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Capricorn One

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Capricorn One
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Hyams
Written byPeter Hyams
Produced byPaul N. Lazarus III
CinematographyBill Butler
Edited byJames Mitchell
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • December 10, 1977 (1977-12-10) (Japan)
  • June 2, 1978 (1978-06-02) (United States)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million (estimated)
Box office$12 million (US and Canada rental)[1]

Capricorn One is a 1978 British-produced American thriller film in which a reporter discovers that a supposed Mars landing by a crewed mission to the planet has been faked via a conspiracy involving the government and—under duress—the crew themselves. It was written and directed by Peter Hyams and produced by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment. It stars Elliott Gould as the reporter, and James Brolin, Sam Waterston, and O. J. Simpson as the astronauts. Hal Holbrook plays a senior NASA official who goes along with governmental and corporate interests and helps to fake the mission.

The music score was created by Jerry Goldsmith.


Capricorn One—the first crewed mission to Mars—is on the launch pad. Just before liftoff, astronauts Charles Brubaker, Peter Willis, and John Walker are suddenly removed from the spacecraft. Bewildered, they are flown to an abandoned military base in the desert. The launch proceeds on schedule, with the public unaware the spacecraft is empty.

At the base, NASA official James Kelloway informs the astronauts that a faulty life-support system would have killed them in-flight. He says they must help counterfeit the televised footage during the flight to and from Mars. Another failed space mission would result in NASA's funding being cut and private contractors losing millions in profits. Kelloway threatens their families to force their cooperation.

The astronauts remain captive during the flight and appear to be filmed after landing on Mars, although they are actually inside of a makeshift TV studio at the base. At the command center, only a few officials know about the conspiracy until an alert technician, Elliot Whitter, notices that ground control receives the crew's televised transmissions before the spacecraft telemetry arrives. Whitter reports this to his supervisors, including Kelloway, but is told it is due to a faulty workstation. Whitter partially shares his concerns with a TV journalist friend, Robert Caulfield. Whitter suddenly vanishes, and when Caulfield goes to Whitter's apartment the next day, he discovers someone else living there and that all evidence of Whitter's recent life has been erased. As Caulfield investigates, several attempts are made on his life.

Upon returning to Earth, the empty spacecraft burns up during atmospheric reentry due to a faulty heat shield, which would have killed the astronauts had they been on board. The astronauts realize officials will need to kill them to keep the hoax a secret. They escape in a small jet which quickly runs out of fuel, forcing a crash-landing in the desert. They split up on foot to increase their chances of finding help and exposing the plot. Kelloway sends helicopters after them. Willis and Walker are found, while Brubaker evades capture.

Caulfield interviews Brubaker's "widow" after reviewing a televised conversation between the astronauts and their wives. Mrs. Brubaker had seemed confused when her husband mentioned their last family vacation. She explains that the family had actually gone to a different location, where a western movie was being filmed. Brubaker was intrigued by how special effects and technology made it seem real.

Caulfield believes Brubaker would never make such a mistake and may have been sending his wife a message. Caulfield goes to the deserted western movie set and is shot at. As he investigates further, federal agents break into his home, arresting him for possessing cocaine that they planted there. His exasperated boss bails Caulfield out, then fires him.

A reporter friend tells Caulfield about an abandoned military base located 300 miles (480 km) from Houston. The base is deserted, but Caulfield finds Brubaker's necklace and medallion and concludes the astronauts were there. Caulfield hires a crop-dusting pilot named Albain to search the desert. They spot and follow two helicopters to a closed isolated gas station where Brubaker is hiding. They rescue him as he attempts to escape his pursuers. The helicopters chase their plane through a canyon but crash when Albain blinds them with crop spray.

Ultimately, Caulfield and Brubaker arrive at the astronauts' memorial service, where Kelloway and Brubaker's wife see them and live network TV coverage exposes the truth. The audience is left to imagine the fallout.




