Neil Armstrong Biopics Take Small Steps Toward TV and Big Screen

The life of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong is the focus of both a feature film and TV miniseries now in development.
The life of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong is the focus of both a feature film and TV miniseries now in development. (Image credit: NASA)

The life story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has taken not one, but two small steps towards landing on both the big and small screens.

A newly-acclaimed director and a television network have each reportedly turned their attention to Neil Armstrong, the late Apollo 11 moonwalker, as the inspiration for a feature-length film and TV miniseries, respectively.

Damien Chazelle, who directed the upcoming jazz drama "Whiplash," is in talks to direct "First Man," a biopic about Armstrong for Universal Studios. [Neil Armstrong: Astronaut Icon Remembered in Photos]

Meanwhile, the TV network TNT has dusted off its plans for "One Giant Leap," an almost 10-year-old project to adapt Armstrong's life as a four-hour miniseries.

Neil Armstrong, who died in August 2012 at age 82, was a Naval aviator and NASA research pilot prior to becoming an astronaut in 1962. Three years before he walked on the moon in July 1969, Armstrong commanded the Gemini 8 mission, achieving the world's first-ever docking between two spacecraft. 

Penetrating character study

News of Chazelle's interest in directing "First Man," which was first broken by The Hollywood Reporter, comes just a couple of weeks before the limited release of "Whiplash," the filmmaker's new drama. The movie, which stars actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons as a young jazz drummer and his mentor, took the top awards at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

"Damien Chazelle's new film caused a sensation not just at the Sundance Film Festival, but everywhere it has been previewed," said historian James Hansen, who penned the authorized biography "First Man" on which the Armstrong feature film will be based. "When the rest of us get to see ['Whiplash'] and start to appreciate what a brilliant young filmmaker that Chazelle is, the excitement about how he will handle 'First Man' should really explode."

Universal originally optioned Hansen's "First Man" (Simon & Schuster, 2005) in 2008 after it was briefly considered by Clint Eastwood for Warner Brothers. A screenplay was written but the project stalled until earlier this year, when Chazelle expressed interest in directing. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Josh Singer ("The Fifth Estate") has been tapped to write a new script.

"Space enthusiasts need to know that it is not going to be an "Apollo 13" or a "From the Earth to the Moon," Hansen told "It is going to be sharply-edged, penetrating character study."

"I am going to be deeply involved in this film, especially as the screenplay is written, and I will do everything I can to make it an honest story," he added.

Producing "First Man" for Universal will be Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen of Temple Hill Entertainment ("Twilight: New Moon," "The Maze Runner"). 

"Whiplash" director Damien Chazelle (left) and star J.K. Simmons seen together at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Chazelle is in talks with Universal Studios to direct "First Man" about Neil Armstrong. (Image credit: Sony Classics)

Small screen, 'Giant Leap'

Preceding the news about "First Man" by a few days, TNT confirmed to Deadline Hollywood that it was again picking up development of its miniseries about Neil Armstrong.

Al Reinert, who co-wrote the script for Universal Studios' 1995 feature film "Apollo 13," has been attached to TNT's "One Giant Leap," based on the book by the same title by Leon Wagener (Tom Doherty Associates, 2004). Reinart also penned two episodes of Tom Hanks' HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon," including one focusing on Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, as well as directed the 1989 moon landing documentary "For All Mankind."

EOne Television ("Hell on Wheels" on AMC and "Haven" on SyFy) will produce "One Giant Leap" for TNT.

Target release dates for either "One Giant Leap" or "First Man" are not yet known.

"It has been 45 years since Apollo 11 and it is time for the story — particularly Neil's story — to be presented to the younger generations," Hansen said.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.