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?
Percy Stow was one of the pioneers of British trick films, and often took on science fiction subjects in his short films made between 1901 and 1915. In these he showcased high technical quality and a touch of originality.
Britain’s first SF movie of the fifties, this well-filmed little 1953 thriller follows the secret testing of a supersonic aircraft. Good acting and tight direction helps to counterbalance a meandering melodrama that leaves the film unsure of itself. 5/10
My very first zero-star review goes to a 1946 Mexican ”sci-fi comedy” starring a down and out Buster Keaton doing his best not to fall asleep on set. The script has three idiots landing a rocket in the middle of a Mexican city, thinking they are on the moon. That is the full plot. The best moments have Buster Keaton lifelessly repeating old gags from his silent era. The rest is a mess. Scifist rating: 0/10.
Schizophrenic British comedy/crime drama set on a huge futuristic luxury airliner. Cringe-worthy comedy is mixed with a witness drama that manages to be both improbable and generic. Good acting and steady direction saves the film from bring a complete clunker. 3/10
H.G. Wells and William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy, the last big SF film before the 1950s. The most expensive film made in Britain at the time, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and effects, but the script is stiff, the acting wooden and the viewer bludgeoned to boredom with the message. 6/10
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
A very early sound film, this 1930 US sci-fi musical comedy tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess from 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 SF worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. 3/10
This 1929 film was Britain’s attempt to create its own Metropolis. The stunning art deco visuals are counteracted by a clumsy and overtly naive script. Maurice Elvey’s direction is fluid and competent, but the actors are stuck with paper-thin characters who lack motivation. Modern viewers of this pacifist yarn set in 1940 will marvel at the accurate predictions of things like TV and Skype. (5/10)
In a nutshell: A bonkers short subject by master director Jean Renoir from 1927 shows an African explorer in a spacecraft discovering a white native woman in a post-apocalyptic Paris, and they dance the Charleston for ten minutes. (5/10)
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (7/10) A milestone between two cinematic eras, Marcel Perez’ 1913 adventure epic is a loving pastiche on Jules Verne and George Méliès. Based on Albert Robida’s novel, it anticipates […]
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (6/10) Georges Méliès’ last science fiction film, released in 1912, was a magnificent swansong for an era of filmmaking. Perhaps his most accomplished film technically, but the polar adventure […]
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (4/10) In 1911 British film pioneer Walter R. Booth updated his five years old film The ‘?’ Motorist with better effects, more outer space madness and a robot. Technically […]
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (7/10) Pirates of the air get more than they bargained for when they kidnap a resourceful damsel in this well-made British short feature film from 1911. And there’s an […]
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (4/10) In the year 2000 police officers will be catching criminals with giant grapplers from the deck of their airship, according to this 1910 short from Gaumont. Notable for […]