The Roaring Twenties are back, albeit with perhaps less optimism about the future than a hundred years ago. At Scifist we’re taking some time to look back at the last year of the ‘teens, and we’re listing the 10 most popular reviews on the site in 2019. Note that we don’t include top lists.
10. Chandu the Magician (1932)
This 1932 sci-fi/adventure film has been called the first superhero movie. Bela Lugosi shines as the villain, William Cameron Menzies directs with style and the sets and special effects are very impressive. The inane plot is secondary in the breezy, fun juvenile adventure set in Egypt. This review’s popularity is probably explained by the fact that Chandu the Magician is a somewhat overlooked entry in Bela Lugosi’s chequered career – and in fact one of his best movies. Scifist rating: 6/10. Read the full review here.
9. King Kong (1933)
Larger than life in every aspect, the original King Kong was a juggernaut, as loud, daring and unstoppable as its titular monster, it crashed into cinemas in 1933 and has refused to leave ever since. Willis O’Brien’s revolutionary stop-motion work, a multitude of amazing visual tricks and Fay Wray’s legendary screams help cover up a weak script, terrible dialogue, non-existent character arcs and woeful acting. Much has been written about the great ape, but it seems that you still aren’t tired of reading about him. Scifist rating: 8/10. Read the full review here.
8. Homunculus (1916)
A huge success upon its release, this German 1916 6-part epic film series follows the exploits of the soulless supervillain Homunculus, a creature created by science, as he wows to find love or destroy humanity. Robert Reinert’s multi-layered script draws on Frankenstein and Faust, as well as Freud, Nietzsche and Marx to create both a treatise on the human condition as well as a comment on WWI. While scarcely shown outside Germany before 1920, it turned Danish lead actor Olaf Fønss into a matinée idol and even influenced fashion. It doesn’t surprise us that this review makes into onto your list of most popular articles, since there’s almost no other reviews online of this underrated, forgotten gem of horror, SF and melodrama. Scifist rating: 8/10. Read the full review here.
7. Alraune (1930)
The fourth film about the most prolific female mainstream movie monster of all time — Alraune — was the first one in sound. Movie star Brigitte Helm reprised her role as the artificially created man-eater in this German 1930 production. Director Richard Oswald tried to modernise the tale, but the result is a surprisingly uninspired potboiler. The 1930 version of Alraune isn’t the best one, in our opinion, and it surprises us somewhat that it makes the list at all. But perhaps we can put it down to the Brigitte Helm effect. Scifist rating: 4/10. Read the full review here.
6. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
By many considered as the best version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book, this 1931 film resulted in an Oscar win for lead actor Fredric March. Beautifully filmed by Rouben Mamoulian and well acted across the board. It also features some stunning visual tricks and strong pre-Code sexual content. Unsurprisingly, this big-budget Paramount classic continues to intrigue our readers. Scifist rating: 8/10. Read the full review here.
5. Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924)
Ostensibly Russia’s/USSR’s first sci-fi film, this political 1924 space fantasy lays down a surprisingly intelligent criticism of the communist revolution, once you look past the clunky, propagandistic symbolism on the surface. Although most of the movie is Earth-bound, it is remembered for the amazing constructivist sets and costumes on Mars, designed by internationally famed artist Alexandra Exter. Often referenced, more rarely seen, this cult classic is regularly dismissed as crude communist propaganda, and hopefully the popularity of Scifist’s review can help change this perception. Scifist rating: 8/10. Read the full review here.
4. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Paramount’s 1932 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novella The Island of Dr. Moreau is the best of all the legendary 1930s sci-fi/horror movies. The daring script touches upon highly controversial subjects, Karl Struss’ fantastic cinematography and lighting create a feverish tropical nightmare, Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi are mesmerising in their roles and Charles Gemora’s makeup is some of the best ever created. In Scifist’s opinion, this is the best horror and/or science fiction movie produced in the thirties, and it warms our heart that our review is as popular as it is. A truly underrated classic. Scifist Rating: 10/10. Read the full review here.
