clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Matthew McConaughey in full astronaut gear in Interstellar Image: Paramount Pictures

Filed under:

The best movies and TV like Starfield to watch after exploring the Settled Systems

My God, it’s full of stars... and movies

Starfield, Bethesda’s latest sci-fi RPG, was finally released this week after nearly a decade of development. That game puts players in the role of the newest recruit of Constellation, an organization of space explorers in 2330 who embark on a mission to uncover the mysteries of the universe.

With the game’s official launch this week, fans have quickly taken to charting their own stories in the vast universe of Starfield’s Settled Systems, whether it be through the creation of new mods, building elaborate extraplanetary outposts, or hunting for the best ships in every star system.

Below, we’ve gathered a list of movies and shows that have similarities to Starfield, whether in their depiction of a spacefaring civilization in the far future or in the common philosophy of space travel as a catalyst for humanity’s evolution. Maybe the vibes are just right, or there’s one crucial detail they share.

In any case, here are our recommendations for the best movies and TV shows to watch after you’re done exploring the vast world that is Starfield.

2001: A Space Odyssey

A man in a space helmet stares up at rows of red illuminated columns of light. Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

What it is: Stanley Kubrick’s epic sci-fi drama follows a group of astronauts and scientists who travel to Jupiter aboard a spacecraft piloted by an artificial intelligence on a mission to uncover proof of extraterrestrial life.

Why it’s like Starfield: Like Bethesda Game Studios’ latest RPG opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey is all about the bigger existential questions of humanity’s potential future among the stars. Are we alone in the universe? How would humanity evolve in space? All these questions and more are at the heart of the film’s powerful vision of an alternate future. —Toussaint Egan

Where to watch it: Streaming on Prime Video and Max; available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

Ad Astra

brad pitt’s roy wears a space suit and watches out a window as his shuttle passes the sun in Ad Astra Image: 20th Century Fox

What it is: A 2019 psychological sci-fi drama about an astronaut sent on a mission to an abandoned space station orbiting Neptune to reconcile with his estranged, previously thought-to-be-dead father in an attempt to halt an extinction-level event.

Why it’s like Starfield: The film’s depiction of human colonization of the inner solar system bears a striking resemblance to Starfield’s own depiction of extraplanetary civilization. Subterranean colonies on Mars, restaurant chains on distant alien moons — it’s uncanny! —TE

Where to watch it: Available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.


(L-R) Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Bruce Willis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ben Affleck, and Owen Wilson in orange astronaut uniforms in Armageddon. Image: The Criterion Collection

What it is: A classic disaster movie about an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and the ragtag group of oil drillers turned astronauts sent on a last-ditch mission to stop it.

Why it’s like Starfield: Well, you start the game as a miner working for peanuts and rather quickly gain the ability to become an asteroid-shattering demigod, so there’s that. But Starfield also has a bit of a ragtag feel to it, as your character — who isn’t even supposed to be here — links up with other people who have no business being in a grand universe-spanning plot, but here you are, and even if things are a bit dire, you might have some fun on the way. —Joshua Rivera

Where to watch it: Streaming on Max; available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

Battlestar Galactica (season 3)

(L-R) Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan as William “Bill” Adama and Colonel Saul Tigh in Battlestar Galactica. Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

What it is: After two seasons following the last remnants of humanity as they were ruthlessly pursued by the artificial Cylons, season 3 of Battlestar Galactica entered a bold new era: one where they colonized a harsh but habitable world, New Caprica, only to be sold out and occupied by the Cylons.

Why it’s like Starfield: While there are plenty of wonders to discover in Starfield, there’s a lot of barrenness in the vastness of its space — perhaps to keep said wonders from becoming mundane. This immediately brought to mind my favorite world of sci-fi meagerness, New Caprica, and the gripping Iraq War metaphor Battlestar Galactica spun on its surface. Granted, Starfield is nowhere near as politically charged a work, and you should watch all of BSG, not just season 3, but both are good opportunities to consider what it might mean to settle on another world, even a seemingly uninhabited one. —JR

Where to watch it: Available to purchase on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

The Expanse

The crew of the Rocinante staring at the camera in a still from the final season of The Expanse Image: Amazon Studios

What it is: Twice canceled but forever beloved, The Expanse is a science fiction series based on James S.A. Corey’s series of novels of the same name. It follows the crew of a mining ship who get swept up in an interplanetary political conspiracy they’re by no means equipped to handle.

Why it’s like Starfield: Starfield and The Expanse share a lot of superficial similarities: the NASA-inspired brutalist architecture, the commitment to hard sci-fi, the hints of a type III civilization just off screen. But the true commonality is existential. Both convey a sense that, when humanity eventually expands beyond Earth, this is what it’ll be like — savvy enough to go to the stars, but not enough to end the pointless infighting that defines our species today, always has, and always will. —Ari Notis

Where to watch it: Streaming on Prime.

