Science Fiction Films

The science fiction genre represents a unique brand of cinema entertainment. With a paradoxical title, the genre explores the world of the unforeseeable future. It began in film history by exploring the juxtaposition of the natural world with the supernatural world. Early films such as Metropolis (1927) used the fantasy as social commentary. Other films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) were meant to be adventurous and follow the narrative of famous literary works.  As technology changes through the decades, the genre of science fiction alters accordingly.

The genre became prevalent in the 1930s through 50s to build upon the adventure genre. Films like King Kong (1933) were a thrilling audience experience, with the supernaturally large creatures on the big screen. From the start, science fiction films have acted as reflections of society’s anxiety about its increasing technological prowess and its responsibility to control the gigantic forces of destruction it possesses. This fear began more organically in the earlier decades of science fiction, taking the form of monsters and other supernatural beings.

Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla (1954)

Through the 1950s and 1960s, science fiction came to the forefront of classic film. Films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) were developed as an allegory of McCarthyism. They drew on themes of fear in the general public, the nuclear war, invasion, and the destruction of humanity.

“The heroes of ’50s science fiction films are military men or FBI agents who invariably distrust intellectualism and scientists; they shoot first and ask questions later when confronting aliens, even if the latter are friendly. “In those days,” writes Nora Sayre, “almost no one was going to contradict the Pentagon or to accuse the FBI of malpractice.” Scientists were villains because they blocked the defenders of America by protecting the alien menace” (Matthews, 19).

Science fiction films have always been marketable the same way horror films have been marketable. They play off the fears and anxieties of the audiences, while fueling the common desire for exhilaration and thrill. Science fiction films, among many other genres, were popular tools of propaganda during times of national upheaval.

The genre is also captivating for audiences because it blends the opposing tactics of futuristic and primitive human abilities:

“Traditionally, the idea of forbidden knowledge has had a sexual as well as an intellectual connotation stemming from the myth of Adam and Eve. Science fiction films take up this dual interpretation. With them, we return to the problems and anxieties of the Middle Ages, when people feared to inquire too closely into the elements, though to be inhabited by evil demons” (Grant, 334).

Science fiction as a film genre visualizes the anxieties and fears of audiences about larger forces beyond their control. As technology has progressed, many modern films in the science fiction genre emulate the invasion of technological forces. Films like The Matrix (1999) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) narrate the risks of the computer-human interface.

These films also inspire viewers to think beyond the tangible reality of daily life. The term science fiction leaves much to the imagination, validating the possibility of anything in the future. These thrilling allegories of the human relationship with technology identify both of the interests and fears of American film audiences.

Conquest of Space (1955)
Conquest of Space (1955)


 Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

Metropolis (1927)

King Kong (1933)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1962)

Planet of the Apes (1968)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Star Wars (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Blade Runner (1982)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

The Terminator (1984)


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