4.8 Capricorn One and other “Moon hoax” movies

A major boost to the popularity of hoax theories came from the movie Capricorn One, directed by Peter Hyams in 1978, which presented an entertaining story of high-level rogues within NASA trying to save their face by faking a crewed Mars landing on a secret soundstage.

The allusion to Moon hoax theories was rendered even more explicit by using Apollo hardware for the faked Mars landing. From a technical standpoint, this is utterly implausible, since the Martian atmosphere would require an aerodynamically shaped landing craft, not an angular Lunar Module designed for the airless Moon.

A further hint was the movie’s tagline: “Would you be shocked to find out that the greatest moment of our recent history may not have happened at all?”.

Figure 4.8-1. The poster for Capricorn One (1978).

Rather amusingly, conspiracy theorists hail Capricorn One as a prime example of how easily the Moon landings could have been staged despite the fact that the attempted fakery depicted in the movie actually fails: the fakers forget a crucial technical detail and their deception is spotted by a NASA engineer and disclosed spectacularly by a journalist. Moreover, the movie’s technical explanation of the effects used to fake the landing is riddled with implausibilities and absurdities.

In later years, several movies have mentioned Moon hoax theories, often with a very tongue-in-cheek tone. Here is a sampling:

  • In Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), the Apollo missions are real but the footage is faked to cover the actual reason for the Moon landings (recovering Transformer technology left on the Moon).
  • In Interstellar (2014), future schools have rewritten history books to state that the Moon landings were faked by the US government to bankrupt the Soviet Union through an unsustainably expensive space race; this lie has been introduced to discourage people from trying to escape a dying Earth.
  • In Minions (2015), the titular creatures wander in search of a new master to serve and stumble upon a movie set where a Moon landing is being simulated by a director who looks like Stanley Kubrick.
  • In Moonwalkers (2015), a CIA agent is tasked with recruiting Stanley Kubrick to produce fake footage of the first Moon landing just in case it can’t be achieved, but ends up hiring an impostor who produces a pathetic fake.
  • In Operation Avalanche (2016), two CIA agents discover that NASA can’t actually go to the Moon and end up involved in a conspiracy to fake the Moon landing.

Figure 4.8-2. The Moon landing set in the movie Minions (2015).