I grew up watching 1950s science fiction movies. To be honest some of them haven’t held up too well over time but many of them are quite good and I have a soft spot in my heart for all of these films. Here is a list of my top 10 science fiction films of the 1950s, meaning, if I was going on a trip for three months and could only take ten sci-fi films from the 50s, these would be the ten.
I first published this list in 2012. I revisited it eight years later in 2020 and I still pretty much agree with my original thoughts.
1. Invaders from Mars (1953) – A young boy thinks he sees a flying saucer land during a storm at night. Soon, people, including his parents, start acting strangely. This movie still scares me. Some of the best music of any science fiction movie ever. Do not waste your time on the horrible 1986 remake.
2. Forbidden Planet (1956) – Fantastic special effects, innovative music, and Robby the Robot highlight a story where Leslie Nielson captains the C-57D to find out what happened to the colony on Altar IV.
3. Gog (1954) – Richard Egan stars as an investigator sent to a super-secret underground desert laboratory complex to solve a series of bizarre deaths. I love the robot Gog – what scientific research robot is complete without crushing claws and a flamethrower?
4. Quatermass 2 (1957) – A British film sometimes called “Enemy from Space” in the U.S. A somewhat crusty Brian Donlevy plays Dr. Quatermass (not Quartermass) as he investigates reports of strange meteorites. He ends up at a creepy industrial plant. Is this an alien invasion or just paranoia?
5. The War of the Worlds (1953) – A George Pal production with Oscar-winning special effects. Gene Barry desperately tries to find a way to stop an unstoppable Martian invasion. I love Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s introductory narration from the H.G. Wells book. I did not like the 2005 Spielberg remake.
6. Godzilla (1956) – Although later movies featuring Godzilla became cartoonish, the original 1954 Japanese version and the 1956 American-ized version are deadly serious. Raymond Burr watches the destruction of Tokyo from an ill-advised location on top of a tall antenna tower. The early scene on the island, when the scientists are hiking up the steep hill and Godzilla appears, gave me nightmares for years.
7. The Thing from Another World (1951) – Usually just called The Thing, this movie has the classic scenario of a group of people isolated (in this case at a polar research station) and menaced by an alien. Excellent acting and intelligent dialog set this movie apart. I prefer this version to the good 1982 remake.
8. Them! (1954) – The predecessor of all giant bug films has policeman James Whitmore and professor Edmund Gwenn discovering unexpected consequences (giant man-eating ants) of atomic testing in the desert. I like the suspense and the fact that the ants aren’t seen until well into the movie.
9. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) – The Disney film is really more adventure than science fiction. I was fascinated by the Nautilus submarine and as a young man loved the 1960s exhibit featuring it and sets from the movie in a display on Main Street of the Anaheim Disneyland (where I ended up working many years later while going to school at UC Irvine).
10. It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) – Very tense film in which a crew lands on Mars to investigate the disappearance of all but one member of a previous expedition. On the return to earth they discover that they have a very unfriendly stowaway. This movie was a direct inspiration for the 1979 film “Alien”.
Honorable Mention – There are many films that didn’t quite make it into my top 10 list. The Atomic Submarine (1959) – Great scene in the alien saucer in total darkness, and innovative electronic music effects. The Trollenberg Terror (1958) – Known as The Crawling Eye in the U.S., Forrest Tucker is menaced by, well, giant crawling eyeballs in creepy fog. Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) – Cheap but effective Roger Corman production has people trapped on an island. Fiend without a Face (1958) – Canadian production with very cool crawling brain creatures. When Worlds Collide (1951) – Earth must be evacuated before it’s too late. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) – Nice Ray Harryhausen stop-action effects when the beast meets its end on a roller coaster. It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) – More Ray Harryhausen effects featuring a giant octopus in San Francisco. This Island Earth (1955) – Earth scientists try to help the planet Metaluna against the Zagons. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) – The title says it all. Kronos (1957) – Earth is menaced by an enormous energy-collecting machine. The Monolith Monsters (1957) – The monsters are huge crystalline structures. The Man from Planet X (1951) – Some very scary scenes when people approach the spacecraft. Rodan (1956) – I like the early scenes in the mine before the appearance of the two flying dinosaurs.