20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1916
This film became famous for its groundbreaking work in actual underwater photography by George M. Williamson and J. Ernest Williamson.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920
John Barrymore's transformation to Mr. Hyde was contributed by his skills to contort his face without any facial prosthetics, he wore only makeup. His fingers did have prosthetic extensions.
Frau im Mond 1929
This film shows the first countdown to launch of a rocket. Not just the first one in a movie, but the first ever: it was invented as a dramatic device for the movie. Also depicted for the first time are the use of liquid rocket fuel, a rocket with two stages, and zero gravity in space.
Be sure to check out SFMZ's Tribute to Metropolis for more on this sci-fi silent film classic.
Resources: imdb.com, wikipedia.org
The history of science fiction films parallels that of the motion picture industry as a whole, although it took several decades before the genre was taken seriously.
Since the 1960s, major science fiction films have succeeded in pulling in large audience shares, and films of this genre have become a regular staple of the film industry. Science fiction films have led the way in special effects technology, and have also been used as a vehicle for social commentary.
Science fiction films appeared very early in the silent film era. The initial attempts were short films of typically 1 to 2 minutes in duration, shot in black and white, but sometimes with colour tinting. These shorts usually had a technological theme and were often intended to be humorous.
In 1902, Georges Mï¿½liï¿½s released Le Voyage dans la Lune, the best-known early science fiction film. Inspired by the novels of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, it portrayed a journey to the Moon in a spacecraft launched by a powerful gun.
This movie's space travel plot, its fantastic vision of a Moon inhabited by frightening aliens, and its innovative special effects, influenced future science fiction films.
In 1910, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was adapted for the screen, in one of the earliest mergers of science fiction and horror. Although only 16 minutes long, the film produces a suitably dark mood and would be remade several times in the future. Another such horror movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was released in 1913.
A longer science fiction film (and one which introduced underwater filming) was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1916, based on the novel by Jules Verne.
The 1920s saw a distinct difference between American and European science fiction. European film-makers tended to use the genre for prediction and social commentary, with films such as Metropolis (1926) and Frau im Mond (1929), both from Germany. The latter film also introduced, as a dramatic device, what became the real-life practice of counting down the time to a rocket launch. Aelita was an early entry from Russia.
By contrast, Hollywood used it to create action, melodramatic plots, and gadgetry. This emphasis would blossom into the serials of the 1930s, and many European films would eventually follow this trend. Echoes of this style can still be seen in science fiction and action films today, as well as in the various James Bond movies.
More horror than sci-fi, though sci-fi elements are used as plot devices is John Barrymore's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 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.