81950’s science fiction


1950’s science- fiction genre

1950’s science- fiction genre


Science fiction film genres incorporate speculative science fiction and depictions of events that are science –based. In most cases, occurrences in these films are not validated by mainstream science. For instance, some of these films showcase events in the alien world, space crafts, extraterrestrial life forms and robots among many other speculative science forms. Often times, film makers use science fiction films to illuminate on social and political issues and in some cases these films explore philosophical issues such as human nature (Cornea, 2007). The inception of this film genre can be traced back to the 1900’s with the “Trip to the moon “by George Melies being the first film of its kind, which got a good reception from the audience. Over time, more science fiction films have been made however, most of these films have been low budget films. Nevertheless, in the 1950’s there were a number of science fiction films with outstanding effects and larger budgets. A good example of these films includes, «The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951) and «Invasion of the Body Snatchers» (1956) among many others (Hendershot, 1999).

Some argue that individual films can be considered symptoms of their social and cultural settings. This paper seeks to examine whether Science fiction films in the 1950’s can be considered as «symptoms» of their social and cultural settings. The films, “The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951) and «Invasion of the Body Snatchers» (1956) will be used as close references.

Socio-cultural symptoms in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter and directed by Don Siegel is an intriguing classic science fiction film that has overtime been highly rated due to its creative use of aesthetics and its social and cultural significance. The film depicts the predicament of a fictional town in California known as Santa Mira which was invaded by alien-like creatures which turned people into huge plant-like pods also referred to as “Pod people”. The pod people were not different from other normal people, however they lacked emotion. At first the lead star of the film Dr. Miles Bennell was skeptical about the occurrences however following his encounter with Becky Driscoll, his former girlfriend, he starts to believe that people in Santa Mira were being turned into Pod People. As the pod people continue to rapidly turn people into pods, the two Bennell and Driscoll attempt to flee so that they can warn the rest of humanity about this invasion. In the course of their mission, Driscoll struggles with an urge to sleep and when she finally yields she is transformed to become one of the pod people. The film climaxes with Bennell continuous pursuit and arrest as he attempts to warn the world about this invasion.

A critical look at the plot and storyline of this film, reveals that this film is a symptom of its social and cultural settings. The production of this film was set in the mid 1950’s, this was a post-war era commonly characterised by immense paranoia over the spread of communism ideologies and mass hysteria of McCarthyism (Dirks, 2010). Through this film, the film makers project the unsubstantiated fears embedded in people during this time due to the impact of the World War 2 and cold war. The fear of the spread of communist ideologies numbed most people during this time. Most people feared that the spread of communism would dehumanize them and rob them off their individuality through conformity to group –think .Besides, having fears over the alleged spread of communism, during this era most people had immense paranoia over an alleged nuclear war that would destroy humanity (Dirks, 2010). The fears and concerns of people in the 1950’s and indirectly replicated in the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The film makers of this science fiction films have creatively expressed the unsubstantiated fears of people during these times by employing speculative aspects of alien invasion of the earth. This shows that the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) is indeed a symptom of its social and cultural settings since it epitomizes the socio-cultural concerns of people in the 1950’s.

Moreover, Don Siegel’s scheme in this film portrays an unexpected socio-cultural symptoms in the 1950’s when at first, Dr. Bennell fails to believe that people are changing, when one of his patient insists that his mother is not what she used to be however when he is told that the family’s vegetable store that was once thriving is shutdown, he starts to come into terms with what he is told by his patients. This aspect of the films illuminates how the brisk modern changes threaten and alter the core of human values. Later on in the film, the invaders profess that humans do not suffer when they are transformed into pods instead they are revived into a more peaceful world mainly because they are emotionally numbed like the things revolving around them (Maurer, 2009). The aftermath of the World War two brought about many changes that were witnessed in the 1950’s, the growth of industrialization was one of the significant changes during this era. In as much as industrialization was overly beneficial it brought about several drastic changes. As industrialization increased and the world embraced modern technologies human values changed gradually, people became more materialistic, self-centered and more unresponsive emotionally. These symptoms are indirectly replicated in Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) (Maurer, 2009).

Socio-cultural «The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951).

