5 Favorite 50s Sci-Fi Flicks

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

Quick! A meteor the size of Texas is heading toward Earth and you only have the next five minutes to name your five favorite sci-fi flicks from the 1950s!

While you're mulling that over, let me waste some more of your last minutes on Earth by noting that Star Trek Into Darkness opens this week in the U.S., which prompted me to revisit 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which prompted thoughtful comments from readers who felt perfectly fine with the core ideas behind ST:TMP, which made me think of other philosophical science-fiction pictures, which made me realize that what I really wanted to do was write briefly about some of the films that grew my interest in science fiction in the first place. And so ...

Here are mine, in ascending order:


5. The War of the Worlds (1953)

war-of-the-worlds-poster-1953.jpg

At some point, one of my school teachers played our class the radio drama by Orson Wells' Mercury Theatre, which is quite powerful and probably diminished (somewhat) my enjoyment of the film. Still: there's no stopping the Martians! (Unless you sneeze on them.)


4. The Thing From Another World (1951)

the-thing-from-another-world-movie-poster-us.jpg

Whether it was the credited director Christian Nyby or producer Howard Hawks who was ultimately responsible, I believed! (But, yes, John Carpenter's version is superior.)


3. Them! (1954)

them-movie-poster-us.jpg

Probably the film most responsible for my unhealthy relationship with insects. And the sounds of the giant ants! Maybe it was watching the movies the first dozen times on little TVs with mono audio, but nothing has ever matched the insect sounds in this movie. (Or the alien laser blasts in The War of the Worlds.)


2. Godzilla / Gojira (1954)

gojira-poster-japan.jpg

Since I saw Raymond Burr explain the giant monster in English first, I have to give props to the American version, which gave me goosepimples. Later, when I saw the dark and truly frightening original Japanese version, it made me wonder what kind of nightmares I would have had if I'd seen it first.


1. Forbidden Planet (1956)

forbidden-planet-poster-us.jpg

This takes my personal crown because it's the one I've watched the most often over the years, first in black and white on TV (with commercials), then in color on TV (with commercials), then in color on VHS (without commericials), then in color on TV (without commercials -- thanks, TCM!), then in color on DVD, then in color on the magnifcent Blu-ray. I'm not blind anymore to the cheesier aspects of the production, or the dated talk about the Id, but I still wanted to marry Anne Francis and become Leslie Nielsen. The sounds, the colors -- and the attack of the Id -- still electrify me. (I guess I really am just a middle-aged kid.)


Now it's your turn. Wikipedia has a handy list of science fiction films of the 1950s.

What are your picks?

Around the Internet:
  • Coldesser

    1. Kiss Me Deadly - Yeah, it's Sci-Fi status isn't solid, but it's just a fantastic film.

    2. Forbidden Planet - What's a bathing suit?

    3.The Man in the White Suit - No mutated monsters or laser beams in this one. However, I still think it qualifies, and it's really lovely.

    4. The Fly - The ending was more effectively creepy than any recent movie I've seen, despite also being really cheesy.

    5. Gojira - Great film, dark and exciting.

    Honorable mentions:
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

  • kidlazarus

    Kiss Me Deadly is amazing. Everything out of Meeker's mouth is priceless. For my money it is in the running for top 5 film noir.

  • Mateusz R. Orzech

    "The Incredible Shrinking Man", "The Day the Earth Stood Still", "Creature from the Black Lagoon", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "Godzilla" and "Forbidden Planet" - that's the 6 favs that comes to my mind. It's so hard to choose only 5 from this great era of sci-fi cinema.

  • dustin chang

    My favorites that are not mentioned here yet are 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Both are beautiful to look at.

  • marshy00

    Superb work, Peter! I think - as has already been mentioned here - The Incredible Shrinking Man and Invasion of the Body Snatchers would both find their way onto my list but this is still top tier stuff. And yes - 50s posters ruled. No TV ads, see.

  • Pierce Conran

    Thanks for this Peter! Actually going to see THE THING this month for 'List of Shame', may even try to fit in both.

  • marshy00

    You should - one won't spoil your enjoyment of the other and it will add to your summations.

  • You're welcome, Pierce! And I echo James' recommendation.

  • benu

    More posts like this, Peter, please and thank you.

    I have the softest of spots for THEM! Soft enough for those pesky ants to burrow on in and lay some larvae I'd think.

    One film I discovered a few years back during a post-apocalyptic kick was THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL. Starring Harry Belafonte, the film not only has some incredible sequences featuring an empty NYC (the first to do this perhaps?) but is a serious, considerate and intelligent picture that gives some considerable focus to civil rights.

  • Good pick on THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL.

  • kidlazarus

    Great list, Peter.

    In no particular order, and, subject to change as I haven't checked the list:

    1) Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I also enjoy the Kaufman redeux for the odd, noir-ish angles and being able to push boundaries for a PG flick.

    2) The Incredible Shrinking Man. Very grim and also has a skewed noir edge that appeals to me.

    3) Them! Have to agree about the mandible chatter.

    4) the Thing from Another World. I admit I prefer John Carpenter's version as
    I feel it is closer in tone to the John W. Campbell short story "Who Goes There?"

    5) Fiend Without a Face for pure camp factor and the creature design/ stop-motion animation.

  • Thanks. And your picks are all excellent.

    On the remakes, I like how Kaufman's version reflected the changing concerns of the time, and I definitely agree that Carpenter got closer to the original story in tone and intent.

  • Frank Dupont

    Anybody else think that the finale of Them! - soldiers in underground tunnels shooting flame throwers at monster's larvae - is reminiscent of James Cameron's Aliens?

    As for other favorites, The Incredible Shrinking Man would be my no 1.

  • Wow -- never thought of that before, but we know Cameron likes to borrow things ...

    'The Incredible Shrinking Man' is great.

  • Ard Vijn

    James Cameron acknowledges THEM as a source of inspiration for ALIENS. As does John Carpenter for his copious use of flamethrowers in his version of THE THING.

  • Some days, I learn more than my share. Thanks, Ard!

  • Adam Lopez

    And what great posters too!

  • They really knew how to attract attention, didn't they?

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