This smart, well filmed and very successful 1934 film marked the beginning of the end for German science fiction before the Nazis banned the genre. Best remembered for its impressive futuristic sets and superb effects, this film is on the talkier side. It’s secret weapons are German superstars Hans Albers and Brigitte Helm. 7/10.
The most distinctly science fictional of Universal’s classic horror franchise, this 1933 movie directed by James Whale took the world by storm thanks to the terrific acting of Claude Rains, astounding special effects and a witty script laced with dark comedy. By many considered the best H.G. Wells adaptation ever made. 8/10.
Rushed into German theatres two months before James Whale’s The Invisible Man in 1933, this film is directed by and stars Germany’s biggest action star Harry Piel. Aided by functioning but crude special effects, a cash-strapped taxi driver stumbles upon an invisibility helmet. Forced comedy and a predictable script are remedied by great action sequences and a breezy pace. 5/10
Famed for its special effects shots of a floodwave destroying New York City, this 1933 RKO production built up hype as it was thought lost for many decades. When it finally resurfaced, it was met with a collective “meh”, as all the action was packed in the first 15 minutes of the film, and then settled into a wobbly post-apocalyptic romance helmed by a first-time director. 5/10
An entertaining horror-inspired mystery/crime serial with sci-fi elements that features Bela Lugosi in his best paid role ever. Entertaining and well acted, if quite confusing and not very original. It did, however, help pave the way for science fiction serials in sound in Hollywood. 4/10
An American engineer masterminds a Transatlantic tunnel in this German 1933 production, based on Bernhard Kellermann’s 1913 novel. Made in the spirit of international unity, it is today often seen through the lens of the Nazi rise to power. While well acted and sporting impressive set design, the film’s pacing is off and the first half is bogged down by sluggish melodrama. 5/10.
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. 8/10
Dwight Frye, Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill and Melvyn Douglas star in this 1933 Poverty Row schlockfest, which is a lot better than its Majestic Pictures origin would imply. Filmed on the sets of Universal’s horror movies, it looks and feels like a prestige film, but sadly still has the script of a slapdash chashgrabber. 6/10
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. 10/10
The earliest available feature film based on a modern sci-fi novel, this German 1932 melodrama concerns the then outlandish idea of a floating gas station for transatlantic flights. Filmed in three different languages with different casts, it’s not exactly a neglected masterpiece, but with talent like Curt Siodmak, Hans Albers, Charles Boyer, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and Sybille Schmitz, it’s certainly a forgotten sci-fi gem. 6/10
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. 6/10
We were reached by the sad news today that one of the elder stateswomen of science fiction films, Julie Adams, has passed away at 92 years old. Adams, of course, is fondly remembered by fans of creature features as the female lead in Universal’s 1954 horror/sci-fi film Creature from the Black Lagoon.
This early colour film (1932), impeccably directed by Casablanca-maker Michael Curtiz, is a stylish and atmospheric old dark house thriller with a gruesome sci-fi twist. Unfortunately it’s also an attempt at Groucho Marx-style comedy with a Lee Tracy in the lead as a wise-cracking reporter, whose comedy repertoire isn’t up to the task. Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill shine, and the whole thing has the delicious look and feel of a faded pulp magazine. 7/10
By many considered as the best version of Stevenson’s classic book, this 1931 film resulted in an Oscar win for 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. 8/10
The 1920s was an exciting time in science fiction film history. Cinema was booming after WWI, giving filmmakers successively bigger budgets to realise their visions with, and groundbreaking technical advancements allowed for ever more realistic depictions of the impossible. Here’s a list of the 10 best sci-fi films released between 1920 and 1929.