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Let's Watch 50s Sci-Fi Classics!

Updated on May 27, 2015
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Why This Could Be the Greatest Scientific Discovery of All Time!

The era of the Beat Generation, the Cold War, and lingering existential angst over WWII spawned some awesome Sci Fi flicks.

During the 1950s, Sartre was still a contemporary writer; the race to space was just getting started; Spam and TV dinners were haute cuisine , and aluminum was a space age material. Black and white cinematography was the perfect medium for capturing the twin themes of alienation and xenophobia that hovered over the American populace like an out of frame mushroom cloud.

But the truth is that the post-war American dream of perfect safety in the suburbs was never really secure. A queasy, surreal quality permeated that lifestyle and those aspirations from the very start, and nothing reflected those murky cultural undercurrents and diffuse anxieties like the 1950s alien invasion movies.

The original 1956 black and white version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is for my money still the best of the lot, even without the annoying modern miracle of CGI effects.

I loved Keanu Reeves in black leather pants in The Matrix , but I can't say he added much to the remake of the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still either.

That film was first released in 1951. Michael Rennie will always be Klaatu for me, even if he can't run up walls and fire a semi-automatic weapon with one hand while leaping through the air in a full-length leather trench.

The following 1950s sci fi flicks may or may not belong on a ‘best of’ list; but they are all movies I've personally watched more than once, and I think you should see them too. (I'll make the popcorn.)

Dr. Drake gets an implant in "Invaders From Mars"
Dr. Drake gets an implant in "Invaders From Mars" | Source
Visible zippers on the aliens nearly ruin Cameron Menzie's surreal and imaginative sets
Visible zippers on the aliens nearly ruin Cameron Menzie's surreal and imaginative sets | Source
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* The War of the Worlds [1953] This cinematic original starring Gene Barry and Les Tremayne, includes still-impressive imaginative special effects by pre-CGI genius George Pal. I still haven't seen a version that comes anywhere close to being as good as this one. Unlike many of the sci fi flicks of the 1950s, this one was made in Technicolor, and it's perfect.

* Them! [1954] You know what happens when you test them thar nuke-kew-lar weapons out in the desert? Ya gits yer giant ants, that's what! James Whitmore, James Arness, and Edmund Gwenn battle giant mutated ants that are on a formic acid induced killing spree. Great stuff. (The flick, not the formic acid.)

* It Came From Outer Space [1953] Yeah, and it said it just needed an oil change and some new tires, wink, wink... but then the humans who volunteer to make the mechanical repairs come back, um... different. Originally released in 3-D, this film features some of the first cinematic bug-eyed aliens, which begs the question, "Which came first, the bug-eyed movie aliens? Or the repressed memory alien abductions of 1950s screenwriters?"

* When Worlds Collide [1951] Another amazing George Pal special effects masterpiece, this disaster flick won an academy award the year it was released. When the rogue star Bellarus passes within miles of Earth, resulting in widespread panic and destruction, two scientists find themselves in a race against time to save the human race. The scientists must convince a small contingent of Earthlings to build a spaceship and travel to the planet Zyra to start anew. No, Zyra is not a gated community, but it is really, really hard to get there.

* Earth vs. The Flying Saucers [1956] Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor battle more bug-eyed aliens that buzz Washington and want our wimmin. Great visual effects by monstermaker and animatronic genius Ray Harryhausen make this sci fi classic a must see. The movie recalls an actual mass sighting of UFOs over DC that occurred a decade earlier and has never been explained.

* This Island Earth [1955] The planet of Metaluna is beautiful this time of year...Doh! No it's not! More bug-eyed aliens who want-our-wimmin torment college sweethearts-turned-nuclear-physicists in this campy classic featuring Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, and Faith Domergue. Check out how closely the alien at the end of the movie resembles the Communion critters.

* The Blob [1958] Steve McQueen and Anita Corseaut battle a gelatinous creature that hitches a ride to Earth aboard a meteor and then develops a major attitude within minutes of arriving. Foreigners. Geesh! When they're not taking yer job, they're eating your face off.

* Invaders from Mars [1953] Made the year I was born (so it has to be good!) this Cameron Menzie film tells the story of a boy who sees a flying saucer crash and can't get anyone to believe him until townsfolk start acting weird...A 1986 remake of this movie starring Karen Black and Timothy Bottoms isn't half bad either. Menzie’s bizarre camera angles and surreal sets with super-high ceilings and doors kick this B-movie cult classic up a few notches. Feel free to call it a film.

I know that this is a pathetically partial list, but I be back with more, I promise.

For now, fire-up that Jiffy Pop.

And keep your eyes on the skies.

1953 It Came From Outer Space Trailer

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    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Scary to think that I have seen most of these. Love your hub.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks Lipnancy! I love these old sci fi movies. Monster movies too. I want to write individual reviews as I get to them. I appreciate you coming by!

    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Great article, very thoughtful and well-written! I, too, have seen all of these films--Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains my favorite of the type, and I try to watch it every year.

      The weird anonymity of the new suburban lifestyle so aspired to in the '50s engendered many subliminal fears. Insecurity about whether we can live up to the standards of neatness, conformity and tribal ideal run deep in the human soul, and a suburb is where those fears run wild!

