The film depicts astronauts Lovell, Jack Swigert+, and Fred Haise+ aboard Apollo 13+ for America's third Moon landing mission. En route, an on-board explosion deprives their spacecraft of most of its oxygen supply and electric power, forcing NASA+'s flight controllers to abort the Moon landing, and turning the mission into a struggle to get the three men home safely.
Howard went to great lengths to create a technically accurate movie, employing NASA+'s technical assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for his cast, and even obtaining permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft+ for realistic depiction of the "weightlessness" experienced by the astronauts in space.
Released in the United States on June 30, 1995, ''Apollo 13'' was nominated for nine Academy Award+s (winning for Best Film Editing+ and Best Sound+). In total, the film grossed over $355 million worldwide during its theatrical releases. The film was very positively received by critics.
On July 20, 1969, astronaut Jim Lovell hosts a party, where guests watch on television as Neil Armstrong+ takes his first steps on the Moon during Apollo 11+. After the party, Lovell, who had orbited the Moon on Apollo 8+, tells his wife Marilyn that he intends to walk on the Moon's surface.
On October 30, 1969, as Lovell conducts a VIP tour of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building+, his boss Deke Slayton+ informs him that his crew and he will fly the Apollo 13 mission instead of Apollo 14. Lovell, Ken Mattingly+, and Fred Haise train for their new mission. Days before launch, Mattingly is discovered to have been exposed to rubella+, and the flight surgeon demands his replacement with Mattingly's backup, Jack Swigert, as a safety precaution. Lovell initially resists breaking up his team, but relents when Slayton threatens to relieve him of his command. As the launch date approaches, Marilyn's fears for her husband's safety manifest in nightmares, but she goes to Cape Kennedy+ the night before launch to see him off despite her misgivings.
Three days into the mission, the crew sends a live television transmission from ''Odyssey'', but the networks decline to carry the broadcast live. When Swigert performs a standard housekeeping procedure, one of two liquid oxygen+ tanks explodes, emptying its contents into space and sending the craft tumbling. The other tank is soon found to be leaking. Mission Control aborts the Moon landing, Lovell and Haise hurriedly power up ''Aquarius'' as a "lifeboat" for the return home, and Swigert shuts down ''Odyssey'' before its battery power runs out. In Houston, Kranz rallies his team and declares "failure is not an option". Controller John Aaron+ recruits Mattingly to help restart ''Odyssey'' for the final return.
As Swigert and Haise watch the Moon pass beneath them, Lovell laments his lost chance of walking on its surface, then turns their attention to the task of getting home. With ''Aquarius'' running on minimum systems to conserve power, the crew suffers freezing conditions. Swigert suspects Mission Control is unable to get them home and is withholding this from them. In a fit of rage, Haise blames Swigert's inexperience for the accident; Lovell quickly squelches the ensuing argument. When carbon dioxide+ approaches dangerous levels, an engineering team quickly invents a way to make the command module's square filters work in the lunar module's round receptacles. With the guidance systems on ''Aquarius'' shut down, and despite Haise's fever and the miserable living conditions, the crew succeeds in making a difficult but vital course correction by manually igniting the lunar module's engine.
Mattingly and Aaron struggle to find a way to power up the command module with its limited available power, but finally succeed and transmit the procedures to Swigert, who restarts ''Odyssey'' by transferring extra power from ''Aquarius''. Jettisoning the service module, the crew finally sees the extent of the damage. They prepare for re-entry, unsure whether ''Odyssey''': s heat shield+ is intact (if it is not, they will be incinerated). They release ''Aquarius'' and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in ''Odyssey''. After a tense, longer-than-normal period of radio silence due to ionization blackout+, the astronauts report all is well and splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Recovery helicopters bring the three men aboard the amphibious assault ship USS ''Iwo Jima''+.
As the astronauts receive a hero's welcome on deck, Lovell's narration describes the events that follow their return from space—including the investigation into the explosion, and the subsequent careers and lives of Haise, Swigert, Mattingly, and Kranz—and ends with him wondering when mankind will return to the Moon.
Top to bottom: Hanks, Bacon and Paxton, who portray astronauts Lovell, Swigert, and Haise, respectively.
