Frankenstein 1931

Ken Strickfaden, who created all the electrical effects for the movie, also doubled for Boris Karloff during the sequences that showed the million volt sparks playing over his body. The same machines were later used in the comedy Young Frankenstein (1974).

King Kong 1933

Special effects genius Willis H. O'Brien, who earlier used stop-motion animation of dinosaur models in The Lost World (1925), had created several dinosaur models for his unfinished production Creation (1931).

Producer Merian C. Cooper sold the idea for King Kong to RKO executives in New York by showing them a test sequence using O'Brien's models.

The executives were stunned, never having seen anything like it, and green-lighted production of King Kong. O'Brien also used many of his "Creation" models in King Kong, including the T-Rex and the pteranodon (giant flying creature).


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.


Movies during the 1930s provided an escape from the poverty of the Great Depression, and it was during this era that film-making experienced a golden age. Movies now possessed a sound-track, and the extreme physical expression of the silent era was replaced by dialogue.

The films were focused on the actors, rather than the still-primitive special effects (an exception was the 1933 release of King Kong, including scenes of the giant ape battling biplanes atop the Empire State Building). Most science fiction films focused on human drama, instead of aliens, space travel, or disasters. The 1936 version of Lost Horizon was one of the first film entries in the 'Lost World' genre.

Influenced by Metropolis, the 1930 release 'Just Imagine' was the first feature length science fiction film by a US studio, but the film was an expensive flop and no studio would produce a feature length science fiction film until the 1950s.

The British made Things to Come (1936), also influenced by Metropolis, which was one of the most influential attempts at using special effects to evoke 'spectacle', but it too was a failure at the box office.

This decade also saw the rise of movie serials, most notably the various Flash Gordon films, as well as the quasi-science fiction Dick Tracy and others. These were low budget, often hastily-produced efforts employing soon-to-be-stock ideas such as the mad scientist, high-tech gadgets, and plots for world domination.

The decade also saw the release of several horror films with science fiction elements, such as The Invisible Man (1933) and new versions of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


With World War II dominating events during the 1940s, few science fiction films were released and several of those were mere vehicles for war propaganda. Among the few notable examples was Dr Cyclops (1940), an early colour film, and Fleischer Studio's animated Superman short subjects, which often incorporated science-fiction themes.

H.G. Wells' Things to Come

H.G. Wells' Things to Come 1936

Dr. Cyclops 1940

Dr. Cyclops 1940

< < < SCI-FI FILM HISTORY - Early Films to 1920s | 1950s to 1960s > > >

Site Info | Site design by SFMZone. Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved. | TOP^