1936 — “Flash Gordon” premieres

Originating from a 1934 comic strip appearing in publications of the King Features Syndicate, Flash Gordon was one of Buck Rogers’ earliest competitors, and far and away his most successful. Flash Gordon was a blonde American hero who, with his love interest Dale Arden and scientist companion Dr Hans Zarkov, is transported to the planet Mongo. Here, Gordon comes into conflict with the dictator, Ming the Merciless, and encounters Ming’s many client states, slowly uniting them into a force that can overthrow the despot.

In 1936, Flash Gordon first his the silver screen. Episode one of a thirteen part serial premiered on April 6, starring Buster Crabbe as the title character. Since that time, there have been numerous sequels and revivals of the character, most notably the 1980 feature film of the same title that attempted to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars.

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Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

It is my contention that the planet of Transexual, in the galaxy of Transylvania, is actually situated a long time from now, in a galaxy far, far away. All the evidence is there.
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Star Trek and the Rocky Horror Picture Show

While it’s not hard to imagine Dr Frank N. Furter’s reaction to meeting the Federation’s envoys (“Fresh meat!”), it’s a little more difficult to imagine how the various crews of the Star Trek franchise would react.
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1955 – “Tarantula” premieres

One of a spate of giant animal films produced by Hollywood during the Fifties, “Tarantula” is superior to most of them in two major respects. The first is the acting of Leo G. Carroll, as Professor Deemer, the mad scientist whose good intentions go tragically awry. (Who would have thought that randomly irradiating animals would be a bad idea?)

The second is the quality of its visual effects: the film used real animals shot against reasonably convincing mattes as much as possible. Compared to the giant ants of “Them!”, shot a year earlier, it was a quantum leap in effects quality. Jack Arnold, who directed this film, would use the same technique to even greater impact in “The Incredible Shrinking Man” two years later (although in that case, it would deal with shrinking rather than growing).

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Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1933 – “The Invisible Man” premieres

One of the great classics of Universal studios’ horror output, “The Invisible Man” was based on the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. The first adaptation of Wells’ classic, three screenwriters – R. C. Sherriff, and the uncredited Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges – all worked on it, and it was directed by James Whale.

It made a star of Claude Rains (in what was his first Hollywood film), and spawned an incredible number of sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs (although Universal were prone to make franchises out of their monsters – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf, even the Mummy, all had many films in the Thirties and Forties.) Even Wells liked it, although he thought that the title character was more of a madman in the film than in his book.

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Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1963 – “The Day of the Triffids” premieres

Based on an original novel written by John Wyndham and published in 1951, “The Day of the Triffids” starred Howard Keel and Janette Scott. It wasn’t, however, a very faithful adaptation. It’s not a bad film – with the possible exception of its deus ex machina ending – but it doesn’t have much relation to the novel.

It is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction and horror movies of all time – its opening sequence inspired ’28 Days Later’; the alien plants helped inspire ‘E.T.’, and the list goes on.

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Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1933 – “King Kong” premieres

One of the most famous films of all time, the original King Kong is famed for its storyline (a sympathetic monster?), Fay Wray’s luminous beauty and Ray Harryhausen’s superb stop-motion special effects. It was not the first giant monster film, nor the first jungle film – there were dinosaur and Tarzan films before it – but it was the first giant ape film.

Kong himself has gone on the be one of the most famous movie monsters of all time, with multiple remakes, sequels and appearances in other films to his credit – his only serious rival for the crown of King of Monsters is Godzilla (who is equally iconic and even more prolific).

The film is one of the most loved films of all time, being a massive commercial success (except in Nazi Germany, where it was banned), a critical favourite (admittedly, of the guilty pleasure variety), and a cult classic. Not bad for an adventure yarn.

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Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast
Fanfare / Don’t Dream It, Be It — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1956 – “Forbidden Planet” premieres

As adaptations of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” go, “Forbidden Planet” is out there. Out there in space, in fact.

Starring Anne Francis and Leslie Neilson – yes, the guy from The Naked Gun films and all the rest – it tells the story of a mad scientist, his beautiful daughter, the monster that he created and the brave man who saves the daughter from the monster and wins her heart in the process.

Both commercially and critically, it is one of the most successful science fiction films of all time, winning Oscars for its special effects. The most special of these is Robby the Robot, who would go on to appear in numerous other films.

Referenced in:
Science Fiction Double Feature – Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1951 – “When Worlds Collide” premieres

George Pal was the producer of some of the most famous science fiction movies of the Fifties – Destination Moon, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and, of course, When Worlds Collide.

Based on a Philip Wylie novel from 1933, When Worlds Collide has a ludicrous plot involving the evacuation of the planet Earth when another planet is on a collision course with it. The ludicrous part is that the citizenry is evacuated to the world on the collision course, which always seemed to me to be kinda frying pan to the other side of the frying pan.

Still, the film won an Oscar for its special effects, and remains a classic of Fifties sci fi, and considering that genre, the silliness of the plot is probably a good part of the reason why.

Referenced in:
Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1951 – “The Day The Earth Stood Still” is released

The Day The Earth Stood Still” was a milestone in the history of the cinema. It was perhaps the first truly serious science fiction movie, and certainly the first such film to acheive mainstream success. Before it, and for the most part, after it, science fiction films were b-movies. “The Day The Earth Stood Still” changed that.

Its combination of serious social critique with the tropes of science fiction cinema was a shocking break from the previously accepted notions of filmic science fiction cinema. It remains one of the most influential films ever made, and not merely within its own genre or medium – when Ronald Reagan was President, he made references to the warring nations of Earth uniting against an extra-terrestrial threat, appparently inspired by his viewings of “The Day The Earth Stood Still“. More recently, 2009’s “District 9” has shown that the science fiction film as social commentary is alive and well.

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Science Fiction Double Feature – Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1932 – “Doctor X” premieres

“Doctor X” was the second Warner Bros. movie to be filmed using the improved Technicolor process which both removed grain and improved the colour and clarity of the film. Starring Fay Wray, Lee Tracy and Lionel Atwill, the film was directed by Michael Curtiz (best known to history as the director of “Casablanca”.

The film’s plot is complex and intricate, a murder mystery and a monster film in one. It was produced before the motion picture Production Code came into force, and thus was able to feature mature themes such as murder, rape, cannibalism, and prostitution.

Seven years later, the film spawned a sequel, “The Return of Doctor X”, but thanks to differences in cast and crew, plus the effects of the Hays Code, the similarity between the two films begins and ends with the titles.

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Science Fiction Double Feature – Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast