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Classic 1950s Sci-Fi Movies

Tired of the latest releases? Watch some gems from the golden age of science fiction with classic 1950s sci-fi movies.

By Lindsie PolhemusPublished 6 years ago 7 min read

Classic 1950s sci-fi movies might not have the bells and whistles of modern CGI, but what they do have is a whole lot more charm and a great deal of style! Whether you’re settling in for a late night movie marathon or trying to find something that’s just right for a lazy Sunday afternoon, whether it’s a suspenseful horror flick or an inspiring tale of space exploration, take your pick from this round up and treat yourself to one of the original greats of the genre.

And be warned, despite the lack of computer generated baddies, you should still expect more than a couple of these classic 1950 sci-fi movies to chill you to your core.

In the context of both McCarthyism and fears of communism, it wasn’t difficult for a film about ghoulish brainwashing and human bodies without soul to grip viewers on both ends of the political spectrum—making Invasion of the Body Snatchers a classic that has endured throughout the ages.

However, you don’t need to be thinking about political metaphors to enjoy this flick; The thick suspense and mounting paranoia draw you in all by themselves, and more than justify the impressive 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes that it still holds to this day.

Looking for something a little more sinister? How about The Fly—the original inspiration for David Cronenberg’s well-known 1986 remake? A creepy sci-fi/horror hybrid, this film dares to ask what happens when man merges with beast… and although your stomach might turn at the thought of it, you’re not going to be able to look away.

Despite a low budget, the film uses some impressive sets and costumes to bring its tale to life, and modern audiences will still feel the chill that ran down the spines of original viewers back in 1958.

A flying saucer, an alien being and a meeting with the president: these are the classic sci-fi images which fuel this story about an intergalactic spaceman on a mission to save the Earth. And, while it’s not exactly faithful to the source material—a short story by Harry Bates—it certainly stands alone as an exceptional early movie of the genre.

Recognized by the National Film Registry as a significant piece of American culture, it’s great to see that this movie is still respected as a one of the great classic 1950s sci-fi movies so many years after its release.

Another book adaptation, and this time filmmakers turned to one of the all-time greats of science fiction writing: H.G . Wells. The sci-fi smash hit of the year, this film won over audiences by moving the setting from Victorian era London to a contemporary California, allowing the movie to comment on the dangers of the cold war.

With excellent special effects creating Martian "war machines" that still look impressive today, this film is considered a great influence on the development of the genre—including later adaptations of the same story—and is a must-see for anybody interested in the development of science fiction filmmaking.

In this well-loved horror film, monsters take center stage as huge ants terrorize a nearby town. The success of this movie kick-started a trend for cinematic creatures morphed into terrifying shapes by nuclear waste and fallout—and audiences are still flocking to see modern day monster movies.

Don’t expect the over the top parody of contemporary movies like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, though; With a menacing tone, this story takes it premise far more seriously—and is all the better for it.

Almost two decades before humans would first make a safe landing on the moon, we were already dreaming of the triumphs and perils that a lunar mission would bring. Described by critics as "solemn" and "intriguing," director Irving Pichel’s choice to focus on the dark side of space travel as well as the American heroism it would bring, elevated this picture above many of its peers.

Most impressive of all were the stunning special effects, which have seen the film labelled as a "true precursor to Star Wars," and give it its place among the other classic films of the decade.

We’ve already seen how H.G. Wells’ writing was turned into big screen success, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth was the chance for another quintessential sci-fi author to see the big screen: Jules Verne. Far less serious than some of the other movies on the list, it takes us on adventure into the Earth’s core, full of danger and dinosaur-like creatures.

Released in mid-December, 1959, this was one of the last classic sci-fi movies of the decade, and the spectacle of its big screen adventure certainly saw the decade out in style.

Apparently Arthur C. Clarke’s favorite 50s sci-fi flick. That accolade alone speaks volumes for how well-respected Forbidden Planet is among science fiction lovers. The film sees astronauts on a Star Trek-like voyage through the vacuum of space… in-fact, original Start Trek creator Gene Roddenberry cites it as inspiration for his timeless work.

No surprise, then, that it is one of the more cerebral film in our round-up, with an interesting plot that draws on The Tempest and probes philosophical questions as well as more conventional space travel elements.

What did the great science fiction heroes of the 50s do when faced with the impending destruction of Earth? Well, it’s all hands on deck to build a Space Ark that will take them to safe-haven on Zyra—a compelling plot which marks the first of a trend that’s heavily relied on to this day: the idea of human scientists fighting against impending global doom.

Created by the same director that worked on Destination Moon, this was another exercise in wonderful special effects and creative storytelling.

Based on the same story which would later become the inspiration for John Carpenter’s renowned 1982 movie The Thing, this alien classic was also known simply as The Thing when it was first released. It went on to become the biggest science fiction movie of 1951, beating When Worlds Collide and The Day the Earth Stood Still—both of which have also made it onto this list!

If you know and love John Carpenter’s version then you have to see the original adaptation which has a similarly eerie and suspenseful tone, and hear its chilling message to “Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies."

Something a little bit different to finish off our list, this is the original 1954 Japanese sci-fi monster smash which spawned a huge franchise and, arguably, a whole genre of enormous monster movies. A mutation of an ancient sea creature triggered by nuclear power, Godzilla certainly deserves his reputation as a creature of science fiction rather than fantasy, and anybody who has seen his later incarnations needs to take the time to see the original classic, which holds an impressive 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While American cinema-goers got to see a heavily edited version in 1956, you can now take your pick, and we recommending choosing the Japanese version, which shows Godzilla the way he was meant to be seen—in all his horrifying glory.

These movies really are some of the all-time greats of the genre, becoming not only classic 1950s sci-fi movies, but all-time greats that continue to hold an excellent reputation to this day. From aliens and other unknown beings to adventures across the galaxy, watching these films today gives us a chance to see science fiction through the eyes of a generation who were just beginning to take the first steps towards some of our real space triumphs.

They also give us some of the earliest adaptations of stories that are still being turned into films to this day, and it’s always interesting to see another take on a story that you already know and love. With political messages that remind us of the fearful suspense that hung over the decade, as well as ground-breaking special effects for the time, they also provide a little piece of cinematic history.

So, whether you’re a film buff interested in the early days of a huge genre, a casual watcher looking for something a little bit different to add to your watch list or a sci-fi aficionado who simply has to see them all, we hope that this list of classic 1950s sci-fi movies gives you some inspiration for your next viewing.

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About the Creator

Lindsie Polhemus

Lover of dogs, wine, and buffalo chicken. Laughing through this thing called life.

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