The real Jim Lovell appears as captain of the recovery ship USS ''Iwo Jima''+; Howard had intended to make him an admiral, but Lovell himself, having retired as a captain, chose to appear in his actual rank. Horror film director Roger Corman+, a mentor of Howard, appears as a congressman being given a VIP tour by Lovell of the Vehicle Assembly Building+, as it had become something of a tradition for Corman to make a cameo appearance in his protégés' films. The real Marilyn Lovell appeared among the spectators during the launch sequence. CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite+ appears in archive news footage and can be heard in newly recorded announcements, some of which he edited himself to sound more authentic.
In addition to his brother, Clint Howard, several other members of Ron Howard's family appear in the movie:
* Rance Howard+ (his father) appears as the Lovell family minister.
* Jean Speegle Howard+ (his mother) appears as Lovell's mother Blanch.
* Cheryl Howard (his wife) and Bryce Dallas Howard+ (his daughter) appear as uncredited background performers in the scene where the astronauts wave goodbye to their families. Brad Pitt+ was offered a role in the film, but turned it down to star in ''Se7en+''. Reportedly, the real Pete Conrad expressed interest in appearing in the film.
While planning the film, director Ron Howard decided that every shot of the film would be original and that no mission footage would be used. The spacecraft interiors were constructed by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center+'s Space Works, which also restored the Apollo 13 command module. Two individual lunar modules and two command modules were constructed for filming. While each was a replica, composed of some of the original Apollo materials, they were built so that different sections were removable, which enabled filming to take place inside the capsules. Space Works also built modified command and lunar modules for filming inside a Boeing KC-135+reduced-gravity aircraft+, and the pressure suits worn by the actors, which are exact reproductions of those worn by the Apollo astronauts, right down to the detail of being airtight. When the actors put the suits on with their helmets locked in place, air was pumped into the suits to cool them down and allow them to breathe, exactly as in launch preparations for the real Apollo missions.
The real Mission Control Center+ consisted of two control rooms located on the second and third floors of Building 30 at the Johnson Space Center+ in Houston, Texas+. NASA+ offered the use of the control room for filming, but Howard declined, opting instead to make his own replica from scratch. Production designer Michael Corenblith and set decorator Merideth Boswell were in charge of the construction of the Mission Control set at Universal Studios. The set was equipped with giant rear-screen projection capabilities and a complex set of computers with individual video feeds to all the flight controller stations. The actors playing the flight controllers were able to communicate with each other on a private audio loop. The Mission Control room built for the film was on the ground floor. One NASA employee, who was a consultant for the film, said that the set was so realistic that he would leave at the end of the day and look for the elevator before remembering he was not in Mission Control. By the time the film was made, the USS ''Iwo Jima'' had been scrapped, so her sister ship, the USS ''New Orleans''+, was used as the recovery ship, instead.
Howard anticipated difficulty in portraying weightlessness+ in a realistic manner. He discussed this with Steven Spielberg+, who suggested using a KC-135 airplane, which can be flown in such a way as to create about 23 seconds of weightlessness, a method NASA has always used to train its astronauts for space flight. Howard obtained NASA's permission and assistance in filming in the realistic conditions aboard multiple KC-135 flights.
To prepare for their roles in the film, Hanks, Paxton, and Bacon all attended the U.S. Space Camp+ in Huntsville, Alabama+. While there, astronauts Jim Lovell and David Scott+, commander of Apollo 15+, did actual training exercises with the actors inside a simulated command module and lunar module. The actors were also taught about each of the 500 buttons, toggles, and switches used to operate the spacecraft.
The actors then traveled to Johnson Space Center+ in Houston, where they flew in NASA's KC-135 reduced-gravity aircraft to simulate weightlessness in outer space. While in the KC-135, filming took place in bursts of 25 seconds, the length of each period of weightlessness that the plane could produce. The filmmakers eventually flew 612 parabola+s which added up to a total of three hours and 54 minutes of weightlessness. Parts of the command module, lunar module, and the tunnel that connected them were built by production designer Michael Corenblith, art directors David J. Bomba and Bruce Alan Miller, and their crew to fit inside the KC-135. Filming in such an environment, while never done before for a film, was a tremendous time saver. In the KC-135, the actors moved wherever they wanted, surrounded by floating props; the camera and cameraman were weightless, so filming could take place on any axis from which a shot could be set up.
