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I don't remember when the movie was from, but I saw it one to two decades ago. I just have this hazy recollection that all these people lived on what they believed was a spaceship. They are supposed to be on a long voyage to some far off solar system, but in reality they are on Earth and are being studied by scientists to figure out the effects of long-term space travel on humans.

I have this visual in my mind of one character sneaking out of the supposed spaceship and that's how the other character figures out they are not on a spaceship.

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    In what country and about when did you see it? Is this a past hazy recollection from 3 years or 3 decades ago? Mar 29, 2014 at 10:35
  • These people weren't teenagers by any chance, were they?
    – Chahk
    Mar 29, 2014 at 14:23
  • Probably closer to one to two decades than three years :) But really have no clear recollection of when. I just have this visual in my mind of one character sneaking out of the supposed spaceship and that's how the other character figures out they are not on a spaceship. But I have no clear recollection of when I saw this.
    – Fahim
    Mar 30, 2014 at 11:46
  • Nope, they weren't teenagers as far as I can recall. My (albeit hazy) memory says that they were adults who were supposed to have been there years but that's not based on a very concrete memory ...
    – Fahim
    Mar 30, 2014 at 11:48
  • I don't know of a movie, but there's a short story with that plot by Kingsley Amis. Or maybe Martin--but Amis.
    – user35559
    Nov 2, 2014 at 6:45

7 Answers 7

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It sounds like the BBC adaptation of the 1962 novelette "Thirteen to Centaurus" by J. G. Ballard (ISFDB, Wikipedia) which was identified by Stan in the answer to this question.

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  • This sounds very much like the story I was thinking of, thanks :) At least, I can try to find the BBC adaptation and see if that was what I was thinking of ...
    – Fahim
    Mar 30, 2014 at 11:54
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If you're dealing with a more recent media, Ascension was a mini series on Syfy in 2014 with that plot. The basic premise was that this mission had been "launched" in the 1950's and the government had convinced the participants they were part of a generation ship headed to far off star system. The parts set on the space ship had a very Mad Men esque vibe because these people had been insulated from modern culture and events.

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    it's only mentioned in the comments, but OP said it was 1 to two decades ago that they saw this.
    – phantom42
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:30
  • oops sorry missed that. This obviously doesn't apply then Oct 7, 2015 at 17:36
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    Still, it's a reasonable answer to have out there for if someone is looking for a similar movie to the querents, so yo get an upvote for that.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:37
  • Sounds similar to Orbiter 9, a Spanish movie now on Netflix. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbiter_9
    – FlaStorm32
    Nov 23, 2020 at 0:14
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Could it be the "Out of the Unknown" episode "13 To Centaurus"?

"Interstellar travel at sub-light speeds: the enormous distances, isolation from human culture and the aching loneliness of space are enough to drive the strongest personality insane. Better to block all memories of human contact and to program the 12-strong crew to accept only the reality they can see and touch within their spacecraft. But a child born on "the Station" becomes insistent on learning the truth about 'Outside'."

Per IMDB

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  • Don't forget that if you're going to quote someone or something, that you need to provide the source
    – Valorum
    Mar 25 at 8:09
  • Sorry - It's from Imdb "Out of the Unknown Series 1" It's online at imdb.com/title/tt0058836/…
    – Mike Stone
    Mar 25 at 8:30
  • Based on the longer description of the story I found here: centauri-dreams.org/2016/03/25/thirteen-to-centaurus I think this might indeed be the right story 🙂 Now I have to see if I can find an old copy of the show from somewhere and confirm ... But if it is, you've solved a question that's been nagging away at me for years! Will mark as the answer after I've watched the show to confirm!
    – Fahim
    Mar 26 at 10:20
  • Apparently, somebody else suggested "13 to Centaurus" already (scifi.stackexchange.com/a/52842/24429) and I agreed it might be the right one but had forgotten all about it. But didn't know about the "Out of the Unknown" episode since that sounds like where I might have seen it. So thank you!
    – Fahim
    Mar 26 at 10:51
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There was a similar Twilight Zone episode called "Where Is Everybody?" Except he didn't think he was on a ship.

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    What parts of it are similar to what's described in the question? What's the basic plot of the episode?
    – Izkata
    Mar 29, 2014 at 19:32
  • The episode details for "Where is Everybody?" can be found here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_Is_Everybody%3F But that's not the movie I was thinking of. The one I recall was not about one guy alone - it was about a whole group of people living on what they thought was a ship out in space.
    – Fahim
    Mar 30, 2014 at 11:51
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It could be the Doctor Who story Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

One strand of the story featured would be colonists on a fake spaceship heading off to colonise a new world, or so they think. In actual fact, the ship will remain on Earth. The plan is to use time travel to change Earth's history so Mankind never evolved. The colonists will then have a clean green planet to live on.

A couple of clips can illustrate it. In the first we see Sarah arriving on the fake ship. In the second, Sarah opens the airlock.

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This might be the 1994 film, Terminal Voyage, as per Movie Identification - Spaceship, earth destroyed but not really.

In 2035, global warming rendered the Earth barely inhabitable and its human population is on the verge of extinction. The Earth Federation sends a space ship on a century-long trip to a distant planet Trion which could be suitable for colonization. The eight crew-members come from Russia, United States, China, United Kingdom, France, and Saudi Arabia.

As the ship approaches Trion, the crew wakes from hibernation. They immediately find a decomposed corpse of the Captain in his capsule. The ship's XO, Commander Hollis, assumes command. When he reads a secure transmission from Earth received while they were sleeping, he commits suicide, leaving a note that he "joins his loved ones". The new CO, Lieutenant Jammad, reveals the content of the message: the Earth has been devastated in a nuclear holocaust.

Zinovitz discovers that the ship's systems have been tampered with. A fight for power ensues and Becker, as a representative of the government, relieves Jammad from command. He is soon found dead in a malfunctioned virtual reality simulator. The remaining crew-members suspect that Becker killed the officers and use force to arrest her, discovering in process that she is an android.

When questioned, Becker denies any guilt then sets off the self-destruction sequence. Granier and Han are too devastated to continue and commit suicide with a morphine overdose, and Reese and Zinovitz make it to the escape capsule. As the countdown reaches zero, they find themselves in an underground simulation facility stationed on Earth. There was no space flight – it is their final test, an "extreme stress simulation" scenario which involved the death of the commanding officer and multiple system failures. The crew have only been in hibernation for 6 months, and Hollis, Jammad and Becker apparently knew about the test.

However the nuclear war on Earth was indeed real, and the facility is empty and abandoned. The film ends with a view of a destroyed city, as Reese and Zinovitz look on to uncertain future.

Trailer

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    I'd have to watch "Terminal Voyage" to be sure but based on the plot synopsis, I don't think it's the right one since I believe in "Terminal Voyage" they don't discover it's a simulation till the end and not because one of the people in the simulation is aware that it's a simulation and is sneaking out to report to the bosses or something ...
    – Fahim
    Mar 26 at 10:16
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It’s terminal voyage for sure. I remember seeing it in the 90s on tv on star movies in india. I was searching for this exact question myself and on reading the below answer I now remember. Googled terminal voyager and the actors and scenes and costumes look familiar. The only part I don’t remember is the end where the earth is actually destroyed. What I recollect is tht they came out and saw scientists in lab coats and realised it was a test/ social experiment.

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  • This should be a supportive comment on the other answer rather than an answer in its own right.
    – Chenmunka
    Mar 25 at 7:26

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