The Movies That Confronted the Scariest Challenges of Space Travel

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The Forever War (TBA)

Probably the best story to handle space travel at relativistic speeds is Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Written partially in response to the jingoistic (and a little fascist) Starship Troopers, the novel uses relativistic time dilation as a fantastic metaphor for troops returning home during the Vietnam War. It uses time dilation to portray the feeling of returning home from combat to discover the wide social changes that have taken place at home, but with plenty of space wars. In short, it is perfect movie fodder.

The film rights to the book have been changing hands since 1988. For a long time, Ridley Scott was set to direct with plans to make it a 3D spectacle to rival Avatar (which also featured space travel subject to time dilation, but you would have to read a lot of behind-the-scenes material to find that out). However, in 2015 the rights expired and were quickly bought up by Warner Bros. with the intent to make it a Channing Tatum vehicle. The film is supposedly still in development, but just like on a spaceship moving at close to the speed of light, time moves slowly in development hell.

And the Honorable Mentions

At time of writing MGM have just announced a release date for their adaptation of Project Hail Mary, an extrapolation of a novel by The Martian author Andy Weir, with Phil Lord and Chris Miller sitting in the (double-seated) directors’ chair. The film, starring Ryan Gosling, attempts to offer a hard sci-fi take on an astronaut travelling to a nearby star to find the source of a mysterious space-borne lifeform that is causing our sun to dim.

Unlike The Forever War, time dilation doesn’t make up a huge part of the story other than emphasizing how isolated the hero is, but it is still mentioned in the book and forms a crucial plot point.

Outside of movies, a band of developers who previously worked on the Mass Effect games have now announced the action RPG, Exodus, a seemingly hard-sci-fi take on the space opera where the player will endure time dilation as they travel from system to system while epochs pass behind them. But after a lot of searching, we have found precisely five completed films that make use of time dilation, three of which fudge the science (If you know of any others, please let us know in the comments. This isn’t an attempt to drive engagement, I just want to watch those movies!).

Of course a lot of space travel stories still reach straight for the hyperdrive, but by embracing space travel, you not only open up opportunities to let people see far beyond their years, and show off the ways that spacetime can behave far more weirdly than any science fiction creation; you also drives home just how big our universe really is.

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