With the ending of World War II, and the entering of the atomic age, the popularity of science fiction had reached an almost fever pitch with audiences clamouring to see the latest startling visions of the future, from flying cars to visits to alien worlds, and Hollywood was not about to disappoint them and thus the boom in space adventure films truly began.
There were three basic science fiction subgenres that populated theatres throughout the 50s; the atomic monster movie where nuclear testing resulted in some giant menace lumbering through cities, aliens invading the Earth to steal our women and or blow up national monuments, but and the third and most popular subgenre was the space adventure film where brave men and women would strap themselves inside a rocket and blast off to the furthest reaches of the universe, well, though mostly it was the Moon or the planet Mars but you get my drift. Some of these films would be what is referred to as “speculative science fiction” where the producers would consult with experts to determine what space travel might actually be like, most of these were somewhat laughably inaccurate but they do get points for at least trying, but the more popular of the space adventure films dealt with giant alien spiders and Venusian women in mini-skirts, logic and actual science need not apply.
Below you will find a collection of reviews detailing the explosive rise of the space adventure genre that occurred throughout the 1950s and the films found here will deal with astronauts venturing forth into that great unknown and facing the dangers of outer space, so classic science fiction entries such as War of the Worlds and It Came from Outer Space, which dealt with aliens coming to Earth will not be found in this series of reviews. So, please join me on this journey back to the 1950s by simply clicking on the poster or links found below to blast off in what I hope is a fun journey back in time.
Destination Moon (1950) In this George Pal classic private industry steps in to help win the Space Race which, for some reason, involves sending a Brooklyn guy to the Moon. Legendary sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein does his best to make the journey credible.
Rocketship X-M (1950) Several mishaps while on route to the Moon results in a small group of astronauts taking an unscheduled stop on Mars. This film is a time capsule as to how media was portraying the battle of the sexes and it was clear whose side Hollywood was on.
Flight to Mars (1951) Five astronauts journey to the Red Planet only to soon discover the friendly Martians may have nasty ulterior motives. With a meagre 69-minute running time much of the space exploration elements were unfairly pushed to the background for a terrible love story subplot.
Project Moonbase (1953) A female commander of an exploratory trip to the moon not only has to handle a saboteur posing as a scientist but also the sexist attitudes of both her superiors and subordinates. If taken as a goofy science fiction film from the 50s Project Moonbase does have some charm but as a glimpse into the future, it’s a bloody nightmare.
Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) Five astronauts fly to the Moon and encounter giant spiders and a bunch of attractive young women in black tights. With a title like that one can’t expect serious a science fiction effort but this particular offering does imbibe a certain goofy appeal that sets it apart from its contemporaries.
Conquest of Space (1955) A team of international astronauts take a voyage to the Red Planet only to discover that their commander’s religious beliefs may be more dangerous than the perils of space. With the likes of Wernher von Braun and Chesley Bonestell providing technical support you’d think this would turn out to be a sci-fi gem, this was not the case.
Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956) A team of sexist astronauts land on a hidden moon of Jupiter only to find it populated with beautiful scantily clad young women and even with a soft spot for goofy 50s space adventure films, this particular outing was a hard watch.
World Without End (1956) In what could be considered a precursor to The Planet of the Apes we have a group of astronauts breaking the time barrier and ending up back on a post-Apocalyptic Earth only in this outing the Earth is populated by cyclopean mutants instead of talking apes.
Forbidden Planet (1956) A starship crew goes to investigate the silence of a planet’s colony only to find two survivors and a deadly secret in this wonderful take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Fans of Star Trek will also see where Gene Rodenberry got much of his inspiration from.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) A rescue ship to Mars must deal with the possible ravings of a lone survivor or accept the idea that a murderous creature has stowed away on their ship. This film may mostly be known for being an inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien but that doesn’t stop it from being a rather important installment in the genre of science fiction and space adventures all on its own.
Queen of Outer Space (1958) American astronauts are hijacked to the planet Venus where beautiful women and their masked despotic queen plot their doom. With a story by Ben Hecht and script by Charles Beaumont, it’s not surprising that this campy classic has stood the test of time better than many of its contemporaries.
Missile to the Moon (1958) Two escaped convicts are shanghaied into space by a scientist who is determined to make a trip to the Moon in this half-assed remake of Cat-Women of the Moon. The real question here is why would anyone want to remake that film?
The Angry Red Planet (1959) A trip to Mars finds a crew of four facing off against monstrous alien monsters and an even more threatening unseen power. No matter what the film’s failings are, and this film is rife with them, the gigantic bat-rat-spider creature will remain one of the “great” science fiction movie monsters of all time.
As a genre that uses speculative, fictional science-based depictions to create fantastic journeys the entries that make up the space adventure films of the 1950s may have many problematic issues but without these films not only may we have never gotten films like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien the formation of NASA and mankind’s voyage to the stars may have gone quite differently because as goofy and scientifically inaccurate as some of these films were they did inspire many people to look beyond our pale blue world.
Bonus Film: This sci-fi entry was released in 1960 and dealt with an international team of astronauts who head to the moon and encounter mysterious forces that want their cats, and yes, that is actually the plot of this movie, “Moon Men Want Our Cats!”
Space Adventure Films of the 1950s
Genre Rank - 8/10
The public’s fascination with space travel launched the 1950s boom in science fiction and these tales of brave astronauts gave audiences a break from all those atomic monster movies that also filled the theatres throughout this decade.