Science fiction film

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Science fiction is a film genre to which films are assigned that deal with fictional techniques as well as scientific achievements and their possible effects on the future .



The film Metropolis by Fritz Lang , produced in Babelsberg near Berlin in 1927, was the first full-length science fiction film ever. In the picture: Machine Maria , statue of a film character in the Babelsberg Film Park .

Literature laid the foundation for the science fiction genre: authors such as Jules Verne and HG Wells , who were enthusiastic about technology, added science fiction components to travel and adventure literature of the 19th century and had a decisive influence on the first science fiction films. Early on, film pioneers placed technical processes and their susceptibility at the center of their films, such as Louis Lumière and Ferdinand Zecca . Georges Méliès , who had already approached the subject with Les Rayons Röntgen in 1897 , then created the Jules Verne-inspired film The Journey to the Moon in 1902 , which caused a sensation worldwide. James Searle Dawley made the first film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley with Frankenstein in 1910 .

The first German SF film was Der Tunnel by William Wauer from 1915; a utopia about a tunneling project between Europe and the USA. Another early German production was the six-part series Homunculus in 1916; filmed by Otto Rippert , with a total length of more than 400 minutes, only partially preserved. Other milestones in the early science fiction film were Holger-Madsen's Das Himmelsschiff (1918), Jakow Protasanows Aelita (1924) (based on a science fiction novel by Alexei Tolstoy ) and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and Woman in the Moon (1929) ). In 1936 Cosmic Journey was performed in the Soviet Union , which was created with the assistance of Konstantin Ziolkowski ; however, the film was canceled in the same year for reasons of cultural policy and only shown again in the 1980s. In 1937 the film project Space Ship 18 began , which was canceled due to the war.

The rise of American cinema

The emergence of the classic fantastic cinema was based on technical and political progress. With the increase in productivity, energies were produced that focused on conquering, discovering and ruling “wild” lands. At the same time there was the world economic crisis . Fear and nightmares took shape on the screen. As a result, so-called " mad scientist " films such as Frankenstein (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) or The Invisible Man (1933). The belief in progress that defies all concerns is presented in King Kong and the White Woman (1933). The archetypes of science fiction , horror and fantasy emerged during this time and continue to influence science fiction films to this day.

These terrifying stories represent better than any "socially critical" film the imagination of an America that is going through an acute fear neurosis. These films respond to the fears of the time and make them hysterical. They form a kind of expropriation ritual in which the audience takes part in order to free themselves from their everyday worries - work, money, health, maintenance. American science fiction cinema boomed in the 1950s with many films reflecting these fears, but also the paranoia of the McCarthy era. The first color films were made a few years later. In Metaluna 4 there is no answer , the battle of the worlds or the alarm in space , the filmmakers use the new possibilities to show magnificent, imaginative films.

The serials brought fast and cheap sequels to the screen for Saturday morning performances. The Phantom Empire (1935) was the first series to have clear science fiction elements. Then the triumphant advance of comic book adaptations began, whose superheroes formed an ideal basis for adventure stories. Flash Gordon started with his sequels in 1936 . Further series dealt with Buck Rogers , Captain Marvel and led in 1948 to the "superhero of all superheroes", the series around Superman . It was only with the spread of television that the series ended. Since the series were straightforward stories of the eternal struggle (and victory) of good against evil and an adaptation of the comics popular with children, science fiction increasingly attracted children and opened up a new audience. This also is not bothered by the constant sequels of successful ideas, it was only by the invisible successor as The Invisible Man Returns , The Invisible Woman , Invisible Agent and The Invisible Man's Revenge . At the latest after films like Frankenstein meets the Wolfman and the comedy Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein a crisis became clear. There were no films that would have reacted to the outbreak of the Second World War and held up a mirror to the world.

1960s and 1970s: the space race

In the 1960s, science fiction moved back into the public eye. The race to the moon between the USSR and the USA dominated the news, processed and filmed. a. in The First Journey to the Moon (GB 1964, directed by Nathan Juran ) and Countdown: Start to the Moon (USA 1968, directed by Robert Altman ). Technical progress had an impact. The SF no longer played on distant planets, but had to have a certain credibility. Almost only the Italian SF cinema, which experienced its heyday in the 1960s, was represented with a mixture of horror and SF: Planet of the Vampires (Italy / Spain 1965, director: Mario Bava ), Orion-3000 - Raumfahrt des Horens ( Italy 1966, directed by Antonio Margheriti ), Demons from Space (Italy 1967, directed by Antonio Margheriti) and others. Instead, many films dealt with the latent threat of nuclear war ( Dr. Strange or: How I Learned to Love the Bomb , Target Moscow , Seven Days in May ), which had become extremely topical after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion , the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy's death . The fantastic journey leads into the interior of the body and 2001: A Space Odyssey into the interior of the mind. The comic book adaptation Barbarella (France / Italy 1968, director: Roger Vadim ) played with the sexual permissiveness that emerged in the 1960s.

