The Best 1950s Sci-Fi Movies Every Filmmaker Should Know

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Featured image: I took a photo of the original 1950s Godzilla model at a sci-fi exhibition called Into the Unknown in Odense, Denmark, in 2018 and added a background.

While modern sci-fi cinema has many great films worth watching, sometimes it’s better to return to the old classics from the golden age of science-fiction films.

From the 50s came some of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, including the original The ThingInvasion of the Body Snatchers, and Godzilla.

Now, let’s look at the greatest sci-fi movies from the 1950s that every filmmaker who loves practical effects should know.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

First up on this list is The Creature from the Black Lagoon, one of the best sci-fi movies ever, directed by Jack Arnold. 

It tells the story of a group of explorers searching for a mythical creature in the depths of the Amazonian Jungle. Their journey becomes perilous as internal conflicts and the dangers of the jungle threaten their survival. 

Amidst this chaos, the beast, known as the Gill-Man, becomes infatuated with the female protagonist, Julie Adams, and kidnaps her, leading to a tense and dramatic confrontation.

Why you should watch it

As a monster movie, it still holds up pretty strong even by modern standards and is one of the classic creature features that will be remembered fondly for many more years to come.

So, if you want to watch some explorers try to save one of their party members from a lizard man in the middle of the Amazon, this is the movie for you.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

The Quatermass Xperiment follows Professor Bernard Quatermass, played by Brian Donlevy, who oversees a space program that launches the first manned flight into space. 

When the rocket returns to Earth, two of the three astronauts are missing, and the third, Victor Carroon, is behaving strangely and is very ill.

It soon becomes apparent that Carroon has been infected by an alien organism that absorbed the other astronauts, and as it grows, it threatens to unleash a disaster upon London.

Why you should watch it

The Quatermass Xperiment was notable for its departure from the typical Hammer fare of the time, bringing a more serious and science-based approach to its horror storytelling.

The film’s success led to two sequels, “Quatermass 2” (1957) and “Quatermass and the Pit” (1967), and cemented the Quatermass character as a significant figure in British science fiction.

The ‘X’ in the title The Quatermass Xperiment was a marketing strategy to emphasize the film’s adult content, playing on the British film certification rating of “X,” which indicated that the film was suitable only for audiences aged 16 and over.

This novel approach at the time contributed to the film’s intrigue and box-office success.

The Thing From Another World (1951)

While many people are more familiar with The Thing by John Carpenter in 1982, a classic sci-fi film tells a similar story of an alien visitor who wants to murder humanity back in 1951: The Thing From Another World

In this movie, a group of scientists is staying at the North Pole, where they find a flying saucer frozen in ice for thousands of years at the very least. Inside the UFO is the frozen body of an alien who the team assumes is dead because, after all, what could survive for thousands of years surrounded by hundreds of feet of snow and ice?

Unfortunately for the scientists, the alien is alive and quite unhappy when it finally unthaws from the ice, keeping it captive. A night of pure terror ensues as the scientists desperately try to survive against a force they have never encountered before, only for most of them to lose their lives.

Why you should watch it

While not nearly as great as the 1982 The Thing, it is still worth a watch if you are a fan of alien horror in the unforgiving cold of the North Pole.

Plus, for 1951, it has some pretty good effects, relying on practical effects much like the 1982 The Thing did, giving it that real, visceral feeling.

Bonus: Thingu

Did you know that stop-motion artist Lee Hardcastle has made a claymation version of the plot? It’s called Pingu’s THE THING (aka. Thingu), and you can watch it below.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

If you prefer your sci-fi genre to have more pod people type movies, I have a good sci-fi movie for you. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a film that has had a grip on pop culture since it came out in 1956, being referenced in movies and TV shows of all genres. 

This movie takes place after World War II during the Cold War when the Red Scare, started by Kevin McCarthy, was going on, and few people trusted each other. Invasion of the Body Snatchers puts that fear into a neat little movie with an important message that still rings true today. 

In this movie, an alien invasion is underway, unbeknownst to the people living in the small town, the space aliens chose for their landing location. After landing, the aliens begin to replace the citizens, paranoia, and fear amongst the main characters continue to rise. 

Why you should watch it

This is one of the greatest science fiction films of the 1950s, though the 1978 remake is better. Still, that is no surprise, as the 70s and 80s were the golden age of science fiction films. So what are you waiting for? Venture into the world of science-fiction movies that will leave you questioning if those around you are actually who you think they are.

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Next up is a movie where worlds collide, a.k .a. The War of the Worlds is based on the famous book by H.G. Wells, one of the greatest sci-fi writers ever. 

If you have read the book before, you know just how messed up a story it truly is, and the 1953 adaptation does a fairly good job of bringing the story to life.

However, like many first films from this era, the future remakes are much better, but this is a pretty solid choice for classic films. 

The general story of the movie is an invasion by the Martians, who wield death rays and harvest humans to suck their blood through these massive metal creations that walk around on stilt-like legs. 

Why you should watch it

The War of the Worlds has a solid cast and some good writing that brings you into the world and keeps you engaged, wondering whether or not the main characters will make it out of this horrific predicament alive.

It is a terrifying concept, and even though the effects in this film are pretty terrible considering the time period it was created, the movie is pretty well done.

However, if you want the best adaptation of The War of the Worlds, the 2005 film with an ensemble cast is a must-watch.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet is another classic and favorite of mine, not at least because it features a young Leslie Nielsen in one of his first screen roles (as Commander John Adams) before he became known for his comedic performances.

Forbidden Planet is set in the 23rd century about a starship crew sent to investigate the fate of a colony on Altair IV, where they encounter survivor Dr. Morbius, his daughter, and the dangers of a powerful, invisible force linked to the extinct Krell civilization’s technology, which threatens their mission and lives.

Why you should watch it

Forbidden Planet is a significant milestone in cinematic history. It has inspired many subsequent science fiction stories and films and continues to do so today.

The movie touches upon themes of the power of the subconscious, the dangers of unrestrained technological advancement, and the remnants of a long-lost civilization.

It is an ambitious screenplay and a great example of storytelling. The visual effects are likewise ahead of their time.

The film is notable for being one of the first science fiction films to depict humans traveling in a starship of their creation rather than relying on alien technology or being set on Earth. 

It’s also renowned for its groundbreaking special effects, its use of an entirely electronic musical score by Bebe and Louis Barron, and for introducing the iconic Robby the Robot character, who would appear in later films and television series.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

The Incredible Shrinking Man stars Grant Williams as Scott Carey, a man who begins to shrink after being exposed to a mysterious mist while on a boating trip with his wife, Louise, played by Randy Stuart.

The plot centers around Scott’s struggle to come to terms with his ever-decreasing size and the challenges he faces as he becomes smaller and smaller. 

As he shrinks, everyday objects and creatures become increasingly dangerous to him, including household pets and spiders.

The film concludes with a poignant monologue where Scott, now smaller than an atom, contemplates his place in the vastness of the universe, suggesting that no matter how small he becomes, he will still matter in the grand scheme of things.

Why you should watch it

The Incredible Shrinking Man is praised for its philosophical undertones and how it addresses issues of identity, masculinity, and the human spirit’s resilience in the face of unfathomable circumstances.

It has since become a classic in the science fiction genre and is recognized for its innovative storytelling and special effects work. 

The film’s legacy continues to influence the sci-fi genre, and it is often cited as an inspiration for subsequent works that explore similar themes of size change and the human condition.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still is based on the 1940 short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates. 

An alien named Klaatu arrives in Washington, D.C., with his robot Gort to deliver a message to humanity.

After being wounded and detained, he escapes under a human alias to understand people better. Klaatu befriends Helen and her son while trying to convey his warning of peace or destruction. 

Despite being pursued by the government, he speaks to scientists about Earth’s need to live peacefully with the interplanetary community or face destruction.

Gort’s power is shown, and Klaatu leaves Earth after issuing his final warning.

Why you should watch it

The Day the Earth Stood Still was well-received and has since become a landmark in science fiction cinema, notable for its less sensational and more cerebral approach to the genre at the time.

Its themes of Cold War-era tensions, the potential for global destruction, and the plea for peaceful coexistence remain relevant. The iconic line from the film “Klaatu barada Nikto” has become famous in pop culture.

The film was remade in 2008 with Keanu Reeves in the role of Klaatu. However, the original 1951 version remains a classic and is often cited for its influential role in the genre and commentary on the human condition and the responsibilities of power.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

Attack of the Crab Monsters revolves around scientists and Navy personnel arriving on a remote Pacific island for a research mission.

Their purpose is to investigate the aftermath of atomic tests that were conducted on the island. The group soon discovers that the radiation has caused the local crab population to mutate into enormous, intelligent, and dangerous creatures.

As the monstrous crabs begin to attack the team and threaten their survival, the humans must find a way to escape the island or face certain death.

The crabs possess great strength and size and have the unsettling ability to absorb the intellect of their human victims, making them even more formidable opponents.

Why you should watch it

The film is known for its low-budget special effects, campy dialogue, and creative use of limited resources, all characteristic of Corman’s filmmaking style. 

Despite its modest production values, “Attack of the Crab Monsters” has earned a cult following and is considered a classic example of 1950s science fiction cinema. It reflects the era’s fascination with giant monsters and the unintended consequences of nuclear experimentation.

Godzilla (1954)

In the first movie, Godzilla goes on a rampage in Tokyo, destroying large swathes of the city, representing the destruction that America had wrought on Japan only years earlier with the atomic bomb.

It is a reminder of the horrors that the atomic age gave the world because everything that can be used for good can also be used to murder thousands and destroy billions of dollars of property. 

Why you should watch it

No giant man-eating monsters are better known than Godzilla. The creature was made through radiation and bad scientific practices. Godzilla has spawned a massive franchise that, even in 2023, is still going strong because who doesn’t love watching a huge lizard put the entire planet at risk? 

Plus, the franchise has grown past Godzilla by introducing multiple other giant monsters that he often has to battle against because there can only be one oversized creature on Earth, and Godzilla is that one. 

Destination Moon (1950)

Destination Moon is a 1950 American Technicolor science fiction film by George Pal, who later produced “The War of the Worlds.”

It is loosely based on the 1950 novel “Rocket Ship Galileo” by Robert A. Heinlein, who contributed to the script and served as a technical adviser on the film.

The plot revolves around the first manned expedition to the Moon, focusing on the crew’s challenges as they journey to the Moon and attempt to return safely to Earth.

Why you should watch it

Destination Moon is notable for its groundbreaking work in special effects and attempts to present a technically realistic scenario of space travel. It is one of the first science fiction films of its era to try a high scientific accuracy. 

The movie won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and is considered a classic of the science fiction genre. 

It was a major influence on later space-themed movies and was part of the wave of science fiction media popular during the 1950s, following World War II’s end and the Space Race’s beginning.

The Man from Planet X (1951)

The Man from Planet X tells the story of an alien from a mysterious distant planet who lands on Earth. Set in the Scottish moors, the story unfolds as a scientist, his daughter, and a reporter investigate the alien and its intentions.

The alien, who comes from a planet identified as “Planet X,” is on a mission to seek help as his home planet faces imminent destruction. 

The creature is humanoid with a large, bulbous head and communicates through musical tones. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the alien’s presence on Earth is not only a scientific curiosity but also a potential threat, leading to dramatic confrontations and moral dilemmas.

Why you should watch it

Despite its low budget and limited special effects at the time, The Man from Planet X has achieved a certain cult status among fans of classic science fiction and 1950s B movies. Its atmospheric setting and the iconic design of the alien have made it a memorable entry in the genre.

Rocketship X-M (1950)

Rocketship X-M is one of the early space adventure movies produced at the dawn of the space age before actual human spaceflight was achieved.

The story centers on a group of astronauts on a mission to the Moon. However, due to a malfunction, they head towards Mars instead. Upon landing on the Red Planet, they encounter the ruins of a Martian civilization and learn that the Martians destroyed themselves through nuclear war.

The film stars Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery, Jr., Hugh O’Brian, and Morris Ankrum. It was made when the genre of space exploration movies was gaining popularity, partly due to the public’s growing interest in space travel and the competition in space technology between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Why you should watch it

Rocketship X-M is notable for its attempt to address serious themes, such as the potential consequences of atomic warfare and the responsibilities of scientific discovery. 

Despite its low budget and the limitations of special effects technology at the time, the film influenced the genre and paved the way for future space exploration movies. It has since become a classic example of early American science-fiction cinema.

Robot Monster (1953)

Robot Monster follows a character known as the Ro-Man Extension XJ-2, an alien robot from the planet Ro-Man. 

He has been sent to Earth to destroy humanity with a death ray as part of a plan to conquer the planet. The Ro-Man, which is essentially a man in a gorilla suit wearing a space helmet, has managed to eliminate all but a small group of the last surviving humans.

