The early 1900s were a time when film makers were much more free than they are now. A film could be made relatively cheaply and were almost never feature length. There were no expectations so directors could create something completely unique. They can be hard to watch from our modern eyes, but this was the emergence of film as an art form. Technology was very shaky so most of them are silent and not very clear. They are incredibly bizarre, especially vintage sci fi films. Science fiction from the perspective of people who grew up in the Victorian era. There are some really interesting story lines and innovative use of camera tricks in vintage sci fi films from the era – this is a list of my 10 favourite.
A Trip To Mars (1910)
As one of the many vintage sci fi films produced by Thomas Edison’s film company, A Trip to Mars is a real gem. It tells the story of a chemist who makes an amazing discovery. He creates a magical potion that can counter the effects of gravity. Pour it onto something, and it will float through the air. But he accidentally pours the potion on himself – and unable to stop himself, he suddenly floats into the sky. He floats past the sky and into space before arriving at the planet Mars. On Mars he finds terrifying monsters who instantly try and attack him. He must run for his life if he wants to avoid being eaten by these mysterious space beasts.
The Mechanical Man (1921)
The Mechanical Man is a vintage sci fi film from Italy. Italy was one of the largest producers of films before the industry was decimated during the second world war. The film was 80 minutes long but the majority of it is now lost. Under 30 minutes of the original remains – but it’s a good clip. It tells the story of a robot created by a mad scientist. The mad scientist is captured and murdered by a gang of savage outlaws. With him out of the way the gang is free to control the robot. They command the robot to help them commit a series of crimes. The the brother of the dead scientist creates his own robot to destroy the criminal one. They end up having a huge battle in an opera house.
The Airship Destroyer (1909)
The Airship Destroyer is a 1909 vintage sci fi movie from the UK. It tells the story of an airship attack on England. The foreign airships begin bombing English towns and military vehicles. In resistance to the foreign attack, a young inventor attempts to create a missile powerful enough to destroy the enemy airship. He is briefly interrupted by the need to save the life of his lover after her home was destroyed, but he soon gets back to work. Despite all the surrounding chaos, he is eventually able to launch his missile – destroying the enemy airship.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)
I’m sure you have all heard of this one before. Based on the classic book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a vintage sci fi horror movie that achieved huge attention from both the industry and international audiences. It tells the story of the mad scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll. His experiments in chemistry transform him into a hideous monster of a man who drives him to murder. He cannot control the monster inside him (Mr. Hyde). It emerges whenever it wants and causes mayhem. It really is one of the classic films of it’s era that everyone has to watch at least once.
The Astronomer’s Dream (1898)
The Astronomer’s Dream is a vintage sci fi short film by the master of early silent films, Georges Méliès. Georges Méliès created the first ever sci fi film, and he made bloody loads of them. It’s a really bizarre series of events that you can see in this film. First off, an astronomer is visited by the devil for some reason. The devil soon vanishes though. The astronomer then begins to look through his telescope… because that’s kinda his thing. The moons soonbursts into the astronomers home, knocking him onto the floor. Tiny creatures emerge from the moons mouth and begin causing havoc. It really is a bizarre film.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is the book my mother always told be not to read. She said it was dull, difficult to get through, and really long. However, it was adapted into one of the classics of vintage sci fi films. It tells the story of Captain Nemo, a man with his own submarine. With his submarine he seeks to avenge the death of a murdered princess. It was the first ever film to use underwater footage. They filmed those scenes by placing mirrors under the water and simply filming the reflection. This is because underwater cameras weren’t around yet.
Frankenstein is the opposite to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – because the book is great but most attempts to make a film out of it have been pretty shoddy. The 1910 version is, however, one of the best vintage sci fi movies. You have to look at these things in their historical context. For it’s time, it was excellent. Frankenstein is just a young student when he experiments with creating new life. He soon manages to create a disturbing and terrifying monster who he has no control over. Frankenstein’s monster won’t take orders from humans.
High Treason (1929)
High Treason is like a sort of pre-dystopian dystopian film. It was the most expensive vintage sci fi films ever produced, as Britain’s answer to the German film Metropolis. The film is set in the 1950s, when the entire world is ruled by just two large political unions. The first is the United States of Europe, which features all European countries and their imperial colonies. The other union is the Atlantic Empire, which features the USA as well as all other central and South-American nations. These two superstates are gearing up for war. The film tells the story of a group of peace activists in their attempts to prevent a war between these two great super states.
Algol: Tragedy of Power (1920)
Algol: Tragedy of Power is a German vintage sci fi film about a mysterious alien who teaches his foreign ways to a regular human, giving him a huge amount of power. The alien gifts a human with an advanced machine from a planet far far away. With this machine, the man gained superhuman abilities. This is a lot more similar to modern Science fiction than most others on this list – that’s obvious from the story line alone. Until recently Algol: Tragedy of Power was thought to be a lost film. Luckily a copy was discovered and replicated.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A Trip to the Moon is easily one of my favorite vintage sci fi films because of how bizarre it is. It focuses on a group of astronomers who dream of visiting the moon. They decide to build a huge cannon powerful enough to shoot a capsule through space. They then entered a capsule inside the cannon and blasted themselves towards the moon. When they arrive on the moon surface they find that the satellite is occupied by some not-so-friendly creatures who they can only run away from.
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