Bizarre 1970s Sci-Fi Movies
Explore the unknown and unusual with these bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies.
Sci-fi seems to evolve with every passing year, thanks in part to our understanding of science, the development of our culture, and our special effects capabilities.
However, during the 1970s, something happened. I don't know what. All I know is that between the late 60s (Planet of the Apes, 2001 A Space Odyssey) and late 70s (Star Wars, Alien) sci-fi got weird.
Not just a little weird, either. Bizarre. Strange. Outlandish visuals and crazy concepts that ranged from silly to unsettling. The bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies available for your viewing pleasure are a little out there. Giant stone heads vomiting out rifles. World politics decided by sports. The dead coming back as ghosts. Computers making babies! I don't know what was in the water during the 1970s, but that decade saw the birth of a lot of bizarre sci-fi movies.
When you think science fiction movies, you'd be forgiven if sports don't overlap there. After all, sports movies aren't typically going to feature a space ship flying to the stars or alien invasions, right?
Well, leave it to the 1970s, with its bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies, to bring us a sci-fi film all about sports. Rollerball stars James Caan (The Godfather, Misery, Elf) as a star player in the popular sport Rollerball. He's pressured to retire by the company running the games... but starts to do some investigation. The sport becomes a violent mess, and it's up to Caan to figure out why they want him out so bad.
The film possesses many tropes and qualities of a typical dystopian movie. In theory, there is little that divides this sci-fi film from the likes of 1984 or Brave New World. But what makes this a bizarre movie is that the whole conflict hinges over a sport! The lengths the company goes to control our hero's life is absurd. The titular sport ends up devolving into a mess of carnage and violence. And no one ever steps in to stop it. And it doesn't even really make sense why, either. But unlike films like, say Death Race 2000, it really isn't a social satire. It's just... goofy.
The film has become a cult classic, and even received a remake. Stick with the original.
Shortly after Star Wars thrilled the screens, Disney tried to compete. Yes, Disney. Who now own LucasFilms, and, thus, Star Wars. They probably bought the rights in part because their 1970s sci-fi offering, The Black Hole, was too bizarre to compete with the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Disney took the formula employed in their old adventure films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and applied it to space. Scientists are on a deep space exploration, returning home, when they find a long-lost ship circling a black hole. Their investigation leads to the discovery of an evil scientist, a crazy robot, and lots of hijinks.
While the robots and machinery are by design silly, it's the science fiction movie's interpretation of what goes on inside a black hole that most people remember. The plot, with its robot armies and evil AI, is stock science fiction. Forbidden Planet and 2001 did all that far better in the 50s and 60s. But when the era came for bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies, the genre had started to grow stale. So, instead of going to the sea or inside a person's body, throw the characters into space.
Spoilers for a movie almost 40 years old: Hell is inside a black hole. Yes. Hell. Fire, brimstone, demons... the ending of this film is so bizarre in how abruptly it goes from light hearted, silly sci-fi affair to a depiction of Hell better suited for a heavy metal cover. For a generation of children, the end of this movie probably scared them for life!
Michael Crichton remains one of the most beloved authors of popular science fiction around. The man made Jurassic Park, one of the coolest films ever. He has a couple films that could count as bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies due to him being something of a greenhorn at the time. Combine Crichton's science with the directing talents of Robert Wise, the same man behind West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and The Haunting, and you get this bizarre sci-fi cult classic.
When a satellite crashes into a small town, it is found that everyone has died from a mysterious, alien virus from the stars. Scientists struggle to stop this ever-mutating disease before it eradicates all life on the planet.
When we think of alien invasions in sci-fi movies, what typically comes to mind are images of either little green men or monsters from the stars. By the time the 1970s rolled around, such images had become almost a cliche. The 50s had shoved aliens into everyone's faces. So the 1970s evolved the alien invasion genre. Some sci-fi films, like Ridley Scott's Alien, made the alien a truly bizarre, unusual creature. The alien in The Andromeda Strain? It's a viral strain. It isn't here to take over the planet or harvest the Earth. It is, like any virus, destructive by its very nature.