The survivors, a family, and a few others have become immune to the Ro-Man’s death ray due to a serum developed by the father, a scientist. Throughout the film, the Ro-Man communicates with his leader, the Great Guidance, as he attempts to complete his extermination mission.

Why you should watch it

It’s probably one of the worst films of all time and has often been cited as one of the worst films ever made, enjoying a cult status because of its poor quality and numerous flaws.

Despite its attempts at drama and tension, the film is heavily criticized for its nonsensical plot, cheap special effects (including bubble machines and reused footage from earlier movies), and stilted dialogue. The iconic image of the Ro-Man—a gorilla suit with a space helmet—has become emblematic of low-budget 1950s science fiction.

Queen of Outer Space (1958)

Queen of Outer Space tells the story of a team of astronauts who land on Venus, where they find a society of women led by Queen Yllana, who despises men due to a destructive past war with Venusian men.

The queen aims to annihilate Earth as retribution. The astronauts, aided by a Venusian scientist named Talleah, strive to survive and stop the queen’s vengeful scheme.

Why you should watch it

The film mixes elements of camp, adventure, and interplanetary drama. It has since become a cult classic, known for its colorful costumes, dated special effects, and place within the 1950s era of science fiction cinema.

Attack of The 50-foot Woman (1958)

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman follows Nancy Archer (played by Allison Hayes), a wealthy but troubled woman married to an unfaithful husband named Harry (played by William Hudson).

One night, after encountering a mysterious giant alien in a spacecraft, Nancy grows to an enormous height of 50 feet. As she becomes a giantess, her emotional turmoil and rage are magnified along with her size.

Nancy’s transformation leads to chaos as she seeks revenge on her philandering husband and his mistress, Honey Parker (played by Yvette Vickers).

The townspeople and authorities must figure out a way to deal with the destructive path of the 50-foot woman as she rampages through the town, driven by her heightened emotions and newfound power.

Why you should watch it

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman has become a cult classic known for its campy style and low-budget special effects, typical of many science fiction films from the 1950s.

The film is notable for its iconic imagery, particularly the scenes featuring the gigantic Nancy wrapped in torn clothing and wreaking havoc. Despite its B-movie status, “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” has left a lasting impact on popular culture and has inspired remakes, parodies, and numerous references in other media.

The film’s themes touch on issues such as female empowerment, betrayal, and the consequences of unchecked rage.

Its portrayal of a woman turning her victimization into a position of dominance, albeit through fantastical means, has been discussed in various feminist critiques of cinema.

If this is a special area of interest, I recommend reading Empowering Women: Sci-Fi Cinema’s Most Formidable Heroines.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was remade in 1993 as a television movie, with Daryl Hannah in the title role. The remake updated the plot and effects but retained the essential premise of the original film.

The Island Earth (1955)

The Island Earth is about Cal Meacham, a scientist who builds an alien device and is invited by the alien Exeter to join a secret project.

Meacham learns that Exeter’s race, the Metalunans, needs Earth’s atomic technology to save their planet from an alien attack.

The story unfolds as Meacham gets entangled in a cosmic conflict and discovers the true intentions of the Metalunans.

Why you should watch it

The Island Earth was notable for its special effects, which were advanced for the time, including the Metalunan “Mutant” design – a memorable creature with a large, exposed brain and claw-like hands. 

The film has become a cult classic and is remembered for influencing the science fiction genre. It’s also a good example of how the newly discovered atom bomb reached the silver screen.

Closing Thoughts

As returning readers will know, I have a heart for old niche sci-fi movies. The 1950s are special to me, probably because I used to watch the 1954 Flash Gordon series as a kid. 

The 1950s was a time after the first nuclear test and the crash of the UFO in Roswell, New Mexico, a global fear of nuclear holocaust, and the death of Albert Einstein, who had theoretically proven concepts such as time travel possible.

All these world events are reflected in the decade’s movies, making the 1950s an important time in film history for any sci-fi fan.

I still enjoy the practical effects and the intricate spaceship models and creates they created at the time. And I dream of creating a kitschy movie in this style one day.

They are a piece of history in the science fiction genre, laid the foundation for later space operas such as Star Wars and 2001: Space Odyssey and sci-fi horror films such as Alien, and because of that alone, they are worth watching. 

If you enjoyed this article, check out Hilarious Sci-Fi Comedy Movies To Watch Before The Invasion.

Author

    by
  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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