For a number of years now we have had a big budget 'realistic space adventure' film that seems to be a feature length fundraising campaign for NASA. We had Gravity in 2013 and Interstellar in 2014. And in my opinion, this year's is the best one to date.
The Martian had both the same level of suspense as Gravity and the thematic 'depth' of Interstellar, but the icing on top was its sense of humor and willingness to put humanity back into our astronauts instead of simply making them archetypes from literature. The plot development was both convincing and engaging, and it showed just the right amount of Mars without alienating its Earth-bound audience.
This film continues to push the envelope on how much real science we can put in our mainstream films that are intended for an increasingly smart audience. I especially appreciated Matt Damon's portrayal of the eponymous protagonist. He was dynamic, foul-mouthed but genuine, a bit of a self-absorbed smartass, but very relateable and likeable in his every action and reaction.
As far as near-future science fiction films go, The Martian was a near perfect film. There was some silliness to the plot at the start, and a couple of exaggerations about Mars to add drama, but it didn't need a big apocalyptic threat to raise the stakes of the narrative, and its commentary on semi-public institutions like NASA is clever, with a timeless message about grasping onto hope through action (faith with deeds) and not just blind luck. There is a bit too much of a US-centric interpretation of what the future space program will be like (you'll understand what I mean if you watch it), and the film really could be part of NASA's astronaut indoctrination program. But even if you don't plan on visiting space any time soon, I highly recommend a watch if you haven't already.