‘The Challenge’ (‘Vyzov’) became the first feature film in history to be partially shot in space! The premise tells the story of a doctor who answers the call of duty, as she’s summoned to the International Space Station to carry out an emergency surgery in zero gravity. Actress Julia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko spent two weeks aboard the actual ISS to shoot the space scenes, returning to earth with 78 hours of footage.
This sci-fi horror blends together aliens and the realities of Russian cosmonautics. The story revolves around the ‘Orbita-4’ spaceship that successfully returns to Earth to the cheers and jubilation of the entire Soviet Union. That’s what the media tells the people, at least. However, it leaves out the part about a mysterious incident that took place aboard the spaceship, during which the only surviving cosmonaut is left with amnesia, unable to remember anything. A neurophysiologist is invited to investigate under strict secrecy, attempting to extract the truth from the cosmonaut. She gradually realizes that he has unwittingly brought back an extraterrestrial life form inside of him. That’s when the horror starts!
This movie is based on the true story of the ‘Salut-7’ Soviet orbital station, which suddenly stopped transmitting in 1985. Experienced cosmonauts are sent to orbit in order to figure out the cause: they must perform the first ever docking with an uncontrollable vessel in space. The maneuver is still considered to be the most difficult to have ever been carried out in the history of cosmonautics.
‘Vremya Pervykh’, as the movie is called in Russian, is based on another true story – this time, about an event that had an impact on international cosmonautics. Pavel Belyaev and Alexey Leonov are sent into orbit around Earth with the purpose of carrying out the first ever space walk in the midst of the Soviet-U.S. Space Race.
This biopic tells the story of Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space. It is also the first attempt to bring his life story to the screen, including his childhood, first love and the fight for the honor of becoming “the first”, as well as the most important event in his life.
Foreman Vladimir Mashkov heads out to a local store and bumps into a homeless man, who tells him that he’s an alien. To prove his extraterrestrial origins, he shows Mashkov his “little teleportation gadget”. Vladimir accidentally turns it on and is transported to a desert. Except he’s no longer on Earth!
This is a full-length animated feature that quickly attained cult status in the USSR and was, at one point, considered Russia’s answer to Japanese anime (though, admittedly, the two look nothing alike). The story revolves around a space expedition, looking for life on other planets. However, an accident turns the science trip into a rescue mission, involving a cat-and-mouse game with space pirates. The animated movie also appears to have borrowed from the American ‘Lost in Space’ franchise, which originally aired in the 1960s.
A remote space exploration crew comes upon a broken spaceship belonging to an alien civilization. They discover that all of its dead crew are actually clones. However, among them is also a single female survivor, whom the cosmonauts end up bringing back with them to investigate further who she is and where she comes from.
The movie was ahead of its time in raising the important question of the ethics of cloning lifeforms with predetermined characteristics.
‘The Orion Loop’ – or ‘Petlya Oriona’ – echoes the question, felt in the 1970s not only in the USSR, but throughout the world (you may remember Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, 1977): “What guarantee of safety do we have, meeting an actual extraterrestrial race?”
Scientists record a powerful radiation blast at the edge of our solar system, which is believed to be the cause of cosmonauts gradually losing sanity. Earth sends the spaceship ‘Phaeton’ to investigate the source. The blast turns out to be a signal from an alien civilization, attempting to warn Earth of a looming catastrophe of terrible proportions.
Cult director Andrey Tarkosvky’s movie is based on Stanislav Lem’s novel of the same name. It raises the ethical issues faced by humanity through the prism of contact with an alien intelligence, for which it’s almost universally considered to be one of the greatest science fiction works in the history of international cinema. After you’re done with Tarkovsky’s version, you can also check out the 2002 Hollywood remake.
‘Planeta Bur’ aka ‘Planet of Storms’ (or Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, to American audiences) deals with the straightforward subject of a mission to Venus, where explorers discover alien life that’s out to kill them. Director Pavel Klushantsev used the cutting-edge technique of “luminescent shooting”, unseen in the West at the time. As a result, the movie had a massive impact on world cinema: even George Lucas borrowed some design elements for his ‘Star Wars’ franchise; while Ridley Scott used similar spacesuit designs for his ‘Alien’ prequel ‘Prometheus’ (2012)!
‘Doroga k Zvezdam’ is a cinematic mixture of science education and science fiction. The story describes the life and career of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, before the narrative switches to the story of the first manned flight to space and then – the Moon, which happened before the actual events in real life. Although the technical aspects of the fictional flight turned out to be rather unlike the real deal, the movie dazzled audiences with state-of-the-art special effects at the time.
This is one of the earliest feature-length movies about space travel and it turns 100 years in 2024! The movie became a widely acclaimed classic of the genre and is considered an important milestone in world cinema. It tells the story of Aelita, the queen of Mars, who wishes to learn more about life on Earth – especially about a certain engineer, who’s secretly building a spaceship for a trip to Mars.
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