      Voted up and awesomed it, thanks for posting!

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Good hub, CR...voted up, interesting, and beautiful (for the photos). Reading the actor list of THEM! reminded me that James Arness...renowned for Marshal Dillon...also played the alien monster in The Thing (1951)that got electrocuted in the end. And Gene Barry made a great Bat Masterson when he wasn't killing Martians!! Enjoy your day while I go get treated for my case of nostalgia! ;)

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Hi DIYmyOmy! Good to see you here. :)

      Yep I was raised on this stuff and still love it. Your thoughts about the suburbs are right on too... Now THAT gives me another hub idea... lol!

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Hi CWB--Yes I'd forgotten that about James Arness! In "Invaders From Mars" Barbara Billingsly (Leave It To Beaver's June Cleaver) had an un credited part as Dr. Drake's secretary.

      Those were the days--when a big guy in a monster suit counted as a special effect! Sometimes I think with all the CGI used these days they miss the whole idea. :)

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      A great hub and well presented. I think I have seen most of these movies, (not in the 50's, I'm not that old. Lol. The old black and whites were actually much more believable than the most modern movies.

      An enjoyable read and Voting up

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks Rosemay50! :)

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Ja! So glad you published this CR. One of the great memories from childhood was watching Shock Theater every Friday night at 11:00 o'clock. And 50s Sci-Fi was a big part of the programming. "Them!" who can ever forget the first time they hear those giant ants my my. War of the Worlds is perfect, your right CR. Like the history you have preceding the movies and another 50s not here is Forbidden Planet which was way ahead of its time don't you think?

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Me too! Shock Theatre was THE BOMB. Also have good memories of the old Hammer Studios "no one admitted to the theatre during the terrifying last twenty minutes" kind of flicks, and the Japanese monster movies. (There's a couple more hubs!) And yes, Forbidden Planet--how could I forget that? Leslie Nielson and Ann Francis--hubba hubba! Thanks for your thoughts Alastar. :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Seen them all; you only missed one....The Tingler...great hub, enjoyed it immensely.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Oh the Tingler! Vincent Price...that could be another hub of its own. Those old Hammer Studios horror flicks, those were the bomb. Thanks for coming by billybuc. :)

    • love my yorkies profile image

      love my yorkies 5 years ago from way out west

      You just can't beat those old movies, watch them every chance I get! They're corny, funny and the special effects . . . well, that's what I love about them!!!

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Me too thanks! For stopping by and commenting lmy!

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      whowas 4 years ago

      Great stuff CR!

      I've seen all of those movies and I'm a fan of the genre. I enjoyed your psychosocial analysis of the underlying themes of these movies, too and it makes a great deal of sense.

      What do you make of The Quatermass Experiment, I wonder ?

      A very insightful and enjoyable hub. :)

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 4 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Hi whowas! I'm afraid I don't know what the Quatermass Experiment was. Is it the movie with the space ants in the subway? I love that movie. I thought it was cool how the woman lead dresses in an antlike fashion. You see these emerging fear-of-woman-as-other themes in 50s sci fi flicks--Wasp Woman, Attack of the 50 ft Woman, and then there's this who sub-sub-genre of Amazon women on the other planets that is camp to the max. You don't have to look hard to find it. I think that Quatermass movie was titled differently in Britain than in the US. Good production values for the genre.

      Thanks for coming by and reading this! I've been a horribly neglectful Hub citizen lately. Cleaning house, walking, not writing...Appreciate your comments. :)

    • profile image

      whowas 4 years ago

      Ah CR, of course, I was forgetful of the fact that a 1953 BBC television serial - however iconic - is unlikely to have found much of an audience across the pond!

      It was the first 'serious' SF to be broadcast in Britain for an adult audience and concerned the first (fictional, note the date) manned space flight, managed by Professor Quatermass. Contact is temporarily lost with the rocket and when it returns to Earth, only two of the three astronauts are in it. Later it becomes apparent that 'something else' came down with the rocket, too...

      ...it was absolutely terrifying to audiences at the time and if you can find a copy, despite the crackly black-and-white images, it is still utterly gripping!

      I know that Quatermass Experiment II (1955) which was every bit as good really is available in its entirety on YouTube. Here's the link:

      http://youtu.be/xfOcMqFoKPg

      Enjoy!

      PS: don't apologize for having a life outside Hubpages - I'm sure that is quite a healthy state of affairs! ;)

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 4 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      lol! Thanks whowas! I will definitely look for it. I love this stuff. :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I grew up in Albuquerque, and they used to run this late night movie show on Saturdays called "Creepy Creature Feature" that played a lot of these black and white flicks. It used to scare the be-Jesus out of me. I remember watching this one called "The Crawling Hand" that I had to turn off because it creeped me out. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 3 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Mel, thanks for sharing that! We had something similar where I grew up and I loved it.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      When I was a kid, I LOVED Them and The Blob. I was always so excited when they came on "The Late Show" and my mom let me stay up for them.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 3 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      We had a show on Saturday night called "Creature Feature". I lived for that! lol! Thanks for coming by. :)

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