1920 - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

7.8 / 6.8 7.0 7.20

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a silent film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and released through Paramount/Artcraft. The film is based upon Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and starring actor John Barrymore.

The film was directed by John S. Robertson and co-starred Nita Naldi. The scenario was by Clara Beranger and the film is now in the Public Domain. This story of split personality, has Dr. Jekyll a kind and charitable man who believes that everyone has two sides, one good and one evil. Using a potion, his personalities are split, creating havoc.

The early part of Jekyll's initial transformation into Hyde was achieved with no makeup, instead relying solely on Barrymore's ability to contort his face. In one scene, as Jekyll becomes Hyde, one of Hyde's prosthetic fingers can be seen to fly across the screen, having been shaken loose by Barrymore's convulsions.

The character of Millicent Carew does not appear in Stevenson's original story, but in the 1887 stage version by Thomas Russell Sullivan starring Richard Mansfield. This 1920 film version used the play's concept of Jekyll being engaged to Carew's daughter, and Hyde beginning a romance with a dance-hall girl. Subsequent adaptations would also use this concept.

Since the sci-fi genre had yet to firmly establish itself in the film industry, these first few years just about any sci-fi film with a degree of quality to it is likely going to earn the best sci-fi film of the year. The 1920's did see a sci-fi mini-boom, but nothing close to the magnitude of the fifties.

Other sci-fi films of 1920 include Algol - Trag´┐Żdie der Macht, an alien from the planet Algol gives a man a device that gives him superpowers. For many years it was believed that this was a lost film. However, an intact version has now been recovered. It was screened by MoMA in 2010 as part of their film exhibition Weimar Cinema, 1919´┐Ż1933: Daydreams and Nightmares.

Also,The Invisible Ray, which boasted the tagline 'The Greatest Serial the World has ever seen.' And Melchiad Koloman, a sci-fi drama from Czechoslovakia, a professor attempts to bring back Koloman from death.

1921 to 1924 - The Hands of Orlac


The Hands of Orlac (German: Orlacs H´┐Żnde) is an Austrian silent film directed by Robert Wiene and starring Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina and Fritz Kortner. The film's plot is based on the story Les Mains d'Orlac by Maurice Renard. Wiene had made his name as a director of Expressionist films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and in The Hands of Orlac combined expressionist motifs with more naturalistic visuals. The film has been remade twice.

Orlacs H´┐Żnde was based on the book Les Mains d'Orlac by Maurice Renard. It was one of the first films to feature the motif, often recurring in later films, of hands with a will of their own, whether or not attached to a body, as well as popular fears, based on ignorance, around the subject of surgical transplants, in the days before such procedures were possible. It was shot at the studios of Listo-Film in Vienna by the Pan-Film production company.

Paimann's Filmlisten, " . . . the presentation of the subject is extremely gripping and tension is maintained right up to the last scene: an extraordinarily well-chosen ensemble headed by Konrad Veidt makes the very most of the possibilities. The direction is taut and careful, especially in the very realistic scenes of the railway accident, the decor tasteful, the events of the action effectively emphasised. The photography is of the highest quality in every respect. An Austrian film that is the equal of the best foreign products..."

Other sci-fi films of this period worth a mention include Missing Husbands (1921), two men lost in the desert, meet Queen Antinea, ruler of Atlantis. A Blind Bargain (1922), Lon Chaney performs two roles: Doctor Lamb, a mad surgeon who's doing experiments on human bodies, and his crippled and apish assistant, the result of his first experiment.

The Last Man on Earth (1924), an epidemic has killed off all of the fertile men on earth, except for Elmer Smith, a hillbilly who lives out in a cabin in the Ozarks, when he is discovered, every woman on the planet begins fighting over him.

Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) is considered the first Soviet sci-fi film and it's at least in the same class as The Hands of Orlac. If it had been released the previous year it would warrant a listing as best sci-fi film of the year.

1925 - The Lost World

7.4 / 6.8 7.0 7.11

The Lost World is a silent film and an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. The movie was produced by First National Pictures, a large Hollywood studio at the time, and stars Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger.

This version was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien (an invaluable warm up for his work on the original King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). Writer Doyle appears in a frontspiece to the film.

