Face-Off: The Right Stuff vs. Apollo 13

On the occasion of BREAKING BAD’s series finale, last week's face-off featured a fight between legendary TV crimes bosses Tony Soprano and Walter White. It was a photo finish but in the end you all decided that “T” was just a little better than Heisenberg.

With the opening of Alfonso Cuarón’s astronaut thriller GRAVITY this weekend, I decided to revisit the two greatest astronaut movies in film history and face-off Philip Kaufman’s 1983 classic THE RIGHT STUFF versus Ron Howard’s 1995 hit APOLLO 13 .

THE RIGHT STUFF had a total of 8 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Shepard (who played the great Chuck Yeager in the film). It won a total of 4 Oscars for Effects/Sound Effects Editing, Original Score, Sound and Film Editing. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT beat out both THE BIG CHILL and THE RIGHT STUFF that year for Best Picture; a decision I still shake my head about every day.
APOLLO 13 didn’t go unnoticed at the 1995 Academy Awards ceremony with its 9 Oscar nominations which included nods for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Kathleen Quinlan) and Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris). It only received two wins at the end of the night, one for Best Editing and another for Best Sound. I am a strong believer that APOLLO 13 should have beaten out BRAVEHEART for Best Picture that year.
Box Office
THE RIGHT STUFF ranked 33rd in the highest grossing movies of 1983 with a domestic total of $21.1
APOLLO 13 was a monster hit earning $173.8 domestically making it the 3rd highest grossing film of 1995.
Some of the best supporting actors of the early 80s (and beyond) comprised the stellar cast of THE RIGHT STUFF: Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Lance Henriksen, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Hershey and Harry Shearer. The only ensemble cast of ’83 that even came close to this group was that of the aforementioned THE BIG CHILL. As I watched this movie again this past weekend, I was awed once again at how believable the actors playing the original Mercury 7 astronauts were in their roles. The combination of cockiness, confidence, bravery and “the right stuff” that came through in the film was a testament to how well it was cast.
Up against the magnificent cast of THE RIGHT STUFF is the powerful fivesome of APOLLO 13’s Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise and Bill Paxton. Kathleen Quinlan is always good but she’s no Barbara Hershey so she loses that one-on-one battle pretty handily. Ed Harris cancels himself out for being in both films and that leave us with four great actors that still aren’t strong enough to beat out the cast of THE RIGHT STUFF.
1) Alan Shepard: "Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up."

Gordon Cooper: "I didn't quite copy that. Say again, please."

Alan Shepard: "I said everything's A-OK."

2) Chuck Yeager: "Monkeys? You think a monkey knows he's sittin' on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I'll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV. Ol' Gus, he did all right."

3) Glennis Yeager: "They don't spend a god-damned thing teaching you how to be the fearless wife of a fearless test pilot."

4) Narrator: The Mercury program was over. Four years later, astronaut Gus Grissom was killed, along with astronauts White and Chaffee, when fire swept through their Apollo capsule. But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American - 22 complete orbits around the world; he was the last American ever to go into space alone. And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen.
1) Jim Lovell: "Houston, we have a problem."

2) NASA Director: "This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced."

Gene Kranz: "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour."

3) Jim Lovell: "From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it's not a miracle, we just decided to go."

4) Gene Kranz: "We've never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option."
The Better Stuff
In this epic true story of how test pilot Chuck Yeager broke (and later obliterated) the sound barrier to how the U.S. Space Program started, developed, struggled and thrived we learn that it takes someone with “the right stuff” to look death right in the face, smile and say “bring it on” with confidence and bravery.

The message I took away from this movie is that it isn’t always the obvious people that have “the right stuff” and sometimes it’s those men and women that aren’t always in the spotlight that are the strongest and bravest of all. Oscar nominated movies are usually chock full of inspiration and THE RIGHT STUFF is just bursting with it! It’s the kind of movie that makes you really grasp the meaning of words like respect, courage and honor.
APOLLO 13 tells the true story of how three astronauts made it back to earth, against all odds and against all hope. The way the ground crew in Mission Control and the three trapped souls in space “worked the problem(s)” over and over again to beat the odds is all about remaining cool under pressure and having “the right stuff.”

Although both movies are very inspiring, THE RIGHT STUFF just happens to have more ‘stuff’ to offer in scope, story and spirit and that’s why it wins this category pretty easily.
The Right Stuff
I have always loved both these movies but it’s when you get the opportunity to watch them back to back that it becomes clear that THE RIGHT STUFF is just a little bit better than APOLLO 13. You could do worse this weekend than doubling up on these classics before heading to the Bijou to see Sandy & George in GRAVITY .



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