From titanium to helium-3 to sapphire to tylium, whether nudging an asteroid a nudge too close to Earth, cloning lunar miners to save costs, or mining the outer reaches of the Solar System, here are some movies and TV shows about mining in space (although “about” is a term used as loosely as aggregate and in some cases not very seriously at all).
This list is presented in no particular order — and the results of this exercise suggest that, except for one current internet TV series (soon to enter its final season), astro-mining in the movies is as rare as the prospect of finding a mountain of mica on the Moon.
Moon Zero Two (1969). It’s the year 2021 and the Moon is a bustling outpost in the process of being colonised. A salvager is hired to move a sapphire-laden asteroid parked in lunar orbit down to the surface to be mined. The mineral will be used to improve the rocket technology that will help colonise Mercury and the Jovian moons. When a miner mysteriously disappears, his sister enlists the salvager to help find out what happened. It turns out he was murdered after discovering a massive deposit of nickel where the asteroid is to be sited. This movie was marketed as the first ever space western: expect a generous dose of shoot-outs between brightly-suited astronauts and some rather racy costumes on the girls. Watch
The Cusp (1996). In the not too distant future, Earth’s bloated population of 26 billion has exhausted its natural resources and a massive metal asteroid is being moved into a lunar trojan orbit for mining. But not everyone is convinced this will save the Earth. A band of environmental extremists plan an Armageddon that will reset the clock and cleanse the planet of everything except basic bacteria. One supporter has infiltrated the crew of the asteroid mission and is reprogramming coordinates to mask its true speed and trajectory. The asteroid is now coming in too fast to be captured by Earth’s orbit and will impact instead. The last legitimate crew member has to try and nudge the asteroid just enough to prevent the impact. Watch
Moon (2009). It’s not far in the future and the Earth is in the throes of a fuel crisis. The sole crew member on a lunar mining base is almost at the end of his three year contract shipping canisters of harvested helium-3 back to Earth. Waking up inside the base after crashing his buggy, he suspects all may not be as it seems. Back at the crash site he finds he’s still lying injured in the rover, and there’s the startling realisation that they’re clones. The company is rearing duplicates in a huge facility below ground that replaces clones at the end of every contract — and the end of a contract means the incinerator. Back home, their progenitor has no idea he was cloned fifteen years prior…until the latest clone stows away in the shipment pod back to Earth. Watch
The Expanse (2015–2021). Set in the 23rd century when the vast majority of the Solar System has been colonised, the inner planets are fast consuming resources from the asteroid belt and water is now more precious than the minerals they mine. The three largest powers — the UN-controlled Earth, the republic of Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance — coexist on the brink of war. Following separate leads in overlapping stories, a Cererian cop, a terrestrial politician and the multi-national crew of a commandeered Martian gunship uncover stealth technology, weaponised asteroids and a two billion year old self-replicating protomolecule that can build star gates to other planetary systems. A mass of asteroid name-dropping and more mining in the opening episodes than a geologist can shake a pick at in the entire astro-mining sub-genre combined. You’ll need to watch it multiple times to appreciate what’s going on. Watch
Outland (1981). Set in the near future on a titanium mining outpost on Jupiter’s moon Io. A Federal Marshall on a tour of duty uncovers a drug ring supplying powerful amphetamines to the miners. The drug enables miners to work for days on end to maintain the mine’s record productivity as well as sustain the miners’ huge bonuses, so no-one is complaining. But months of use is resulting in cases of psychosis and suicide — and the Marshall is determined to close it all down, singlehandedly if necessary. Great effort was put into creating the look and feel of a mining operation, just don’t expect to see any ore being dug up, as it’s really just a space western with all guns blazing — exactly what the writer-director said he was shooting for. Watch
Moon 44 (1990). It’s the year 2038 and all of Earth’s natural resources have been used up. Huge corporations are fighting for control of the richest planetary bodies to mine and there’s a battle to take control of the mining operations far away on Moon 44. When a film starts with the words “multinational corporations have taken control of the universe”, I think you know what to expect, so I’ll surrender now. Having said that, it’s not too bad to watch, just make sure the volume and subtitles are off. Watch
Prospect (2018). A freelance prospector and his young daughter travel to a lush green moon in search of rare gemstones. The stones, known as orolacks, grow in pods of poisonous spores underground and the prospector has been hired to harvest a massive deposit known as the queen’s lair. When her father is killed by rival prospectors, the girl teams up with one of the culprits and the story follows their journey through the forest, literally risking life and limb in search of the treasure. Battling a band of unstable settlers and an attempt to trade the girl into slavery for a caseload of the gems, the pair escape in a mercenary spaceship with nothing but their lives. Watch
Infini (2015). On a frozen planet in the far reaches of the galaxy, the outpost O.I. Infini mines a mineral aggregate called opus, a highly volatile energy source found only there. After it mysteriously kills 1,600 miners, all shipments are halted. If just one payload is exposed to Earth’s atmosphere, it would cause a global catastrophe. It is later discovered to be a frozen organic lifeform that when thawed becomes a predatory primordial ooze. One rogue survivor has prepped a payload to be shipped to Earth via a slipstream which will transport it hundreds of thousands of light years in minutes. Travelling in the opposite direction, and with a bit of time dilation, a Search and Rescue team has 24 hours to stop the shipment. It’s more a biological hazard than a mining movie. Watch
Battlestar Galactica (2004). Early on in this cult TV series (S2, Ep.10, The Hand of God), the fleet is running low on its main fuel source of tylium and ships are out scouting for supplies in nearby star systems. But tylium is an incredibly rare ore and without new resources, they will have to use the last of their supply to jump to the nearest planetary system in the hope it will harbour a habitable planet, otherwise everyone will perish. A last ditch attempt at sweeping the asteroid field detects a deposit that might supply enough tylium to last a couple of years — the only problem is the Cylons are already mining it and it’s the only tylium ore within 12 light years. Can they blow up the base without the radioactive fallout rendering the tylium inert? Let’s just say it’s fracking, but not as we know it. Watch
A Day on the Asteroid (2009). It’s the year 3032 and a Groucho Marx lookalike Chief Inspector is sent to the asteroid mining colony Palermus IV to investigate disturbances in the space-time continuum related to wormhole activities taking place on the asteroid. Meanwhile, the Commissar is making preparations for the arrival of a well-known speaker from the past. There’s a catchy song at 4:20 delivered by this Neil Young-like soundalike Inspector who makes it clear that…there’s something going on on this asteroid. I’ll warn you now: it’s a very unique P-type asteroid and any mining activity taking place here would only yield plasticine. Watch
Red Dwarf (1988–2021). Cult TV sitcom set three million years into the future on a space mining freighter. However, the show actually has nothing whatsoever to do with the eponymous spaceship’s long-abandoned mining pursuits — it’s included in this list just for completeness. It’s a miscellany of adventures involving the crew that remains after eons of suspended animation following a radiation accident: a troublesome technician, a hologram crew member, a humanoid cat, a mechanoid robot and a senile onboard computer. Voted Best Returning TV Sitcom by the British Comedy Guide more than once during the dozen or so series of its interrupted run. Watch
That’s it for astro-mining in the movies. But I will also add to this list one episode of the excellent vintage animated children’s TV series Mr Benn, entitled Spaceman — it’s the one where he goes prospecting for precious jewels on another planet.
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