Classic Sci-Fi Movies of the 1950s

The best 1950s science fiction movies

The 1950s is considered the golden era of science fiction. This period was kicked off by author Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and magazines such as Galaxy that featured the works of the “Big Three” in the science fiction world — Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein.

You may say that science fiction (together with fantasy) was still in its infancy as a film genre during the 1950s. While some are noted for being awful or ludicrous, others are brilliant in their own way. Here is our list of, in our opinion, are the best science fiction films to ever come out of the 1950s (in no particular order):

1. Destination Moon (1950)

This is considered one of the earliest sci-fi films to bravely attempting a higher degree of technical accuracy. It was directed by Irving Pichel and produced by George Pal. It tells about the maiden voyage to the moon, along with the inherent risks that go along with it, as well as the difficulties of safe landing to Earth. This film came out in 1950, 19 years before the real-life and historic landing on the moon happened.

2. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)


This B&W science fiction film was directed by Robert Wise, who would go on to direct eventual Oscar Best Pictures The West Side Story and The Sound of Music. The film was based on a short story by Harry Bates titled “Farewell to the Master.” An extraterrestrial in the form of a human being named Rennie comes to earth in peace but with a grave message to deliver. Another notable character in the movie is the large, literally speechless robot named Gort, whose deadly laserlike vision can melt weapons, tanks, and obstacles. However, Gort responds to the command, “Klaatu barada nikto,” which has become a classic movie line. A remake with the same title was released in 2008, which became a blockbuster at the box office.

3. Invaders from Mars (1953)

A sci-fi film directed by William Cameron Menzies and produced by Edward L. Alperson Jr. Being a film produced with a low budget, Menzies made the most out of it by making a unique production to achieve its dreamlike, surrealist effect, from the set designs down to the music score. And that is quite impressive. It tells of a story from a little boy’s point of view, about a flying saucer descending into the field during an evening thunderstorm, and the strange events that followed around town. Interestingly, the actor who played the little boy, Jimmy Hunt, also appeared in the 1986 remake. This time Hunt played the role of a police chief.

4. It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Based on Ray Bradbury’s original short story The Meteor, this B&W film was directed by Jack Arnold. It tells about a spaceship that crashes in the Arizona desert. While the rest of the local townsfolk begin to act strange, an amateur stargazer and a teacher are sane enough to suspect an alien influence coming into their town.

5. The War of the Worlds (1953)

The classic alien invasion novel by H.G. Wells translated itself first into a 1938 radio adaptation famously orated by Orson G. Welles, and then into the big screen for the first time in 1953. This loose cinematic adaptation (in color) was directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal. Although the effects are relatively primeval compared to those of today’s sci-fi movies, they are otherwise cleverly designed to wreak real havoc in many scenes. The movie also junks the original novel’s anti-imperialist connotations, replacing instead with an ill-advised nonsensical inclusion about divine providence which would have, no doubt, infuriated the staunchly secularist Wells. But the film more than just compensates this flaw with cool designs and special effects.


6. Them! (1954)

If ordinarily sized ants bother you in no end, it’s no doubt that you’ll be horrified at the giant mutated ants coming near at you. Them! was a black and white film directed by Gordon Douglas. It was among the first of the giant monster and “big bug” films that would be burgeoning throughout the decade, and still one of the best. It tells about giant ants (who became abnormally huge through irradiation) discovered in a New Mexico desert, and responsible for the mysterious deaths around town. A policeman and a pair of entomologists attempt to put a stop to this threat.

7. This Island Earth (1955)

Some of the sci-fi films have always been remembered for its special effects scenes rather than its weak plot. This time, it involves a scientist couple who is brought to the world of aliens, who seek the couple’s help in defending the aliens’ own planet against their enemies. Although this isn’t a seriously great sci-fi film, it otherwise surely is fun to watch.

8. Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet

One of the classic sci-fi films that were inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Library, Forbidden Planet was one of the lavishly produced and ambitious sci-fi movies during its time. It involves a starship crew who goes to investigate a deserted planet, only to find out that a doctor, his daughter, and their robot butler the remaining survivors there. One of the survivors keeps a deadly secret which will be unveiled during the course of the film.



9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is regarded as one of the finest movies to come out of that decade, regardless of genre. A small-town physician discovers that the population is being taken over by alien duplicates who physically resemble humans, and have human-like memories. However, they are otherwise devoid of human emotion. Gradually, the doctor discovers that this is a sign of an alien invasion and attempts to stop this threat.


10. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)


Richard Matheson’s novel The Shrinking Man gets a good B&W celluloid adaptation directed by Jack Arnold — little wonder, as Matheson also wrote the screenplay. The Incredible Shrinking Man is perhaps one of the more poignant 1950s sci-fi films to watch. The plot involves a businessman Scott Carey who is starting to shrink due to the combination of radiation and insecticide. When medical science is powerless to help him get back into normal size, Carey accepts his fate and is resigned to the newer adventure that awaits him.

The film also inspired the 1981 science-fiction comedy takeoff The Incredible Shrinking Woman starring Lily Tomlin.


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