Peter Hyams began thinking about a film of a space hoax while working on broadcasts of the Apollo missions for CBS. He later reflected regarding the Apollo 11 Moon landing, "There was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have ... came from a TV camera."[2]

He later elaborated:

Whenever there was something on the news about a [space flight], they would cut to a studio in St. Louis where there was a simulation of what was going on. I grew up in the generation where my parents basically believed if it was in the newspaper it was true. That turned out to be bullshit. My generation was brought up to believe television was true, and that was bullshit too. So I was watching these simulations and I wondered what would happen if someone faked a whole story.[3]

Hyams wrote the script in 1972 but no one wanted to make it. He says interest in the script was re-activated by the Watergate Scandal. He approached producer Paul Lazarus. Hyams and Lazarus had a meeting with Lew Grade, head of production company ITC Entertainment who had recently moved into film production with The Return of the Pink Panther. Grade agreed to make the film after only five minutes.[4] The budget was $4.8 million.[5][6][2]

Grade announced the film in October 1975 as a part of a slate of ten films he intended to make over the next 12 months, including The Domino Principle, Action - Clear the Fast Lanes and Juarez. The last two were ultimately not made.[7]

To stay within the budget, NASA's co-operation was needed. Lazarus had a good relationship with the space agency from Futureworld. The filmmakers were thus able to obtain government equipment as props, including a prototype Apollo Lunar Module,[8] despite the story's negative portrayal of the space agency.

In September 1976, it was announced the cast would include Elliott Gould, O.J. Simpson, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, and Candice Bergen.[9] The presence of Brolin and Simpson in the cast helped secure a presale to NBC.[4] Ultimately Bergen pulled out and was replaced by Karen Black.


Filming started in January 1977. Shooting locations included Cinema Center Films in Studio City, and Red Rock Canyon State Park.[4]

Hyams later joked, "O. J. Simpson was in it, and Robert Blake was in Busting [Hyams' first feature]. I've said many times: Some people have AFI Lifetime Achievement awards; some people have multiple Oscars; my bit of trivia is that I've made films with two leading men who were subsequently tried for the first-degree murder of their wives."[3]


The film originally was scheduled to debut in the United States in February 1978, but good preview screenings and delays in Superman caused it to move to June. Capricorn One became the year's most-successful independent film.[5][10]

Hyams later said:

Audiences just stood up and cheered at one point in the film. It wasn't because it was such a great movie, it's just that certain movies strike certain chords with people. In a successful movie, the audience, almost before they see it, know they're going to like it. I remember standing in the back of the theater and crying because I knew that something had changed in my life. Sitting on the film cans outside the screening room, I felt my cheeks were wet with tears. A bright man, [studio executive] David Picker came over to me and said, 'You're going to have a lot of new best friends tomorrow. You better know how to handle it.'[11]

In Japan and the UK, a version with a running time of 129 minutes was released theatrically, with additional scenes such as the docking of the spacecraft during the Mars landing, and with different cuts of detail. However, the rights company (ITC Entertainment) has since taken the position that the final version of "Capricorn One" is the 123-minute version currently in circulation, and that the 129-minute version no longer exists. Therefore, only the 123-minute version is currently distributed in Japan and the UK. However, in 2019, film material from the 129-minute version was discovered at the National Film Archive of Japan, so remastered material was created based on this film and released as "bonus content" only on Japanese Blu-ray, after obtaining special permission from the rights company.[12]


Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "an expensive, stylistically bankrupt suspense melodrama" while describing much of its screenplay as "humorless comic-strip stuff."[13] Conversely, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a surprisingly good thriller" with a runaway car sequence "that provides some of the best action footage I've seen in a long time."[14] Variety faulted the film's "underdeveloped script" and "scattershot casting", calling the duo of Savalas and Gould "a bullseye" but Waterston and Simpson lacking in "group chemistry".[15]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times thought the beginning of the film was the best part, and what follows "is wildly uneven, veering between the serious and the merely silly, and ending up likely to please only the least demanding."[16] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "Capricorn One harks back to the old adventure serials, but Hyams doesn't have remotely enough wit or technique to achieve a fresh stylization of vintage formulas."[17]

Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin stated "Somewhere within this flabby, overproduced fantasy about space-age double-dealing and Watergate-type sleuthing lives a smaller, tighter film—and a much wittier satire on the space program and technologies, like Hollywood, designed to deceive and manipulate. The trouble is that this more ideal version is not really struggling to get out but wallowing complacently in the limitless excess that has become the Lew Grade trademark."[18]

In a retrospective review, AllMovie critic Donald Guarisco wrote: "This agreeable high-concept effort is one of Peter Hyams' most accomplished films. The script's conspiracy-theory premise requires a major suspension of disbelief, but Hyams makes it worthwhile for those willing to make that leap."[19]

Capricorn One holds a 65% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The site's consensus states: "A string of questionable plot contrivances threaten to bury its story, but Capricorn One manages to unfurl an amusing, sharply cynical conspiracy yarn."[20]

Other media[edit]

Two novelizations of the film were written and published by separate authors. The first was written by Ken Follett (under the pseudonym Bernard L. Ross) and published in the United Kingdom; the other was written by Ron Goulart and published in the United States.[21]

The Follett novel is notable for giving Robert Caulfield more development than the movie does, including giving him something of a relationship with CBS reporter Judy Drinkwater (who has more time in the book than in the movie) and ending the book with him and Judy. The story saves his career and results in his being employed by CBS.

Clips from the faked Mars landing scenes have been used for illustration purposes in various Moon landing hoax conspiracy documentaries, notably the Fox TV show Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon and Bart Sibrel's film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon (2001). The latter also features a still shot from the hoax scene on the DVD's front cover.

In 2020–2021, Capricorn One was used as part of an internet prank. A viral video purported to be released by WikiLeaks was uploaded to BitChute, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms and blogs with a title: "Wikileaks releases - Moon landing cut scene - filmed in Nevada desert". In fact, WikiLeaks released no such video. Close inspection revealed this prank video to be made using clips from Capricorn One and even various film reels shot on the set of Capricorn One, which were then cut and spliced with stock footage from the Apollo missions and training sessions.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M150.
  2. ^ a b Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, Nicholas de Monchaux, MIT Press, 2011. This book cites the New York Times as stating "Watergate may not have inspired 'Capricorn One,' but it made its thesis more acceptable, its plot more credible and some of its content strangely prophetic."
  3. ^ a b "Peter Hyams Film by Film" Empire accessed 29 Dec 2020
  4. ^ a b c The Film That Watergate Got Off the Ground. Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times 30 Jan 1977: s36.
  5. ^ a b Szebin, 2000
  6. ^ Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 247
  7. ^ "Sir Lew's massive film deal". Barker, Dennis. The Guardian 22 Oct 1975: 7.
  8. ^ "The Space Shot as a Sham". Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 13 Oct 1976: f9.
  9. ^ "Pepitone will run disco in Las Vegas" Daly, Maggie. Chicago Tribune 14 Sep 1976: b12.
  10. ^ What If a Mars Landing Were Faked? Asks Peter Hyams: A Fake Landing On Mars? Nightingale, Benedict. New York Times 28 May 1978: D10.
  11. ^ Interview with Peter Hyams by Luke Ford accessed 27 July 2014
  12. ^ "カプリコン・1 ≪特別版≫ [Blu-ray]" [Capricorn One special edition Blu-ray] (in Japanese). King Records. 2019. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  13. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 2, 1978). "Film: 'Capricorn One'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (June 8, 1978). "'Capricorn' is a pure joy ride". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  15. ^ "Film Reviews: Capricorn One". Variety. June 7, 1978. 25.
  16. ^ Thomas, Kevin (June 2, 1978). "Meanwhile, Back at the Launch..." Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 24.
  17. ^ Arnold, Gary (June 6, 1978). "Hoax: 'Capricorn One' Never Gets Off the Ground". The Washington Post. B5.
  18. ^ Combs, Richard (July 1978). "Capricorn One". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 45 (534): 131.
  19. ^ Guarisco, Donald. "Capricorn One: Review". AllMovie. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  20. ^ "Capricorn One". Rotten Tomatoes.
  21. ^ Allison, 2007.
  22. ^ "Fact check: WikiLeaks did not release footage that proves moon landing staged". USA Today.


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