After the moon landing in 1969, a previously popular topic in SF film had now become uninteresting. Once again, reality had caught up with the SF film. At the same time, the crisis in the studio system took hold: New Hollywood was born. Elaborate space adventures are no longer of interest, only “ Planet of the Apes ” with its four sequels , a live TV series and an animated series became a typical Hollywood product.

A clockwork orange is a shocking dystopia about rape and brutality . Andromeda - Deadly Dust from Space exactly traces the work of scientists , and at Solaris the focus is on human psychology. Silent in space and Soylent Green addressed the ongoing destruction of the environment. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope changed that in 1977 and became a huge hit.


The SF movies of the 1980 's when Ronald Reagan the space defense program SDI also Star Wars called, brought forth only a few truly innovative films. One of the exceptions is Blade Runner , which is now considered a milestone and is often cited stylistically and visually as an homage in other films. The studios were often limited to sequels of well-known motifs. Action films became Hollywood's main money machine ; this is how the action and horror series Predator and Alien came about .

Most genre films were aimed at young audiences who wanted and got effects and (cynical) humor. The films took place on the earth of the future, original space films were rare. But they were science fiction films in the strict sense, the horror aspect receded.

Star Trek maker Gene Roddenberry

A beginning tendency of the 1980s are film series ( sequels , more rarely also prequels ). Starting with Star Wars (from 1977) these include, for example, the Star Trek films (from 1979), the Superman films (from 1978), the Terminator films (from 1984) and Back to the Future (1985, directed by Robert Zemeckis ) and its two sequels.

Films for an adult audience were also made, off the mainstream, but with serious engagement with topics that challenged the audience. The Day After , Letters from a Dead , Threads , The Rattlesnake and the English cartoon When the Wind blows dealt with the fictional third world war or the post-apocalyptic world.

There was also Terry Gilliam , who made a film with Brazil that worked on well-known motifs of dystopia .


In SciFi, too, the 1990s were mainly characterized by blockbuster films. With the advent of new trick techniques and realistic CGI effects, the genre was given a new coat of paint. Powerful films like Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996) or Men in Black (1997) present classic science fiction motifs in a new guise, and sometimes even parody them. The trend towards SciFi films for the whole family, which was triggered by Star Wars in the 1970s , became widespread and became the norm towards the end of the decade.

Due to the widespread use of computers and the increasing digitization in the population, the representation and explanations of the SciFi elements were more closely aligned with real models. For example, the film Jurassic Park uses scientifically accurate inferences to explain dinosaurs in our day and age. Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Matrix (1999) show a way of representing artificial intelligence with a high relation to our computerized reality.

The genre is becoming increasingly action-heavy. Films like Terminator 2 (1991), The Fifth Element (1997) or Lost in Space (1998) offer easy-to-digest science fiction content in the style of action films for a wide audience.

One tendency is to film classic SciFi literature by important authors. So count Total Recall - The Total Recall (1990) and Starship Troopers (1997) important to the film adaptations. Even video game adaptations like Wing Commander (1999) occurred for the first time in the 1990s in the SciFi.

2000s and 2010s

The sci-fi film in Germany

At the beginning of the 1920s, German film was strongly influenced by Expressionism and, at the same time, reflected the psychological aftermath of the First World War. In 1918 and 1920, Alraune (directed by Eugen Illés ) and The Golem, How He Came into the World (1920, directed by Paul Wegener , Carl Boese after Gustav Meyrink ) (classic fantasy) were already films that, despite all their differences, represented horror Archetype Using the thing without a name : The soulless being turns against its creator.

Further examples of the silent film era are Genuine (1920) and Orlac's hands (1924) (both directors: Robert Wiene ), Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang ) and Frau im Mond (1929, Fritz Lang). The first sound films are Alraune (1930, Richard Oswald ), The Mistress of Atlantis (1932, Georg Wilhelm Pabst ), FP1 Doesn't Answer (1932, Karl Hartl ), The Tunnel (1933, Kurt Bernhardt ) and Gold (1934, Karl Hartl). After that, there was hardly anything fantastic from our own production to see in German cinemas. The film Münchhausen (1943, Josef von Báky ) still contains a few SF elements .

After the Second World War, film production in the two German states went their separate ways. The first SF or fantastic film by the East German DEFA was probably chemistry and love (1948, Arthur Maria Rabenalt ). At the end of the 1950s, Kurt Maetzig filmed Der schweigende Stern (published in 1960) in the GDR , which received a "Golden Spaceship" at the Trieste Film Festival in 1964. Other DEFA-SF films include The Man with the Lens (1961, Frank Vogel ), Signals - A Space Adventure (1970, Gottfried Kolditz ), Eolomea (1972, Herrmann Zschoche ), In the Dust of the Stars (1976, Gottfried Kolditz) and a visit to van Gogh (1985, Horst Seemann ).

