10 Best Classic Sci-Fi Movies of the ’50s6 min read
Are you a black and white B-movie buff like me? No? Well, you oughta be! You’re missing some great movies. Some are so bad they’re good; if only for their entertainment value. And, some of the good ones are great! Either way they’re all classics in my book. Many, many great sci-fi classics came out of this decade, far more than 10. But, I had to choose. So, here are some of my favorites.
10. Journey to the Center of the Earth: 1959
This sci-fi adventure follows a team of explorers, (3 men and a woman) down an extinct Icelandic volcano that leads to the center of the earth. Along the way, they encounter floods, dinosaurs, a giant Gila monster and as always, the evil adversary who tries to stop and/or kill them, so he can reach the center first.
At a time when women had little power and independence, this was one of the first movies to depict a woman as a strong and capable member of the team, rather than the helpless damsel in distress. It had great special effects for the time. With major stars like James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl, it was heads above the typical sci-fi movie of the decade. I didn’t see the remake.
9. Invaders From Mars: 1953
Scared the be-jesus out of me the first time I saw it! It starts out with young David star-gazing one night from his bedroom window. He sees a flying saucer land in the sand pit near his home. He runs to alert his parents and insists that his father go investigate. His father disappears into the sand pit, and doesn’t return until the next morning…but he’s ‘changed’ somehow. He sees a scar on the back of his father’s neck and realizes something has happened to him.
The nightmare expands as many of the local townspeople are also slowly ‘changing’. No one believes David at first, but he finally convinces a scientist and a lady doctor that something’s very wrong. Together they foil the invasion and save the world. The mummy-like Martians and their disembodied, head-in-a-fishbowl, multi-appendaged leader are especially ‘creepy’. The remakes ok, but I liked this one best.
8. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: 1954
A visually engaging interpretation of the Jules Verne classic, this movie has inspired several movie remakes and a successful TV series. It was the first and only sci-fi movie produced by Walt Disney himself, and one of the genre’s best.
With a star-studded cast including Kirk Douglas, James Mason, and Peter Lorre, it’s the tale of a Naval Officer and his crew who are assigned the task of investigating the disappearances of ships on the high seas by a ‘sea monster’. They soon discover the ‘monster’ is really a submarine-like ship run by the sinister, enigmatic Captain Nemo, who’s one goal in life is to bring peace to the world by destroying all of the world’s war vessels. Great adventure and special effects.
7. The Thing (From Outer Space): 1951
Anyone remember the lawman from Gunsmoke, James Arness? Well, this was his first movie. He plays The Thing, a creature who crash landed in the frozen Arctic some time in the distant past. His ship and frozen body are discovered by a group of research scientists. They cut him out in a block of ice and take him back to the research station where he’s accidentally thawed out.
They soon discover he’s a carnivorous predator when he begins killing researchers and feeding on their blood. ‘It’ is very intelligent and starts sabotaging their research station. Then they learn he’s really a ‘plant’ that only looks humanoid. They have to kill it, but it’s 7 feet tall and seemingly impervious to all of their weapons. Luckily for them, one of the researchers is a woman, who in her feminine wisdom says, ‘So…how do you kill a turnip…you cook it!’ Ah, men! What would they do without us!
6. The Blob: 1958
If you like Steve McQueen movies, this has got to be a favorite. It was one of his first movies. He plays a teenager on a date with his girl, when they see a meteor crash in the woods just outside of town. On the way to investigate, they encounter a man in distress with a ‘gooey thing’ covering his hand and arm. They put him in the car and take him to the local doctor for help.
Then, the doctor, his nurse and the old man disappear. Before long, other people start disappearing. The next thing they know, this goo-ball has grown into a giant wad of rolling Jell-O, that’s absorbing everyone in sight. After seeing this movie, I couldn’t sit in a dark theater without constantly looking up at the film room. Again, better than the remake!
5. The Fly: 1958
What can I say! It’s a tale of the ultimate infection! The movie tells the story of a scientist’s attempt to create a matter transporter, and an experiment that goes horribly awry. He tests the machine on himself, unaware that he is not alone in the chamber…until it’s too late.
After seeing the movie, we ran around our yards checking every spider web for flies with white heads. The movie stars Vincent Price and David Hedison. It spawned several sequels and remakes, which were surprisingly good.
4. Creature from the Black Lagoon: 1954
Way before Jaws hit the big screen, we were all scared out of the water by the ‘Creature’, a reptilian-looking, man-beast with the hots for a pretty woman (Julie Adams) he sees swimming in his domain, the Amazon River. It was love at first sight. He becomes a man-beast on a mission as he tries to capture his lady-love. There were two sequels, Revenge of the Creature and the Creature Walks Among Us…both equally creepy!
3. Godzilla: 1956
Still the best prehistoric, radiation-breathing, dinosaur monster movie ever made. First released as a 1954 Japanese film called Gojira, it was enhanced for its American release by adding footage starring Raymond Burr and an English soundtrack.
The Americans have been testing A-bombs in the South Pacific. Now there’s a giant, radioactive dinosaur rising from the sea and attacking Tokyo. What to do, what to do? After several attacks on the city, a scientist with a highly effective ‘bomb’ of his own saves the day. It inspired many sequels, including the updated 1998 remake. Loved it too!!
2. Day the Earth Stood Still: 1951
Still showing regularly on TV, this was the first ‘believable’ alien from outer space movie. Unlike its recent remake that’s heavy on special effects, the original’s a well-written sci-fi drama and focuses more on the storyline.
Klaatu, an alien ambassador on a goodwill mission of peace and his peacekeeper robot Gort, arrive on Earth during the early days of space exploration and atomic bomb testing. The extraterrestrial confederation he represents has outlawed violence and aggression among its member planets; and Earth falls within their region of authority. He brings us an offer, and a warning: End our warring, violent ways, join the alliance and live, or face annihilation by their enforcer robot force.
The 2008 remake is actually the sequel to this great movie. Obviously, we didn’t heed the warning!
And now, the best classic sci-fi movie of the 50’s…(drum roll, please)
1. War of the Worlds: 1953
In my opinion, it’s the grand-daddy of all sci-fi alien invasion movies! The inspiration for many, many movies and TV shows, it’s based on the H.G. Wells sci-fi classic.
It covers 3 days during which a worldwide Martian invasion nearly destroys mankind. The invaders come down in meteor-like ships and begin terra-forming Earth by ray-zapping humans, in order to take over the planet. We’re helpless to stop them and all seems lost until they all suddenly die from a mysterious infection caused by viruses we’re immune to.
It had excellent special effects for the technology of the time. My favorite scene is when the invaders send their roving-eye ‘camera’ into the basement of a house where two people; a scientist and a lovely lady (played by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson) have taken refuge. The scientist chops the head off of the camera, which prompts one of the aliens to enter the house to investigate. With their attention focused on what’s happening outside, they don’t notice him sneaking up behind them. He reaches out and grabs the girl by the shoulder…YIKES!
I loved the original, but I must admit, the 2005 remake is way scarier, and definitely holds its own!