Interplanetary travel

King Dinosaur

Bert I. Gordon’s 1955 directorial debut sees four scientists completely uninterested in exploring a new planet and doing “darn science stuff”. After battling stock footage and superimposed insects, they detonate a nuclear bomb and go home. 0/10

This Island Earth

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

Conquest of Space

An implausible, ill-conceived and sluggish script is the bane of George Pal’s 1955 Technicolor space epic. The visuals in this first trip to Mars are (mostly) superb, which make the bizarre plot and deadly dialogue stand out like a sore thumb. 4/10

Flight to Mars

The first team of explorers to Mars are welcomed and double-crossed by a Martian civilisation attempting to hijack their rocket and invade Earth. A 1951 low-budget effort by Monogram, the movie’s striking for its visuals, but badly scripted and routinely directed. 5/10.

When Worlds Collide

When a rogue planet threatens to collide with Earth, a small team of pioneers start building a space ark in order to begin life anew on a new world. George Pal produces and Rudolph Maté directs this classic from 1951 in nostalgic Technicolor. The script’s weak love triangle and biblical pathos suck some of the juice out of Philip Wylie’s crisp novel, but the visuals and effects are stunning, and the action exciting despite some slow spots. 6/10

Tales of Tomorrow

The first SF anthology TV show aired live in the US from 1951 to 1953. With material by some of the greatest SF authors of all time, its adult-oriented, intelligent scripts are often unsettling to watch even today. The cast boasts Leslie Nielsen, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, Eva Gabor, James Dean, Joanne Woodward and many more. 6/10

Rocketship X-M

Poverty Row studio Lippert Pictures rushed Rockethip X-M into theatres in 1950, ahead of the much-hyped big-budget production Destination Moon, claiming the title of the first American space exploration movie. Despite its cash-grab nature, in some ways it actually surpasses its heavy-going “original”. 6/10

Captain Video and His Video Rangers

The first science fiction TV show aired as a live broadcast in the US every weekday for almost six years beginning in 1949, totalling in over 1,500 episodes. Aimed at a kiddie audience, the show was cheap and shoddy, even compared to its film serial inspirations, but involved writing talent such as Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke and James Blish.  3/10

Flash Gordon

The 1936 film serial Flash Gordon was the first American space opera brought to the screen. It’s high camp, silly and loads of fun, and boasts high production values for a serial, as well as an unusually imaginative and original script, straight from the pages of the comic strip. That the spaceships are held by visible strings and the dragons look like men in cardboard suits just adds to the fun. 7/10

Just Imagine

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

Our Heavenly Bodies

A forgotten German educational film with strong SF elements, Wunder der Schöpfung takes us on a ride in a spaceship to visit the planets and the stars. Director Hanns Walter Kornblum worked with nine animators and six cinematographers to create astounding special effects that hold up to any other masterpiece made in the twenties. (8/10)

Aelita, Queen of Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (8/10) 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 […]

A Trip to Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (7/10) Himmelskibet, released in 1918, is he first serious movie to deal with a trip to a distant planet. Poetically filmed and featuring lavish Martian designs, this Danish space […]

A Trip to Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (5/10) A scientist floats to Mars and is captured by Martians in this early American short film. Not a masterpiece, but a well made and intriguing little film. A […]