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Hollywood astronomy lite

Space can provide a fun setting for any movie without actually mattering to the story.
Hollywood
Formeproductions|Dreamstime.com
I’ve been watching movies about space and astronomy for decades, and writing “Hollywood astronomy” was one of the most fun assignments I’ve ever gotten. Of course, there just wasn’t enough room to say everything about the subject, and one interesting idea that didn’t make the cut was how many movies use the visual language and setting of space, but aren’t really about it. Whether they’re more about rollicking space hijinx, surviving exotic monsters, or even none-too-subtle allegories for racism, “space movies” can have surprisingly little to do with space. Here then are the top seven such movies, to accompany the article’s other lists.

Top 7 movies featuring space, but not really about it
1. The Star Wars movies (1977–2005)
The 6-volume-long Star Wars saga follows the Skywalker family’s influence on the Galactic Republic as it transforms into the Galactic Empire. Their use of gravity, lasers, and even some spacey terminology make no sense, but who cares — it’s so much fun!

2. Alien(s) (1979, 1986)
Helping to define (and then redefine) the “space horror” genre, this pair of movies definitely wins points for the correct science in the tagline “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The thrills didn’t take much else about space into account, but then it’s hard to notice such things when you’re on the edge of your seat.

3. District 9 (2009)
Breaking the boundaries of what sci-fi movies can be, District 9 proved that in the right hands (those of rookie writer/director Neill Blomkamp) a story about aliens can also be a story about real-life discrimination and class struggle.

4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s heart-warming tale about a visitor to our planet demonstrates that a movie about aliens can still be great family fun. Hiding among stuffed animals and a magical bike ride are just a few of the film’s iconic scenes that everyone seems to know.

5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
With this tale of otherworldly visitors and the havoc they wreak on ordinary people’s lives, Spielberg cemented his status as a visionary director with a special touch for PG science fiction.

6. Galaxy Quest (1999) and Spaceballs (1987)
And what’s a genre without a few loving spoofs to highlight the goofiness? Galaxy Quest takes the cast of a very Star Trek-y show on a real-life galactic quest, and Spaceballs re-imagines the (original) Star Wars trilogy as a vaudevillian screwball comedy. In both cases, hilarity ensues.

7. Serenity (2005)
This recent cult classic ends the list only because it’s more space-oriented than any other entry; it’s definitely in my top 5 of all time. Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly finally made it to the big screen, and amidst the various adventures, shootouts, and explosions, audiences learned the fates of the misfit crew and the secrets behind the fictional universe’s biggest mystery.

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