The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951

To give the appearance of seamlessness to the space ship, the crack around the door was filled with putty, then painted over. When the door opened the putty was torn apart, making the door seem to simply appear.

The Thing From Another World 1951

When producer Howard Hawks attempted to get insurance for the creature, five insurance companies turned him down because The Thing was to be frozen in a block of ice, chopped by axes, attacked by dogs, lit on fire, and electrocuted.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

The fictional Beast (called a Rhedosaurus in the film) is a prehistoric reptile but not a dinosaur.

The main distinction is that true dinosaurs have erect limb posture, while the Beast has features of prehistoric reptiles: semi-sprawling limbs, a reptilian skull, lizard-like spines, a forked tongue and dragging tail.

The Beast is a quadrupedal predator, whereas carnivorous dinosaurs were bipedal.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956

The film was originally intended to end with Miles screaming hysterically as truckloads of pods pass him by. The studio, wary of such a pessimistic conclusion, insisted on adding a prologue and epilogue to the movie that suggested a more optimistic outcome to the story which is thus told mainly in flashback.

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968

It is reported that Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke watched an enormous number of science fiction films in preparation for creating this movie and Kubrick himself acknowledged the influence of producer George Pal's films. Pal's Conquest of Space (1955) provided several plot points throughout the movie.

Barbarella 1968

The film was both a box office and critical failure on its release. Variety's review stated that "Despite a certain amount of production dash and polish and a few silly-funny lines of dialogue, Barbarella isn't very much of a film.

Based on what has been called an adult comic strip, the Dino De Laurentiis production is flawed with a cast that is not particularly adept at comedy, a flat script, and direction which can't get this beached whale afloat."


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.


During the 1950s the science fiction genre finally began to come into its own. The large increase in science fiction literature during this time was also reflected in the quantity of science fiction films being played. However, many of these movies were low-budget, "B" movies.

The atomic bomb caused a renewed interest in science, and in 1950, in the widely publicised Destination Moon, the American public got their first glimpse of space travel on a more sophisticated level than Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars.

With a script co-written by Robert A. Heinlein and astronomical sets by renowned space artist Chesley Bonestell, the movie was a commercial and artistic success. It was followed by The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise, and Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World, with their contrasting views of first contact.

A notable producer of this period was George Pal who was responsible for Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and the pseudo-documentary of manned space exploration Conquest of Space. Regarding The War of the Worlds, this film had a budget of $2,000,000. Of that sum, $600,000 was spent on the live action scenes while $1,400,000 was spent on the extensive and elaborate special effects.

Conquest of Space had beautiful special effects, but lacked the intelligent script of Pal's earlier science fiction films, and flopped at the box office. Beginning in this decade, Ray Harryhausen began to use stop-motion animation for both science fiction and fantasy films.

His work appeared in such films as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). However, he never received an Academy Award nomination for his painstaking work. Apocalyptic themes were popular in science fiction films during the Cold War era.

The 1950s witnessed the emergence of the monster movie trend, driven by the anxieties and paranoia of the emerging cold war, beginning with Howard Hawks's The Thing and the success of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Other major films in the science fiction/horror genre in this decade include Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the coldly realistic On the Beach. In Britain there was a period of notable production in the '50s, with Hammer Films adaptations of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass series. The success of the television versions inspired the company to commission a series of film adaptations.

Several important movies, now considered classics, were released in the mid-1950s, notably This Island Earth, the first film to show interstellar travel, and Forbidden Planet (an inspiration for Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek.

The 1950s were also the dawn of the space age as humans began to venture into outer space, and a number of films from this period reflected a fear of the consequences. Among these were The Angry Red Planet (1959), First Man Into Space (1959), and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). (This last film is also considered a precursor to the film Alien.)

Another popular theme from this period was movies about flying saucers, reflecting the prevalence of UFO sightings. One of the best known of these was Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

In the later years of the 1950s, the major American studios limited themselves to adaptations of "classics" by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells that had fallen out of copyright. In addition to The War of the Worlds mentioned above, these included Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Be sure to check out SFMZ's more extensive feature dedicated to the glorious decade of Fifties Sci-Fi, a period that was filled with both cheesy B flicks and hallmark sci-fi masterpiece classics.

Destination Moon

The War of the Worlds

20 Million Miles to Earth 1957

The Angry Red Planet

The Planet of the Apes


After the rush of science fiction films in the 1950s, there were relatively few in the 1960s, but these few transformed science fiction cinema. One of the most significant movies of the 1960s was 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. 2001 is regarded as the seminal entry in the science-fiction genre as it influenced several later entries. Steven Spielberg, one of the genre's most well-known figures aptly called 2001, 'the big bang of science-fiction.'

This movie was groundbreaking in the quality of its visual effects, in its realistic portrayal of space travel, and in the epic and transcendent scope of its story. Science fiction movies that followed this film would enjoy increasingly larger budgets and ever improving special effects. Clarke has told of screening earlier science-fiction films for Kubrick, and Kubrick pronouncing them all awful, without exception, even the revered Things to Come from 1936, with its screenplay by H. G. Wells.

2001 was the first science fiction art film and had a philosophical scope that earlier films had not attempted. Many critics called it an incomprehensible mess when it first appeared. Today, it is widely revered as one of the greatest films of all time, although science fiction fans who prefer more straightforward entertainment may still dismiss it as slow-moving and pretentious. Several other important science fiction films were released in the 1960s.

Fantastic Voyage

Planet of the Apes (1968) was extremely popular, spawning four sequels and a television series. Earlier in the 1960s, Fahrenheit 451 was a social commentary on freedom of speech and government restrictions. The extremely camp Barbarella was an homage to the sillier side of earlier science fiction. Finally, the science fiction film boldly went where no man had gone before when Raquel Welch ventured inside a human body in Fantastic Voyage.

Another influential science fiction film, though it was never produced, was Satyajit Ray's The Alien, a story about a boy in Bengal befriending an alien. After production of the film was cancelled, the script became available throughout America in mimeographed copies, and may have served as inspiration for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. H. G. Wells adaptations continued to be made, including films of The Time Machine and First Men in the Moon, but these seem like a continuation of the fifties. While not strictly-speaking science fiction, some of the James Bond films included a variety of science fiction-like gadgetry.

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