Willis O'Brien combined animated dinosaurs with live-action footage of human beings, but at first he was able to do this only by separating the frame into two parts (also known as split screen). As work went on, O'Brien's technique grew better and he could combine live-action and stop-motion footage in the same part of the screen.

In 1998, the film was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. For the American Film Institute, the film was nominated for 100 Thrills and Top 10 Fantasy Films.

Other sci-fi films of 1925 worth a mention include The Power God (Serial), Professor Sturgess invents a miraculous engine which can draw unlimited power from the atoms of the air. When the professor is killed, his daughter and her fiance must fight to keep the secret of the power engine out of the hands of evil Weston Dore and his henchmen.

And The Monster, with Lon Chaney, a general store clerk and aspiring detective investigates a mysterious disappearance that took place quite close to an empty insane asylum. He discovers that the asylum is not deserted but run by the eccentric Dr. Ziska and his bizarre staff and puts his correspondence school training to the teat. The original play opened in New York on 9 August 1922 and had 101 performances. Walter James originated his movie role as Calaban in the play.

1926 & 1927 - Metropolis

9.0 / 8.2 8.4 8.89

Despite the film's later reputation, some contemporary critics panned it. The New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall called it a "technical marvel with feet of clay". The Times went on the next month to publish a lengthy review by H. G. Wells who accused it of "foolishness, clich´┐Ż, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general."

The effects expert, Eugen Sch´┐Żfftan, created pioneering visual effects for Metropolis. Among the effects used are miniatures of the city, a camera on a swing, and most notably, the Sch´┐Żfftan process, in which mirrors are used to create the illusion that actors are occupying miniature sets. This new technique was seen again just two years later in Alfred Hitchcock's film Blackmail (1929).

The Maschinenmensch was created by sculptor Walter Schulze-Mittendorff. A whole-body plaster cast was taken of actress Brigitte Helm, and the costume was then constructed around it. A chance discovery of a sample of "plastic wood" allowed Schulze-Mittendorff to build a costume that would both appear metallic and allow a small amount of free movement.

Roger Ebert noted that "Metropolis is one of the great achievements of the silent era, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made." With the arrival of Metropolis, no sci-fi film in this decade came close to the impact and importance of this landmark film.

1928 & 1929 - Frau im Mond

6.2 / 7.6 7.2 7.00

Woman in the Moon (German Frau im Mond) is a science fiction silent film that premiered 15 October 1929. It is often considered to be one of the first "serious" science fiction films. It was written and directed by Fritz Lang, based on the novel Die Frau im Mond (1928, translated as The Woman to the Moon in 1930) by his then-wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou.

It was released in the USA as By Rocket to the Moon and in the UK as Woman in the Moon. The basics of rocket travel were presented to a mass audience for the first time by this film, including the use of a multi-stage rocket. This film is often cited as the first occurrence of the "countdown to zero" before a rocket launch. The launch crew counts down the seconds from ten to zero, and the rocket ship then blasts off into space.

Since rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an advisor on this movie (he had originally intended to build a working rocket for use in the film; time and technology kept this from happening), it was popular among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle at the Verein f´┐Żr Raumschiffahrt.

The first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the rocket-development facility in Peenem´┐Żnde had the Frau im Mond logo painted on its base. Noted post-war science writer Willy Ley also served as a consultant on the film. Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, which deals with the V-2 rockets, refers to this, along with several other classic German silent films.

It's worth mentioning The Mysterious Island (1929) starring Lionel Barrymore. This Jules Verne sci-fi fantasy adventure was actually a big production for it's period ($1.1 million dollar budget) and used a 2-color tint techique. With talkies on the horizon, it performed poorly at the box office. Several IMDB reviewers gave the film a favorable review. No color prints survive. Only one reel exists tinted and with Technicolor sequences; it is held at the UCLA Film Archive. According to an article in the original "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazines, production was actually started in 1926. There were various problems, including weather and the advent of talkies.

SCI-FI BEST FILMS BY YEAR - 1930 to 1939 > > >

Resources: wikipedia.org, imdb.com, rottentomatoes.com, metacritic.com

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