December 18, 2018

Our top 5 space movies (and some real science to go with them)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1...blast off! We're launching the new Science on Screen blog with a look at the top 5 space movies in the Science on Screen archive—and the science our grantees presented with them. All systems go!

THE MARTIAN: Our most popular space flick by a pile of potatoes.

After 14 years of sponsoring live science-meets-cinema events across the nation, the Science on Screen program archive is deep. Some 800 programs, 500 films, and 250+ event videos deep.

The Science on Screen website has been archiving these events for years, in part simply to keep a comprehensive record of the great work our grantee theaters have done in bringing scientists to engage movie audiences with science.

But another, bigger reason that we keep this all info online? So that you can use it!

With that goal in mind we're launching the Science on Screen blog. Our posts will highlight SoS programs related to current events and cutting-edge research—plus links to online video of presentations by expert scientists. Watch them on their own for a quick science lesson, or pair them with the suggested movie to create your own Science on Screen event in your home, classroom, or community center.

We'll also post about big happenings in the Science on Screen community, news from our grantee theaters, application deadlines, and more.

And with that, we're go for launch, with a look at the scientific talks we've compiled around a perennially popular SoS topic: space....

OUR TOP 5 SPACE MOVIES (and some real science to go with them)


With 17 Science on Screen programs under its utility belt to date, this science-celebrating tale of survival on Mars is SoS's most screened space flick by far. Program topics at THE MARTIAN screenings have included what astronauts eat in space, how to survive in extreme conditions, the future of space travel, and how NASA simulates longterm Mars habitation here on Earth. (See the full list of events here.)

Below, check out video of the Bozeman Film Society's program on farming in poor soil, featuring Montana State University Assistant Professor of Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology Mac Burgess, and The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul's Martian Survivability Equation program with science educator Janice Rideout.

VIDEO: From Mars to Montana: The dirty secret behind soil

VIDEO: The Martian Survivability Equation


Since HIDDEN FIGURES hit theaters in 2017, 13 Science on Screen grantees have run programs featuring this biopic about black women working in the U.S. space program as NASA raced to send the first man into space. Most have used the inspiring true story to launch conversations about the gender gap in science and the importance of diversity in STEM fields. The Michigan Theater took a different tack, focusing on the technology of autonomous aircraft systems. (See the full list of HIDDEN FIGURES programs here). Below, Sarah Wyatt, professor of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University, tells the audience at Athena Cinema about how plants respond to zero-gravity.

VIDEO: Plants in space


A profound commentary on man's relation to machines, the universe, and life itself, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is widely considered to be the crowning achievement of sci-fi on film. To date it has inspired nine Science on Screen events, on topics ranging from the origins of life on Earth to aliens and existentialism to the promise and pitfalls of artificial intelligence. (See the full list here.) In the video below, University of Maine Associate Professor of Computer Science Roy M. Turner discusses the AI depicted in the film from computer science angle at Maine Film Center / Railroad Square Cinema.

VIDEO: The computer science of a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece


This film depicting humanity's first contact with an alien species has been featured at five Science on Screen events about the real search for extraterrestrial intelligence (and how we could say hello to aliens when we do find them). See the full list of CONTACT programs here, and below, watch the Belcourt Theatre's take on the topic with NASA's Steve Howell, project scientist on the Kepler Mission, and NASA aerospace engineer Tracie Prater.

VIDEO: The search for extraterrestrial life


The movie that made Sigourney Weaver famous and spawned a (literally) gut-busting three-way Aliens/Star Wars/Looney Tunes spoof in SPACEBALLS gotten the Science on Screen treatment four times, accompanying lectures on the environmental impact of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, space exploration, women in science, and the depiction of science in sci-fi.

But since we have no videos of those programs to share with you, we're adding not one but two bonus features at #6...


A 1956 space-based retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest shares our number six slot with the second offering from the Star Trek movie franchise juggernaut. Below The Loft Cinema hosts Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at University of Arizona, for a discussion about the future of space travel in reality and as depicted in THE FORBIDDEN PLANET and its early sci-fi brethren reveal.

VIDEO: The shape of things to come: Going back to the future with '50s sci-fi

Pick your favorite program from the space and astronomy category of our archive and enjoy some space-flavored Science on Screen. And check back soon for more from Science on Screen!