Apollo 13 (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

Apollo 131995

Apollo 13 (1995)



Critic Consensus: In recreating the troubled space mission, Apollo 13 pulls no punches: it's a masterfully told drama from director Ron Howard, bolstered by an ensemble of solid performances.

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"Houston, we have a problem." Those words were immortalized during the tense days of the Apollo 13 lunar mission crisis in 1970, events recreated in this epic historical drama from Ron Howard. Astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) leads command module pilot Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and lunar module driver Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) on what is slated as NASA's third lunar landing mission. All goes smoothly until the craft is halfway through its mission, when an exploding oxygen tank threatens the crew's oxygen and power supplies. As the courageous astronauts face the dilemma of either suffocating or freezing to death, Mattingly and Mission Control leader Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) struggle to find a way to bring the crew back home, all the while knowing that the spacemen face probable death once the battered ship reenters the Earth's atmosphere. The film received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic critical response and a Best Picture nomination, but lost that Oscar to another (very different) historical epic, Mel Gibson's Braveheart. In 2002, the movie was released in IMAX theaters as Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience, with a pared-down running time of 116 minutes in order to meet the technical requirements of the large-screen format. ~ Don Kaye, Rovi

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Bill Paxton
as Fred Haise
Tom Hanks
as Jim Lovell
Kevin Bacon
as Jack Swigert
Gary Sinise
as Ken Mattingly
Ed Harris
as Gene Kranz
Kathleen Quinlan
as Marilyn Lovell
David Andrews
as Pete Conrad
Xander Berkeley
as Henry Hurt
Mary Kate Schellhardt
as Barbara Lovell
Emily Ann Lloyd
as Susan Lovell
Miko Hughes
as Jeffrey Lovell
Jean Speegle Howard
as Blanch Lovell
Tracy Reiner
as Mary Haise
Michelle Little
as Jane Conrad
Chris Ellis
as Deke Slayton
Joe Spano
as NASA Director
Marc McClure
as Glynn Lunney
Ben Marley
as John Young
Clint Howard
as EECOM White
Loren Dean
as EECOM Arthur
Tom Wood
as EECOM Gold
Googy Gress
as RETRO White
Patrick Mickler
as RETRO Gold
Ray McKinnon
as FIDO White
Max Grodénchik
as FIDO Gold
Brett Cullen
Ned Vaughn
Andy Milder
as GUIDO White
Geoffrey Blake
as GUIDO Gold
Wayne Duvall
as LEM Controller White
Jim Meskimen
as TELMU White
Joseph Culp
as TELMU Gold
John Short
as INCO White
Ben Bode
as INCO Gold
Andrew Lipschultz
as Launch Director
Todd Louiso
as FAO White
Gabriel Jarret
as GNC White
Kenneth White
as Grumman Rep
Andrew Lipshultz
as Launch Director
Mark Wheeler
as Neil Armstrong
Larry B. Williams
as Buzz Aldrin
Endre Hules
as Guenter Wendt
Walter von Huene
as Technician
Steve Rankin
as Pad Rat
John Wheeler
as Reporter
Louisa Marie
as Whiz Kid Mom
Paul Mantee
as Reporter
Thom Barry
as Orderly
Julie Donatt
as Reporter
Arthur Senzy
as SIM Tech
Ryan Holihan
as SIM Tech
Rance Howard
as Reverend
Jane Jenkins
as Neighbor
Todd Hallowell
as Noisy Civilian
Matthew Goodall
as Stephen Haise
Taylor Goodall
as Fred Haise Jr.
Steve Ruge
as Edward White
Misty Dickinson
as Margaret Haise
Roger Corman
as Congressman
Lee Anne Matusek
as Loud Reporter
Mark D. Newman
as Loud Reporter
Mark McKeel
as Suit Room Assistant
Jack Conley
as Science Reporter
Jeffrey S. Kluger
as Science Reporter
Ivan Allen
as Anchor
Reed Rudy
as Roger Chaffee
Steve Bernie
as Virgil Grisson
Steven Ruge
as Edward White
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News & Interviews for Apollo 13

Critic Reviews for Apollo 13

All Critics (93) | Top Critics (36)

Apollo 13 captures the wonder of space travel with the wide-eyed zeal of a 10-year-old: They really were heroes, these guys, and the movie shows you why.

