What would happen if a machine could predict the time of death of every living person? This forgotten French SF melodrama from 1939 has a remarkably well-crafted script and a superb cast led by Claude Dauphin and Erich von Stroheim. 7/10
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?
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
The first feature film depicting George Orwell’s dystopian vision of a totalitarian future capture the book’s bleak atmosphere well. A miscast leading couple and Michael Anderson’s uninspired direction prevent the movie from reaching its potential. 5/10
This 1956 SF thriller directed by Don Siegel is a masterpiece dissecting American post-war paranoia and timeless themes of losing one’s identity and sense of belonging. One of the few fifties horror films that is still spine-chilling today. 10/10
A small group of survivors hole up in a bungalow after a nuclear war, hoping to outlast the fallout and the mutants raging beyond the picket fence. Roger Corman directs the 1955 cheapo efficiently, but it spends too long treading water. 3/10
James Arness and Edmund Gwenn chase giant ants in this atmospheric 1954 SF horror thriller. The original giant bug film, considered by many to be the best. Good direction, solid acting and a smart script that taps into the era’s atomic fears. 8/10
A mind-controlling machine from an authoritarian future disguises itself as a TV set in the home of a professor and starts messing with his life. Badly adapted from a story by “Lewis Padgett”, this 1953 attempt at satire is a dull turkey. 1/10
Shot on 16,000 USD in 1953, this cult classic is as inept as it is unique. Told as a boy’s surreal nightmare, it features an alien robot gorilla in a diving helmet experiencing an existential crisis as he is about to wipe out the last six people on Earth. And soap bubbles. 7/10
Five American bar patrons who oppose the universal draft experience what a nuclear-fuelled invasion by the Soviet Union would entail. If one film should exemplify the hysterical red scare of the fifties, it is this low-budget propaganda piece from 1952.
Set in the year 2000, this propaganda musical comedy from 1952 protests the Allied occupation of Austria. More a cavalcade of Austria’s “greatest hits” than a narrative film, the movie features the creme de la creme of the country’s stage talent. 2/10
Christian mutants and Satanist “norms” must unite against evil marauders in the nuclear-scarred ruins of New York in this 1952 curio set in 3000 A.D. A good cast and an interesting idea butt heads with a clunky script and an inexperienced director. 4/10
This tense little 1951 thriller by W.C. Menzies had Hitler hiding in a US fishing village. RKO owner Howard Hughes wanted the Commies to be the bad guys instead, so it was reshot with Red Scare hysterics. Still, the genius of the original shines through. 7/10.
Arch Oboler’s indie film from 1951 was the first to portray the aftermath of nuclear war. Heavy on biblical reference and weighed down with pompous monologues and slow pacing, the film nonetheless boasts striking cinematography and a gritty, bleak vision of the future. 6/10
Originally produced as a propaganda short for General Motors, and then stretched to feature length, this 1940/1945 low-budget affair by radio legend Arch Oboler is as curious as it is flawed. Claude Rains stars as a man returning to the city from a fishing trip only to find that the US has been taken over by fascists. 2/10