The 42 Best
The modern age of movie science fiction began in 1950 with the release of Destination Moon, George Pal's first of several adroit special effects epics. Here, we cover the period through 1965, at which time what Pal's film projected 15 years before was in progress to becoming a fact that would occur 4 years later, while the genre itself was being embraced by a growing number of major directors.
1950 - 1965
in 67 Posters
Science fiction or the projection of the imaginary possible into the future has been a staple of film since its earliest days, when Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon was first filmed in 1902 as Trip to the Moon. Culturally, it seems right to attribute the advent of sci-fi to Verne's novels of the 1860s on, two of which received their best film adaptions during the 1950s.
Prior to 1950, contributions to the sci-fi genre were few: Lang's Metropolis, 1925; Whale's Frankenstein,1931; Cooper's King Kong, 1933; Menzies' Things to Come,1936; followed by a handful of mad-scientist-in-the-lab derivatives of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or low-budget space operas like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers & Superman serials, which were comic book stuffs, intended for adolescent boxoffice trade.
Splitting the atom to bear its twin products of progressive & destructive power gave the seed of fact that produced the huge outburst of radio-active cinema in the 1950s, coupled with the growing sense that we as man are not all alone in the universe, that there are likely other beings inhabiting planets in solar systems beyond ours.
The cinema took little notice of the A-bombs dropped on Japan to bring WWII to a rapid close in 1945. However, the first H-bomb test in 1952, with 1000 times the destructive power of the A-bomb spurred the genre with a shock that continues today. Suddenly, it was as though everyone was aware that we were developing technical & destructive capability that bogged our minds, & when our minds get boggled, we as mere human beings often tend to get scared.
Thus, it follows, that our imagined visitors from other planets either took the form of superior beings challenging us to deal rightly with the power we'd achieved, or simply attacked us, often without warning, cinematic postures that today still provide story fodder for a huge number of big-budget films that are often highly successful.
What we got with the genre's birth in the 50s was mainly a bunch of low budget films about monsters created either by man's wayward intellect or as by-product of his ignorance in messing round with elemental forces whose powers are beyond our capacity to grasp.
Although Howard Hawks' The Thing & Robert Wise's Day the Earth Stood Still were top sci-fi films in 1952, the genre quickly degenerated to scores of "2 for 1 Shock Show" double features that put American-International & Roger Corman on the movie map, as well as a zillion Godzilla spin-offs. High points were Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 & Jack Arnold's Incredible Shrinking Man the next year. [Honorably mentioned among classy low-budgets should also be Felix Feist's Donovan's Brain (53) Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face & Val Guest's The Day the Earth Caught Fire (61).] Then, between 1959 & 1965, Stanley Kramer (On the Beach), Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds), Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor), Stanley Kurbrick (Dr. Strangelove) & even the French New Wave's Jean-Luc Godard (Alphaville), all embraced the medium & today there are few top directors who have not done at least one sci-fi film. The genre now counts for 4 of the 5 current top grossing films of all time.
"To God there is no zero, I still exist." said the shrinking man, as written by Richard Matheson, at the conclusion of what is the only spiritually touching sci-fi film of the 50s. Not until Star Wars do we again encounter the sense of the spiritual in the genre. Yes, there was a similar moment at the end of 2001, touching me at first, yet afterwards the image confounded.... ahhh, come on.... a higher power or intelligence in the form of a black slab? I mean, like that's seeing God as a material thing, and I do not believe this is where we want to go when we leave this world. May God bless you Stanley Kubrick, for I truly admire your film-making ability.
The other film pioneering Stanley, Stanley Kramer, God bless him even more, is possibly the most underrated producer-director of the last half of the 20th century. He was the first to cast major A-list stars in his poignant end-of-the-world production On the Beach, released in 1959. Earlier the same year, Harry Belafonte starred in the similar & almost as effective The World, the Flesh & the Devil, the real difference being, that after the nuclear holocaust, Harry & his two friends are survivors, whereas in Kramer's film all are doomed, with the final message reaching out that "There is still time, brother."
