Russians Beat Tom Cruise and Elon Musk to the First Film Shot in Space

Russian actress Yuliya Peresild stars in "The Challenge," filmed entirely aboard the International Space Station. (Channel One/Yellow, Black and White)

Rumors began to swirl in 2020 that Tom Cruise, the actor who loves to do his own stunts, would soon make history, filming the first feature-length movie to be shot in space. According to the BBC, Cruise began talks with NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX to produce a movie aboard the International Space Station.

That film is still expected to happen, but Russian filmmakers beat them all to the historical punch, releasing "Vyzov" ("The Challenge"), filmed entirely aboard the ISS in 2021 and released this year.

"Vyzov'' is about Zhenya Belyaeva (Yulia Peresild, "Battle for Sevastopol"), a surgeon who has to go to the International Space Station to perform heart surgery on an ailing cosmonaut who cannot return to Earth. Real-world cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy plays the fictional cosmonaut with a heart problem.

The titular challenge for Belyaeva isn't just performing open heart surgery in zero gravity, it's also being taken seriously by an all-male crew aboard the ISS.

The movie was produced by Russian state media to promote the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, which helped to produce the film. Roscosmos also held the casting call that hired Peresild for the movie. Not only did she have to submit an audition tape like any other actress, she had to undergo the same kind of medical, mental and physical tests as any other cosmonaut.

She was, after all, going to space for real.

Peresild and her understudy had to prepare for the shoot with centrifuge and vibration testing, zero-gravity training flights and parachute training. Their preparations for the film were extensively documented by Russian state media leading up to their departure for the space station.

Yulia Peresild, Anton Shkaplerov and Klim Shipenko pose for a portrait before taking off for the ISS. (Roscosmos Media)

Anton Shkaplerov, another real-life cosmonaut, accompanied Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the ISS in October 2021. They filmed "Vyzov" there in 12 days before returning to Earth via a parachute landing in Kazakhstan. The actress and director had to then undergo a 10-day rehabilitation program to readjust to the effects of gravity.

It was "part of a large-scale scientific and educational project, which also includes a series of documentaries to be shot about the rocket and space industry enterprises and specialists involved in the manufacturing of launch vehicles, spacecraft and ground space infrastructure," Roscosmos said in a statement.

Russia invaded Ukraine just a few months after principal photography wrapped on the film. In July 2022, Russia announced it would leave the International Space Station entirely by 2024.

"Vyzov" premiered in theaters across Russia on April 20, 2023, and while it's the first feature-length film shot entirely in space, it's not the only movie shot aboard the ISS.

In 2002, the documentary “IMAX: Space Station,” narrated by Tom Cruise, was released. It was the first 3D film shot in space. In 2012, Richard Garriott, a businessman and space tourist, released the eight-minute-long "Apogee of Fear," the first narrative film shot aboard the ISS.

As of January 2023, SpaceX and Cruise were still planning to make a movie aboard the ISS, and still had plans for making history: the first spacewalk for a feature film.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on LinkedIn.

Keep Up With the Best in Military Entertainment

Whether you're looking for news and entertainment, thinking of joining the military or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to the newsletter to have military news, updates and resources delivered straight to your inbox.

Story Continues