October Sky

Read a book, free your mind.

Determined not to follow dad down into a West Virginia coal mine, young Jake Gyllenhaal seeks escape through rocket-building in a stirring film based on real-life events.

Inspired by Russia launching Sputnik into orbit, the teen wants to spend his life reaching for the stars, not descending into the unforgiving darkness, something his father (Chris Cooper) can’t accept.

Dad isn’t an ogre, but life is tough for everyone in their town, and cold, hard financial instability trumps daydreams in his mind.

It’s a prickly, yet believable relationship, making the eventual thaw even more powerful.

Apollo 13

Houston, there’s no problem.

This soaring true-life tale centers around a tense moment in NASA history, as a failing oxygen tank puts astronauts in danger, but Ron Howard’s film is as stirring as possible.

Nominated for nine Oscars, and winner of two, in a very-strong year which also featured Babe and Braveheart, it reached home viewers early in my video store career.

Sent out at a time when movie studios were deeply committed to wooing rental huts, it came accompanied by multiple t-shirts.

Twas a sad day when my well-worn one was finally retired to the burn pile years later.

The Right Stuff

Movie love comes in stages.

When I was 10, Raiders of the Lost Ark blew me through the back of the theater.

At 12, this soaring ode to the Mercury astronauts let me know that you could follow the careers of actors, and watch them develop over time.

Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Lance Henriksen, Dennis Quaid, Jeff Goldblum, and more sprang off the screen and onto my personal roster of favorites, and it’s a crew I’ve remained loyal to through the years.

I never became an astronaut, but I did become a movie maniac, and it started here.