Sex in space: films that get jiggy in zero gravity

The sterile sci-fi genre may not be known for raunchiness—but it has some memorable flings every now and then.

As Voyagers steams up cinemas with a hot to trot cast including Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp, we take a sneaky peep at the films that have got jiggy with it in the name of science fiction…

Barbarella (1968)

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Roger Vadim’s gleefully kitsch adaptation of the Jean-Claude Forest comic series is the epitome of that grooviest of decades: the swinging ‘60s. Starting life as a pseudo follow-up to Mario Bava’s equally slinky spy caper Danger: Diabolik (1968), Barbarella is a love letter to the director’s wife Jane Fonda. And the camera loves her.

Barbarella undresses in zero gravity; discovers the sweaty joys of sex (in the earth of the future, coitus is a mutually popped pill); thwarts the evil scientist Durand Durand (yes: this is where the British new romantic pop sensations Duran Duran found their name) by destroying his excessive-pleasure orgasmatron machine; has her clothes pecked off by tiny birds and has sex with blind angel Pygar (John Philip Law).

Flesh Gordon (1971)

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This low-rent soft core reboot of the 1936 Saturday matinee serial starring Buster Crabbe, Flesh Gordon—directed by Howard Ziehm and Michael Benveniste—was originally given an X-rating in the US for its titillating content. With acting as wobbly as the sets, the saucy sci-fi spoof sees the dastardly Emperor Wang the Perverted threatening to turn the people of earth into nymphomaniacs with his sex ray.

Luckily for mankind, Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams), scientist Dr. Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins) and Dale Ardour (Suzanne Fields) arrive on the Planet Porno to temper the Emperor’s rancour. With make-up FX from a young Rick Baker, copious nudity, orgies, rapist robots and rampaging one-eyed penisauruses courtesy of stop-motion master Jim Danworth, Flesh Gordon is a dubious snapshot of a more forgiving era.

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)

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Nicholas Roeg’ extraordinary slice of gritty ‘70s sci-fi, based on Walter Tevis’s 1963 novel of the same name, sees chameleonic crooner David Bowie, in his debut feature performance, play spaced out oddity Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who lands on earth. His mission: to use his advanced technologies to become a huge success on our planet and use those riches to save his family on his home, drought-ravaged planet.

His plan is good except he didn’t bank on the spoils of success and soon succumbs to the temptation of drugs, alcohol, sex and television. Sex comes in the form of Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) and, being a Roeg film, it’s graphic, frantic and sweaty. Their destructive relationship is Newton’s salvation and his ultimate downfall.

Moonraker (1979)

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Nobody does it better than 007. Especially in space. With an ever-arched eyebrow and tongue firmly in cheek, Roger Moore’s much-maligned but hugely enjoyable Star Wars bandwagon jump took James Bond into the far reaches of space to stop megalomaniac Hugo Drax and his insane plan to destroy the people of earth and repopulate the planet with a space shuttle full of hot young things.

With the loved-up cargo heading to Drax’s space station and toxic rockets aimed at the earth’s atmosphere, it’s finally the bad guy’s toothy henchman Jaws who saves the day, switching allegiance after realising his hulking form didn’t fit into his horrible boss’ view of perfection. To celebrate victory, the lothario spy attempts re-entry in zero gravity with the aptly named Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). That’s what we call keeping the British end up!

Galaxina (1980)

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Starring ill-fated Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten as the titular space robot, this slinky sci-fi parody poked fun at Star Trek (1966), Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979) while adding salacious thrills thanks to its sultry star. Galaxina is the voluptuous blonde android servant for the crew of the intergalactic space police cruiser Infinity. The flimsy plot sees the crew sent to the far reaches of the universe on a quest for the Blue Star, which promises unlimited power to whoever holds it.

The captain of this haphazard mission becomes besotted by the shapely charms of his robotic companion. The film achieved notoriety when Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year, was murdered by her estranged husband shortly after the film’s release. The tragic star’s life was told in the 1983 biopic Star 80, with Manhattan star Muriel Hemmingway in the lead.

Lifeforce (1985)

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper’s final film under the Cannon Films umbrella is a delightfully goofy extravaganza, as you would expect from producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. With a lavish budget and an embarrassed looking cast of British thespians, including Frank Finlay and Patrick Stewart, this crazed adaptation of Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires is a gore and skin-filled hoot.

And how could it not be with a storyline involving three naked shapeshifting humanoids, including French starlet Mathilda May, brought back to earth after a botched space mission. They are led by Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) and spend most of their time in the British capital sucking face. Quite literally. Leaving behind a trail of desiccated corpses, they are finally thwarted when a besotted Carlsen, in the throes of carnal ecstasy, impales himself and the space girl under the dome of St. Pauls Cathedral.

Star Trek (1966 – 2016)

From Gene Roddenberry’s classic TV series to the more recent J.J. Abrams produced blockbusters, one thing has remained a constant throughout: Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s raging libido. As the USS Starship headed on its five year television mission to boldly go where no man has gone before, Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, knew exactly where he wanted to dock his spaceship. Yes: that is a euphemism.

As Eddie Murphy joked in Delirious: “I like Captain Kirk, ‘cos Captain Kirk will fuck anybody!” And he didn’t care what planet they came from. In tribute to Shatner’s rampant machismo, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) opens with Kirk in bed with two alien sisters with long reptilian tails.

Species (1995)

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Born in a laboratory by splicing alien and human DNA together after receiving instructions via an interplanetary communiqué, Sil develops into a 12-year-old in three months and soon after escaping the lab has developed into a man-hungry shapeshifting adult, played by Natasha Henstridge. On the run from the brainiacs who set her loose, her urge to procreate with a human mate intensifies.

Cue trashy swimming pool seductions and bloody hook-ups as Sil transforms into her H.R. Giger designed true self. The team on her tale, played by Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger, are a hapless bunch; especially Molina’s lecherous doctor, who fooled by a black wig, impregnates Sil and is butchered for his efforts.

Under The Skin (2013)

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From Jonathan Glazer, the director of foul-mouthed cockney crime caper Sexy Beast and the Nicole Kidman starring mystery Birth, the utterly brilliant Under The Skin, loosely based on the 2000 novel by Michel Faber, is a weird, dark and increasingly disturbing experience that confounds audience expectations and warps genre tropes.

Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious young woman who preys on and seduces lonely men in a depressive and bleak looking Scotland. The seduction scenes were often unscripted, using untrained actors and filmed with hidden cameras. This process only adds to the strange otherworldly ambience created by Glazer, who wanted to depict an alien perspective of the human world. It’s a depressing worldview of the human race, despite the presence of Hollywood glamour.

Passengers (2016)

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It’s a familiar sci-fi recipe. Take two of the world’s hottest Hollywood heart throbs. Put them into hibernation for 120 years on a spaceship transporting thousands of passengers, travelling to a colony 60 light years from earth. Wake one of them up 90 years too early after an asteroid hit and let them go slowly insane talking to their only friend: an android barman called Arthur. Then throw in the spanner in the works that makes everything go wrong and watch the sparks fly.

Or not. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence play the ill-fated couple Jim Preston and Aurora Lane. When their relationship blossoms, they have the whole ship to play in. And they do. Everywhere. That is until Aurora discovers that he lied to her about her malfunctioning pod and woke her up on purpose, destroying any hope she has of a future. Let’s just say things escalate quickly.