The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951) starring Micheal Rennie and Patricia Neal and directed by Robert Wise is a classical science fiction film that depicts the plight of an alien, Klaatu and his robot, Gort. The two, descended to earth with an important and urgent message the leaders of all nations that must be conveyed at the same time. However, he is informed that this would be impossible since leaders around the world are not in good terms. Klaatu changes the course of his mission and attempts to interact with the ordinary people however, he is forbidden and arrested. Subsequently, he escapes and begins to live in a boarding house where he meets Hellen and Bobby. Eventually, Klaatu manages to convey his message to a group of scientists. He explains to them that the violent endeavors of humanity and their invasion into space have affected other inhabitants of the universe. He warns that if human beings continue to extend their aggression into space the robots would destroy the earth (Cranny-Francis, 2007).

In this film, Robert Wise portrays various social and cultural symptoms that existed in the 1950’s. One of the evident symptoms during this time includes religious allegiance and contravention of religious teachings. The character of Klaatu epitomizes a science-fiction type of Christ. Similar to the course of Christ, Klaatu is sent by a supreme being to convey a message to the world (Greydanus, 2000). His message is that of peace, repentance and rebirth. However, just like Christ Klaatu is rejected and his message is also rebuffed. Mankind refuses to accept Klaatu on his terms and violently rejects him. Furthermore, just like Christ, Klaatu is rejected by the ruling authorities and instead he finds acceptance in ordinary people like Hellen and his son Bobby. Generally, this film is an allegory of the life of Christ and his mission on earth (Greydanus, 2000).

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1956) was produced when the events of the world war two were still fresh in everyone’s and when the cold war was still taking root. During this time, most people were paranoid about the impacts of the cold war and nuclear war and as a result mankind developed an obsessive nature of war, confrontation and always watching their backs. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1956) conveys these symptoms extremely well. (Cranny-Francis, 2007).For instance, following Klaatu’s arrival in Washington D.C, his presence is treated as threat even though he confesses that he comes in peace to convey an important massage to the world. Soon as he tries to showcase a device he is shot by one of the service men. Nobody seems to care about the important message that Klaatu’s was to convey to the world. Instead they focus on imprisoning him, in order to prevent him from interacting with the ordinary people. This shows that during this era, there was a lot of suspicion and paranoia with regards to an impeding attack just like in this post war era that this film is set (Cranny-Francis, 2007).


The science fiction genre has been used by filmmakers as a channel for safely conveying controversial topical issues since it provides a thoughtful social arena for its audience to observe the potential and unforeseen issues in the future. Science –fiction films in the 1950’s acted as channels for conveying people’s fear of cold war, nuclear war and communism. Evidently, both “The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951) and «Invasion of the Body Snatchers» (1956) are symptoms of their social and cultural settings. The two films reflect on the socio-cultural condition in the 1950’s following the aftermath of the world War two and the cold war. For instance, Invasion of the Body Snatchers» (1956) illuminates how people during this time had immense paranoia concerning the spread of communist ideologies and nuclear. On the other hand, the film The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951) embodies religious belief s of this time. Basically, the film can be considered as an allegory of the life of Christ and his mission on earth (Greydanus, 2000).


Cornea, C. (2007). Science fiction cinema: between fantasy and reality. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Cranny-Francis, A. (2007). Mapping Cultural Auracy: The Sonic Politics of The Day the

Earth Stood Still. Social Semiotics, Vol 17, No. 1., pp. 89-91.

Dirks, T. (2010). “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956).Retrieved on May 1, 2011 from <http://www.filmsite.org/inva.html>

Greydanus, S. (2000). The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951). Retrieved on May 1, 2011 from <http://www.decentfilms.com/reviews/daytheearthstoodstill1951.html>

Hendershot, C. (1999). Paranoia, the bomb and the 1950’s science fiction films. New York: Popular press.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter and directed by Don Siegel

Maurer, R. (2009). Social engineering in 50’s science fiction films. Retrieved on May 1, 2011 from <http://www.suite101.com/content/social-engineering-in-50s-science-fiction-films- a130250>

The Day the Earth Stood Still» (1951) starring Micheal Rennie and Patricia Neal and directed by Robert Wise