Space exploration

Top 25 Non-English SF Films Pre-1950

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?

World Without End

The first US time machine film from 1956 is a fun but clunky Technicolor adventure. Astronauts accidentally travel 500 years into the future, where the meek, pacifist human survivors hide from barbaric mutants in an underground civilisation. 5/10

Forbidden Planet

Based on Shakespeare, MGM’s 1956 epic starring Anne Francis & Leslie Nielsen is a landmark SF movie. The pulpy premise of space explorers saving a virgin from an alien monster hides surprisingly serious and adult themes. 9/10

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

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

Project Moonbase

It’s a battle of the sexes when an incompetent female pilot is chosen for political reasons to lead the first mission around the moon. The sexist script by Robert Heinlein for this 1953 film is not bettered by a limp cold war espionage angle. 1/10

Cat-Women of the Moon

The first “Amazon Women in Space” film, this 1953 low-budget clunker is one of the dumbest films ever made. However, despite its borrowed sets, atrocious acting and ludicrous script, it is thoroughly fun in its naivety. 3/10

The Quatermass Experiment

Hugely influential, BBC’s 1953 mini-series about an alien virus mutating their hosts was a massive British TV event. Aired live, its sets were clunky and the acting stiff, but the great script and innovative direction overcome the flaws even today. 6/10

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.

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

Destination Moon

In 1950 Hollywood finally produced its first first serious, big-budget space film. With the help of luminaries like Robert Heinlein, Hermann Oberth and Chesley Bonestell, future SF icon George Pal produced a visually stunning but dramatically stale epic, heavily influenced by the red scare. 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

Cosmic Voyage

Kosmichesky Reys is a stunning, costly Soviet moon landing adventure from 1936, inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1929 film Woman in the Moon. Thanks to the collaboration of legendary rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, it is impressively accurate. Aimed at a juvenile audience, Cosmic Voyage is an enjoyable and exciting space adventure movie. 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