I have always had an odd fascination with sci-fi films from the 1950s. More than any other decade the films of the 1950shave always seemed to epitomize the classic sci-fi story tropes: Space Travel and Exploration, Alien Invasion, Atomic Apocalypse, Mutant Madness.
Maybe I was influenced by reading my grandfather’s old copies of Popular Science and Popular Mechanic from the 50’s. Maybe it was because our rural school library had such out dated books on space travel. Maybe it was because I started reading the sci-fi of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury from the 50s. The first sci-fi book I ever read was Rocket Ship Galileo. Maybe our local UHF station played more sci-fi films from the 50s than from other decades.
Who knows. Whatever the reason, the fascination with sci-fi film from the 50’s has clung to me. In college I took a film history class. As my research project I wrote a paper titled The Apocalyptic Nature of Science Fiction Films of the 1950s. I lost it somewhere along the way. It’s one of the few things I wrote in college that I wish I could go back and read. I won’t attempt to recreate it here, but I thought it might be fun to share my favorite sci-fi films from the 50s. So, here they are:
I love this film. It’s a great first contact story. Alien arrives to tell us to keep to ourselves or else. No “Hi, great to meet you. Would you like to join our interstellar club?” No “Surrender your planet.” No “Surrender your biologically incompatible women.” Just a simple “We see what sort of riffraff you are and if you try that in our neighborhood, we’ll kick your ass.” And there’s the whole bit with the alien (who looks very human as they tended to in the 19050s) on the run and the romantic interest with the single mom. There’s even a scientist and a kid. All this movie needed was a central dog character.
Scientists trapped in the Antarctic discover a flying saucer and a giant ‘thing’ in a block of ice. What could go wrong with melting the ice to take a closer look? I love a story about people stuck someplace remote who have to deal with some dire problem all alone.
This is super cheesy, but I still love it. Another planet is swing by ours. From where? How is that possible? Won’t it be a frozen wasteland? Such things need not concern you. They certainly didn’t concern the filmmakers. Humanity must build a rocket. Or, the rich guy must build a rocket. And save all the white people. Or at least I assume they only saved the white people, unless all the other folks where in 3rd class. For all its faults, many of them omnipresent in films of the era, it’s still a fun little story.
A crew trapped in space with a creature that is killing them one by one. Sound familiar? No its not Voyage of the Space Beagle (first story) or Alien. They’re all similar tales, but this one I find fun in only the way a 1950s film with a limited budget could be.
Martians invade. Apparently without first doing a site survey to make sure they’d be getting a hospitable world after killing all the natives. If only they had thought to wear surgical masks. A ridiculous ending (from the book) but still a fun Aliens Are Destroying The World film.
I had only ever seen the Americanized version (Godzilla) until a few years ago. This is a much superior film. Thoughtful, engaging, and a giant fire breathing monster kicks down a city. What’s not to like?
I saw this when I was about ten for the first time. Spent weeks hoping someone would send me a crazy machine to assemble in my basement. It’s a nice twist on the first contact story. They’ve come for our help. After a fashion.
There is so much to like about this film. A story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the set design, Walter Pidgeon, a robot, a deserted alien city, a mysterious monster, interstellar space patrol. It’s like someone figured out how to make the perfect 1950s film equivalent of a sci-fi burrito. Yum.
This is probably my favorite of all the sci-fi films from the 50s. Simple, leans storytelling. Part of what I love about it is that it is a story that doesn’t require most of the usual trappings of a sci-fi film. No special effects. No space ships, or robots, or unusual set design. Just people in a small town trying to deal with their neighbors not being their neighbors anymore.
Teens save the world from mounting man-eating meteor menace. A great small town against the alien story. They never explain how the damned thing gets around so fast when it’s not on screen, but the story had just the right amount of tension, horror, and teen rebellion.
An end of the world story that plays out very differently from the usual atomic apocalypse tale. The people of a small Australian town pull together to face the end rather than turning into a bunch of selfish savages.
A More Complete List:
Destination Moon (1950)
Rocket Ship X-M (1950)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
When Worlds Collide (1951)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
Abbot and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
Invaders from Mars (1953)
It (Came from Outer Space) (1953)
The Lost Planet (1953)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Target Earth (1954)
Conquest of Space (1955)
This Island Earth (1955)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Quarter Mass 2 (1957)
The Blob (1958)
The Fly (1958)
From the Earth to the Moon (1958)
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
On the Beach (1959)