‘A Brief History of Time’ (1992)
How to watch: Stream it on The Criterion Channel; rent or buy it on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.
Perhaps no single scientist shaped more of our contemporary thought and fascination with black holes than the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose ideas about black holes, quantum mechanics, radiation and relativity were neatly packaged in his 1988 best-seller “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.” Four years later, the director Errol Morris (“The Thin Blue Line”) released his documentary film adaptation of the book, featuring extensive interviews with Hawking and his colleagues, friends and family, intermingling his biography with vivid and ingenious visualizations of his thoughts and theories. Hawking’s work is dense and complex, but Morris’s dazzling film furthers the source book’s mission of making the science of space a bit more understandable to the layperson.
‘Event Horizon’ (1997)
How to watch: Stream it on Showtime; rent or buy it on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.
The new image from Messier 87 was possible, in a large part, because of a network of radio antennas known as the Event Horizon Telescope. That name has a logical tie to its target: The event horizon is “the edge of a black hole, the point of no return,” according to the Times reporter Dennis Overbye, who notes, “beyond the event horizon, not even light can escape the black hole’s gravitational pull.” But it will summon a different connotation to movie fans. Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Event Horizon” makes black holes into horror fodder, telling the story of a vessel that creates an artificial black hole in order to make a space travel wormhole. Suffice to say, things go very wrong.
‘Star Trek’ (2009)
How to watch: Stream it on Amazon; rent or buy it on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.
Science-fiction television shows, like the later iterations of “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica,” have made black holes a mainstay of their storytelling. But the “Star Trek” film series hasn’t had much use for them, with the notable exception of J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot of the franchise. Nero (Eric Bana), the Romulan villain of the film, uses the principles of the black hole for dastardly ends, creating an artificial black hole out of “red matter” to destroy the planet Vulcan. But then a real black hole creates a time warp that sends Mr. Spock back in time to help Captain Kirk and his own younger self try to stop Nero. (It all makes sense in the movie.)
How to watch: Rent or buy it on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.
This Kubrick-inspired sci-fi adventure from Christopher Nolan hangs a key plot point on black holes: The deep-space crew at its center, led by the former NASA pilot Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is sent to explore a wormhole leading to potentially habitable planets. But the wormhole’s proximity to a black hole causes gravitational time dilation; in the brief time Cooper and another crew member (Anne Hathaway) spend exploring one of the planets, 23 years of earth time elapse, causing duress for the scientists. Nolan, known for his meticulousness, took great pains to try to ensure that the science of the film checked out, and its rendering of the black hole was considered by many to be the most realistic yet in a fiction film.