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Destination: Moon — What to Watch for the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary

What better way to celebrate the historic achievements of the Apollo program than with a movie night? Here are some of the best Apollo films, documentaries and television shows to watch at your Apollo anniversary party this summer.

Documentaries

Apollo 11 (2019)

In anticipation of the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, filmmaker Todd Miller edited and directed this new documentary, which is entirely made up of archival footage. Complemented by a carefully composed score, Apollo 11 showcases the raw energy, emotions, technicality, and rigor of the mission. After its release in theaters, the film is now available for astronauts to watch aboard the International Space Station. 


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Apollo's New Moon (2019)

This brand-new documentary uses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to bring Project Apollo to life with the help of editor and director David Sky Brody. The team behind this film used cutting edge AI technology to enhance NASA footage and images to give viewers a brilliantly clear peek into what it might be like to journey to the moon.

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First to the Moon: The Journey to Apollo 8 (2018)

This documentary focuses on the astronauts of Apollo 8 and their groundbreaking expedition as the first human beings to leave Earth and reach lunar orbit. The film uses restored archival footage and animations to take you from launch to landing to experience every thrilling moment of the mission. 


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Earthrise (2018) 

Earthrise is the story of Apollo 8 and the famous Earthrise photo, as told by the astronauts themselves. Archival footage is stitched together with intimate interviews with the Apollo 8 astronauts, who recount the incredible, technical, and even goofy moments of the monumental mission.

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Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017)

Now available on Netflix, this documentary shows Apollo through the eyes of the team in Mission Control. Nervous kids just out of college, hardworking folks from rural America and hardened veterans sat side by side in Mission Control and made a lunar landing possible. This documentary combines archival footage with interviews with some of these people today to paint a picture of what it was really like behind the scenes of Apollo.


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In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, this British documentary explores NASA's crewed missions to the moon. The film combined interviews with Apollo astronauts and archival footage to tell the story of Apollo. Specifically, this film tells the story of the Apollo missions to reach the moon and the astronauts who walked on its surface.


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The Wonder of it All (2007)

This film features interviews with Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Edgar Mitchell, John Young, Charlie Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt, who all walked on the moon. The documentary dives into the Apollo program and the astronauts' missions to the moon. The astronauts also share a bit of themselves with the audience, detailing their earlier years and how walking on the moon changed them. 


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For All Mankind (1989)

With music by Brian Eno, this documentary takes a unique and powerful approach to documenting the Apollo Program. The film focuses on the beauty of the Earth, as seen from space, and the life-changing experiences of the astronauts and supporting staff members at NASA. Editor Susan Korda and Director Al Reinert sorted through six million feet of footage and 80 hours of NASA interviews to create this film. 


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The Space Movie (1979)

At the request of NASA, this film was produced to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The film celebrates and explains the history of the mission with archival footage and a notable soundtrack of moving orchestral arrangements.


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Moonwalk One (1969/1971/2009)

This documentary was first completed in 1969, but failed to gain traction and, when it was officially shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971, it got a less than stellar response. However, the film found new life when it was re-released in 2009 in a special "Director's Cut" edition. 


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Films

First Man (2018)

Starring Ryan Gosling at Neil Armstrong, First Man is based off of the book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong," by author James R. Hansen. The film follows Gosling through Armstrong's years leading up to Apollo 11, alongside co-stars Claire Foy, who plays Jan Armstrong. The film showcases the emotional and familial tensions that came up as he trained for the mission. 


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Apollo 18 (2011) 

NASA never launched an Apollo 18 mission, but this American-Canadian sci-fi horror film fabricates "found footage" of the phony mission. The fake footage suggests that NASA was going to send two astronauts back to the moon, but refused to eve return to the lunar surface for mysterious and terrifying reasons. The film has received mixed reviews from the public.


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Fly Me to the Moon (2008) — animated

While it received mixed reviews, this Belgian-American 3D animated film is a family friendly take on the Apollo 11 mission. The film features three flies who are best friends and who, in 1969, build a "fly-sized" rocket across from Cape Canaveral where the Saturn V rocket waits to launch. The crew launch with their homemade gear for the moon. 


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The Dish (2000) 

An Australian film, The Dish tells the story (with a blend of fact and fiction) of how the Parkes Observatory helped to televise Armstrong and Aldrin's first steps on the moon. When it came out, it was a top-grossing film in Australia.  


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Apollo 11 (1996) 

This television docudrama was inspired by both the Apollo 11 mission and the recent success of Apollo 13. The film features scenes filmed in the original Apollo Mission Control Center, which has now become a historic landmark. Engineers from the Apollo Program even helped to make the setting and tech more accurate to how it was in 1969. Buzz Aldrin worked as a technical consultant on the film.

Apollo 13 (1995)

This space docudrama remains one of the most popular space films to-date. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris, Apollo 13 tells the harrowing tale of the Apollo 13 astronauts who had to abort their lunar landing and barely made it back home. 


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The Right Stuff (1983)

Starring Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Barbara Hershey, and more, this film is an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's book of the same name. The film shows the lives of the test pilots who were a part of the early days of aeronautics, making up the seven first astronauts selected for NASA's Project Mercury. The movie received eight Oscar nominations and is beloved by many.


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Houston, We've Got a Problem (1974)

This made-for-tv drama depicts the nail-biting events of Apollo 13. Starring Ed Nelson as NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, the film's title is actually a misquote from Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, who originally said "Houston, we've had a problem."

Stowaway to the Moon (1975) 

This made-for-tv movie was based on a book by author William Roy Shelton, who also co-wrote the screenplay. This film stars Lloyd Bridges and tells the story of a preteen boy who stows away on an Apollo mission to the lunar surface. Interestingly, this movie also features astronaut Pete Conrad, the third human to walk on the moon.

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Television series

From the Earth to the Moon (1998)

This 12-part HBO miniseries depicts the Apollo Program. Based on Andrew Chaikinn's book A Man on the Moon, this series has been praised for its special effects and historical accuracy. Tom Hanks, one of the film's producers, makes an appearance in every episode.

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Moon Machines (2008)

This 6-episode Science Channel documentary miniseries showcases the technical, engineering difficulties of NASA's Apollo Program. The film was made to commemorate NASA's 50th anniversary in 2008, and it takes a deep dive into all of the incredible technology that made a lunar landing possible.


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Why We Left Earth: The NASA Missions (2008)

This 6-episode Discovery Channel documentary miniseries details American human spaceflight from the earliest days of the Mercury Program through the Apollo Program, the Space Shuttle launches, and the creation of the International Space Station. This comprehensive series was created in association with NASA to honor the agency's 50th anniversary.


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