The 1950s are known as "The Golden Age of Science Fiction Films," although many of these films are known today as “B” rated movies. They are riddled with corny dialogue, poor screenplays, bad acting, and amateurish production values. While many of these sci-fi “B” movies were unbelievably horrible by today's standards, there were some that shaped science fiction into what it is today.
Here, in no particular order, is a list of some of the best iconic 1950s sci-fi films that awed and inspired us.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the first ''big'' science fiction movies ever to hit the big screen. It has influenced almost every sci-fi to come with its all-too-well known “aliens invade Earth" concept. Although most space invader movies from this era emphasized the destructive nature of aliens, The Day the Earth Stood Still showed us that aliens aren’t always “the bad guys,” that they can actually come to Earth with the intention to “save” us. In this case, save us from ourselves. Simply put, this is one of the greatest sci-fi movies of its time which has brought a powerful and important message across that’s still relevant to this day.
The Blob (1958)
The Blob gives us a good combination of sci-fi and horror, which many films of the era attempted to do. The plot is fairly simple, a huge meteor crashes to earth and begins exuding a pink, gooey substance which then begins to parasitically suck the life out of unfortunate humans, growing into an enormous jelly-like blob. In spite of its premise and hilariously horrible, yet dated, special effects, The Blob remains a prime example of how satisfying cheesy B-movie monster thrills can be.
If you suffer from myrmecophobia, this is not the movie for you. The “Them” in question happen to be ants that were caused to mutate into giant man-eating monsters due to atomic testing in New Mexico. The special effects are pretty awesome for this time period and the movie itself was a huge success, being the first big bug movie of its kind. A little bit of trivia here, did you know that "Them" stands for terror, horror, excitement, and mystery?
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
With a touch of humor, an Edinburgh professor and assorted colleagues follow an explorer's trail down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the earth's center. This sci-fi film distinguishes itself with its sense of adventure, awesome scenery, stunning special effects and great performances from its actors. Although it is suspenseful and serious at times, it’s just an altogether fun movie.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Science fiction wasn’t normally a genre that Walt Disney would attempt, but since he was the visionary king of making unfilmable stories into reality, he tackled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and nailed it. With great sets and awesome visuals, the story is told of a ship sent to investigate a wave of mysterious sinkings that encounters the advanced submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by Captain Nemo. It was a great classic novel by Jules Verne brought to life, with one of the most memorable giant squids to appear on film.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
This is a science fiction horror flick that shows us how absolutely terrifying and effective the unknown and unseen can be. Having an alien invasion plot, this suspenseful movie is one where you virtually never see the "actual" aliens, but just the pods that they emerged from. The bodies of people in the community are being taken over by alien life forms, the only evidence being pods that were placed near the victims as they slept. There’s no physical change in the victim’s appearance, except they show no human emotion. It’s a very suspenseful thriller that basically influenced the “don’t fall asleep” concept of future sci-fi and horror films.
The War of the Worlds (1953)
H.G. Well's classic novel is brought to life in this tale of alien invasion. The residents of a small town in California are excited when a flaming meteor lands in the hills. Their joy is tempered somewhat when they discover that it has passengers who are not very friendly. The Martians in this version are among the most distinctive of the time. The film looks and sounds fantastic, summing up the 1950s popular formula of aliens invading Earth that we’ve all come to know and love.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
As an Air Force crew stationed in the Arctic finds what they believe to be a fallen plane, they instead uncover a flying saucer frozen in the ice where a malevolent creature awaits. Hiding this wild alien in the shadows for much of the running time, The Thing From Another World is almost a psychological thriller in its pacing and tense plotting just as much as it’s a science fiction horror flick. Adding up to be one of the eeriest films of the 50s, this still has us watching the skies like hawks.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Many 50s sci-fi movies had people, animals, or insects morphing into giant, monstrous versions of themselves. This film tells the opposite story. When Scott Carey begins to shrink because of exposure to a combination of radiation and insecticide, medical science is powerless to help him. The film’s use of huge sets and props provides excitement, but it is the philosophical script that supplies its rare power: complacent modern man, forced back on his primitive wits simply to survive, finally discovers hope, peace, and meaning in the realization that everything in the cosmos, however small or insignificant, has its own place and worth.