Much of the heritage in SF movies comes from non-English language films from the first half of the 20th century, many of which are largely unknown to an English-speaking audience today. Here we list the 25 greatest non-English language science fiction movies made prior to 1950. How many have you seen?
A photo of a UFO propels journalist Tore Haugen into a stellar career, while her colleague and husband becomes a stay-at-home dad. This well-made Norwegian marital comedy from 1956 manages to be progressive and reactionary at the same time. 7/10
Friendly star-shaped aliens try to warn Tokyo’s inhabitants of a planetary collision. Humans flee in fear at the sight of the alien starfish, so one of them shape-shifts and infiltrates. This 1956 colour spectacle is entertaining but contrived. 5/10
Attack of the belly dancers from outer space! Two dimwit journalists fall prey for the matriarchal aliens landing in Istanbul in Turkey’s earliest preserved SF movie from 1955. Unfortunately this Turksploitation milestone fails on every level. 0/10
With a more adult angle than most fifties SF movies, Universal’s 1955 big-budget splash dazzles both with wonderful visuals and clever ideas. That the screenplay mismanages these ideas prevents its inclusion with the bona fide classics. 7/10
Patricia Neal reprises her role from The Day the Earth Stood Still in this cheap British knock-off from 1954. Plodding and derivative, the film manages to hold the viewer thanks to a decent cast and some interesting script quirks. 3/10
Glorious comic book camp smashes into dull noir drama in this British 1954 cult classic. A must-see for Martian dominatrix Patricia Laffan looking for strong Earth men in her kinky latex outfit, but don’t expect too much. 5/10
Ray Bradbury’s story is poetically put on screen in this 1953 classic. Richard Carlson stars as a mediator between body-snatching aliens and gun-happy townsfolk. Intelligent, well-filmed and thoughtful, it may be too slow for some tastes. 8/10
Agents and scientists chase an invisible alien around Griffith Observatory in this 1953 cheapo by Billy Wilder’s brother. Decent effects and some nice ideas aside, the film is brought down by its leaden pace, dull, talky script and cramped sets. 1/10
The fate of the world hangs in the balance as the mysterious alien Klaatu arrives on a diplomatic mission to Earth with his deadly robot. Oscar winner Robert Wise’s “subversive” 1951 classic was a radical call for world peace in the midst of McCarthyist blacklistings. Possibly the best of the fifties SF films, this one holds up surprisingly well today. 10/10.
Director Edgar G. Ulmer turns this 1951 low-budget movie about an alien visitor to a small village into a visually atmospheric, intelligent Expressionist moral tale, as Hollywood brings the first alien invasion film to the big screen. Unfortunately the low budget, pacing problems and a mediocre script hamper this minor classic. 6/10
The first anthology TV show to feature science fiction, Lights Out was adapted from a popular horror radio show in the US in 1949. Lights Out sports an impressive roster of actors and writers, but it struggles somewhat to transfer what was so great about the radio program to the screen. 5/10
History was made in 1948 when the first live-action Superman graced the screen. The 15-part serial from Columbia is obviously made on a tight budget, somewhat hurting credibility, but it’s respectful to the source material and Kirk Alyn is a believable man of steel. The real star of the serial is Noel Neill as Lois Lane, though. 5/10.
Comedy star Heinz Rühmann shines as an alien who falls in love with an Earth woman while marvelling at the cruelty of the Earthlings. Made by artists who worked in Germany during the Nazi rule, this 1948 “mea culpa” is a stylishly filmed, but slow-moving, preachy and incoherent effort. 5/10