Lists: Ten Righteous 1960's Sci-Fi Movies That You Should Watch At Least Once

Here is a list of ten sci-fi flicks from the 1960’s that you should watch at least once. Most hardcore cult and sci-fi film fans have probably seen these already. Have you seen them all?

Creation of the Humanoids 1962

“Never Has the Screen Brought You A More *Shocking* Revelation!” (1). This is a low budget sci-fi film that suffers in terms of effects and set designs, but makes up for it in the story and themes that it touches upon. An atomic war has destroyed most of the human population and led to a low birthrate amongst the remaining survivors. The human race creates a series of robots to perform most jobs, leading to an evolution of robots that are referred to as humanoids. A racist faction of humans views the robots as a potential threat.

This movie touches on themes of race and politics that closely resembled the civil rights issues that were taking place in America during the 1960’s. The robots have been swapped in for African Americans and are treated like slaves by many of the humans, being referred to in the movie by the humans as “clickers.” The racist group is called the order and is outfitted similar to the Civil War confederate soldiers. There is also a subplot involving a human female having a relationship with one of the humanoids.

Despite the low budget effects, they had a particularly breakthrough technique used for the silvery looking eyes of the humanoids. Jack Pierce was responsible for the makeup design. He is probably best known for his work with Universal Pictures during the 1930’s and 1940’s, which included Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The contact lenses used in this production were created by Dr. Louis M. Zabner, an optometrist who is considered to be the pioneer of using contact lenses in order to change the color of an actor’s eye. While most versions of this consist of a running time of 75 minutes, the release by Dark Sky DVD has some additional footage and is 84 minutes long.

Panic in the Year Zero! 1962

This surprisingly effective sci-fi drama directed and starring Ray Milland involves a family of four leaving Los Angeles for a camping trip right as a nuclear war breaks out and destroys the city. He adopts a strong survivalist code in order to protect his family as civilization starts to break down, seeking out refuge in the wilderness.

This could be considered an early precursor or grandfather to Mad Max and other similar apocalyptic dramas. It is an excellent drama with a strong performance from the lead actor Milland as the father. Its statement shows a grim portrayal of man, in that the real enemies after a nuclear catastrophe will be his fellow citizens.  Film critic Michael Atkinson said that “this forgotten, saber-toothed 1962 AIP cheapie might be the most expressive on-the-ground nightmare of the Cold War era, providing a template not only for countless social-breakdown genre flicks (most particularly, Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf) but also for authentic crisis—shades of New Orleans haunt its DVD margins...the movie is nevertheless an anxious, detail-rich essay on moral collapse” (2).

The Day of the Triffids 1963

“Beware the triffids... they grow... know... walk... talk... stalk... and kill!” (3). This is a British production that was based on a novel written by John Wyndham in 1951, which involves a meteor shower blinding a majority of the population and bringing a large plant that can walk, has a poisonous sting, and feeds on their victims.

The film uses sound and editing to create most of its suspense, as the killer plants are kind of slow and cheesy looking. This could be viewed as a precursor to the zombie subgenre; there is a catastrophe that breaks down society, the blind people and killer plants are slow moving and act somewhat like zombies, the plants feed on flesh, and bands of people try to forcefully take things that they want. One thing that particularly adds to its cult status is that it is referenced in the opening song of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which contains the lyrics “And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills..."

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians 1964

“Santa Kidnapped by the Martians! Out-of-this-world fun 'n' two Earth Kids are whisked away with him to Mars!” (4). This is the essence of what a low budget drive in movie is; you’ll either hate it or embrace and love the fact that it’s a great bad film. With a budget of around $200,000, it was meant to be something for kids during the holiday season that watched Howdy-Doody and the programs from Disney (5). The story involves the kidnapping of Santa and two earth children by men from Mars, in the hopes of cheering up their children who do not have a Santa.

This is just the best of the worst, especially if you love cheesiness. Full of bad dialogue, cheep sets and Martian outfits, fake mustaches, a cardboard robot, and of course Santa. This is just hilarious; Kind of like the TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. It was featured on season 3, episode 21 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is a cult favorite because of the fact that it’s one of the cheaply made drive-in movies. So if you love those types of films and are looking for a good laugh, then you have to see this.

The Time Travelers 1964

Step Through "The Time Portal" beyond the crack in Space and Time where the fantastic world of the Future will freeze your blood with its weird horrors!” (6). Scientists have been working on creating a device that can view the events of the future. During testing they discover that the device has actually created a portal. Four of them step through the portal and end up stuck in the year 2071, which is a nuclear ravaged future full of mutants and androids.

The inclusion of the androids is the main point that makes this one stand apart from the other films in this era. Other than that, it is nowhere near as good as the similar World without End. It falls slightly in the middle range of being a great B-film versus a really bad one. The android’s have an interesting look, their heads are somewhere in between creepy and cool. They are kind of reminiscent of the masks that the children wear in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The ending is probably one of the more unusual out of the time travel films of this era, possibly hoping to spawn a sequel. It was the inspiration for a 1966 TV series called The Time Tunnel, as well as a 1967 remake called Journey to the Center of Time.

