make it clear up front: We'll not discuss Alien, Independence
Day or Starship Troopers. When any aspect of
a mega-production like these comes up short, its producers
simply ladle salvation from a bottomless pit of cash that
the makers of the films on our list could scarcely comprehend.
Budget notwithstanding, each and every film listed below
had an IDEA at its crux. The end result may have been less
than hoped for, but fantasy films should be about ideas.
Pounds of putty with a silicone shine should be secondary:
Honorable mention: The
Astounding She Monster (1958)
I cannot defend the fact that I enjoy this film, and
I won't even try. It's all about a stripper from space in
a sequined suit who crashes Robert Clarke's mountain cabin.
Clarke has recalled that, in her first scene, the busty
alien's spangled leotard split open, forcing Shirley Kilpatrick
to back out of every scene in which she appeared.
10. Invaders From Mars (1953)
The definitive B film cast (Arthur Franz, Morris Ankrum,
Leif Erickson, Robert Shayne, Hilary Brooke) nevertheless
play second fiddle to director William Cameron Menzies'
surreally streamlined visuals. Kid-star Jimmy Hunt is our
surrogate in this childish vision of a red planet invasion.
9. War of the Worlds (1953)
Producer George Pal's best film still packs a frightening
punch today. Its color-splashed depiction of a relentless
alien invasion is top-notch fantasy filmmaking. Genuine
suspense is enhanced throughout by a credible cast and pioneering
special effects. So what if you can see the strings?
8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Much has been written on the socio-political ramifications
of Don Siegel's tension-wracked film. Forget that. It's
a crackling good paranoiac potboiler about seed pods making
obedient vegetables of the whole human race. Still scary
after 40 years.
7. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
When it comes to guilty pleasures, watching the nation's
capital being obliterated by soaring saucers mounted with
death rays is curiously untoppable entertainment. The aliens
themselves are tin-covered, wizened weaklings. The climactic
saucer battle staged by effects wizard Ray Harryhausen is
6. It Came From Outer Space (1954)
Sci Fi's pioneering producer William Alland cooked up
the classic notion at the core of this film. Fleshed out
by Ray Bradbury, Alland's tale of aliens crash-landing in
the Arizona desert is one of his finest. This film's intelligence
and crisp execution place it squarely on the list of the
era's most memorable films. Set amid the spartan isolation
of the southwestern desert, it's quite well-acted and occasionally
5. IT! The Terror From Beyond Space
This film is only recently being acknowledged as a bare-bones
run-through for Ridley Scott's
Alien. Director Ed Cahn churned out B films relentlessly,
but this one is invested with a degree of energy not found
in the bulk of his work. Ray "Crash" Corrigan
in a Paul Blaisdell rubber suit sneaks aboard a spacecraft
bound earthward from Mars. This vampiric Martian sets about
stalking the crew through dark corridors and air shafts
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
When it comes to chronicling alien encounters, Kubrick's
influential masterwork may never be outdone. This one-of-a-kind
film turned traditional Hollywood storytelling on its ear
with its daring, leisurely pace and hypnotic visuals. Disguised
as a sci fi adventure story, the film audaciously goes about
reassessing the philosophical origins of civilization. Whew.
3. The Day the Earth Stood Still(1951)
Certainly in the running as the most influential film
on the list, this timeless tale of a Christ-like emissary,
his intentions regarded with ignorance and suspicion, ranks
as among the very best sci fi tales ever filmed. The script
easily balances its engaging political message with the
good old-fashioned scary stuff that puts 'em in the seats.
2. The Man From Planet X (1951)
Director Edgar Ulmer and crew wring a million dollars
worth of atmosphere from the most modest ingredients imaginable.
Palpable, dripping atmosphere is the key to this film's
success. Rarely has more been done with less. A stalwart
cast led by Robert Clarke meets the big screen's first otherworldly
visitor, sustaining a note of genuine credibility amid what
were surely trying production conditions. The alien ship,
of Ulmer's own design, is incomparable.
1. The Thing From Another World (1951)
Nearly 50 years after its release, this one's never been
topped. This textbook thriller hasn't a single dull moment,
it's ensemble castwork and crackling pace are without peer.
Fleeting scenes of the snowbound Thing, thrashing about
with sled dogs chomping at his flaying arms live in memory
long after the film's conclusion. The epiphanic moment when
the research term determines the circular shape of the ice-embedded
alien craft makes for one of the unforgettable moments in
And for the heck of it, here are
perhaps the five worst:
5. Red Planet Mars (1953)
Check out the cast list:
Peter Graves, Andrea King and God -- No kiddin'. Scientist
Graves, sequestered with wife and child in his lab, has
been receiving friendly overtures from Mars. When news of
the Martians' prosperity and peaceful way of life spreads
earthward, the worldwide economic scene is shattered. Exactly
why, I don't claim to know. Are the Martian emissions the
work of communists (get it? RED planet?) or are they the
very word of God as the voice claims?
4. Phantom From
As legendary director Billy
Wilder's mantel sagged with Oscars, his brother, W. Lee,
turned out humorless shock films like Man Without a Body
and Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons. Phantom From Space
might just be his most unabashedly deadpan effort, chronicling
the brief life and awkward death of a speechless, invisible
visitor who holes up in the Griffith Observatory.
3. The Cosmic
Take The Day the Earth
Stood Still, remove the budget, the script, the atmosphere
and the stars and what do you get? ... The Cosmic Man.
Wearing its heart on its frayed sleeve, this paper-thin,
no-budget message thriller features John Carradine and his
booming baritone as an ambassador from another world whose
mission of peace is misunderstood.
2. 12 To the Moon
A quirky international
cast, Tom Conway as a Russian scientist prominent among
them, is Luna-bound on a mission of research and peace.
Upon landing, bizarre mishaps plague the party. It seems
the Lunarites, whom we never catch a glimpse of, are less
than genial hosts and order the party's ouster. Oddly, the
moonfolk communicate through Chinese writing that only the
Asian member of the crew can decipher. In a snit, the moonies
have covered the earth with ice. The only solution this
team of crack scientists can arrive at is to thaw the planet
with atomic explosions.
1. Missile to
the Moon (1958)
Director Richard Cunha
gave us Giant From the Unknown, Frankenstein's Daughter,
She-Demons and others, none of them very good, all of
them perversely interesting. Why he chose (or was told)
to remake Cat-Women of the Moon is anybody's guess.
To make a worse film of it is more remarkable still. Grafting
a juvenile delinquent element to its already preposterous
plot was, to say the least, risky. Former Warner's contract
player Richard Travis leads a quarrelsome band including
Tommy Cooke (Teenage Crime Wave) and Gary Clarke
(How to Make a Monster), encountering rock men, dancing
chicks and the same moth-eaten spider puppet that saw service
in the original film.