Watch This Space: 10 Must-See Documentaries About the Universe
The universe is impossibly large, and humans are still confined to a tiny corner of it. However, we’re constantly learning more about the universe and our place in it. And these space documentaries will help you explore the universe from the comfort of your own living room.
1. IMAX: Hubble
The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most important objects that we’ve ever put into orbit around the Earth. It has fundamentally changed our understanding of space, making important discoveries about black holes, the expansion of the universe, and the age of the cosmos.
Multiple missions have upgraded, repaired, and replaced systems on the telescope. The IMAX: Hubble documentary—narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio—looks at these missions in more detail, As you might expect, this space documentary is packed with awe-inspiring footage.
British scientist Stephen Hawking may not be with us any longer, but he has cemented his position as one of the greatest astrophysicists to have ever lived. Who better, therefore, to try and explain the mysteries of the universe in a way that’s understandable to everyone?
This three-part documentary—which was first aired in 2010—looks at aliens, time travel, and the story of the universe. It is one of the best shows about space you can watch, whether or not you’re a fan of Hawking. As a bonus, Benedict Cumberbatch helps with narration.
Another space documentary worth watching is The Farthest: Voyager in Space.
NASA launched Voyager 1 in September 1977. After spending much of the last 40 years traveling at an incredible 40,000 miles per hour, it is now 13.6 billion miles away from Earth. As such, it is comfortably the most distant man-made object from Earth.
As the mission slowly starts to wind down (the craft’s power supply will die in 2025), The Farthest: Voyager in Space looks back at the people and events behind one of our greatest collective achievements.
4. Apollo 11
Apollo 11 is another of the best documentaries about space. It’s also one of the newest documentary films on our list; it was first shown in theaters in early 2019.
The film, which grossed $11 million at the box office, has no narration, interviews, CGI, or other effects. It’s just 90 minutes of incredible archival footage from the successful moon landing of the Apollo 11 mission. Much of the footage had never been previously seen by the public.
If you want further evidence of how good this space documentary is, look no further than the notoriously harsh Rotten Tomatoes website. The film currently has a 99 percent score from critics.
How the Universe Works is one of the best shows about space.
First produced by the Discovery Channel in 2010, and narrated by Mike Rowe and Erik Todd Dellums, it’s a docu-series rather than a film. There are currently seven series and counting.
The first series’ episodes had simple titles like “Black Hole” and “Stars.” By the seventh series, the content had developed into explaining more complex theories.
Many people love watching documentaries on the subject of aliens. However, 2002’s Out of the Blue is considered to be one of the most comprehensive films about the possibility of life on other planets.
It features interviews with the scientific community, alleged eyewitnesses, high-ranking military personnel, and senior government officials. They all discuss the possibility that some Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) could have come from other planets.
Everyone knows that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. The name of the last man, however, is less well-known. That person is Gene Cernan. He was the last astronaut to get back inside the Lunar Module after the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
The Last Man on the Moon looks at the career of Cernan, along with the other 10 astronauts who stepped onto the lunar surface after Apollo 11 but whose names the public has largely forgotten.
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is another brilliant show about space. Presented by world-famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the 13-episode series is written as a follow-up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 masterpiece, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
The new production was a critical success. It won 12 Emmy Awards in 2015, including “Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series” and “Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming”. It also picked up the Peabody for excellence in documentary filmmaking.
Episodes cover everything from the start of life on Earth to the wave theory of light.
While there are some brilliant astronomy documentaries out there, we have chosen something a little different for our list. Galileo is a biographical film about Galileo first released in 1975. It’s an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play of the same name.
Galileo Galilei was a 17th-century Italian scientist. He is known as the father of observational astronomy, and was a proponent of Copernican heliocentrism. These beliefs landed him in trouble with the Catholic Church and led to many years spent under house arrest.
The final entry in our list of the best space documentaries is Wonders of the Solar System. It’s a 2010 BBC production which Professor Brian Cox hosts and narrates.
In total, the space show comprises of five standalone episodes. They look at the behavior of the sun, the orbit of the planets, the atmosphere of the planets, the history of Mars, and aliens.
Like Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, Wonders of the Solar System won a Peabody Award for excellence in documentary filmmaking.
Other Documentaries Worth Watching
The space documentaries we’ve discussed in this article should be enough to satisfy both curious new minds and experienced older heads. They’ll educate and entertain you in equal measure, and give you an insight into outer space and the wider universe.
Of course, this isn’t a full list, and there are plenty of other space documentaries about the universe worth watching. So if you have any to recommend to your fellow readers, please leave a comment below.
Once you have watched all of these space documentaries, why not check out the best video game documentaries , the best photography documentaries , and the best war documentaries to further broaden your horizons.