Director Stanley Kubrick’s landmark space saga, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” turns 50 this year, remaining remarkably relevant and influential even 17 years after surpassing its titular year.
The film, released in 1968, predicted now-ubiquitous technology like flat-screen televisions, tablet computers, even the artificial intelligence of virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, said Barry Vacker, an associate professor at Temple University who wrote a book about Kubrick’s futuristic masterpiece and the countless space films that followed in its footsteps.
In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” humanity finds a mysterious object, the monolith, seemingly left by extraterrestrials on the Moon’s surface, sparking a quest into the wider universe by people endeavoring to understand their place within it. The film was based in part on the works of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who then collaborated with Kubrick on a full-length novel adaptation of the movie.
Many of the movie’s deepest meanings hinge on that fateful discovery, Vacker said. “The monolith represents the idea that something inspired us to develop technology, and perhaps it was an extraterrestrial.”
The timeless quality of “2001” may come in part from its exploration of the concept of the “sublime.” “You get a sense of awe, wonder and vastness of the universe,” said Vacker. “We are in charge of our destiny, and in our search for meaning we will find our destiny.”
It’s from that concept that space movies since “2001” often strive to launch: a journey to find our collective destiny, all while using ideas such as mysterious and inspiring extraterrestrial artifacts, the concept of spacegates or wormholes and the dangers of the computer age.
What else should you watch if you’re interested in “2001”-inspired movies? Vacker shares six recommendations:
1. “Interstellar” (2014)
“2001” and “Interstellar” are the two greatest space films. When I saw “Interstellar,” I thought it was totally inspired by “2001.” Underneath, it’s an incredibly optimistic film — that there is something left in humans of our curiosity and bravado, to take risks for the survival of our species, and for pure exploration of the universe.
2. “Arrival” (2016)
Rather than black monoliths on Earth, the Moon and in space, “Arrival” shows monolithic spacecraft arriving on Earth. The extraterrestrials seem to pose no threat, yet humanity’s tribalism and military machines may trigger war. Much like “2001” it ends in mystery, with no clear and cliche ending, leaving us in wonder. Are we alone? And maybe we can exist in peace with other intelligent lifeforms.
3. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)
This was the very first Star Trek movie from 1979, based on the original television series. This one tried to be like “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The movie tries to tap into the idea that the universe is awe-inspiring. I’m not saying it’s a great film, but it’s an ambitious film. It has a love-hate among “Star Trek” followers.
4. “The Black Hole” (1979)
It’s not a great film, but it’s interesting because it shows these humans going into a majestic universe. In “2001,” there is a warning not to let ourselves be dominated by the computer, but in “The Black Hole” there is an evil scientist dead set on experimenting with this black hole.
5. “Contact” (1997)
This movie (based on the novel by Carl Sagan) was influenced by “2001” philosophically. Jodie Foster plays a scientist who believes in extraterrestrials and somehow she picks up a signal from extraterrestrial sources. As they decide what to do, plans get beamed down from the extraterrestrials telling them to build a transportation device — a spectacularly sleek device that looks like it could have been in “2001.” The scientist hurtles through a wormhole in this pod, much like the “stargate” sequence in “2001.” “Contact” is trying to go beyond what happened in “2001” by approaching other civilizations.
6. “Mission to Mars” (2000)
This is another film where the extraterrestrials are not evil enemies, but architects. It references “2001” in that humans discover a monolith on the moon like in “2001,” but here it is an extraterrestrial building on Mars. It’s a similar motif in trying to depict that we are not alone and maybe extraterrestrials are not evil or trying to conquer us.