Firefly & Serenity

(L-R) Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, and Gina Torres in Serenity. Image: Sidney Baldwin/Universal Studios

What it is: Joss Whedon’s 2005 sci-fi action movie Serenity follows the mercenary smuggler crew of a “Firefly-class” spaceship captained by a charismatic rogue named Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. After one of their own is plagued by mysterious visions, the crew sets out on a quest that unearths a dangerous secret that threatens the future of all of humanity.

Why it’s like Starfield: You can hardly say the words “space Western” aloud without someone mentioning Firefly at some point or another. Whedon’s sci-fi series and its accompanying feature-length sequel take place in a universe very similar to Starfield’s own, with humanity having abandoned Earth for colonies among the stars and a vicious civil war between a powerful interplanetary government and an independent faction of rebels looking to stake a claim in defining their own destinies. There’s rickety spaceships, bartering, shootouts, plenty of Western-themed towns — you name it. —TE

Where to watch it: Available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

First Man

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong standing next to his fellow astronauts in a blue uniform in First Man. Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

What it is: A biopic about Neil Armstrong and the race to put a man on the moon, First Man stars Ryan Gosling as our most famous astronaut in a thrilling imagining of what kind of person you must be to believe you could leave the Earth at a time when virtually no one had done it before.

Why it’s like Starfield: Starfield is painfully, overwhelmingly earnest. It’s a game so enamored with space exploration as an idea that the sci-fi universe its developers have built for said exploration almost seems like an afterthought. It’s there, but the romance of what might be “Out There” is almost a bigger selling point than what Bethesda actually filled its version of space with. First Man is where all that dreamy idealism is put to the test. It’s about the work — and the cost — of making a dream real. —JR

Where to watch it: Available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

For All Mankind

Astronauts staring out at the surface of mars in For All Mankind. Image: Apple TV Plus

What it is: Not to be confused with the documentary about the Apollo program, this Apple TV Plus series imagines an alternate history in which the Soviet Union landed on the moon first. The flaps of the butterfly effect start small, with Nixon deciding the U.S. will be the first nation to send women to the moon — a decision that plays out in the first season not so differently than it did in another great work of space exploration nonfiction, The Right Stuff. But with each season — sometimes with each episode — the alternate timeline zigs in ways that are both uncomfortably familiar to our own world and unrecognizably different.

Why it’s like Starfield: Both For All Mankind and Starfield imagine an alternate universe in which NASA never lost its political and cultural luster. They’re both on a similar wavelength about the function of their genre. For All Mankind balances two of the great powers of sci-fi: providing an aspirational future and a fictional, distancing lens with which to comfortably interrogate our present. It’s a reminder that progress of one kind does not guarantee progress of all kinds. Plus, it’s fun and full of cliffhangers that used to make network TV must-see, but now with a streaming service budget. If you love Bethesda games, you crave story. And if you crave story, this show is for you. —Chris Plante

Where to watch it: Available to stream on Apple TV.


a wide shot of a tiny planetoid hovering at the event horizon of a massive black hole in Interstellar. Image: Paramount Pictures

What it is: Blight and ecological devastation have wiped out much of Earth’s food supply and the planet is on its last legs. There’s still one last-ditch plan, though: a desperate, dangerous mission through a wormhole to find us a new home.

Why it’s like Starfield: Call it a Starfield prequel. The game’s set in a future where leaving Earth was humanity’s only remaining option, and things, remarkably, worked out. The parallels aren’t merely narrative, either. Interstellar, like Starfield, is built around a grounded, functional science fiction, where the spacecraft and technology of the future are not that removed from what we have today — just with the funding and development that seem out of our present-day reach. —JR

Where to watch it: Streaming on Paramount Plus and MGM Plus; available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

The Martian

Matt Damon in an orange and white spacesuit on Mars in The Martian. Image: 20th Century Fox

What it is: Matt Damon plays an astronaut who is left stranded on Mars with dwindling resources. In order to survive long enough for NASA to send a ship to rescue him, he’ll have to “science the shit” out of this problem and build an improvised single-person colony.

Why it’s like Starfield: Like Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, Starfield players are able to build their own colonies on far-flung planets and harvest resources to survive and thrive. They’re also susceptible to a litany of extraplanetary threats including solar radiation, fire, and poisonous gases, not to mention physical injuries due to overexertion and combat. —TE

Where to watch it: Available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

What to Watch

The best horror movies you can watch right now

What to Watch

The 10 best horror movies on Netflix right now

What to Watch

The best shows to watch on Prime

View all stories in What to Watch

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon