There’s nothing quite like classic sci-fi movies. Yeah, they’re dated, and sure, most of them are cheesy, but the best science fiction films pre-1970 were ahead of their time. They also didn’t have the luxury of high-tech CGI or the benefit of modern-day scientific research, so sci-fi films from the “golden era” of cinema had to rely on narrative imagination and technical ingenuity over just about everything. So go ahead–transport yourself to an era where color was high tech and enjoy these (almost) timeless gems. To get you started, here are five genuinely awesome sci-fi classics that you can stream right now on Netflix.
The Fly (1958)
When people reference The Fly, they’re usually referring to David Cronenberg’s excellent remake from 1989 starring Jeff Goldblum. There’s no doubting that it’s a great film–definitely one of Cronenberg’s best productions–but don’t discount the original that started it all. This gem from 1958 was directed by Kurt Neumann, and it stars David Hedison as a Quebecan scientist who genetically morphs his DNA with that of a housefly (by accident, of course). Sound strange? It totally is, but The Fly is genuinely creepy, featuring a slow burning narrative that’s bound to get under your skin. Vincent Price gets top billing here as the scientist’s brother, and Hitchcock-veteran Patricia Owens screams her pretty little heart out as the scientist’s wife. The Fly was shot in beautiful De Luxe color, and it boasts some pretty impressive special effects for such an antiquated film. Case and point: a scene near the end where a half-human/half-fly gets terrorized by a tarantula. Don’t skip on this one.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Stories have a way of immortalizing events from our history, and few do them quite as well as The Day the Earth Stood Still, an allegory of Cold War stupidity from 1951. Directed by Robert Wise, this brilliant film stars Michael Rennie as a humanoid alien named Klaatu who arrives with an important message for the leaders of Earth. He is initially met with violence, and goes forth to present the planet with a steadfast ultimatum: live in peace with one another, or die. The Day the Earth Stood Still references the unsettling nature of World conflict from the early 1950s, but it features themes that resonate louder today than they ever have before. James Cameron would later reuse similar ideas for his polarizing deep-sea adventure, The Abyss. This forced morality was unfortunately lost in the Keanu Reeves-starring remake from 2008, but lucky for us, the original is still extremely easy to come by (and despite its age, is a far superior movie). If you love sci-fi and progressive ideologies, then this is a film for you.
Metropolis Restored (1927)
I’m going to be perfectly honest here–silent films are hard to watch. Contextually speaking, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is no different, but it’s a movie that sci-fi film buffs ought to experience at least once. Doing so, however, has historically been problematic–the original cut of Metropolis was lost for decades, only to be unearthed in the mid-2000s. Though there have been a handful of truncated versions available since then, this (almost) fully restored version of Metropolis is 95% of what Lang originally wanted his film to be, score and all. Metropolis looks rather for spectacular for a film that’s almost 90 years old, and it tells a story of futuristic dystopia well before YA authors ransacked the genre for their own nefarious gains. Though it isn’t currently streaming on Netflix, you should also seek out Rentaro’s excellent 2001 animated film of the same name–it’s an incredibly loose adaptation of Lang’s work, but aesthetically it’s quite similar.
Donovan’s Brain (1953)
If independently psychic organs are your thing, then Donovan’s Brain is the film for you. This oddity from 1953 (directed by Felix E. Feist) tells the story of a brain scientist (played by Lew Ayres) who is given instruction to keep the isolated brain of a wealthy megalomaniac alive. The brain develops a life of its own (!), and goes on to possess people, ultimately forcing them to do his (its?) bidding. Donovan’s Brain is a weird one indeed, and believe it or not, it’s actually one of three films based off of Curt Siodmak’s novel of the same name (coming after The Lady and the Monster from 1944 and preceding The Brain That Wouldn’t Die from 1962). Okay, so Donovan’s Brain isn’t exactly classic fodder by way of thematics or artistic virtue, but it’s strange enough to warrant at least a single viewing. And did I mention that it’ll make your skin crawl? Yeah, isolated self-aware body parts have that kind of effect on a guy.
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Remember Innerspace, the film that shrunk Dennis Quaid down to a microbe and then injected him into a human body? Yeah, Fantastic Voyage did that same exact thing two decades earlier. Directed by Richard Fleischer and released in 1966, Fantastic Voyage tells the tale of a group of explorers attempting to rescue a dying man from a blood-clotted brain–via miniaturization, of course. Though the whole ordeal is biologically inconsistent with reality (not even going to mention the plausibility of miniaturization), Fantastic Voyage is pure adventure-movie heaven, owing far more to Jules Verne than it does to Isaac Asimov (who, strangely enough, was approached with the hopes of handling scripting duties–he declined). As a rush of pure imaginative filmmaking, few have done it better than Fantastic Voyage. Come for the (albeit dated) special effects, stay for the ride.