The Most Iconic Science Fiction Films Of The 1960s

In the 1960s, film audiences became particularly interested in the weird and unknown, resulting in a spike in science-fiction films. Noticing the public’s interest, filmmakers began to make science-fiction films with the hope of creating the next big one. During this time, some of the most classic and iconic science-fiction films were introduced to the world, which set the bar for what a film of the genre should be and established several directors as the best science-fiction directors of the time.

Planet Of The Apes – 1968

Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes is a 1968 science fiction film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling and is loosely based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des singes by author Pierre Boulle.

Starring Charlton Heston, the film follows an astronaut crew that crash lands on a strange planet in a different future, in which apes have evolved to have human intelligence. Now the dominant species, humans are under the ape’s control. The film is regarded for its groundbreaking prosthetic makeup and ended up sparking a franchise that went well into the modern era.

King Kong Vs. Godzilla – 1962

Lobby card for film
Toho
Toho

As the third film in the Godzilla franchise, King Kong vs. Godzilla is a Japanese Kaiju film that is the first time that both characters appear on film in color as well as the widescreen. In the film, Godzilla is awakened by an American submarine and a pharmaceutical company captures King Kong, which results in a climactic showdown on Mount Fuji.

In Japan, the film remains the most attended Godzilla movie to date although a heavily edited version was released by Universal International Inc. in the United States. It is also credited with blazing the future of monster films in the genre.

Marooned – 1969

Picture of the cast
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Directed by John Sturges, Marooned was his first attempt at science fiction after several accomplished Westerns such as The Magnificent Seven, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and the thriller, The Great Escape. The movie tells the tale of three astronauts that are trapped and slowly suffocating in space, based on the novel of the same name by Martin Caidin that was released in 1964.

The film was released just four months after the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, which brought droves of audiences. The film also won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects for Robie Robinson.

Stereo – 1969

Man in a black cloak
Film Canada Presentations
Film Canada Presentations

David Cronenberg’s debut feature film, Stereo stars Ronald Mlodzik, who was also in Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future and Rabid. It follows a young man in a black coat that arrives at the Canadian Academy of Sexual Inquiry, who is grouped with other volunteers with telepathic abilities that are encouraged to grow via sensual exploration.

The film was shot in black and white and silent because the camera Cronenberg was using made too much noise and established Cronenberg’s themes of consciousness through experimentation, which followed in his other works, including Shivers, Videodrome, and Dead Ringers, among others.

Fantastic Voyage – 1966

Cast of the film
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Directed by Richard Fleischer and written by Harry Kleiner, Fantastic Voyage is based on the story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. The movie is about a submarine crew that is shrunk to microscopic size and travel into the body of a fellow injured scientist to repair the brain damage that he suffered.

Overall, the film received positive reviews with Variety stating, “The lavish production, boasting some brilliant special effects and superior creative efforts, is an entertaining, enlightening excursion through inner space—the body of a man.”

The Time Machine – 1960

Picture of Rod Taylor
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, The Time Machine is directed by George Pal and stars Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, and Alan Young. In the movie, an inventor in Victorian England creates a time machine that enables him to travel to the far future.

On this different plain of existence, the inventor discovers that mankind’s descendants have developed into two groups which are the Eloi, and the underground-living Morlocks, who feed on the Eloi. Both Gene Warren and Tim Barr both received Academy Awards for Best Special Effects for their work on the project.

The Last Man On Earth – 1964

Picture actors
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, The Last Man on Earth is a black and white post-apocalyptic science fiction film directed by Ubaldo Ragona and starring Vincent Price and France Bettoia.

Although the film wasn’t considered to be a success upon its release, over the years, the movie grew to become a classic of the genre. On top of that, Phil Hall of Film Threat described the movie as being “the best Vincent Price movie ever made.”

Village Of The Damned – 1960

Picture of children
Loew’s
Loew’s

Village of the Damned is a British-American black and white science fiction horror flick from the mind of director Wolf Rilla. The film was an adaptation of the 1957 novel The Midwhich Cuckoos by John Wyndham and did well upon its release.

Released on June 18, 1960, The Guardian claimed that the film was “most genius” and praised Rilla for applying “the right Iacoic touch.” Several other publications also hailed the film, which eventually had a sequel and a remake of the original.

2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968

Man in a space ship
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey was inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel.” The film follows a space voyage to Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL after it’s discovered that there’s an alien monolith that’s affecting human evolution.

The film covers major themes of human evolution, existentialism, and artificial intelligence. 2001: A Space Odyssey was nominated for four Academy Awards with Kubrick winning for Visual Effects. It has also been described as one of the most influential films ever made and was preserved by the National Film Registry in 1991.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire – 1961

Man walking down the street
British Lion Films
British Lion Films

The Day The Earth Caught Fire is a British science-fiction disaster film starring Edward Judd, Janet Munro, and Leo McKern. Described as one of the most classic apocalyptic films of its time, it follows a struggling writer that learns that nuclear weapons testing has disrupted the orbit of the Earth and pushed it closer to the sun.

