Space and the universe have fascinated humans for thousands of years. Being awestruck by what lies beyond our home planet has been one of the most important driving forces behind our species' technological advancement.
Yet, despite all that we have achieved, there is still much to be learned from the universe at large. Whilst you could pursue a career in astrophysics or astronomy to find out, luckily we also have a plethora of easy-to-digest documentaries that give us an insight, as laymen, into our current understanding of what exists beyond Earth.
We've hand-selected some of the best out there. Trust us when we say this list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
What are the best space documentaries?
There are literally thousands of space documentaries out there, but some of them are leagues ahead of the rest. Of course, like any question of this nature, personal taste will come into any decision on which of them are "the best".
But, there are some outstanding space documentaries that, put simply, are a must-watch. We have included a few of these in our list below, but there are plenty more out there.
What are the best space documentaries around?
The last years happened to have produced some great space documentaries. These include, but are not limited to:
- Apollo 11 - An inspiring documentary about one of the most important achievements of our species of all time. It is a compilation of footage and contemporary audio from the time. We'll discuss this in more detail further on.
- Chasing the Moon - This great little documentary series traces the major events behind the race to land on the Moon. It also includes archival footage, some never-seen-before by the public.
- Searching for Skylab - America's Forgotten Triumph - This 2019 documentary explores the story behind the 1970s American space station Skylab.
But, there is a huge catalog of space documentaries that are great to watch whatever year it is.
1. "Apollo 11" has no narrator
"Apollo 11" is a fascinating documentary packed with historical footage from this history-making manned mission to the Moon. You'll get to see real footage from the NASA control room and on the rocket itself, as well as footage from the moon lander.
It offers an incredible opportunity to understand everything that went into that awe-inspiring event, from pre-launch to splashdown recovery.
Unlike other documentaries, "Apollo 11" does not have a narrator. All audio is from mission control which can make it difficult to understand at times. Otherwise, this is a refreshing and fascinating insight into one of man's greatest achievements.
2. "Fight for Space" is a must watch
"The Fight for Space" is an interesting documentary whose main theme is about the decline of the space program post the Apollo program. The documentary attempts to explain why, since then, man hasn't even left Earth's orbit.
It features famous scientists like American astronomer and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku who argue that the decision to cut back on space exploration funding was a real scientific tragedy. They also attempt to make the case for returning to space as soon as possible.
This is a must-watch if you love space and exploration.
3. "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman" is awesome
"Through the Wormhole" is awesome simply by the fact it is narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman. But, it also happens to be a great documentary that explores some of the deepest mysteries of existence.
It attempts to answer things like:
- What was there before the beginning?
- Are we really alone?
- Is there a creator?
The documentary brings together the brightest minds and best ideas from the very edges of science - Astrophysics, Astrobiology, Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and more. It is absolutely fascinating to watch.
4. Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" is legendary
Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" is the closest you'll ever get to the perfect documentary series on space and the cosmos. It is an absolute must-watch for anyone who considers themselves a fan of space exploration.
Hosted and narrated by the late, great Carl Sagan, "Cosmos" is simply one of the best on the market. By watching "Cosmos" you will be treated to an engaging guided tour of the universe, as we knew it back in the 1980s.
It originally aired on PBS and is split into 13 gripping and fascinating episodes. Do yourself a favor and watch as soon as you can.
5. "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" is an excellent reboot of Sagan's masterpiece
Hosted and narrated by the great Neil deGrasse Tyson, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" is effectively a homage to the 1980s masterpiece with Carl Sagan. In fact, Neil often quotes Carl Sagan as one of his greatest inspirations for pursuing his career in Astrophysics.
This sequel-of-sorts is also split into 13 episodes and features updated graphics and information to bring it up to current science and discoveries. It, like the original, is another must-see documentary on space and offers a great fresh look into the void.
You won't regret binge-watching this one.
6. "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking" is absolutely riveting
If a documentary includes the much-missed Stephen Hawking, it must be a good one, right? Frankly, if you want to hear the views of anyone on the subject of space, you can't really go wrong with one of the most acclaimed scientists of all time.
The 2010 TV mini-series was written by Stephen and features aliens, time travel, and the story of everything, with incredible graphics and interesting explanations from the theoretical physicist and cosmologist.
This documentary series has everything you'll ever need, in one neat package. Add this to your to-watch list ASAP.
7. "Journey to the Edge of the Universe" won't disappoint
Depending on which versions you watch, you'll either be rewarded with the dulcet tones of Alex Baldwin for the US Version, or the great Sean Pertwee for the British version.
"Journey to the Edge of the Universe" takes you a graphic-packed, breathtaking tour of the universe.
It promises and doesn't disappoint to take you to the very edge of space as we know it, and hits you with scientific facts on the way. It, really, is a great space documentary that you'd be silly to miss.
This great 2008 documentary was the first broadcast on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.
8. "Hubble" is a very nice documentary
This 2010 IMAX documentary film is another great one to watch if you haven't already. Also known as Hubble 3D, IMAX: Hubble or IMAX: Hubble 3D, this documentary is an interesting insight into the efforts made to maintain important scientific instruments in space.
Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, the documentary primarily focusses on the trials and tribulations of 7 astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
If you haven't caught this one yet, it comes thoroughly recommended.