But, on top of that, it's slow paced. So slow that many audiences zoned out while watching it. It's heavy on science, but light on energy. Wise would later go on to make another science fiction film with a very similar problem: Star Trek The Motionless Picture – er, no, wait – The Motion Picture.
The late-David Bowie remains one of the most beloved entertainers of all time. People obviously know him for his decades-spanning musical career, but many forget that he also had a big career in film – particularly genre films like sci-fi and fantasy. Labyrinth, The Prestige, The Hunger, even The Last Temptation of Christ. But most peculiar of all is this 1970s bizarre science fiction film, The Man Who Fell to Earth.
In this British sci-fi film (based on the sci-fi novel of the same name by Walter Tevis), David Bowie plays an alien in search of water to return to his home planet, which is suffering a global drought. In order to save his planet, he starts a business, becoming incredibly wealthy by patenting alien tech. As he learns the experiences of Earth... things happen. His industry is sabotaged, he descends into alcoholism, and all while his home world slowly dries up.
While there are many bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies, this one is surreal in how it presents its truly bizarre, yet strangely mundane, plot. While many films feature aliens coming to Earth, rarely are they presented in such a human, relatable manner as this, and especially rare is it that things unfold so... logically. Need water? Get water. Not by stealing it, but by running a business. No harm, no foul, right?
It's this mundane nature that makes the film so bizarre. Add to it David Bowie's role as the alien, and you're left at once weirded out and profoundly moved.
But the most bizarre part about this science fiction film? David Bowie stars... but doesn't do any of the music! Weird, right?
"The gun is good! The penis is evil!"
Thus begins John Boorman's drug-induced nightmare. Zardoz is not a sane film. It was not made by sane people. No one, not John Boorman or star Sean Connery (fresh off his James Bond days) knew what the hell was going on. Things happen that make no logical sense, even by 1970s science fiction standards. The movie is not well.
And I think I might love it.
The film stars Sean Connery as something of a savage with the most horrendous fashion sense in any film ever. He ends up stranded in a utopian society where people don't die or breed or... enjoy things. But Connery is a viral mass murderer, rapist guy... but he's also the hero of the story? And there's a giant floating stone head that pukes out guns and is worshipped as a God.
Look, the movie was made on drugs. Do you expect it to make sense?
Zardoz is a mad film made by mad people. In no way does any of the science make sense, nor do any of the characters behave in ways that follow any order of logic. The visuals that confront you are too bewildering to comprehend. It is, in short, insanity.
Of all the bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies on this list, this may be the strangest one.
Silent Running did something remarkable. Before, science fiction films had robots. Androids. Machines. Very often, they resembled the humanoid things from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, up until the release of the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. The film's robot, Robby the Robot, was a large, broad device that was fairly innocent.
But Silent Running gave us three little droids that helped manage gardening plants. Small droids. All sweet, adorable little things named after Donald Duck's nephews. We never saw robots like that in the movies before.
And, yes. This film did directly inspire George Lucas to create everyone's favorite droid, R2-D2.
So there's a Star Wars connection. There always is with sci-fi, especially in the decade leading up to the debut of Star Wars. But what is Silent Running about?
The movie is a story of a devastated Earth. Plant life is gone. This isn't too out of place in the catalogue of bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies. Much like The Man Who Fell to Earth, our hero is a man on a mission: restore vitality to his home world. In this case, he has a whole garden on his space ship: humanity's final hope of salvation. But because humanity always works against their interests, the ships holding biospheres are repurposed for transportation of goods, and the greenhouses are being destroyed. It's up to a lone hero to save the plants.
So yes. This 1970s sci-fi film movie is Ferngully in space... decades before James Cameron made a billion dollars with a similar idea.
Dean Koontz is known for being one of the great horror writers of the 70s, 80s, and 90s... but he isn't known for his science fiction writing. Maybe that's why this science horror film based on one of Koontz's novels turned out to be one of the many bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies.
The plot of the film is simple: an evil computer makes a woman pregnant.
You're probably asking yourself many questions at this point. Such as "Why?" or "How?" Turns out the computer is a super intelligent creature who, upon becoming self-aware, wishes to reproduce itself inside its creator's womb.
Before you laugh it off entirely as some crazy 1970s sci-fi movie, just remember that, years later, the critically acclaimed Ghost in the Shell would culminate its plot with an AI program making digital babies with a human being.
The only difference is that Ghost in the Shell is a magnificent film. This film... isn't. Great sci-fi typically has something to say about the human condition. This one is Rosemary's Baby without any of the things that made Rosemary's Baby scary.
Based on the 1956 novel of the same name by John Christopher, this film, one of many bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies, takes a very real possibility – global famine – and tries to play it up in as realistic of a scenario as possible.
But the film is also clearly out of its mind.
London is left a wasteland following a massive famine. A family tries to go north to find a place to live.
At this point, you're probably wondering how this film is a bizarre science fiction film. Lots of movies take natural disasters and examine what would happen should the worst happen. Giant waves. Giant tornados. Giant famine. So what's so strange about this film?
How about footage of dead animals? And some graphic rape thrown in for good measure? What about live child birth?
Should I keep going?
The difference between this apocalyptic science fiction film and another one (say, The Road? Children of Men?) is that those films understood that the concept of their story alone was disturbing. They didn't need anything else than the sliver of the world you saw through the characters' eyes.
But, clearly, the director of No Blade of Grass did not think the concept was enough for this sci-fi film, and so just threw dark imagery onto the screen to scare people. All it does is disorient you and desensitize you. I guarantee you that you'll be bored of dead dogs before long.
George Lucas hit it big with Star Wars, but even before that he had met critical acclaim thanks to his success with American Graffiti. But fans should have seen that Lucas would always come back to the realm of science fiction with his bizarre movie from the early 1970s: THX 1138.
Donald Pleasance (you know, Dr. Loomis from Halloween) and Robert Duvall star in this dystopian science fiction film about a world where sex, family, and any form of self-expression is outlawed. People are not given names, but numbers. Drugs suppress emotional responses. And in this "Brave, New World," THX (Robert Duvall) is, for the first time, is forced to live life.
This idea is nothing unique. It is 1984 meets Brave New World. The difference ultimately is the coldness of the narrative. It is a cynical, dark movie without joy or happiness. It's sterile. And it's this lack of warmth that, upon release, really warded off audiences. Now, people are beginning to appreciate this film as a masterpiece of cinema, but for its day? Even in the collection of bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies, this movie was too bizarre.
Richard Matheson's science fiction horror novel, I Am Legend, has been adapted three times to screen. The first time was in the 1960s as the film The Last Man on Earth staring Vincent Price. The movie, like the book, featured a scientist who stood alone on earth as the human population submitted to a terrible virus that turned them into vampiric creatures. He learns toward the story's end that he is the last man on Earth, and the new society of vampires now fear him as the boogie man. As the monster in the closet. In both the movie and book, our hero recites the title... and dies.
But Charlton Heston said "Screw that! Let's just blow the f***ing zombies up!"
Yeah. They're zombies now. Or maybe vampires. Or... mutants? I guess? Point is that, by the time the story starts, a new society has rebuilt itself. and it's bad because... it's just evil, okay? And, for whatever reason, the new civilization doesn't take too kindly to Heston killing all of their people, so they try to hunt him down... and he hunts them down, only harder.
The story takes the basic idea of the novel, and just turns it into an epic action thriller. And that's awful. It takes a quiet, claustrophobic narrative... and ruins it. Say what you will about the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. If the studio didn't force them to change the ending, it would have been just as nuanced and tragic as both the original novel and the first adaptation.
The Omega Man takes a great sci-fi horror novel, and turns it into a dumb action film. One of the many bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies.
But it also features one of the first interracial kisses on screen, so... progress.
"YOU GOTTA TELL 'EM! TELL 'EM!"
Okay, so Charlton Heston appears again. I figure after the sci-fi masterpiece Planet of the Apes that, for awhile, he became the face of science fiction movies in the early 70s. While The Omega Man might have failed to adapt the book, it did prove to be a highly influential film.
But it isn't as quotable as Soylent Green, nor does it have that Planet of the Apes-esque twist ending.
