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?
An invisible ex-soldier breaks up a mob gang and saves a nightclub singer in Toho’s 1954 SF noir. An interesting premise of war-time test subjects living as outcasts is sadly pushed out by the clichéd gangster plot. Film has its moments, though. 4/10
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
A scientist’s assistant turns himself invisible as to win the hand of his beloved. Egypt’s first SF movie from 1952 is a light-hearted musical comedy inspired by Universal’s Invisible Man films. Not very original, but aptly made and quite enjoyable. 5/10
A rare gem, Japan’s earliest preserved science fiction film The Invisible Man Appears is more inspired by Universal’s Invisible Man films than H.G. Wells’ novel. This 1949 crime mystery drama meets tokusatsu film boasts the special effects of the great Eiji Tsuburaya and some good performances. 5/10
The fifth and final instalment in Universal’s Invisible Man Franchise was released in 1944 and treads familiar ground as an escapee turns invisible in order to exact revenge on his wrong-doers. John Carradine is delicious as the nutty scientist, scream queen Evelyn Ankers is underused and Jon Hall returns as the invisible menace for a second time. A messy script is saved by quality filmmaking. 5/10
In 1942 Universal reinvented the invisible man as a Nazi foil in the fourth movie of the franchise. Invisible Agent gets the A movie treatment, as is evident from an A list cast including Cedric Hardwicke, J. Edgar Bromberg and Peter Lorre. As a comedy the film falls flat, but it works better as a spy thriller. 5/10
Warner produced its first invisibility comedy in 1941. This time it’s a bridegroom who’s accidentally turned transparent on the eve of his wedding. Actors like Jane Wyman, Edward Everett Horton and Willie Best help keep this bland, programmatic situation farce afloat, if only barely. 3/10
The third ”invisible man” instalment from 1940 is a solid screwball comedy with a great female heroine, but hardly brings anything new to the table. Universal brings in an impressive roster of character actors, but the special effects are somewhat shoddy. 6/10
Horror icon Vincent Price takes over the empty shirt and trousers of Claude Rains in The Invisible Man Returns (1940). Universal was still making good sequels to their horror films, although this one does clearly fall into B-movie category. But this is a good B-movie, well acted, well filmed and well received, but a harmless Hollywood sequel nonetheless. 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
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (8/10) The first film based on H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man is a 5 minute short with stunning special effects and superb acting, directed by Segundo de Chomon […]