In the FRG there was hardly any self-produced science fiction to be seen in cinemas in the 50s and 60s. One of the few exceptions was another film adaptation of Alraune (1952, Arthur Maria Rabenalt ). The television series Raumpatrouille (1966) was only released in 2003 as a feature film. The film Herrliche Zeiten im Spessart (1967, Kurt Hoffmann ) - the second sequel to the non-SF film Das Wirtshaus im Spessart - contains a lot of SF elements at times . In the 1960s in particular, some “mad scientist” films that are hardly known today were produced: A “good” scientist makes a groundbreaking invention that he would like to use for the benefit of mankind, but an “evil” power wants to steal it from him . Or even a “bad” scientist makes an invention that he wants to use to harm humanity. An example of this is the Mabuse film series, starting with Scotland Yard chasing Dr. Mabuse (FRG 1963, Paul May ).

In 1969, Alexander Kluge made the film Der große Verhau , which was only released in the cinemas in 1971 and can be assigned to the New German Film . 1977 created Rainer Erler with Operation Ganymede a work that was in 1978 named the best film of the year at the film festival in Trieste. Other (West) German films include Das Arche-Noah-Prinzip (1984, Roland Emmerich ), the comedy Xaver and his extraterrestrial friend (1986, Werner Possardt ), Moon 44 (1990, Roland Emmerich) and It's not easy to be a god (1990, Peter Fleischmann ). After the reunification, the parody (T) Raumschiff Surprise - Period 1 (2004, Michael Herbig ) was a considerable success. The trash parody Captain Cosmotic (1998, Thilo Gosejohann ) is also worth mentioning . One of the most recent and at the same time most elaborate SciFi productions from Germany is the thriller Pandorum (2009, Christian Alvart ) - this is set in a future that forces humanity to leave the earth and colonize a new earth-like planet .


Fears and threats

An important topic is the foreign - the threat from the unknown. This can happen through contact with extraterrestrials ( Battle of the Worlds , Independence Day ) , through a journey through time that prophesies terrible things to the viewer ( The Time Machine , Terminator ) , but also in the confrontation with scientific progress that is getting out of control or is being misused ( The Matrix , Gattaca ). The question of the evil or the inexplicable in the human psyche is also dealt with in some films ( Solaris , Uhrwerk Orange ) . With this topic, the boundary to horror film is fluid.

The atomic bomb , the Korean War, and the communist hunt under Joseph McCarthy created a climate of fear. Many films reflected this paranoia and encoded these fears on the screen ( ambassadors of fear ) . Horror SF and atomic monsters dominate. One look at the natural history book was enough to construct the next gray canvas: scorpions, snails, ants, spiders, lizards, etc. threatened humanity - some of them with women's heads.

What horror SF films like Formicula address is the need for protection of citizens and the necessary sacrifice of the individual for the community. This symbolic representation of the horror was possible and necessary mainly because a public discussion of technical-military progress, let alone a criticism of the political and military leadership, was hardly possible.

The fear of the future towards which one was wrong was great, but even greater was the fear of not being a “good American”. The fear concerned his own leadership as much as any foreign aggressor; This is the only way to understand the ambivalence of these films; their pessimism and speechlessness are often interpreted from this moral-political impasse.

In the monster SF movies of Hollywood is so much criticism of the scientific and military ruthlessness included, seemed as possible, and as much of affirmation and political confirmation as needed to the discomfort are not expressly to be. The only, a little paranoid hope in these films was that the military and science might end up taking the threat away from the people who created them.


The primordial human instinct “curiosity” is a central driving force behind civilization and its expansion beyond initially impassable borders. In the SF film, these limits are, for example, being trapped in the present, which is overcome by means of time travel (The Time Machine, Planet of the Apes ) , overcoming the space that allows us to visit strange worlds ( 2001: Odyssey in Space ) or overcoming it the isolation of humanity as the only intelligent form of life ( contact , signs ) .

A closer look at the issues in science fiction can be found under science fiction .


The science fiction film is mainly used as a background for other film genres . In addition to crossings with the horror film ( Alien ), the action film ( Terminator ), comedies ( My stepmother is an alien ) or the drama ( Alarm in Space ), there are also a number of examples for most other film genres in which foreign genre patterns exist a science fiction background. Above all, space opera developed as an independent sub-genre of science fiction films as early as the 1930s ( Flash Gordon ). The latest German project is the Hamburg production Violent Starr (2018) by Oliver Tietgen and Matti Schindehütte .

A list of the most important films can be found under List of Science Fiction Films .


Web links

Commons : Science Fiction Films  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Source documents

  1. SciFi Film History - Metropolis (1927) - Although the first science fiction film is generally agreed to be Georges Méliès' A Trip To The Moon (1902), Metropolis (1926) is the first feature length outing of the genre. -, accessed May 15, 2013 (English)