'Apollo 13' launching back into theaters for NASA moonshot's 50th anniversary

Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly) and Bill Paxton (Fred Haise) in the movie Apollo 13.
Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly) and Bill Paxton (Fred Haise) in the movie Apollo 13. (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Imagine Entertainment)

If you missed your chance to see "Apollo 13" in theaters when it was first released in 1995, do we have a special treat for you.

The blockbuster Hollywood film, based on a real-life emergency in space during the Apollo moon-landing era, is returning to select theaters in April for the mission's 50th anniversary, Space.com learned exclusively.

Tickets will be available starting today (Feb. 12) for screenings at more than 600 movie theaters across the U.S. The special showings will take place on April 5, 6 and 8, cinema distributor Fathom Events said.

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"Apollo 13 may have been deemed a 'successful failure,' but the movie is a brilliant reminder that it was anything but," Tom Lucas, Fathom Events vice president of studio relations, said in a statement. "We are honored to commemorate the 50th anniversary of such an extraordinary human accomplishment — and the 25th anniversary of the movie — by bringing Apollo 13 back to movie theaters, where its vision and scope can be best appreciated."

The  Apollo 13 mission lifted off on April 11, 1970, on what was supposed to be the third human moon landing mission. The astronauts were targeting landing in the moon's Fra Mauro highlands, but an explosion on the spacecraft two days after the launch derailed those plans.

Luckily, the three astronauts on board — commander Jim Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise and command module pilot Jack Swigert — survived the explosion and implemented an emergency plan to come back home

The new multiday mission plan called for a quick loop around the moon and a few engine burns to put the astronauts on the right trajectory for Earth. The plan was made more challenging because the explosion had forced the astronauts to shut down their main, damaged spacecraft, the command module, and rely on their lunar lander as a "lifeboat." They also shut down most systems in the lunar lander to maximize their chances of getting home with the limited resources available.

The astronauts worked closely with NASA's Mission Control, which, in turn, asked for help from its contractors and other experts all over the world. The crew made a safe landing in the Pacific Ocean on April 17, 1970. NASA launched an investigation to determine the causes of the explosion and make changes for future missions, allowing Apollo 14 to resume lunar missions the next year. (Apollo 14 landed at Fra Mauro; none of the Apollo 13 astronauts flew in space again.)

In 1994, Lovell and space journalist Jeffrey Kluger (now a senior writer at Time magazine) released a book about the mission, "Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13" (Houghton Mifflin Co.). Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment worked on a movie based on the book; "Apollo 13" was released in theaters on June 30, 1995. Lovell and his wife, Marilyn, each made a brief appearance in the movie, which received technical advice from Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott. 

The movie is famous for using a modified NASA KC-135 aircraft flying in parabolas to simulate weightlessness. The screenwriters also wrote at least two lines that became linked with the movie: "Failure is not an option" (which was never said in real life) and "Houston, we have a problem" (which was similar to an actual call the astronauts made from space, "Houston, we've had a problem"). 

Key actors included Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Kevin Bacon (Swigert), Bill Paxton (Haise), Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (mission control flight director Gene Kranz) and Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell). The movie was directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer.

Some of the "Apollo 13" team members reunited for the 1998 HBO 12-episode miniseries "From The Earth to the Moon," which included co-producers Howard, Grazer, Hanks and Michael Bostick (who was an associate producer on Apollo 13 and whose father worked for Mission Control during the Apollo program). The miniseries itself was based on a popular book about the Apollo missions, called "A Man on the Moon," by Andrew Chaikin (Viking, 1994). In some editions, Hanks wrote the forward for that book.

For a while, the Lovell family owned a restaurant near Chicago — called Lovells of Lake Forest — that prominently displayed Apollo 13 memorabilia from both the mission and the movie. Jim Lovell opened the restaurant in 1999 and sold the business to his son, Jay, and daughter-in-law around 2005. The restaurant closed in 2015

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace