Top 100 Movies Of The 1990's: #74 Apollo 13
Box Office: $173.8 Million
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris), Best Supporting Actress (Kathleen Quinlan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Dramatic Score, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects
Oscar Wins: Best Film Editing, Best Sound
Available To Stream: Peacock, Amazon Prime ($4)
Ron Howard has directed better movies than Apollo 13 but this is his greatest directing achievement. Shooting scenes in actual weightlessness makes this movie feel so authentic. That's really the key for this to work. It relies on us admiring the ingenuity and bravery of these astronauts. That's not possible if we never believe they are actually in space.
Another reason this is so well done is how it shifts from the astronauts to Mission Control. For most stories, the last thing you want to do is break away from the action and main characters (here, in space). However, this screenplay (re-written by John Sayles) is just as enjoyable seeing these brilliant people try to figure out what to do in Houston as it is seeing the astronauts. It's not an accident that the only acting Oscar nominations are for characters that never leave the ground.
Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan are both fantastic and deserved their nominations. But you could make a case that Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise were just as good. I'm no fan of Forrest Gump but having that movie come out a year earlier helps Apollo 13. Because of the Sinise and Hanks connection, it does hurt even more when Ken Mattingly gets grounded. Apollo 13 is right in the middle of an amazing run for Sinise. He's the best part of both Forrest Gump and the televised mini-series The Stand. He followed up Apollo 13 with another very good Ron Howard movie in Ransom. Then he did a few bad movies (Reindeer Games, Mission To Mars) and ended up spending a decade doing CSI: NY for CBS. That kind of bums me out. He's a fantastic character actor and I would have loved to have seen him do more movies. Regardless of all of that, he seems like a great person. He has donated and started various causes that have helped military personnel for decades. He even hosted the inauguration of the World War I memorial in Washington, DC.
To that point, this has to be one of the more likable casts in movie history. You feel awful for Ken Mattingly being left back because we care about Gary Sinise. It's heartbreaking seeing Jim Lovell come so close to his dream of touching the moon because we love Tom Hanks. It's easy to root for Fred Haise and Jack Swigert when they are played by Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon. All of those actors are comfortable enough to play these men as humans who feel slighted or defeated at times because they have the confidence to know the audience will still want them to succeed.
It's incredible to think the original crew from the Apollo 13 (Lowell, Haise and Mattingly) are all still alive and 88 or older. But it probably shouldn't be that surprising. These guys were put through so many tests, they wouldn't have even had a shot to get on that ship unless they were perfectly built humans. Buzz Aldrin is still alive at 93 and John Glenn recently died at 95.
The thing this movie does so well is that it shows what an amazing accomplishment it was putting a man on the moon. By letting us see the struggles and failure of Apollo 13, it makes the actual moon landing look so much more spectacular. You had so many brilliant people working on Apollo 13 and it still didn't get to fulfill it's mission. That the crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins actually pulled it off is amazing. 500 years from now, there won't be much remembered about the 20th Century. People remember wars so WWI and WWII will be studied in history classes. We still remember Mozart and Beethoven so I think The Beatles will stand the test of time. The only other name that I see still being mentioned in the year 2500 is Neil Armstrong. We also remember the greatest explorers. While Jim Lovell never got there, his story of getting so close is equally interesting.
74. Apollo 13
80. 12 Monkeys
81. Stir Of Echoes
83. Total Recall
84. Quiz Show
87. Men In Black
90. Three Kings
98. Any Given Sunday