“Perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”

Ask someone today to list off famous sci-fi movies and you’ll get an eclectic list: Star Wars, Alien, E.T., Avatar, and many more. Science fiction was, at one point, an interesting but rather dry genre. Thematically, it was an exploration of the spirit and ethics of science—it provides answers, but it also provides questions, and those questions often end up being just as important as the answers. Classic sci-fi movies like 2001 and Planet of the Apes asked questions more than they provided answers, and that was the beauty of them. Soon, the lines blurred and sci-fi movies became more about incorporating scientific solutions into fast-moving, genre-mixing plots than asking questions.

In 2014, Interstellar brought sci-fi back to its roots. Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) and starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain, this is a movie that uses the answers we have to uncover greater questions. It invokes a sense of wonder, even though it doesn’t answer all (or even most) of the questions it raises. But unlike classic sci-fi films, Interstellar is filled with suspense, drama, and plot twists that don’t detract from the traditional sci-fi elements. It’s a great modern take on classic sci-fi and there aren’t many movies like this being made today.

The plot is set sometime in the near-future, where plagues and drought are threatening to wipe out humanity. Cooper, a former military pilot, now raises his family on a small farm, trying to produce food in the face of great adversity. He stumbles across a group that’s researching other planets for humans to settle—and reluctantly agrees to use his piloting skills to aid their efforts. Together with scientist Brand and a small crew, he takes off to another galaxy to explore potential new homes there, and quickly discovers that planets and phenomena they don’t understand pose risks they never anticipated. The crew has to get creative if they want to save humanity.

Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.

Interstellar is a philosophical movie, but it’s also a treat for the senses. The visuals of the film are extremely well-done and really feel like other worlds. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is epic and provides just the right amount of emotion to tense scenes. Everything comes together to provide a sense of wonder and exploration I haven’t seen since 2001.

Astronauts explore a foreign planet in Interstellar
This, the first planet they land on, felt completely foreign and alien. Scientific theories were brought to life in amazing ways to transport us to another galaxy.

The film contains plenty of awe-inspiring and question-raising phenomena to keep our minds working the entire time. It opens with an aspect of the supernatural, initially explained simply as a ghost, which is quickly followed by an unexplainable scientific occurrence the propels the plot forward. Along the way, there are strange but ultimately somewhat explainable concepts like time relativity—science is there to help the audience through these scarcely believable events and fantastic locations. But it’s fitting that a film about exploring and asking questions returns to that supernatural element. A character attempts to explain what’s going on, but I don’t think it’s an explanation so much as a hypothesis—a more pointed question meant to direct us to another line of questions. You’re not meant to understand everything so much as marvel at the mysteries of the universe.

I’ll admit, I was initially a bit frustrated at the lack of real answers until I realized that the whole point was the questions. It’s OK if you don’t understand everything in Interstellar—that’s actually kind of the point. Knowing that from the start makes this a much more pleasant viewing experience. There’s plenty of tension and suspense, but this is ultimately a cerebral film that takes a bit of thinking to appreciate. It’s not for everyone—my teenage son wasn’t so into it, but I found the film interesting. Still, this is a great modern sci-fi movie with plenty to capture the imaginations of modern audiences. If you enjoy asking questions and exploring the unknown, you’ll find something to like here.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 2:49
Director: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2014
Genres: sci-fi
Rating: PG-13

Movies Like Interstellar

  • 2001: A Space OdysseyInterstellar is almost like a modern-day interpretation of 2001: A Space Odyssey and it deals with a lot of the same themes: the spirit of exploration, the untapped potential of the human race, and the journey into the unknown. Interstellar gave a more concrete form to this journey, but it’s definitely worth checking out 2001 for more of the same thoughts.
  • The Martian – Though The Martian is primarily a story of rescue and survival, it’s also a celebration of the spirit of exploration, and a surprisingly accurate portrayal of how something like this would actually go down. If you enjoyed seeing the alien worlds in Interstellar, The Martian has that in spades.
  • Alien – If Interstellar shows us the positive of exploration, Alien shows us the dark side. It quickly moves into something much different—a tense thriller with danger in every shadow—but one of the underlying messages is that not everyone who wants to explore is a great person. If you like this one, the sequel, Aliens, is just as good, if not better.

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