However, it’s never fully clear whether the Earth is saved or not at the end of the movie. The film has a score of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes while Val Guest and Wolf Mankowitz received the 1962 BAFTA for Best Film Screenplay for the movie.

Fahrenheit 451 – 1966

Actors in the film
Rank Film Distributors
Rank Film Distributors

Directed by Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Fahrenheit 451 is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury. The film is set in a distant future in which the authorities send out firefighters to destroy all of the books to prevent free-thinking and revolution.

This was Truffaut’s first color film and his only English film to date, which has gained critical acclaim over the years. Fellow director Martin Scorcese calls it an “underrated” film that has influenced his own works.

First Men In The Moon – 1964

Picture of the moon
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

First Men in the Moon is a 1964 British technicolor science fiction film directed by Nathan Juran, produced by Charles H. Shneer, and starring Edward Judd, Lionel Jeffries, and Martha Hyer.

Screenwriter Nigel Kneal adapted the film from H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel of the same name. The film was a box office disappointment but has gained a following in more recent years. Many publications have noted that the film got its message across well enough and has gained enough of a following to be considered a minor classic today.

X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes – 1963

Dr.Xavier in the movie
American International Pictures
American International Pictures

X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes is an independent science-fiction horror film directed by Roger Corman. When the film was released in 1963, it was part of a double feature with the Francis Ford Coppola-directed horror-thriller Dementia 13.

Impressively, the film was shot in just three weeks with a budget of under $300,000, with Corman describing the success of the film as being a miracle. Today, the film is still notable for its special effects, especially while portraying Dr. Xavier’s enhanced vision.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars – 1964

Actor in the film
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Robinson Crusoe On Mars is a 1964 American science fiction film directed by Byron Haskin. It is a science fiction remake of the classic 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

The film did not succeed at the box office, but, according to film historian Leonard Maltin, Robinson Crusoe On Mars is a “surprisingly agreeable reworking of the classic Defoe story … beautifully shot in Death Valley by Winston C. Hoch; the film’s intimate nature help it play better on TV than most widescreen space films.”

Ladybug, Ladybug – 1963

Boy running
United Artists
United Artists

Ladybug, Ladybug, is an American film directed by Academy Award-nominated director Frank Perry. The film is a commentary of the psychological effects of the Cold War, taken from the classic nursery rhymes.

The film was inspired by a McCall’s story about an actual incident that happened. Furthermore, the film was also the debut of actors William Daniels, Estelle Parsons, and Jane Connell, and is noted for its dark themes and pessimistic ending involving children.

Panic In Year Zero! – 1962

Picture of actor
American International Pictures
American International Pictures

Otherwise known as End of the World, Panic In Year Zero! is a black and white science fiction survival movie produced by Lou Rusoff and directed by Ray Milland. Director Millan also stars alongside Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel, and Joan Freeman.

Released as a double feature with Tales of Terror in 1962, the film follows a family in the midst of nuclear war and a fight for survival. The film came out to good reviews and is considered one of the better Cold War films of the era.

Mysterious Island – 1961

Picture of large crab
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Mysterious Island, also known as Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island in the UK, is a science fiction film about prisoners during the Civil War who escape on a balloon and find themselves stranded on an island with mutated animals.

The film is loosely based on the 1847 novel The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to two other stories by the author Jules Verne. The film brought in more than $5 million with TV Critic stating that it’s a “Dandy fantasy-adventure, done with skill and imagination, keyed by fine Bernard Herrman score.”

The Illustrated Man – 1969

Man with tattoos everywhere
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Illustrated Man is a 1969 science fiction film directed by Jack Smight and starring Rod Steiger. The film follows a man whose tattoos on his body are actually visions of frightening futures.

The movie is based on three short stories from the 1951 collection The Illustrated Ma by Ray Bradbury titled “The Veldt,” “The Long Rain,” and “The Last Night of the World.” Bradbury was critical of the finished film, saying that Rod Steiger was good but that the script was terrible.

Crack In The World – 1965

Actors in the film
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Crack in the World is a science fiction doomsday film. It follows two scientists that launch a nuclear missile into the Earth’s crust to release the geothermal energy of the magma below.

However, their plan backfires, and it creates a cataclysm that threatens to tear the Earth in two. The film ended up being well-received, with Howard Thompson of The New York Times calling it “the best science -fiction thriller this year.” It was also agreed that Crack In The World was one of the most believable science-fiction films to date.

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun – 1969

Picture of spaceship
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is a 1969 British science fiction film that was written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Donald James, and was directed by Robert Parrish. In Europe, the film was released as Doppelgänger until it became commonly known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.

It’s set in 2069 and focuses on a joint European-NASA mission to investigate a newly discovered planet that’s on the other side of the sun. While the film has been hailed for its special effects, some have claimed that the premise is weak.