3. Just Imagine (1930)
Your Top 3 delivers a real oddity, Fox Studios’ lavishly produced 1930 musical comedy Just Imagine. In this futuristic romp, faux-Swedish vaudeville comedian El Brendel is resurrected after spending 50 years as a corpse in a cryochamber, and awakes on the far-flung future of 1980, where he teams up with a pair of useless doofs who are supposed to be the heroes of the movie. After a tour of all the insanity of the future – booze in pills and babies from vending machines – the trio travels to Mars in order for the main hero to get enough credits in order to marry his sweetheart (don’t ask), all while the other hero sings a serenade about how he would love to marry his grandmother. Among other highlights are the Fly-Swatting Dance and a gay Martian general. Just Imagine tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess of Mars, The Ziegfield Follies and stand-up comedy. With predictable results. Despite being the brainchild of Hollywood’s hottest musical writers, the music is dull, the science fiction worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. Scifist rating: 3/10. Read the full review here.
2. Frankenstein (1931)
Little surprise that the old classic turns up as your second most favourite article of 2019 on Scifist. Dracula, released a few months earlier, may have been the picture that kicked off Universal’s monster movie craze. However that film, somewhat clunky and dry, owed both its content and visual style to the old dark house movies of the thirties – it was Bela Lugosi that mesmerised audiences. The film that really set the template for the Universal horrors was James Whale’s legendary Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a masterpiece of camera, light and sound, which proved that sound films didn’t have to be static and clunky. By placing humanity at the film’s core and teasing superb performances out of Boris Karloff and Colin Clive, director James Whale saves it from a creaky script. A seminal piece for SF, horror and films in general. So much has been written about this movie, though, that we are somewhat perplexed by the fact that Scifist’s article has been able to pierce through all the wealth of information on the picture available online. On the other hand, this is one of our most well-researched (and longest) articles to date. We are glad you like it! Scifist rating: 9/10. Read the full review here.
1. Woman in the Moon (1929)
This one actually took us quite by surprise! Fritz Lang’s Magnum Opus Metropolis (1927) didn’t even make the list, but his follow-up, the moon landing epic Frau im Mond was the most popular review on Scifist during all of 2019. This 1929 movie is the grandfather of the modern space rocket movie. You name a trope, Frau im Mond created it. Fritz Lang’s German silent film is one of his sillier entries, and has a reputation for being over-long and sluggish during its first half. But if you like Lang’s spy yarns, the build-up is pure cinematic delight — and when the actual space voyage gets underway, it is as riveting today as it was 90 years ago. Thanks to the help of the world’s leading rocket scientists, the scientific accuracy is eerily prophetic. Not only did the film have profound impact on science fiction movies, but actually inspired real-life rocket scientists to take up the career and work toward the historic feat accomplished by NASA in 1969. (Of course the Nazis went to the dark side after WWII, but that’s another story. 😉 .) One of the best known facts about Woman in the Moon is that it was this movie that pioneered the now almost exclusively used practice of counting down a rocket launch instead of counting it up, as had previously been done. Some of the rocket scientists who worked on this movie actually ended up sending Neil Armstrong to the moon. But all technicalities aside: It’s a just a damn good movie. Scifist rating: 9/10. Read the full review here.
Bubbling Under: The Astronomer’s Dream (1898)
It didn’t quite make the cut, but Georges Méliès’ groundbreaking effect short from as far back as 1898 was one of the most popular reviews during 2019 – by far and wide the most popular of the early silent SF shorts, for some reason we can’t quite fathom. La lune a un metre was an important step in the development of the science fiction movie, even if it should probably be categorised as a fairy-tale. The film, depicting an astronomer dreaming of a crazy moon entering his room and eating him, was a leap forward for special effects and cinematic storytelling. Scifist rating: 7/10. Read the full review here.