[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Emma Barry guest post on the site today. Take it away Emma!]
“Houston, we have a problem”: mainly that there isn’t much romance in films about astronauts and space. Oh sure, movies of this vintage feature lots of phallic rockets, chiseled jaws, worried wives, and stressed-out engineers, but there’s not nearly enough smooching.
With the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo landing, I have a guide for the romance fan to the best love stories in space movies. I’m only including films that are based on history—so don’t look for Star Wars here. I’ve rated them on a scale from one to five rockets, but please note that’s only for the amount and quality of the love story—these are all fantastic movies—and I’ve included some mild spoilers. I also threw in a few bonus romance recommendations at the end, because we love books here too, right?
Based on Tom Wolfe’s book about the first group of astronauts, it’s basically Top Gun if the characters in Top Gun were real. The most developed romance is that between Chuck Yeager—a test pilot who became the first person to break the sound barrier—and his wife Glennis. The other wives are a sort of Greek chorus of resigned fear. Still, it features lots of before-they-were-famous performances (Ed Harris! Dennis Quaid! Sam Shepard!) and has a certain hyper-manly man verve that’s hard to deny.
Two out of five rockets
Apollo 13 tells the story of an ill-fated trip to the moon that was stymied when an oxygen tank exploded shortly after launch. Thanks to the heroics of the engineers back on earth and the cool heads of the astronauts in the capsule, the crew was able to get home. Among the three men who flew the Apollo 13 mission was the first true bachelor, Jack Swigert, but the film focuses on the bond between Jim and Marilyn Lovell—who are still married to this day. They spend most of the movie apart, but you never doubt their deep connection.
Four out of five rockets
This understated indie is about the Parkes Observatory in Australia, the site that received the video transmission from Apollo 11 and broadcast the moon landing to the world—a project that very nearly went wrong. Patrick Warbuton is particularly amusing as an uptight American, contrasted against Sam Neill’s more relaxed, but ultimately extremely competent, Australian charm. While I’m sure it’s heavily fictionalized, there’s a sweet romance between a shy engineer and the woman who delivers lunch to the observatory.
Three out of five rockets
A Best Picture nominee, Hidden Figures focuses on three African American women who worked at NASA doing calculations and other mathematics to support the missions. Without their invaluable contributions, NASA rockets never would have made it into orbit, let alone the moon, a feat that’s even more impressive given the discrimination and limitations placed on them in the Jim Crow-era south. The romance between the widowed the Katherine Goble (played by Taraji B. Henson) and Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) is a small part of the movie, but it packs a punch. He has to learn to respect her intellect, while she needs to make space for someone to care for her. It’s totally swoony.
Five out of five rockets
This biopic of Neil Armstrong stars Ryan Gosling as the titular astronaut and Claire Foye as his long-suffering wife, Janet. These two experience more heartbreak than anyone should have to, including the death of their daughter from a brain tumor, the loss of their home in a devastating fire, and the Apollo One disaster, which killed three of Armstrong’s friends and colleagues. Through it all, Armstrong remains stoic and silent, and he and Janet’s love is pushed to the breaking point. You know they care about each other, but you do wish they’d say it.
One out of five rockets
What if you’re looking for astronaut love on the page? I keep a Goodreads shelf of astronaut and space race romances. I’d particularly recommend Robyn Amos’s Cosmic Rendezvous and Roxanne St. Clair’s Space in His Heart. And if you want something set in the 60s, Genevieve Turner and I cowrite a series called Fly Me to the Moon, which is all about cocktails, kissing, and astronauts. In fact the boxset including the first three books is just 99 cents until June 24.
Happy moon landing anniversary, y’all!
About the Author:
Emma Barry is a novelist, full-time mama, recovering academic, and former political staffer. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves her twins’ hugs, her husband’s cooking, her cat’s whiskers, her dog’s tail, and Earl Grey tea.
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Mailing List: https://tinyletter.com/authoremmabarry