Friday, June 11, 2010

Campy 70's Sci-Fi

All my loyal readers know that I am a sucker for a campy/cheesy science fiction film. And there was no period cheesier nor campier than the early 1970s. So many "great" movies came out, within the genre, in a very short period of time. For me, as a youngster just starting to love the movies, it was a great period in cinema. Science Fiction films are allowed to talk about social issues that can be overlooked in mainstream dramas. Racism, overpopulation, social structures, corporate influence, personal identity and genetic research are all issues approached in these movies. It becomes okay to discuss controversial issues because it is "in the future" or "in outer space". For example, the first inter-racial kiss on prime time television was on 'Star Trek'. The censors allowed it because the show was set in the future.

The 1950s saw the emergence of "B" movies. These are movies that were made to fill the second half, or "B" slot, of a double feature. Because, at the time, science fiction films were considered kid's movies most of the sci-fi films of the 50s had small budgets. This forced them to use less-than-stellar special effects, actors and costumes. Many of the sci-fi films of the 50s made money and some are fantastic. You can read my articles about 'Fantastic Planet' and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'.

Sci-Fi changed its position in the movie world with the 1968 release of '2001:A Space Odyssey'. This film was critically-acclaimed and well received at the box office. Now all the major studios wanted in on the action. But they still worried about the budgets. So the films received support from the studios to help them look better, but they never got the backing of the accountants for lots of money. That didn't happen until 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' in 1977. Then came the scariest movie ever 'Alien'. After that came 'E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial' and its monumental success. Of course box-office champ 'Star Wars' came out in 1977. Now all the studios were giving huge budgets to its sci-fi films.

This leaves that period between 1968 and 1977 for the campy/cheesy era! I, and so many others, love many of the films that came out during this period. The films below were released between 1968 and 1976. Here are some of my favorites:

Planet of the Apes

This is the film that started the era. The Pierre Boulle book upon which the movie is based is quite different in its setting. In the novel the apes have flying cars and a very advanced world. But that would cost lots of money to film. So the studio changed it to lower the costs. This film stars Charleton Heston. He becomes the King of the era with 3 movies on our list. One warning. Please stay away from the remake. Please, please, please! This is the first of 5 movies in the series. Each had a lower budget than the one before.

Omega Man

Charleton Heston 2.0 on our list. This film is based upon the Richard Matheson novel 'I Am Legend'. This was just redone starring Will Smith. Both versions are intriguing, but I prefer the cheesier 1971 movie. Most of humanity has been either killed or mutated by a disease. Heston plays one survivor, alone, in Los Angeles. The mutated beings don't appreciate this last vestige of humanity. He fights for survival. Both in a physical sense and an emotional one.

Silent Running

You can read my detailed look at Silent Running here. Bruce Dern does a wonderful job as perhaps the last environmentalist in existence. He fights to protect the few remaining trees from destruction with the help of ultra-cute robots. Super-cheesetastic fun!

Soylent Green

"Soylent Green is People!" This film has become a cultural icon and has been spoofed/homaged in dozens of other movies and television shows. For lots of details you can read my blog about another film with Charleton Heston. Heston is King!

The Stepford Wives

Fantastic look at the numbing effects of "fitting in". As someone who cherishes individuality, The Stepford Wives is a perfect wave to start a discussion about sublimating your desires, goals and passions to that of the larger society around you. This film also kicked-off a great debate about suburban lifestyles in America.


Another film in which the individual is asked to give up on their dreams for the "good" of society. James Caan as 'Jonathan E' is fantastic! I devoted a post to this movie. You can read it here.

A Boy and his Dog

Ultra-low budget film with the best shock ending of the group. Yes, even better than 'Planet of the Apes'. The movie also offers a look at a very young Don Johnson. For lots of interesting details, you can read my in-depth article.

Logan's Run

The bidding is currently under way for the remake of this cult classic. In Logan's Run all people must die at 30 years old. But a few don't want to and attempt to escape the ruling class. Michael York plays Logan. Logan is a "sandman" who must capture/kill anyone who attempts to "run" from their fate. Very interesting take on societal pressures and your "duty" to the country.

These are some of the films with which you can have the most fun. They feature intelligent concepts that got short-changed in the film making budget process. But, perhaps, the lack of funds has something to do with why so many people love these movies. Everybody loves the underdog.

Almost every film of this era has either been remade or is being remade. Usually the original is much better. Do yourself a favor. When you hear that an older sci-fi film is being remade, pick up the original right away. You won't be disappointed.


  1. A fun roundup of some old favorites; the '60s and '70s are my favorite movie era (although, if you're that big a fan of Charlton Heston, you should be aware that there's no "e" in his first name). There's actually an even earlier adaptation of I AM LEGEND starring Vincent Price, called THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, that is more faithful to the novel than either the Heston or Will Smith version. You can read about all three in my forthcoming book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN.

  2. I LOVE 'Silent Running.' Those robots he works with are so touching. He scolds them like it matters. I had a chance to see it on the big screen last year at the Cleveland Cinematheque (Ohio). I had grown up watching it on late night TV but at a theater, it was visually fantastic. Thanks for including it on your list of 70's favorites.

  3. It is always wonderful to see great movies on the big screen. I miss the "revival" houses of days gone by. A different double feature every night! Thanks for reading.