"Michael Rennie was ill/ the day the Earth stood still/ but he told us/ where we stand./ And Flash Gordon was there/ in silver underwear./ Claude Rains was the invisible man./ Then something went wrong/ for Fay Wray and King Kong./ They got caught in a celluloid gem." – Lips, Rocky Horror Picture Show
A lot of people may think that Star Wars invented the big, sci-fi, special effects laden, event movie. It made a huge impact when it came along because the science fiction films that had come before it for at least a decade were all ones that were kind of depressing. There were movies about man having destroyed civilization (A Boy and his Dog), destroyed the environment (Silent Running), and a triple-play from Charlton Heston – Soylent Green about severe overcrowding and lack of food, The Omega Man about the end of the human race due to biological warfare, and The Planet of the Apes about man becoming a secondary species. There were also four Apes sequels that eliminated what little hope was given at the end of the first one. This doesn’t mean that all of these movies are bad; far from it. It just means that moviegoers were ready for a big, fun, sci-fi movie at about the time Star Wars came along.
First, explanations on a couple of terms I am going to use. There are two kinds of science fiction movies – “sci-fi” and “SF.” “Sci-fi” movies are the somewhat dumbed down ones whose only ambition is to sell tickets – lots of them. These make up most of the science fiction movies that get released, from all the superhero movies, to all the space battle movies, to all the creepy/cute alien movies. These have the biggest “wow” factors.
“SF” movies, on the other hand, are actually about something. The best science fiction books and movies make you look at things in ways that you never have before. They stimulate thought and maybe even discussion after you are done with them. A recent example is the movie The Man from Earth. These kinds of movies do not get released as often because they usually do not sell as many tickets. Also, let’s face it - a majority of moviegoers today don’t want to have to actually pay attention to a movie that makes them think. They want one that they can still follow even though they are talking over it, texting, etc. They just want to be entertained.
Both sci-fi and SF movies are entertaining to me. Depending on what mood I am in, either one can provide a couple hours of enjoyment. Are these two categories mutually exclusive? Almost. On very rare occasions a movie gets released that is both sci-fi and SF. The Matrix is an example of this.
There are so many good science fiction movies that came out before Star Wars that I will probably revisit this category at a later date. I am also going to have an After Star Wars category to recommend movies like the aforementioned The Man from Earth.
In this set I am going to cover A Trip to the Moon (1902) - sci-fi, Metropolis (1927) - SF, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - SF, and Forbidden Planet (1956) - SF and sci-fi.
On to the reviews…