Visuals and special effects are one way viewers gauge the effectiveness of a sci-fi movie. Another metric is Concept. Stories of saucer attacks, alien monsters, giant bugs or radiation-spawned beasts, would become common. Yet, some 50s films (even with too low of a budget to dazzle audiences with special effects) made an impact because they had a powerful concept. Below is my list of ten 50s films with cool concepts. (They're in chronological order, not coolest to less-cool)
1. When Worlds Collide '51 -- In almost all disaster stories, massive destruction is averted in the end. Not this time. The earth does not get saved at the last minute by a plucky band of heros. Instead, only a few people and animals escape to begin anew on a new world. This was pretty radical stuff for movie audiences so early in the decade.
2. Red Planet Mars '52 -- How would we handle it if we DID receive messages from "out there" and they weren't blandly neutral? Messages from an idyllic civilization on Mars which believe in God. They cause chaos on earth. Was it all a cruel prank by an ex-nazi scientist, or actually corroboration that God exists? Could the world handle it?
3. Four Sided Triangle '53 -- A lovelorn scientist creates a matter duplicator as an altruistic aid to mankind. He uses succumbs to self-interest and uses it to duplicate a woman he loves, but who is in love with another. Things don't work out. The duplicate tries to love him, but the love for the other was duplicated too.
4. Target Earth '54 -- A handful of people find themselves alone in a deserted city. Alien robots roam the streets killing any stray humans. The city was abandoned by earthlings to the robots until earth forces can find a countermeasure. In the meantime, the robots hunt down the last refugees. A bustling metropolis suddenly a barren city-scape, was a strong image.
5. Quatermass Xperiment '55 -- One of the first blob movies. A non-corporeal life form merges with a human astronaut. When he returns to earth, the other being takes over his body little by little. Like an epidemic personified, the creature man is lost he/it becomes a massive blob that absorbs other life.
6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers '56 -- Not the first, but the most memorable of the alien-takeover movies. Alien spores create replacements for people. They then set about insidiously spreading their new world order. A young doctor and his girlfriend are the only ones who know. The pod people are out to catch and convert them. An invisible invasion of outwardly congenial doubles terrified audiences.
7. Forbidden Planet '56 -- Among the many story threads, the enigmatic Krell dominate. An alien race builds such an autonomous technology that it destroys them. An earth scientist discovers their vast empty cities still functioning. In his explorations, he has unknowingly created an unstoppable monster from his own subconscious.
8. Kronos '57 -- An alien race's energy consumption exceeds their supply. They send a massive impersonal machine to harvest power from other planets. They don't want to own earth, or take our women -- just our kilowatts. If not stopped, it will drain earth back to the dark ages. This notion of civilizations living beyond their power means has remained topical to today.
9. Fiend w/o a Face '58 -- A scientist inadvertently creates a new form of invisible beings which must feed on human brains to survive. They also require an atomic reactor's stray radiation to exist. Beyond the mere attack-by-monsters plot is the notion of beings created and sustained by man and his technology, which (like Morbius' Id monster) prove anything but friendly.
10. 4D Man '59 -- A scientist manages to change his body so that he can shift himself in time. By doing so, he can pass through solid matter. His newfound power goes to his head. The power has a curse too. He cannot touch anyone without draining the life out of them. This is an atomic age spin on Wells' Invisible Man and the old King Midas tale.
Runner up -- Not of this Earth '57 -- An alien from war ravaged planet comes to earth needing fresh blood to stay alive. His mission is to send humans back so his people can live. Their planet loses the war. A female alien escapes to join him. Though seeing themselves as superior invaders, they're actually vulnerable refugees whose plans (and lives) are thwarted.
Okay. That's my list. What about YOU? Which cool concept 50s sci-fi would you have included?