In the future, food supplies are running low. A new food product, Soylent Green, is the most popular snack to have. Without it, the world would run out of food (These bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies sure were concerned with environmental damage, weren't they?). Heston is investigating a murder... and this investigation keeps leading to the way Soylent Green is made. What is the secret? What is Soylent Green?
The bizarre final scene to this otherwise mundane sci-fi movie is so famous that many people who have never seen the film know it, much like how Planet of the Apes's ending is super spoiled by now. So, in case you haven't heard, let me inform you...
"SOYLENT GREEN IS PEEEEOOOPLLLLEEE!!!!!"
John Carpenter is kind of the man, isn't he? The guy has made some of the best sci-fi and hororr films of all time. Halloween. The Thing. Big Trouble in Little China. Escape from New York. But before all that, he had his first film: a bizarre, little science fiction movie called Dark Star.
This film features a dirty, deteriorating space ship floating around space. Everyone on board is slowly losing their minds, there's a beach-ball alien floating around, and everything keeps breaking. The film essentially depicts their struggle to survive – no, wait – it features their apathy toward their situation until things go too far and things fall apart. Or they go nuts. One of the two.
Carpenter has made it clear that this film is in part a reaction to the sterile, clean sci-fi of yesteryear. 2001 was too orderly. Star Trek – tech worked fine. Everyone in a science fiction film was a scientist. What about the truckers in space who just kicked the car until it worked fine?
At the time, this was too bizarre and strange for audiences used to science fiction being about science, not normal people who could care less about neutrons and tachyon particles. It really wasn't until the success of Carpenter's later films that anyone watched Dark Star. Today, it's one of many bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies to become a cult classic.
It was stuff like this that helped inspire Ridley Scott when assembling the truckers in space that made up the crew of the Nostromo. You know, the crew who brought a xenomorph into their ship in Alien.
Most of the science fiction films on this list are strange films from the 1970s that might not have been appreciated in their day – or, alternatively, were too bizarre to find mainstream success or critical acclaim. Solaris, on the other hand, is regarded by some critics as one of the all time greatest movies of all time. But this isn't a list of the greatest 1970s movies. It's for the bizarre 1970s sci-fi movies. So why is this here?
It's three hours! THREE – FREAKING – HOURS!!!!
And, trust me, it feels like twelve.
Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, this Russian science fiction film features a crew who finds an abandoned space station, and, upon it, experience unusual hallucinations that force the crew to confront their past and examine who they are as people.
Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film is less interested in things happening, and is more compelled to create an atmosphere that moves and affects you. It's a spiritual experience more than an intellectual one. Only problem is it's also ungodly slow-paced. Sure, 2001 was slow, but stuff happened. Shots last for minutes on end, unbroken, without anything happening, just to invoke a sense of emotion.
Yes, the film is a technical masterpiece of cinematic story telling... but that doesn't make it any less bizarre, nor any easier for a casual audience to watch and enjoy.
Though this was later remade years later. The remake is far shorter, and, in my opinion, easier to watch casually.
Quite possibly the most famous of all bizarre 1970s science fiction movies, Logan's Run is a bizarre dystopian film featuring Basil from the Austin Powers movies, the color white, and jumpsuits. Lots and lots of jumpsuits.
Based on the science fiction novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run presents a world where all people live in subterranean cities where, at the age of 30, they are to be "reborn" (read: vaporized). Those who object are what are called "Runners" who... run away.
Logan is a "Sandman," or someone whose job it is to hunt down Runners to kill them. He hears about a secret paradise that Runners escape to, and is sent out to find the city, and kill all the Runners inside. From there, it becomes a sci-fi road trip movie with elaborate, crazy sights.
There's a reason people don't watch this movie often anymore. It's really goofy and corny. Its style is dated, its concept is ludicrous, and the effects are bad. But there's a charm to this sort of dystopian film. The creators clearly thought they were making something gritty and realistic. Despite the fact that it... isn't. Most science fiction requires some degree of science to be realistic – be it natural science or social science. In this case... nope. People behave weird. We have no idea really why humanity has come to this state. It's... weird.
It's one of many bizarre 1970s science fiction movies. What were you expecting? Sanity?