In Los Angeles, Ed Harris and all the actors portraying flight controller+s enrolled in a Flight Controller School led by Gerry Griffin+, an Apollo 13 flight director, and flight controller Jerry Bostick. The actors studied audiotapes from the mission, reviewed hundreds of pages of NASA transcripts, and attended a crash course in physics+. Astronaut Dave Scott was impressed with their efforts, stating that each actor was determined to make every scene technically correct, word for word.
The score to ''Apollo 13'' was composed and conducted by James Horner+. The soundtrack+ was released in 1995 by MCA Records+ and has seven tracks of score, eight period songs used in the film, and seven tracks of dialogue by the actors at a running time of nearly seventy-eight minutes. The music also features solos by vocalist Annie Lennox+ and Tim Morrison on the trumpet. The score was a critical success and garnered Horner an Academy Award+ nomination for Best Original Score+.
The film was released on 30 June 1995 in North America and on 22 September 1995 in the UK+.
In September 2002 the film was re-released in IMAX+. It was the first film to be digitally remastered using IMAX DMR+ technology.
The film was a box-office success, bringing in $355,237,933 worldwide. The film's widest release was 2,347 theaters.
The film's opening weekend and the following two weeks placed it at #1 with a US+ gross of $25,353,380, which made up 14.7% of the total US gross.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes+ reports that the film has an overall approval rating of 95% based on 85 reviews, with a weighted average+ score of 8.2/10. At Metacritic+, which assigns a normalized+ 0–100 rating to reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 77 based on 22 reviews.
Roger Ebert+ of the ''Chicago Sun-Times+'' praised the film in his review saying: "A powerful story, one of the year's best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics." Richard Corliss+ from ''Time+'' highly praised the film, saying: "From lift-off to splashdown, Apollo 13 gives one hell of a ride." Edward Guthmann of ''San Francisco Chronicle+'' gave a mixed review and wrote: "I just wish that ''Apollo 13'' worked better as a movie, and that Howard's threshold for corn, mush and twinkly sentiment weren't so darn wide." Peter Travers+ from ''Rolling Stone+'' praised the film and wrote: "Howard lays off the manipulation to tell the true story of the near-fatal 1970 Apollo 13 mission in painstaking and lively detail. It's easily Howard's best film." Movie Room Reviews said "This film is arguably one of the most dramatic and horrendous spaceflight stories ever told."
Janet Maslin+ made the film an ''NYT+'' Critics' Pick, calling it an "absolutely thrilling" film that "unfolds with perfect immediacy, drawing viewers into the nail-biting suspense of a spellbinding true story." According to Maslin, "like ''Quiz Show+'', ''Apollo 13'' beautifully evokes recent history in ways that resonate strongly today. Cleverly nostalgic in its visual style (Rita Ryack+'s costumes are especially right), it harks back to movie making without phony heroics and to the strong spirit of community that enveloped the astronauts and their families. Amazingly, this film manages to seem refreshingly honest while still conforming to the three-act dramatic format of a standard Hollywood hit. It is far and away the best thing Mr. Howard has done (and ''Far and Away+'' was one of the other kind)." The academic critic Raymond Malewitz focuses on the DIY aspects of the "mailbox" filtration system to illustrate the emergence of an unlikely hero in late 20th-century American culture—"the creative, improvisational, but restrained thinker—who replaces the older prodigal cowboy heroes of American mythology and provides the country a better, more frugal example of an appropriate 'husband'."
Ron Howard stated that, after the first test preview of the film, one of the comment cards indicated "total disdain"; the audience member had written that it was a "typical Hollywood" ending and that the crew would never have survived. Marilyn Lovell praised Quinlan's portrayal of her, stating she felt she could feel what Quinlan's character was going through, and remembered how she felt in her mind.
A 10th-anniversary DVD+ of the film was released in 2005; it included both the theatrical version and the IMAX version, along with several extras. The IMAX version has a 1.66:1 aspect ratio+.
