, and Martians fleeing Mars and seeding Earth with the building blocks of life on their way out. Even that second idea isn’t exactly new, but then there was a sentient tornado on Mars so I forgot all about it.

Sure, these are all flaws we hope Matt Damon doesn’t have to deal with in his new movie, but what Mission to Mars did do properly is kill off Tim Robbins. Years before George Clooney would do the same, Tim sacrifices himself before letting his crewmates sacrifice themselves saving him. Maybe distinguishingly greying astronauts all have death wishes, I don’t know. But seeing Tim’s wife almost save him several times is edge-of-your-seat stuff. Then as Tim stares at his loved one while taking off his helmet in space…you could put that in a gif as a weaponized tear agent.

5. The Right Stuff
I realize I’m cheating a little, here. This is the only film in this list that is based on true events, namely the Mercury missions that propelled NASA from a fledgling amatuer rocket club into a hanger full of the smartest people on earth. While peril in space is breathtaking and filled with thrills, this movie gives us some real human drama as well.

Between Gus Grissom escaping drowning in his sinking capsule only to be publicly blamed for cowardly popping the hatch too early, John Glenn overcoming his fellow astronauts’ criticism and surviving a near-fatal equipment failure, or the tragically forgotten Chuck Yeager nearly killing himself breaking an altitude record just to prove that he could have been an astronaut if they had taken him…this movie is a veritable Shakespearean tragedy. Except everyone is wearing shiny spacesuits and drinking Tang.

Remember Tang? Yuck.

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.