First to the Moon

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
First to the Moon Movie Poster Image
Informative docu on Apollo 8 is too slow for younger kids.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 121 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Documentary tells the story of the Apollo 8 mission to orbit the moon, and how the mission created a sense of wonder and perspective during an extremely divisive time in America and the world. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Through interview footage, the three astronauts who took part in the Apollo 8 mission discuss the difficulties they had to overcome to be the first humans to explore space beyond Earth's orbit. 


Archival news footage of the Vietnam War, riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, and civil unrest in the United States in 1968. 


Middle-finger gesture used once. "Hell." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking and cigar smoking in archival footage of Mission Control in Houston. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that First to the Moon is a 2018 documentary about the Apollo 8 mission. In order to set the context, there's archival news footage of the Vietnam War, as well as the riots and unrest occurring in America in 1968. There's also cigarette and cigar smoking in the archival footage, particularly with Mission Control in Houston. The middle-finger gesture is used once, as well as the word "hell." While the story of Apollo 8 is interesting, especially for families with kids who want to explore space when they grow up, the documentary's slow pace, the talk involved in the backstories of the astronauts, and some of the finer details of rocket science might lose younger viewers. For those interested in those first astronauts who flew the space missions, NASA, and the Cold War politics that drove America to get to the moon before the Soviets did, First to the Moon is a must-see documentary, especially when paired with classics like The Right Stuff and For All Mankind

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What's the story?

FIRST TO THE MOON looks at the Apollo 8 mission, which marked the first time humanity explored space beyond the orbit of the Earth by orbiting the moon. It features contemporary interviews with the three astronauts who took part in the mission: Bill Anders, James Lovell, and Frank Borman. These three discuss the mission, and how they earned their way into the space program. Through archival news footage, the Apollo 8 mission is placed in the context of the tumultuous events of 1968. The mission took place around Christmas of that year, and the photographs that emerged from the mission, including the iconic "Earthrise" photograph, created a much-needed sense of wonder and perspective at the end of that difficult and divisive year. The documentary also discusses the mission in the context of Cold War politics of the time. 

Is it any good?

This documentary is a worthwhile supplement to The Right Stuff and For All Mankind, even if it lacks the narrative drive of the former and the Brian Eno soundtrack of the latter. Through contemporary interviews, archival footage, and animation, First to the Moon takes a look at the Apollo 8 mission, the first manned orbit of the moon, and the first exploration of space beyond Earth's orbit. It presents Apollo 8 against the backdrop of the Cold War political realities of the time that drove the space race, and the divisiveness and unrest of American society in 1968. It discusses the hope and perspective that the mission gave the world at the time, via both the mission's success and the iconic "Earthrise" photograph, taken by astronaut Bill Anders.

While the story is inherently interesting and deserving of documentation, the movie might seem a bit slow for younger viewers, or for those less interested in rocket science. There's also a constant "rousing" soundtrack that wears thin after the first 30 minutes. However, the documentary serves as a reminder of what is the best in the human spirit, and also that America's desire to be the first country to get to the moon in the 1960s is as much rooted in beating the Commies as it was in more noble reasons. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about documentaries about the history of space exploration. How does First to the Moon compare to other documentaries that look at the space programs of the 1950s and 1960s? 

  • How does the documentary blend archival footage, animation, and interviews with the astronauts who took part in Apollo 8 to tell the story? 

  • What are the ways in which the documentary places Apollo 8 in the context of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the divisiveness America faced in 1968? 

Movie details

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For kids who love outer space

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