The film depicts the crew hearing a bang quickly after Swigert followed directions from mission control to stir the oxygen and hydrogen tanks. In reality, the crew heard the bang 93 seconds later., ''Apollo by the Numbers: A Statistical Reference'', NASA History Series, Office of Policy and Plans, Richard W. Orloff, Sept. 2004. See "Oxygen tank #2 fans on. Stabilization control system electrical disturbance indicated a power transient. 055:53:20."
The movie depicts Swigert and Haise arguing about who was at fault. The show ''The Real Story: Apollo 13'' broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel includes Haise stating that no such argument took place and that there was no way anyone could have foreseen that stirring the tank would cause problems.
The dialogue between ground control and the astronauts was taken nearly verbatim from transcripts and recordings, with the exception of one of the taglines of the film, "Houston, we have a problem." (This quote was voted #50 on the list "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes+".) According to the mission transcript, the actual words uttered by Jack Swigert were "Hey, we've got a problem here" (talking over Haise, who had started "Okay, Houston"). Ground control responded by saying "This is Houston, say again please." Jim Lovell then repeated, "Houston, we've had a problem."
One other incorrect dialogue is after the re-entry blackout. In the movie, Tom Hanks (as Lovell) says "Hello Houston... this is ''Odyssey''... it's good to see you again." In the actual re-entry, the command module was finally acquired by a Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King+ recovery aircraft which then relayed communications to Mission Control. CAPCOM and fellow astronaut Joe Kerwin (not Mattingly, who serves as CAPCOM in this scene in the movie) then made a call to the spacecraft "Odyssey, Houston standing by. Over." Jack Swigert, not Lovell, replied "Okay, Joe," and unlike in the movie, this was well before the parachutes deployed; the celebrations depicted at Mission Control were triggered by visual confirmation of their deployment.
The tagline "Failure is not an option", stated in the film by Gene Kranz, also became very popular, but was not taken from the historical transcripts. The following story relates the origin of the phrase, from an e-mail by Apollo 13 Flight Dynamics Officer+ Jerry Bostick:
:"As far as the expression 'Failure is not an option,' you are correct that Kranz never used that term. In preparation for the movie, the script writers, Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, came down to Clear Lake to interview me on 'What are the people in Mission Control really like?' One of their questions was 'Weren't there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?' My answer was 'No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.' I immediately sensed that Bill Broyles wanted to leave and assumed that he was bored with the interview. Only months later did I learn that when they got in their car to leave, he started screaming, 'That's it! That's the tag line for the whole movie, Failure is not an option. Now we just have to figure out who to have say it.' Of course, they gave it to the Kranz character, and the rest is history."
A DVD commentary track+, recorded by Jim and Marilyn Lovell and included with both DVD versions, mentions several inaccuracies included in the film, all done for reasons of artistic license+:
* In the film, Mattingly plays a key role in solving a power consumption problem that Apollo 13 was faced with as it approached re-entry. Lovell points out in his commentary that Mattingly was a composite of several astronauts and engineers—including Charles Duke+ (whose rubella led to Mattingly's grounding)—all of whom played a role in solving that problem.
* When Jack Swigert is getting ready to dock with the LM, a concerned NASA technician says: "If Swigert can't dock this thing, we don't have a mission." Lovell and Haise also seem worried. In his DVD commentary, the real Jim Lovell says that if Swigert had been unable to dock with the LM, he or Haise could have done it. He also says that Swigert was a well-trained command module pilot and that no one was really worried about whether he was up to the job, but he admitted that it made a nice subplot for the film. What Lovell and Haise were really worried about was the rendezvous with Swigert as they left the Moon.
* A scene set the night before the launch, showing the astronauts' family members saying their goodbyes while separated by a road, to reduce the possibility of any last-minute transmission+ of disease, depicted a tradition not begun until the Space Shuttle program+.
*The film depicts Marilyn Lovell dropping her wedding ring down a shower drain. According to Jim Lovell, this did occur, but the drain trap caught the ring and his wife was able to retrieve it. Lovell has also confirmed that the scene in which his wife had a nightmare about him being "sucked through an open door of a spacecraft into outer space" also occurred, though he believes the nightmare was prompted by her seeing a scene in ''Marooned+'', a 1969 film they saw three months before Apollo 13 blasted off.