Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, 1927
It's arguably the most iconic scifi film of all time. Even film fans who haven't seen it recognize Maria, the robotic protagonist that graces most of the marketing material for the film. Sadly, most cinephiles I know dismiss it. It's slow, silent, and the German expressionism can be a bit disorienting (I personally love it). Metropolis has long been in the public domain, so you can find it pretty much anywhere - youtube, discount DVD bins, etc. Like so many of the greats from the dawn of film, much of the original footage has been lost. In 2008, a cut that is a full 30 minutes longer surfaced in Argentina. I'm dying to see it, but I don't believe it's available just yet.
It tells the story of the titular city, Metropolis, a dystopian mega-society. Much like the Morlocks and the Eloi, the populace of Metropolis is separated by a staggering class divide. The 'planners' live in their skyscrapers, driving progress in the city without actually getting their hands dirty. The workers, however, slave away in a hellish underground. Freder, the son of one of the city's planners, discovers the horrible conditions of the workers and finds himself involved in all sorts of bizarre experiences.
And yes, this film is stunningly unusual. As I mentioned before, it's a bit slow, but the sheer scope of such an old film is breathtaking. I can only imagine how audiences responded to it when it was released. Lang's vision must have been unparalleled at the time. The imagery in here is incredible, covering all manner of religious and social observations. It's spooky, gradiose, and beautiful. While it might not necessarily be your 'cup of tea', every film fan should treat this one as required viewing.
First Men On The Moon, directed by Nathan Juran, 1964
HG Wells and Ray Harryhausen. Did that get your attention? What if I went on to say that the one and only Nigel Kneale adapted the novel for film? I won't lie. That's a pedigree that makes my nipples hard. Unfortunately, here's another film that hasn't received the love that it's deserved. When people speak of scifi of the 1960's, everything pre-2001 is dismissed as camp. To be sure, the 1960's were filthy with films that tried to clumsily frighten us with the threat of atomic testing or the damned Red Scare, but many of them were so offbeat and enjoyable that now its easy to eat them up as comfort food.
The story begins in 1964 when United Nations shuttle lands on the moon. The astronauts, thinking they're the first to reach the planet, are shocked to find a British flag and a note that declares the moon has been claimed for Queen Victoria. On Earth, an investigation team finds the last of the Victorian crew, a geriatric Arnold Bedford. He tells them how in 1899, he, his girlfriend Katherine, and inventor Joseph Cavor traveled in a sphere they'd created and explored the moon. There they encountered all manner of bizarre, humanoid/insect creatures, like the Selenites, who seem to be planning an invasion of earth.
Yes, it's just as goofy as it sounds, but if you're a fan of Harryhausen's stop motion effects and have little experience with it outside of the Sinbad films, then you have to see this. It has a striking number of similarities to Journey to the Center of the Earth, but . . . well, it's the moon. Still, if you like retro adventures like the Time Machine or Forbidden Planet, this movie has enough charm to keep you interested til the end.
Steel Dawn, directed by Lance Hool, 1987
I'm a sucker for 1980's post-apocalypse movies. I'll watch any of them, no matter what the quality. Chances are, they're bad. Really bad. So bad they're sublime. Put an Italian director at the helm and you've got a singular sub-genre of film that can't be replicated. Then there's the Swayze factor. He showed up to the party a little late. The tide of Road Warrior rip-offs had ebbed, but in 1987, Patrick Swayze strode across the desert to clean up the apocalypse.
As the mysterious and too-cool-for-school swordsman, Nomad, Swayze roams the wastelands in search of the man who murdered his mentor. He falls in league with the people of Meridian, a village in the grip of the water-hoarding gangster, Damnil. Of course, Swayze steps up to fight off Damnil's forces and become the hero of the hapless villagers.
This is just delicious. I found this on VHS at a Half Price Books for $2. I hadn't seen it since I was 11. Even then, I recognized it as garbage. As with most post-apocalypse films from the 80's, this is a hodgepodge of genres and anachronisms. There are elements of nuclear exploitation films, westerns, and medieval fantasy, and throughout it all, the cherry on the crap sundae, is Patrick Swayze. There's some decent action here, but little else to keep you occupied. It's more Shane than Mad Max. Actually, it's like Roadhouse, but with mutants and swords. Perfect for a bad movie night with your friends.