The 1920s was an exciting time in science fiction film history. Cinema was booming after WWI, giving filmmakers successively bigger budgets to realise their visions with, and groundbreaking technical advancements allowed for ever more realistic depictions of the impossible. Here’s a list of the 10 best sci-fi films released between 1920 and 1929.
Frankenstein (1931) is a masterpiece of camera, light and sound, which proved that sound films didn’t have to be static and clunky. By placing humanity at the film’s core and teasing superb performances out of Boris Karloff and Colin Clive, director James Whale saves it from a creaky script. A seminal piece for SF, horror and films in general. 9/10
This 1931 apocalypse film from French mastermind of the silent era, Abel Gance, is a turkey of epic proportions. The heavy-handed religious moral tale fails to cope with the restrictions of sound films, and the all too obvious script that fails to surprise or engage the viewer. 3/10
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
The fourth film about the most prolific female mainstream movie monster of all time — Alraune — was the first one in sound. Movie star Brigitte Helm reprised her role as the artificially created man-eater in this German 1930 production. Director Richard Oswald tried to modernise the tale, but the result is a surprisingly uninspired potboiler. 4/10
This 1929 movie is the grandfather of the modern space rocket movie. Fritz Lang’s German silent film has a reputation for being over-long and sluggish during its first half. But if you like Lang’s spy yarns, the build-up is pure cinematic delight — and when the actual space voyage gets underway, it is as riveting today as it was 90 years ago. Thanks to the help of the world’s leading rocket scientists, the scientific accuracy is eerily prophetic. 9/10
A hallucinatory explosion of art deco and visual experimentation, Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 film L’Inhumaine has divided critics and audiences for decades. Its bold design and innovative editing inspired a generation of directors, but many find its script thin and its characters one-dimensional and uninspiring.