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Highest-Grossing Space Movies

On July 8, 2011, the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis will suit up, strap themselves in and bring supplies to the International Space Station. This is the last time the shuttle will ever leave the Earth’s atmosphere. Some 26 years after its Oct. 3, 1985, maiden launch from the Kennedy Space Center, it will be retired for good, and with that NASA’s Space Shuttle program will come to an end.

After Atlantis is decommissioned, it will take its place in the Kennedy Space Center as part of an exhibit opening in 2013. There are plans for a Mars landing and further exploration of the lunar surface, and as recently as 2006 there were plans to establish a permanent base on the moon. So just because the Space Shuttle program is being retired, it doesn’t mean that space exploration will stop. Fascination with outer space is simply too great for that to happen.

This allure is most vividly depicted in the movies. One of the earliest examples is Le Voyage Dans La Lune (also known as A Trip to the Moon), a silent French film made in 1902 by Georges Méliès. It depicts a team of cosmonauts whose rocket is launched from a cannon, famously depositing the rocket in the Man in the Moon’s eye. It’s acknowledged as the first science fiction movie, and it’s the first known movie to depict space travel.

Since then, space travel has been the subject of different films across different genres and eras. Some have been undisputed classics, such as the Buck Rogers serials and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some have been camp classics, like Barbarella and the 1980 version of Flash Gordon, notable for its kitschy visual effects and soundtrack by the rock group Queen. It has also been the subject of some of the cinema’s less proud accomplishments, as anyone who’s suffered through Plan 9 from Outer Space or Galaxy of Terror can attest. However, even some of the worst films mentioned herein have been inspired by a sincere fascination with space travel.

CNBC.com collected the domestic gross of movies about space travel, using data from BoxOfficeMojo.com. For franchises with multiple films, we averaged the box office return of all the films in each series. The calculations presented here are not adjusted for inflation and do not reflect rising ticket prices.

What are the highest-grossing films about space travel? Click ahead to find out.

By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 6 July 2011

Michael Dunning & Steve Bonini | Getty Images