Years after the 1970 Apollo 13 disaster, astronaut Jim Lovell claimed that, in the months before he flew on the doomed lunar mission, he had nightmares inspired by a movie about an Apollo astronaut named Jim whose ship malfunctions. He didn’t name the movie, but it must have been Marooned, the eerily prescient 1969 film about three NASA astronauts (Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, and James Franciscus) adrift in orbit aboard a disabled vessel.
A reluctant NASA director (Gregory Peck) sends up a fourth spaceman (David Janssen) in an untested craft to rescue his stranded colleagues. A Soviet interloper also attempts a rescue in order to embarrass the Americans but ends up being more help than hindrance. In fact, the movie’s depiction of outer-space cooperation between the antagonistic Cold War superpowers is believed to have led to the building of space station Skylab and the joint Apollo-Soyuz missions of the 1970s. It also inspired a rescue protocol, should catastrophe strike aboard Skylab.
The film won an Oscar for its special effects. Curiously, Columbia Pictures allowed the movie to fall into public domain. It was picked up by another distributor and re-released in 1991 as Space Travelers. Suddenly looking like a low-budget B-movie, it earned an episode of mockery on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the only Oscar-winning film ever to meet such an ignoble fate.