The 1970s witnessed a remarkable efflorescence of science fiction films, with filmmakers in the U.S. and abroad channeling the relentless darkness and misanthropy of the period’s cinema into dystopian, paranoid and offbeat fables of a bleak new world. After 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), science fiction cinema entered an extraordinarily creative and fertile period equally distinguished by such brooding masterpieces as Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky’s answer to Kubrick, and Nicholas Roeg’s haunting elegy for a dying race The Man Who Fell to Earth, as by the outrageous and imaginative satire of Death Race 2000 and Dark Star. Predicting a future ruled by reality television programs, genetic engineering, environmental plagues and insouciant robots, talented auteurs such as Robert Altman, David Cronenberg and Jim McBride brought a new sophistication and dark verve to one of the most popular postwar film genres.
Directed by John Carpenter
With Dan O'Bannon, Brian Narelle
US 1974, 35mm, color, 83 min.
John Carpenter’s notoriously irreverent sci-fi satire revolves around a deep space crew of slackers, a bomb with a brain, and a ship’s computer provocatively named Mother. The bored crew has been stranded in space for over twenty years on a mission to destroy planets that could pose a threat to Earth. To pass the time, they muse philosophically on their mission while janitor-turned-astronaut Pinback clowns around with his alien sidekick.
Directed by Michael Crichton.
With Yul Brynner, James Brolin, Richard Benjamin
US 1973, 35mm, color, 88 min.
Michael Crichton wrote and directed this boldly satiric cautionary tale where theme parks cater to every male fantasy with robots tailor-making the generic backdrop of the customers’ formulaic dreams – including the recreation of an 1880s Wild West frontier town. Yul Brynner gives one of his most iconic performances as an armed and wickedly dangerous robot drone who potently symbolizes Crichton’s dark vision of a corporate future shaped by entertainment fantasy.
Directed by Nicholas Roeg.
With David Bowie, Candy Clark, Rip Torn
UK 1976, 35mm, color, 139 min.
David Bowie stars in Nicholas Roeg’s melancholy fable of a shipwrecked alien who disguises himself as a human in order to find his way home to his wife and family. Adrift and lost on Earth, the lonely space traveler has little to protect him from the forces of capitalist materialism, the banality of a televisual society and panoptic government authority.
Directed by David Cronenberg.
With Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry
Canada 1975, 35mm, color, 87 min.
David Cronenberg channels his vision of the body as a fundamentally uncanny entity into his exploration of genetic engineering, STDs, condominium living, and sexual drive. When a scientist cavalierly tests his latest parasite invention on his girlfriend, the enclosed world of a Toronto condo becomes a pulsating Petri dish of zombie-ish sexual desire, the labyrinthian architecture seeming to take on a sinister life of its own.
Directed by Walon Green and Ed Spiegel.
US 1971, 35mm, color, 90 min.
Creatively utilizing a fictional scientist narrator, stock footage, and unusual microscopic stop-motion photography, The Hellstrom Chronicle reveals a secret world of insects in a struggle with humans for global domination. A rarely screened expression of seventies sci-fi imagination at its most fertilely paranoid, The Hellstrom Chronicle marries the beauty of its stunning cinematography with its bleak message of nature suddenly unwilling to nurture.
Directed by John Coney.
With Sun Ra, Barbara Deloney, Ray Johnson
US 1974, 35mm, color, 85 min.
Rarely screened today, Space is the Place follows the legendary experimental jazz musician Sun Ra and his “Arkestra” in their earnest quest to be space explorers, intent on settling a planet with African Americans, tempting them away from Earth with their music. An intriguing blend of intergalactic card games, time travel, spaceships and music, Space is the Place imagines outer space as a utopian zone free of racism where everyone is free to create their own destiny.
Directed by Paul Bartel.
With David Carradine, Mary Woronov and Sylvester Stallone
US 1975, 35mm, color, 84 min.
In this brutal yet cartoonish view of the near future, human life is cheap, resistance is futile, and the nation’s favorite pastime is watching a ghoulish sport called “The Death Race,” where speedracers tear cross-country scoring points for killing pedestrians. One of Roger Corman’s most notorious productions, this instant cult classic takes America’s obsession with violence to an outrageous extreme.
Directed by Saul Bass.
With Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, Lynne Frederick
US 1974, 35mm, color, 93 min.
The only feature film directed by pioneering graphic designer - and inventor of the modern film title sequence - Saul Bass, Phase IV is an idiosyncratic cautionary tale about nature taking revenge for man’s recklessness. Again featuring superb insect photography, Bass’s visually stunning film pits two scientists – and the inevitable female love interest – against an army of super-intelligent desert ants.
Directed by Philip Kauffman.
With Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum
US 1975, 35mm, color, 115 min.
This gripping remake of the 1956 classic returns to the themes of paranoia and conformity of the original, with the Earth invasion once again led by sinister changeling plant creatures. As frightening as the Cold War classic, Kauffman brings a renewed urgency to the intrepid fight of the survivors struggling to distinguish friends from deadly predators.
Directed by Jim McBride.
With Shelley Plimpton, Steven Curry, Woodrow Chamblis
US 1971, 35mm, color, 93 min.
Jim McBride's dark post-apocalyptic fable depicts the journey of two teenagers who never knew life before the nuclear war that wiped out civilization coming of age in a primitive, tribal society. Robbed of their own history, Glen and Randa set out on a journey in search of a mythical city, a distant vision of hope glimpsed in folktales passed down to them.
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
With Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet
USSR 1972, 35mm, b/w & color, 169 min. Russian with English subtitles
One of the most profound and influential science fiction films ever made, Tarkovsky's masterpiece strains the boundaries of the genre at every turn. Tarkovsky doesn't search for futuristic vistas – the film's lone city scene was shot in contemporary Tokyo – concentrating instead on the barren soulscapes of his characters, with the film’s mirror-hall ambivalences enhanced by Eduard Artemiev's astonishing score, played on primitive synthesizers.
Directed by Robert Altman.
With Paul Newman, Fernando Rey, Bibi Andersson
US 1979, 35mm, color, 118 min.
A rare science fiction foray from Robert Altman, Quintet is set in a future ice age where people in an otherwise barren society gather with religious zeal to play a mysterious board game that is suddenly transformed into a life or death struggle by corrupt, power-hungry officials.