9. "For All Mankind" is another amazing space documentary
Released in 1989, "For All Mankind" is an amazing space documentary you really need to watch as soon as you are able. Compiled from original footage of NASA's Apollo program, this documentary is a fascinating insight into the effort made to put the first humans on the Moon.
Directed by Al Reinert, and the score composed by Brian Eno, this documentary is literally space documentary gold. The documentary, some might call a piece of art, focusses on the beauty of our home planet as seen from space.
It includes the personal experiences of the Apollo program crew, as well as, mission control staff. This really is a very different watching experience compared to other entries on this list.
10. "In the Shadow of the Moon" is an interesting take on the mission to the Moon
A British-made documentary/film, "In the Shadow of the Moon" is yet another amazing space documentary that is really worth spending your time watching. Released in 2007, it documents the United States' crewed missions to the Moon.
It first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and even managed to win the World Cinema Audience Award the same year. The following year, it was the first film to be awarded Sir Arthur Clarke Award.
Like other documentaries featured on this list, "In the Shadow of the Moon" features original footage from various missions to the Moon.
11. "The Last Man on the Moon" is an inspiring story
First released in 2014, "The Last Man on the Moon" centers around the events of astronaut Eugene "Gene" Cernan who walked on the Moon in 1972. Before he left Earth's nearest celestial body, he left not only his footprints but also his daughter's initials on the Lunar dust.
This documentary is the first of its kind to share his epic story about his personal fulfillment, love, and loss. Combining rare archival footage with compelling visual FX, this documentary offers unparalleled access to this iconic historical figure.
12. "Roving Mars" is a must-watch for any Mars maniac
If you are fascinated by the "Red Planet", you really have to watch this great little documentary. Initially released in 2006, "Roving Mars" is an IMAX documentary film about the development, launch, and operation of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit, and Opportunity.
The documentary film uses actual photographs from the surface of Mars and includes CGI to bring the stills to life. The film was a raging success and made somewhere in the region of $10 million by 2009.
If you love all things, Mars, you really will enjoy watching this amazing documentary.
13. "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo" is yet another great space documentary
First released in 2017, "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo" is another space documentary lovers must watch. Focussing on the behind the scenes work of mission control, this documentary provides important information into the lives of the unsung heroes of many space missions.
It combines archival footage and present-day interviews to bring this incredible period of history to life for a modern audience. This really is an interesting view of any space program enthusiast.
14. "First to the Moon: The Journey of Apollo 8" is another awesome space documentary
Premiered in 2018, "First to the Moon: The Journey of Apollo 8" is yet another amazing space documentary you need to add to your list of stuff to watch -- if you haven't already. Focussing on the events around the second manned mission to the Moon, this documentary offers never-seen-before footage and insights you really don't want to miss.
Apollo 8 launched on the 21st of December 1968 and was the first manned spacecraft to ever leave low Earth orbit and reach the Moon. Not only that, but it also returned to Terra Firma safely.
Initially screened at The Explorers Club in New York City, the Kansas Cosmosphere, and Arizona State University, this documentary comes highly recommended.
15. "The Space Movie" was produced to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Moon landings
First released in 1979, "The Space Movie" is an interesting take on the Moon landings that occurred a decade before. Produced on request by NASA, this 78-minute-long documentary is narrated by Ed Bishop (a famous contemporary actor) as is, frankly, is a space documentary classic.
Featuring an amazing musical score produced by Mike Oldfield (of Tubular Bells fame) it is a musical journey through our solar system and beyond. It features breathtaking images of the universe around us and really is an epic watch.
16. "The Farthest" traces the journey of Voyager 1 and 2
An Irish production, "The Farthest" chronicles the history of mankind's farthest objects sent into space. Originally released in 2017, this documentary offers an interesting insight into the only objects created by man to ever leave our solar system.
This alone makes the story of the Voyager program unprecedented in human history, and the production includes the testimony of the NASA team involved in its realization. This really is a much watch for any self-described space fan.
17. "Moonwalk One" is another amazing documentary chronically the history-making events of Apollo 11
If you can't get enough of the events of the 1969 Moon landings, then "Moonwalk One" is another space documentary you need to watch. First released in the early 1970s, this documentary is jam-packed with useful information about all aspects of the Apollo 11 mission.
It is a feature-length production that portrays the massive technological investment, and achievements made to ensure the mission's success. If you are in need of some inspiration, this space documentary certainly fits the bill.
18. "Earthrise" is another fascinating documentary for space lovers
"Earthrise" is a space documentary that tells the story of the first image of Earth ever captured from space in the late-1960s. Told from the perspective of the Apollo 8 astronauts, the docufilm recounts the experiences and memories of this groundbreaking and historical image.
The image itself has changed our perspective of our place in the cosmos beyond all imagination, and this documentary captures the significance of the event. Offering a perspective that transcends national, political, and religious boundaries the documentary really is a much-watch.
19. "The Search for Life in Space" will blow your mind
Is there other life out there in the universe? This is a fundamental question that is in the back of the mind of anyone who dares to ponder the wonders of the void.
This is the main premise behind the production of "The Search for Life in Space". This documentary takes a breakneck speed tour from the depths of the pacific ocean to the far reaches of space on a quest to find life beyond our planet and solar system.
It attempts to answer, in its own way, questions like "Where did we come from?", "How did we get here?" and "Are we alone?"
There is plenty of food for thought here if you love nothing more than to binge-watch space documentaries.