Netflix's 'Spaceman' is my most anticipated film at Berlin Film Festival

Adam Sandler as Jakub in Spaceman
(Image credit: Larry Horricks/Netflix)

Film festival season never ends, but the peak of the winter season is here. The Berlinale Film Festival kicked off yesterday (Feb. 15), bringing tons of new movies to Berlin. Some are competing for the Golden Bear — 20 films will compete for the Berlin Film Festival's top prize — but dozens more will be screened during the festival.

But there's one movie among all the ones on offer that I'm most excited about. Starring Adam Sandler as Czech cosmonaut Jakub Procházka, "Spaceman" looks like it could be a major hit for Netflix when it debuts at the festival on February 21. I'm not the only one eyeing this film either, we raved about it earlier this year when the trailer first dropped.

The reason I'm most excited is that this science-fiction drama looks set to be a rare grounded performance from Sandler as the solitary spaceman. That's not a bad thing, because frankly some of his best performances throughout his career are the more serious ones. And he's joined by a small but talented cast that includes Paul Dano and Carey Mulligan, who just received her third Academy Award nomination.

What is 'Spaceman' about?

Based on the 2017 novel "Spaceman of Bohemia," this movie stars Sandler as Commander Procházka, a cosmonaut from the Czech Republic who is on a mission at the edge of our solar system. A mysterious ancient cloud of dust appeared, and he was the only one willing to go explore it. 

This choice isn't without its costs. By abandoning his life to voyage into the unknown, he's also abandoned his pregnant wife Lenka (Mulligan), something Jakub seems to regret relatively early into the movie. With his life falling to pieces back home, and seemingly nothing that he can do about it, Jakub starts to unravel, as noted by the mission leader (Lena Olin) back home.

In the midst of his solo mission though, Jakub meets an unexpected guest aboard the ship. He discovers Hanuš, an extraterrestrial spider (Paul Dano) lurking in the shadows. After establishing a tenuous, cordial relationship, Hanuš attempts to help Jakub "in his emotional distress."

'Spaceman' could become the next sci-fi classic

Adam Sandler as Jakub in "Spaceman"

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

First of all, if this trailer is any indication, then expect this movie to be introspective and deep, if not downright haunting at times, despite still featuring some larger-scale scenes. 

If this is the case, then Netflix landed the perfect director in Johan Renck, who directed all five episodes of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. That show managed to strike a similar tone, and despite its sometimes larger-than-life scenes, and large cast, struck a similar tone and I found it to be more about the people involved than the epic nuclear disaster itself. And few TV shows or movies manage to be as haunting as episode 4 of "Chernobyl," "The Happiness of All Mankind."

Plus, Sandler plays his more serious roles well, as evidenced in "Punch-Drunk Love," "Reign Over Me," "Uncut Gems" and "Hustle." Yes, he's known for his comedic roles, but often he shines most as an actor when given more substantial parts to work with.

Starring in a movie where most of his scenes are either with just Dano or Mulligan, both great actors in their own right, the acting in this movie could be enough of a draw to make it a hit for Netflix, even if the science-fiction elements don't quite land. But if the science fiction elements do work, then "Spaceman" could become the next classic sci-fi movie, even if it isn't as epic as something like "Dune: Part Two." You can find out for yourself when "Spaceman" hits Netflix on March 1 or try and see it in limited release starting February 23 in the U.S.

Here's what else I'm tracking at Berlinale 2024

While "Spaceman" has certainly caught my attention, it's not the only film from this year's Berlinale Film Festival that I'm keeping an eye on. As one of the biggest film festivals of the year, there are some movies debuting that have serious star power.

First up, there are a few movies with big names attached competing for The Golden Bear, which is the Berlinale's top prize. Out of the 20 films competing, these four in particular caught my attention.

Cillian Murphy at the Berlinale International Film Festival

(Image credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
  • Small Things Like These: Starring Cillian Murphy as Irish coal miner Bill Furlong, this movie examines the horrific abuses of women and children in Ireland’s Catholic-run Magdalene laundries. This film opened the festival yesterday (Feb. 15) to very positive reviews.
  • La Cocina: This Mexican-American drama stars Raúl Briones and Rooney Mara in a love story that takes place over the course of just one day in a Times Square kitchen.
  • Another End: This science fiction romance drama stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Sal, a widower who tries a technology that implants the consciousness of a dead person into your mind to help in the grieving process.
  • A Different Man: Starring Sebastian Stan, this psychological thriller is a weird one. After surgery gives Edward (Stan) a new start, he discovers that another man is playing him in a stage show about his life.

Beyond the main competition, there are dozens of other movies debuting or being shown at the Berlin Film Festival. Most of the big draws though, are shown in the Berlinale Special, which is curated by the Artistic Director of the Berlinale, Carlo Chatrian. 

Aside from "Spaceman," which is making its debut in the Special, here are the other films that jump out as worth keeping an eye on.

  • Sasquatch Sunset: This surreal comedy stars Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek and co-director Nathan Zellner as a family of Sasquatch roaming the wilds for a year. It debuted at Sundance to largely positive reviews.
  • Seven Veils: This drama stars Amanda Seyfried as Jeanine, a theatre director who must deal with trauma from her past while trying to put on a stage production of the famous opera "Salome," a biblical drama known for its infamous Dance of the Seven Veils.
  • Love Lies Bleeding: Produced by A24, this thriller starring Kristen Stewart as a gym manager with a criminal past could have serious potential. It will get a wide release in the U.S. starting March 15.

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Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.