Exploring the history of science fiction movies is like examining the fears and the hopes of the human race. Science fiction movies tend to visualize futuristic settings, technological advancements, scientifically created creatures or catastrophes, foreign planets, alien life forms, or improbable concepts such as time travel. They have a rich history in story telling and also a rich history at the box office. The success of science fiction movies could be due to the fact that they portray scenarios that we may only be able to dream of.
The first science fiction movie. A French filmmaker named George Melies, who ironically was also a magician, may have pulled his greatest trick of all by making the first major science fiction film – "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" (A Trip to the Moon) in 1902. In fourteen minutes it contained 30 individual scenes with camera tricks such as superimposing images. With what we would now consider crude techniques, Melies showed a rocket ship blast off into outer space, land inside the eye of the Moon constructed with a face, and eventually escape.
Monsters and mad scientists. The "mad scientist" became a typical character in many science fiction movies – a person that could be described as a genius, using his knowledge to produce dangerous experiments. These films tend to mirror the fear of what society could become when nature is interrupted by man-made technology. One of the earlier examples of this form of science fiction is the 1931 movie "Frankenstein" about an artificially created being that revolts after being mistreated. Even decades later, there have been many science fiction movies made in this style, such as David Cronenberg's 1986 version of "The Fly."
Science fiction heroes. Not all science fiction characters are reckless manipulators of science – there are many heroes as well. Dating back to the 1930's, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, two science fiction adventurers, became popular in many low budget films. These were known as "serials"—episodic movies that end in a unfortunate situation that is resolved in the next movie. These movie serial heroes were inspirations for George Lucas' "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" films.
The Cold War era. With the paranoia caused by the "Cold War" of the 1950's, anxiety filtered it's way into science fiction movies about aliens invading planet Earth. Many of these films used the threat of alien forces as a symbolic reference to Communism. The science fiction films that followed this concept include: "The Thing From Another World" (1951), " Invaders from Mars (1953)", and probably the most famous of them all: " The War of the Worlds (1953)", later remade by Steven Spielberg in 2005.
"2001" in 1968. After science fiction movies gained the stigma of being considered cheesy, second-rate entertainment, the genre suddenly received a jolt of respect from director Stanley Kubrick with his 1968 science fiction milestone "2001: A Space Odyssey". It is revered for it's realistic special effects and is now often referred to as a science fiction masterpiece. This ambitious space epic begins before mankind came along and ends with man going through a new transformation.
Then came "Star Wars". Taking the high standard that "2001: A Space Odyssey" set and raising it even further – deep into the realms of multi-generational pop culture – in 1977 creator George Lucas unleashed the most influential science fiction movie ever created—"Star Wars." Upon it's release it proceeded to become the most successful film in the world until it was dethroned by another amazing science fiction phenomenon: "E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial". "Star Wars" has spawned five more movies, television spin-offs, a franchising gold mine, helped make George Lucas a billionaire, and lead the way to other popular science fiction film series' including "Back to the Future", "The Matrix", and "Avatar".