August 18, 2021 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

APOLLO 13 is...A-OK. In an era when cinematic heroics seem to be defined by bullets and brawn, it is a pleasure to see a movie in which the good guys triumph by using their brains!!!

January 5, 2018 | Full Review…

Tom Hanks is on his way to becoming the American Everyman, an exemplar of boyish goodwill and quiet moral force.

August 22, 2014 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Ron Howard's pop-entertainment you-are-there space thriller is easily the most rousing film of the year. And it might make real spaceflight just as nifty as Star Wars for youngsters.

August 22, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Even if you know how it all turned out (and you should), this amazing journey is harrowing and exhilarating.

July 30, 2013 | Full Review…

The film succeeds brilliantly at organizing great gobs of information into powerful drama.

July 30, 2013

Audience Reviews for Apollo 13


Throughout his career, Ron Howard has always been somewhat underestimated as a director. His background on Happy Days and his love of sentimental storylines have led many people to brand him as 'Spielberg-lite', trying to pack the same emotional punches of his more famous colleague but without having the same level of imagination to pull it off. While Howard has made a number of big mis-steps in his career (The Da Vinci Code being one of the most egregious), his filmography as a whole suggests a man of many talents and interests who has never quite got the credit that he deserves. More than any other film in his back catalogue, Apollo 13 is the film which should silence doubters about Howard's credibility as a director. It pulls off a really difficult trick, namely taking a story whose famous characteristic is its ending and making it tense and dramatic both for people who know the story backwards and those coming to it the very first time. Howard's direction is top-notch and his attention to detail in both the script and the visuals has ensured that the film still holds together after 23 years. It remains the gold standard for space-set dramas, and may even be Howard's best work behind the camera. One of the big issues which all period dramas have to deal with is capturing the period setting in a believable way. You can't just put a character in a miniskirt with The Beatles in the background and expect us to believe that it's the 1960s; instead, you have to focus on the little details, giving the audience enough clues to trust that the setting is accurate without the film becoming solely about fashions and popular culture. This is particularly difficult when you're dealing with an important historical event with plentiful archive footage or old news reports available. The temptation is to just plaster Walter Cronkite and his ilk all over the screen whenever an exposition dump is needed, but as George Clooney found on Good Night and Good Luck (with the footage of Joseph McCarthy), this can jar with an audience - too much realism can actually take them out of the action. Apollo 13 is one of the few Hollywood films (at least in this period) which manages to pull this off. Much of the old footage which is used generally repeats information we already known in a slightly different way, but it is well-integrated through its timing and positioning in the plot. Rather than being shoved in front of an old TV screen and sitting through a few seconds of Dick Cavett, these clips are only rolled out once we feel invested in the characters, and feel like we are watching alongside them. The other period touches - including the cars and the costumes - all feel well-researched but don't draw attention to themselves, and even the most distinctive elements (like Ed Harris' white waistcoat) are handled very diligently. In approaching its subject matter, Apollo 13 is less of a Hollywood blockbuster and more of a high-tech cousin of All The President's Men. Like Alan J. Pakula on that film, Howard is starting on the basis that the audience already knows something about the outcome of the real-life event - respectively the resignation of Richard Nixon and all three Apollo 13 astronauts making it back to Earth. And like Pakula, he flatters the audience, letting them figure things out in the build-up to the main event. They walk into the film invested on an intellectual level, and come out with an emotional bond as well as having learned more about an interesting subject. Where All The President's Men created tension through conflicting information and the political pressure being put on Woodward and Bernstein, Apollo 13 plants small seeds of doubt about the mission in the audience's mind. Some of these seeds are played for laughs, with the astronauts joking about taking a pig into space to combat the bad luck of the number 13. But other scenes are equally effective at making us feel uneasy about the fortunes of Jim Lovell and his crew. Individually, Marilyn losing her wedding ring in the shower or Ken Mattingly getting the measles wouldn't be enough to get us worried - we might write them off entirely, or at least dismiss them as not too significant. But Howard structures these moments as milestones on the countdown to disaster; because we don't pick up on everything the first time round, the pay-off still comes as a surprise. This slow, ominous