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Friday, April 30, 2010

Must-See Sci-Fi

Reader Lex asked: "If you were to reccomend 10-15 must see films from the 50's-60's what would they be?" Some movies are must-see because they're great or influential. Some movies are must-see because they're just so wacky (or famously bad) that they're still influential. So, Lex, here are two lists of ten.

The Good -- Here are ten milestone movies that have left a lasting impression on our culture. These are the "good" movies which even average viewers can appreciate. They are a fair sampling of what 50s sci-fi could do on a good day.

1. When Worlds Collide ('51) -- An epic disaster film which expressed the culture's anxiety about the Cold War and the threat of impending doom.

2. Day the Earth Stood Still ('51) -- Earth is warned of its nuclear danger, by a benevolent alien. The story line was powerful enough to spawn many remakes.

3. War of the Worlds ('53) -- HG Wells' classic story set in 1950s America. This invasion theme would be expressed in many other films too.

4. Creature from the Black Lagoon ('54) -- A classic which spawned not only sequels, but many retellings and variations.

5. Gojira (54) -- The Japanese original is better than the '55 American edit. Gojira was the dramatic ancestor of dozens of giant-monster movies. The sub-genre would eventually turn campy and juvenile, but Gojira was serious art.

6. Them! ('54) -- The first (and best) of a whole sub-genre of giant bug films for which the 50s are famous.

7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56) -- The classic tale of aliens taking over human's bodies. This theme was featured in many later films.

8. Forbidden Planet ('56) -- Perhaps THE pinnacle of 1950s sci-fi. While seldom copied or remade, it would become the basis for that persistent cultural force: Star Trek.

9. The Blob ('58) -- Not the first, but the most famous of the alien-blob creature films.

10. Time Machine ('60) -- Wells' famous tale from a 50s point of view. It would become the model for many later time-travel films.

The Bad -- The flip-side of the 50s and 60s sci-fi greats, are its equally famous "bad" films. These film have left a lasting cultural legacy too -- so quirky or bizarre that they're hard to take seriously, even though their creators were serious.

1. Robot Monster ('53) -- Infamous for the titular villain costumed in an ape-suit with a space helmet. A pretty earth woman scrambles Ro-Man's superior logic.

2. Catwomen of the Moon ('53) -- A distant planet populated with a civilization of attractive women. This absurd premise actually formed the basis of several films.

3. Killers From Space ('54) -- All the low-budget style of the early serials (the aliens are men in leotards with ping pong balls for eyes), yet serious.

4. The Giant Claw ('56) -- A monster too bizarre to be frightening. A marionette vulture-thing "space bird". Again, the actors take it all deadly seriously.

5. The Beginning of the End ('57) -- The giant bug sub-genre was running out of scary bugs to enlarge. Grasshoppers

6. Attack of the 50' woman ('58) -- A past-peak pin up star, made giant by the touch of a giant alien, obsesses over retrieving her philandering husband.

7. Plan 9 From Outer Space ('59) -- Ed Wood Jr.'s famously bad movie, a fragmented tale of aliens who plan to raise dead earthlings so zombies can conquer earth for them.

8. Teenagers From Outer Space ('59) -- A soft-hearted alien teen takes pity on earth (and is keen an earth girl) so helps stop his people from turning earth into a ranch for giant lobsters.

9. The Creeping Terror ('64) -- An alien creature resembling a chinese parade dragon gone horribly wrong, has a penchant for eating leggy young women.

10. Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women ('68) -- A rehash of a rehash of a Soviet film about landing on Venus, but with new footage of telepathic babes in shell bras who almost encounter the astronauts.


Fred Perry said...

I'm saddened to see The Thing from Another World left off the list of good movies....

Nightowl said...

Yes, Fred, it was tough. Lists of 10 always are, as there are clearly more than 10 great 50s sci-fi movies. "The Thing" was among the contenders and I lingered over it quite awhile.

So, Lex, if you've already seen Forbidden Planet and any others on the list, get "The Thing from Another World" ('51) It's a very well done film for a low budget affair. It also typifies the "hostile alien" motif, where Klaatu typified the benevolent alien motif.

Lex said...

I've actually seen all of your "Good" list except When Worlds Collide, Gojiri and The Blob. I have seen The Thing from Another World as well. I'll start working my way through the "Bad" list and those last few good ones.