Sam Rockwell's Best Role is a Forgotten $5 Million Indie Sci-Fi Gem

Sam Rockwell's Best Role is a Forgotten $5 Million Indie Sci-Fi Gem
Image credit: Sony Pictures

Moon deserves to be rediscovered.


  • Duncan Jones wrote and directed 2009's Moon with Sam Rockwell in mind.
  • The movie sees Rockwell play two clones on a lunar mining outpost.
  • Critics and audiences praised the movie, as well as Rockwell's outstanding performance.

How It Began

It was the mid-2000s, and indie director Duncan Jones was a huge fan of the dynamic character actor Sam Rockwell. The two had met and bonded over a love of the gritty sci-fi of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Jones originally hoped to work with Rockwell on a different project, which unfortunately fell through (though it eventually evolved into the 2018 Netflix thriller Mute). But Jones and his co-writer Nathan Parker still wanted to work with Rockwell.

In an interview with Polygon, Jones recalled asking, 'What can we give him as an acting challenge that will entice him to come and do this low-budget British science fiction film with a first time director?'

The answer was 2009's Moon, a taut sci-fi thriller that pays homage to 2001 as well as other classics like Ridley Scott 's Alien. The script gave Rockwell a big acting challenge: not only to keep our attention as the sole actor onscreen, but also to play two different versions of the same character.

What's It About?

In the near future, an energy crisis on Earth has led to the rise of alternative energy source helium-3. A company named Lunar Industries makes a killing by starting a moon base that mines helium-3 and requires only one man to operate it.

Sam Bell is nearing the end of his 3-year contract on the moon, and is eager to return home to his wife and daughter. However, he begins to be plagued with mysterious medical problems, including hallucinations. Soon Sam's deteriorating medical condition leads him to have an accident, which in turn leads to the discovery of a second Sam Bell – the exact same person, but three years younger.

The two Sam Bells try to figure out what's going on, unsure if this is a hallucination or a sinister trick. In the meantime, the original Bell is deteriorating rapidly, and just hoping to survive his last two weeks before he gets to board a shuttle back to Earth.

What Critics Said

Moon holds a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an equally 'fresh' audience score of 89%. Here's what the critics had to say:

'Moon is an old-fashioned sci-fi movie in the best sense: far more psychological drama than space opera…harking back to subtler, more ideas-driven entries in the genre.' – Sight & Sound

'A gripping, thoughtful, extremely claustrophobic movie.' – Observer UK

'Sam Rockwell should have been nominated for Best Actor at least twice.' – LarsenOnFilm

'Made with only a fraction of your average Star Wars or Marvel movie, but does so much with (relatively little). Sam Rockwell is just fantastic given that he's largely in the film on his own. A tremendous sci-fi movie.' – BBC Online

Rockwell's First Hero Role

Rockwell had already made a name for himself playing dynamic secondary characters in The Green Mile, Charlie's Angels, and several others. But this was his first time playing a heroic leading man, and in a sense he did it twice over.

The two Sam Bells aren't distinguished by different wigs, accents, prosthetics, or CGI adjustments. Instead, Rockwell distinguishes them by their voices and the way they carry themselves. The older Bell is weary, mentally foggy, and eager to do whatever he can to just appease the powers that be and get home. The younger Bell is energetic and angry, with the energy of a rebellious man ready to fight.

The Academy Awards have a notorious genre bias – actors are very rarely nominated in the sci-fi or horror genre. But critics agreed that Sam Rockwell was robbed for not receiving more recognition for his work in Moon. (Rockwell didn't earn an Oscar until 2017, for his work in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.)

Moon was made on a shoestring budget, and didn't make a huge splash when it landed. But if you're a sci-fi fan who hasn't seen it yet, you've been missing out on a classic.