build-up is complimented by the way in which the astronauts' mission is contextualised. Where a more histrionic film would have built this up as 'the most important moon mission since Apollo 11' or other such nonsense, Howard is keen to point out the public's waning interest in the US space programme in 1970. This is all done with subtle hints, whether it's Marilyn mentioning she might not come to the launch, her daughter being more bothered about The Beatles breaking up, or the TV stations not showing Lovell's broadcast live (in an exchange reminiscent of the ratings speech in Capricorn One). The films taps into the idea that people only care about things when they go horribly wrong - a view which seems all the more biting in today's car-crash celebrity culture. The scenes in space are masterful on three levels. Firstly, they are a mechanical marvel - before Gravity came along, this vied with 2001: A Space Odyssey as the most realistic depiction of weightlessness in cinema. By recreating weightlessness through hundreds of parabola flights, shooting just 30 seconds at a time, Howard gives Tom Hanks et al the chance to relax into their roles which they wouldn't get from being winched around in harnesses or jumping around against green-screen. His choice of camera angles is superb: because shooting could take place on any angle and would drift around at will, we feel like an active, curious observer, allowing things to unfold more naturally than if we were rooted to the spot. Throw in the excellent special effects and cinematography by John Carpenter's long-time collaborator Dean Cundey, and you have one smashing shot after another. Secondly, Apollo 13 is an argument for being able to maintain tension without losing accuracy, and vice versa. Screenwriters William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert stuck as closely to the mission transcripts as possible - something which adds realism without the film ever becoming tedious. A few creative liberties are taken, including the film's most famous line - Jim Lovell actually said: "Houston, we've had a problem". But it never feels like the film is labouring to be accurate merely out of any sense of duty to NASA purists. Howard is determined to get things as right as possible, while maintaining a lightness of touch and a populist approach so that we always understand and care about what is happening, even when the jargon starts flowing. Thirdly, the scenes in space see Howard and the script stretching their narrative muscles a little. In amidst all the procedural dialogue and the individual races against time, we get a number of touching fantasy sequences which use outer space to focus on inner space, as all proper science fiction should. In one such sequence, Tom Hanks imagines himself walking on the moon; in a scene reminiscent of The Ninth Configuration, Howard contrasts the silent awe of the moon's surface with the quiet despair on Lovell's face from inside the lunar module. It's a beautiful moment which expresses Howard's confidence in himself, the material and the actors who are bringing it to life. The performances in Apollo 13 are excellent across the board. Following back-to-back Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks continues to embody the likeable American everyman even in the most extraordinary of circumstances. He is totally believable as Jim Lovell, and is complimented beautifully by his co-stars Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon, who both give the best performances of their respective careers. On the ground Ed Harris remains eternally underrated as flight director Gene Kranz, and there is a very fine supporting performance by Gary Sinise, who would collaborate with Hanks again on The Green Mile. The only real mis-steps in Apollo 13 are those which pander to Hollywood's expectations, either in the stakes of the mission or attempts to lighten the mood. The scene with the grandmother and the Apollo 11 astronauts feels forced and over-played, though it is at least brief enough not to throw us out of the picture. More problematic is the argument between Bacon and Paxton's characters - something which didn't happen in real life and which comes across as manufactured. There is enough tension in these scenes without adding more into the mix, and while the film does get over it quickly, it could have just as easily been cut without harming anything. Apollo 13 is a great docudrama which remains a standard to which all future historical dramas should aspire. Howard directs with confidence and aplomb to wring out all the tension he can without it feeling contrived, bolstered by a very fine script, great performances from his three leading men and visuals which are both technically superb and deeply involving. It is a very hard film to dislike and a hard act to follow for all involved.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

They got everything right with this one. Ron Howard's masterpiece.

Graham Jones
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

This is the bast space-themed movie ever. I had no idea of the true-life drama that went on during the space program but director Ron Howard presents it perfectly. Strong performances by Hanks and Sinise. Ed Harris is pich perfect.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

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