Science fiction film is a genre that uses speculative, science-based depictions of imaginary phenomena (alien worlds, and time travel), often along with technological elements such as futuristic spacecraft, robots, or other technologies.
The genre has existed since the early years of silent cinema, when Georges Melies’s A Trip to the Moon (1902) amazed audiences with its trick photography effects. In the 1920s, European filmmakers tended to use science fiction films for prediction and social commentary, as can be seen in German films such as Friz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) and Frau im Mond (1929).
From the 1930s to the 1950s, the genre consisted mainly of low-budget -movies.
Starting in 1934, a number of science fiction comic strips were adapted as serials, notably Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. These serials, helped fix in the mind of the public the idea that science fiction was infantile and absurd, and, after 1936, no more big budget science fiction films were produced until 1950’s Destination Moon, directed by Irving Pichel, the first colour film.
There were relatively few science fiction films in the 1960s, but some of the films transformed science fiction cinema. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) brought new realism to the genre, with its realistic portrayal of space travel and influenced the genre with its epic story and transcendent philosophical scope. Other 1960s films included Planet of the Apes (1968) * by Franklin J. Schaffner, Fahrenheit 451 by François Truffaut (1966), which provided social commentary, and Barbarella (1968) by Roger Vadim, which explored the sillier side of earlier science fiction. Jean-Luc Godard’s French “new wave” film Alphaville (1965) described a futuristic Paris commanded by an artificial intelligence which has forbidden all emotion.
The era of man on the moon in the 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in the science fiction film. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) had visuals and a philosophic purpose. Science fiction films from the early 1970s explored the theme of paranoia: humanity is under threat from ecological or technological adversaries of its own creation, such as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange which showed the fear for brainwashing. The science fiction included also comedies oin the 1970s included Woody Allen’s Sleeper and John Carpenter’s Dark Star.
Star Wars created by George Lucas and Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg, both released in 1977, brought a huge increase in science fiction films. In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Robert Wise, brought the television series to the big screen for the first time. Ridley Scott’s films, such as Alien and Blade Runner, presented the future as dark, dirty and chaotic. In contrast, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial presented aliens as benign and friendly.
The adaptations of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel to 2001, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, were box office flops while a strong contribution to the genre during the second half of the 1980s were James Cameron’s The Terminator and Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. In the 1980s, animation began being used for science fiction films, such as the Japanese anime film Akira (1988) and the French animated science fiction film Light Years (1988).
In the 1990s, the emergence of the world wide web and the cyberpunk genre produced several movies on the theme of the computer-human interface (Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven,1990; The Matrix, Andy Wachowski and Wachowski, 1999), disaster movies (Armageddon by Michael Bay and Deep Impact by Mimi Leder, 1998), alien invasion (Independence Day, Roland Emmerich, 1996) and genetic experimentation (Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg, 1993). Parodies do not fail to exist even in this genre and Men in Black by Barry Sonnenfeld (1997, 2002) is one of the most popular examples together with Mars Attack by Tim Burton (1996).
Developments in software also enabled filmmakers to enhance the visual quality of animation, which was used in the science fiction films Ghost in the Shell (1995) from Japan and The Iron Giant (1999) and Titan A.E. (2000) from the US.
During the 2000s, fantasy and superhero films abounded: the Star Wars sextet and the Matrix trilogy were completed and science-fiction returned as a tool for political commentary in films such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, and Children of Men. The year 2005 saw a remake of King Kong.
* remade in 2001 by Tim Burton.