Science fiction which may become fact through our techno-progress seems a fitting metaphor for this age wherein we are all becoming less intellectually knowledgeable simply because our intellects lack the capacity & ability to know everything, even about things that we use daily. We know with growing awareness that it is becoming impossible for us to grasp all the technological knowledge available to us. At some level, perhaps unconscious, this awareness makes us afraid.
Fear is a stuff that drives boxoffice adrenaline. Either for our heart's escape or to prove to ourselves that what we fear is fairly insignificant beside the fear of being confronted by..... what? some weird, deadly, unknown creature? We like to be shocked or scared. Perhaps it is because an imaginary or created sensation will inoculate us to "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to".
Although sci-fi inherently carries a sense of awe or wonder, this doesn't provide sufficient dramatic involvement without an injection of fear, mainly of the unknown. Drama doesn't work without adversary. Without a misguided Hal, 2001 wouldn't have worked. Even where the forces of science are benevolent, as in Close Encounters or E.T., the drama arises from individuals following their personal ideals being opposed by well-meaning people who have different priorities. Conflict of some sort is the root of all drama.
The point to the experience is that perhaps, God willing, we grow withinin ourselves during the process of experiencing the drama. This was true in the time of Sophocles and hopefully remains true today.
What is science fiction & what is not? It's tempting to lump all horror monsters together, whether bred atomically or by the supernatural. Frankenstein & Dracula are both monsters, once human in some form, & both are boogie men to suck your bodies into theatre seats.
To viewers looking for a thrill, there isn't much difference between the two, both are uncontrollable & out of control... & deadly in their way. Both are products of the imagination. Yet the prototype sci-fi monster embodied by Frankenstein has been bred as a repercussion or by-product of man's own technological development, while the equally deadly vampire or malevolent ghost or demon springs forth from more primitive roots, from man's spiritual past rather than intellectual future.
Vampires do not exist, not as portrayed in films & books. They are a symbol, perhaps of our desires that might turn evil if we allowed them. The nature of this world is to tempt us. It is a playground of sorts, in which we may seek & vent whatever we wish... however, there are repercussions. As the guy said in The Usual Suspects, 'the neatest trick Satan ever pulled was making people think he did not exist.'
Thus vampires & ghosts & demons are a product of some phenomena of nature or something that already exists within the realm of this world, if one accepts the concept that there is more within this world than we are usually able to see. What separates sci-fi horror from 'natural' horror is that the thinking mind of man has inadvertently produced our sci-fi horror, & sometimes intentionally!).
Simultaneously, the existence of malevolent creatures that provide the thrills & scares of sci-fi flicks is just as imaginary as the vampire.
One man made a hugely successful demonic religion out of such stuff. That he was also a writer of science fiction is proof that the joining was in his mind, just as the monster in Forbidden Planet turns out to be a creation of the Id.
Whether vampire or malevolent space or made-made creature, all are created by the imagination out of fear.
Perhaps, such fears are far safer to experience than a human psychopath bearing gun or knife.
The 42 Top Sci-Fi Films from 1950 through 1965
Enough to give you the important goodies without wading through all the schlock. A wide range of productions, from a few classy low budget films to the genre's embrace by major directors. For the posters that are better than the films they advert, go to
80 great posters of not so great & even worse sci-fi movies 1950 - 1965. These 42 are the best you can see to enjoy the genre & its development:
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Thing from Another World
When Worlds Collide
The Beast from 20.000 Fathoms
It Came from Outer Space
Invaders from Mars
The War of the Worlds
Creature from the Black Lagoon
20.000 Leagues Under the Seas
This Island Earth
Godzilla King of the Monsters
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The 27th Day
The Incredible Shrinking Man
I Married a Monster from Space
Monster on the Campus
Eyes Without a Face
Journey to the Center of Earth
World, the Flesh & the Devil
On the Beach
Village of the Damned
The Time Machine
The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Panic In Year Zero
The Day of the Triffids
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
The Nutty Professor
Crack in the World
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