Planet of the Vampires 1965

“A Close Encounter of the UNDEAD Kind” (7). This is an Italian production from the master of gothic horror cinema director Mario Bava. In this one, he uses those similar elements that were featured in his gothic horror motion pictures to create a beautifully colorful gothic style sci-fi horror film. Two ships crash land on an unknown planet and the aliens that are on the planet possess the bodies of the dead crew, while stalking the rest of the living with the goal of escaping the planet on their ship.

This is not necessarily a straight vampire movie because the alien vampires do not act in the expected manner for the subgenre. It is very atmospheric, making excellent use of the darkness, fog, and multiple bright colors to create some great looking scenes and shadowed visuals of the people and their surroundings. It also contains enough gore and special effects to have shocked audiences during this era. It is considered to be highly influential on Alien (1979) in both its narrative and visual design and there are many similarities between both films. 

Queen of Blood AKA Planet of Blood 1966

“HIDEOUS BEYOND BELIEF... with an INHUMAN CRAVING” (8). This is one of the early film influences for the sci-fi horror genre as earth makes contact with an alien space ship that crash lands on Mars and they go there to rescue the lone female survivor, only to discover that she may be quite deadly.

It features some decent early performances from John Saxon and Dennis Hopper, an appearance by Basil Rathbone, and Florence Marly as the creepy alien queen with the crazy hair do. The film has good space special effects and miniature scenes on the Moon and Mars, some of which is stock footage from the Russian films Mechte Navstrechu and Nebo Zovyot. All of the space scenes are lit effectively, mostly being dark and shadowed with varying hints of reds and greens. The picture does start out slow but really ramps up the horror factor with about thirty minutes left. The female alien has an interesting look that features a pale green skin with a high white hairdo. Her performance mostly consists of silence and close ups of her face, with her eyes lighting up at specific moments, and extreme close ups of her smiling. They do the same with the men of the space crew and these close ups really add to the dramatic effect.   

There is also a moral debate that takes place once they find out what she is and whether or not they should kill her or bring her back to earth for scientific study. It is a theme that has often recurred in most sci-fi horror. This is highly recommended in order to see what influenced films like Alien and the sci-fi horror genre. The director Curtis Harrington believed that this was a direct inspiration to the original Alien, saying that "Ridley's film is like a greatly enhanced, expensive and elaborate version of Queen of Blood” (9).

Five Million Years to Earth AKA Quatermass and the Pit 1967

“Force more powerful than 1,000 H-Bombs unleashed to devastate Earth! World in panic! Cities in flames!” (10). While digging a new subway line in London, unusual skeletons are found and what is believed to be an old German bomb. A group of paleontologists, the military, and professor Bernard Quatermass all become involved as the military deals with the mysterious bomb and its dark secrets.

This film was a sequel to several previous British studio Hammer Films about Bernard Quatermass, including The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2. There was also a BBC television series that this film was based upon called Quatermass and the Pit, released in 1958 and 1959. Despite the dated special effects, this is a very well done thriller mystery that quickly turns into terrifying sci-fi horror in the closing fifteen minutes. Director Roy Ward Baker had made motion pictures for both Hammer and its rival Amicus Productions, and his “unraveling of this crisp thriller is tough and interesting” (11). It ends up providing some moments of pure terror with several memorable sequences. It featured appearances by James Donald, Julian Glover, Barbara Shelley, and Andrew Kier. Kier is superb as Quatermass and his arguments with Colonel Breen (Glover) are some of the best scenes of the movie.

Frozen Dead 1967

“Frozen alive for 20 years! Now they return from their icy graves to seek vengeance!” (12). This is a British independent sci-fi horror film that involves a plot by a Nazi scientist to reanimate Nazi war criminals that have been frozen for 20 years. Dana Andrews plays the mad doctor; he had starred in some high quality films during the 1940’s, such as The Ox-Bow Incident.

This was filmed in color, but shown in black and white in the United States. It plays pretty slow, with a lot of concern taken on talking about the Scientifics of what they are trying to do. Then an unnecessary subplot involving the Doctor’s niece doesn't help either. It feels like a hybrid between a British horror production and a U.S. drive-in flick, which may be the reason why it was made black and white for the U.S. release. The aspect involving a girl’s severed head being kept alive in a box is pretty entertaining and visually pleasing; it probably got a decent scare when this was released. The pacing really picks up once the girls severed head shows up, and the ending is fairly memorable.

Barbarella 1968

“The space age adventuress whose sex-ploits are among the most bizarre ever seen” (13). Based upon a French comic, this is the ultimate in sexual science fiction. Set in the 41st century, Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is sent by the President of Earth to rescue Doctor Durand Durand and retrieve his Positronic Ray. She travels to the planet of Lythion, where a new sin is invented every hour. In order to achieve her mission, she must subject herself to the sexual horrors of a neurotic city.

The film is a unique mix of sex, comedy, cheesiness, “pop-art psychedelics, free-love promiscuity and free-for-all politics” (14). If you don’t take it too serious and just enjoy the ride, this is a hilarious sexy version of Flash Gordon. The sets design and outfits are creative and colorful, a combination of campy and kitsch. They are reminiscent of the low budget sci-fi space films from the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Jane Fonda does a good job in her performance, even though a large portion of it is just looking sexy. Despite the large amount of sex involved, Barbarella is an empowered female. She is never forced into anything; she does it all out of her own free will. This film would go on to inspire the X rated sex comedy Flesh Gordon (1974). It is also a predecessor to Demolition Man, with a future where natural sex has been eliminated.