Space is a filmmaker's favorite place to play with the idea of time and human limitations. There are endless possibilities when putting humans in places they were naturally not designed to exist, allowing filmmakers to play with themes of human vs. nature and theories of time (we’re looking at you, Christopher Nolan). 

Filmmakers can either get space right or very, very wrong. Chris Hadfield, a retired astronaut and engineer fact checks notable space movies using his vast knowledge of space. Check out his breakdown of your favorite space films in the video below.


The visuals in Gravityare stunning, and the characters and dialogue are accurate. In the scene when the space shuttle explorers are hit by debris while doing repairs on the Hubble telescope, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) panics, not knowing what to do as she is spinning out of control.

Hadfield states, “Sandra Bullock did a great job of portraying this character in the movie, but I just think the character they wrote for her was really disappointing.”

Instead of writing characters that represent what astronauts are really like and how they respond to moments of crisis, the filmmakers decided to create characters that served the story. 

“I think [Sandra Bullock’s character] set back a little girl’s vision of what a woman astronaut could be [by] an entire generation.”

Gravity_space_movie'Gravity'Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures


The big moment in Passengers is when the gravity of the spaceship turns on and off, creating dangerous moments for characters that are either sleeping or swimming. 

The ship spins to create enough force that holds people down to the sides of the ship, mimicking gravity. To stop the centrifugal force of the spinning ship, the ship would need brakes to stop it. 

When the centrifugal force does stop, the weightlessness of space takes hold. Hadfield explained that when water is squirted out of a water bottle, the liquid takes the shape of a circle. In Passengers, the water does form a blob similar to what would happen in space, flexing as Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) swims inside the floating blob. 

Although the gravity turns on and restores the ship’s gravity in the movie, it would take a lot of force and time to reinstate the gravity in reality. Unfortunately, gravity is not an on/off switch. 

Water_scene_in_passengersThe effect of water in space in 'Passengers'Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing


Many of Michael Bay’s films are outside of the realm of reality, and Armageddon is no exception. 

As the shuttle lands on the asteroid headed toward Earth, Hadfield is quick to point out the many flaws in the scene. First, the crew is talking to mission control in real-time with no lag, bending the laws of time and space. 

Another issue is the flairs as the shuttle lands on the asteroid. There is no air on the asteroid, so no flairs could exist since that is the air being compressed around the shuttle. It could be fuel from the shuttle, but Hadfield points out that there is no gas tank even though there are engineers attached to the back and constantly running. 

Hadfield points out another character flaw in the film: everyone is panicking. Sure, astronauts feel fear and anxiety, but they are trained to handle these extreme circumstances under an immense amount of pressure. 

Armageddon_space_movie'Armageddon'Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

The Martian

Food is an essential part of human life, and astronauts know this. They have been growing food on spaceships for a long time, trying to help NASA study plant growth in microgravity while adding fresh food to the astronauts’ diet which enhances happiness and well-being in the confined space. 

All that is needed is the right chemical reaction to grow food in microgravity. Once a greenhouse is created, producing the heat and oxygen it needs to grow food, the atmosphere changes slightly. That is essentially what happens on Earth: a chemical reaction. 

The author of the novel, Andy Weir, got the science right by asking botanists and astronauts how they would go about growing plants on Mars. 

The only issue Hadfield pointed out from The Martianwas the dust storm happening at the beginning of the film. Mars has a very thin atmosphere that would make humans feel like they are on the edge of outer space. If the air was blowing aggressively fast, then there would be few air molecules going by that you’d hardly even feel them. Mars changes season slowly.

The gravity on Mars is also vastly different from Earth. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wouldn’t have been able to walk around comfortably on the ground because Mars has 38% of the gravity that is on Earth. People would be one-third their weight and would bounce up and down as they walked. 

The_martian_plants_on_mars'The Martian'Credit: 20th Century Fox


What happens when you get sucked inside a black hole? That is a question that is truly beyond the human brain's capability to comprehend.

“Gravity, the strength of it, is proportional to where the black hole is. The closer you get, the more gravity you get. It would just be tearing everything to pieces.”

There is nothing man-made that could withstand the force of a black hole which is why they are such a terrifying force of nature. But that is the beauty of filmmaking. You can make up a structure or shuttle strong enough to withstand the destructive force of a black hole.

Interstellarwas the brainchild of one of the best physicists in the world, Kip Thorne. Thorne was trying to figure out the math of what happens around a black hole. The company Double Negative took Throne’s math and turned it into the raw visuals of what a black hole would look like. That image then became the basis for Nolan’s story. In 2019, Thorne’s and Double Negative’s images turned out to be true as NASA was able to capture an image of a supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87. 

Black_hole_in_real_life_vs_interstellarA real black hole compared to Kip Throne and Double Negative's black hole in 'Interstellar'Credit: NASA and Warner Bros. Pictures

First Man

Before astronauts become astronauts, they always have other significantly complex, technical professions. A lot of astronauts used to be test pilots, and that includes all three of the astronauts in Apollo 11, including Neil Armstrong. 

In the opening scene of First Man, Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is flying an X-15 right at the edge of its capability. One of the biggest problems that Hadfield points out is the sound. The X-15 shouldn’t be rattling and making as much sound as it is.

Another issue is the color of the sky as Armstrong flies closer to the edge of the atmosphere. As the X-15 approaches the atmosphere, the sky should go from a lighter blue to a darker blue to black, but First Man does the opposite.

First_man_space_movie'First Man'Credit: Universal Pictures

Ad Astra

One thing Ad Astranailed was guns on the moon. 

Guns don’t need oxygen to work. “If you think about what happens inside a bullet, there’s this striker in the back and it causes a chemical explosion, and it's the exploding gas inside the confines of the rifle that make the projectile come out the end really fast,” says Hadfield.

The bullet will fall more slowly than it would on Earth, but it would go further around on the moon. There is a chance that there is a gun that could fire a bullet that can get to the escape velocity where it is going so fast that it escapes the moon’s gravitational pull. 

Ad_astra_guns_on_the_moon_0Guns on the moon in 'Ad Astra'Credit: 20th Century Fox

Hopefully, Hadfield’s quick breakdown of space can help you when you’re writing your next space screenplay. Space is endless, but there are mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and astronauts trying to figure it out. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask them questions about their profession and your own theories on the great unknown. 

Do you have any corrections about a space film that I didn’t mention above? Let us know in the comments! 

Source: Vanity Fair