Space Time

Why ‘Contact’ Is the Most Important Space Movie Ever Made

The film inspired a generation of scientists

Shannon Stirone
Published in
5 min readNov 27, 2018


Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway in ‘Contact.’ Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty

IImagine for a moment that you’re a radio wave traveling at the speed of light. You leave Earth, passing the moon, Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. You’re going so fast — 299 million meters per second — but it still takes you five hours to reach Pluto. A collage of sounds from Earth travel alongside you as you zoom out of the solar system and arrive at a star called Vega, 26 light-years away. This is how the 1997 movie Contact begins.

In a later scene, nine-year-old Eleanor Arroway — played as an adult by Jodie Foster — sits on her bed and talks with her father about the vastness of space and whether people on Earth are alone in the universe. “The universe is a pretty big place,” he replies. “If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

I was a teenager when Contact came out, and after only a few minutes into the opening sequence, I was frozen in my seat, completely awestruck. At 13, I was already captivated by space and the big questions it raised. You know, the ones that can keep a person up at night: Why are we here? Are we alone? What does it all mean? I became obsessed and read everything I thought might give me a hint of an answer…