To me, a good space exploration film requires the awestruck crew of a space ship or installation, isolated in a seemingly lifeless environment while confronting the wonder & terror of what is out there.
Therefore, a film is disqualified if it:
-Isn't immersive audiovisually (most pre-2001:ASO space films, and a bunch since).
-Spends too much time on Earth (comet movies, we-brought-something-back movies, most solar crisis movies, most astronauts-in-trouble movies, most getting-into-space movies) or another life-bearing planet (Stargate).
-Movies where space travel is too easy / routine (Star Wars & Star Trek movies).
-Not enough sense of wonder (Starship Troopers).
-Movies that concentrate too much on Mars (Red Planet, Total Recall, Mission To Mars, Ghosts Of Mars). It just never seems to work out.
The list follows, starting close to now and getting further and further into the future both within the sub-lists and between them. I've included some of the more significant disqualified films in parentheses for the sake of completeness and to give our future more detail.
-- Just Beyond Now: Space exploration with the tech we basically have. --
2001: A Space Odyssey
2010: The Year We Make Contact
(Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun)
--New Steps: Today's tech plus a little leap, made from our own desperation or with the help of some new Friends. --
(Macross, thanks cdk)
(Final Days Of Planet Earth)
--Solar Neighborhood: Space travel between permanent installations in our system is now routine enough to be almost, but not quite, mundane. --
--Bye Bye Sun: We transition from a developed solar system to interstellar travel, with some sort of tangible lasting result (if not the one we looked for).--
(Planet Of The Apes)
Lost in Space
--Star Truckin': Interstellar travel is pretty common, but still with severe enough conditions (cold sleep, uncomfortable warp jumps) that it's never for the faint of heart.--
The Black Hole
--Closing Frontier: Even though space travel is still no picnic, the era approaches an end as it gets harder to be really alone, even in space.
(Star Trek: Enterprise)
(Pitch Black / Chronicles Of Riddick / Riddick)
Suggested additions & alterations of course welcome.