1930 & 1931 - Frankenstein

8.5 / 7.4 8.0 8.31

Mordaunt Hall gave Frankenstein 1931 a very positive review and said that the film "aroused so much excitement at the Mayfair yesterday that many in the audience laughed to cover their true feelings." "There is no denying that it is far and away the most effective thing of its kind. Beside it "Dracula" is tame and, incidentally, "Dracula" was produced by the same firm . . ."

Frankenstein has received acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1931, as well as one of the greatest movies of all time. In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.

Frankenstein also received recognition from the American Film Institute. It was named the 87th greatest movie of all time on 100 Years. . . 100 Movies. The line "It's alive! It's alive!" was ranked as the 49th greatest movie quote in American cinema. The film was on the ballot for several of AFI's 100 series lists, including AFI's 10 Top 10 for the sci-fi category, 100 Years. . . 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition), and twice on 100 Years. . . 100 Heroes and Villains for both Dr. Henry Frankenstein and the Monster in the villains category.

The film was ranked number 56 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding movies. It was also ranked number 27 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Additionally, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 14th scariest film ever made.

Another sci-fi film of this period worth a mention includes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). This film is certainly considered a classic like Frankenstein and earned a SFMZ final score of 7.85. Frederich March won the Oscar Best Actor and the film was Oscar nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Adaption Writing. At the Venice Film Festival, it also won Most Favorite Actor and Most Original Fantasy Story.

The remarkable Jekyll-to-Hyde transition scenes in this film were accomplished by manipulating a series of variously colored filters in front of the camera lens. Fredric March's Hyde makeup was in various colors, and the way his appearance registered on the film depended on which color filter was being shot through.

1932 - Island of Lost Souls

7.9 / 7.6 7.6 7.63

Island of Lost Souls is an American science fiction horror film starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke as the Panther Woman. Two films have since been made based on the same H. G. Wells novel. The first was released in 1977 and stars Burt Lancaster as the doctor. The in 1996, with Marlon Brando as Moreau.

The film was directed by Erle C. Kenton and produced by Paramount Pictures from a script co-written by science fiction legend Philip Wylie, the movie was the first film adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, published in 1896. Both book and movie are about an obsessed scientist who is secretly conducting surgical experiments on animals on a remote island.

The film was examined and refused a certificate three times by the British Board of Film Censors, in 1933, 1951, and 1957. The reason for the initial ban was due to scenes of vivisection; it is likely that the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, which forbade the portrayal of cruelty to animals in feature films released in Britain, was a significant factor in the BBFC's subsequent rejections.

The film was eventually passed after cuts were made with an 'X' certificate on 9 July 1958. It was later classified as a PG on DVD in 2011 with the cuts reinstated. Original author H. G. Wells was outspoken in his dislike of the film, feeling the overt horror elements overshadowed the story's deeper philosophies. The censors also objected to Dr. Moreau saying "Do you know what it means to feel like God?"

Certainly deserving as a worthy mention is Boris Karloff's The Mask of Fu Manchu, which earned a SFMZ final score of 7.31. During its initial release, the film was criticized by the Chinese government, and the Chinese embassy in Washington launched a formal complaint against the film for its hostile depiction of the Chinese.

Because of the criticism of the film's racism, the 1992 VHS release of the film removed several scenes containing the most criticized lines of dialogue. The latest release of this movie by TCM has restored the film to its original version.

Long shots reveal that Boris Karloff is wearing platform shoes, which is why he is taller than all his costars. It took Boris Karloff 2.5 hours every morning to apply makeup for this role. MGM once considered Clark Gable for the part later played by Charles Starrett.

1933 - King Kong

9.0 / 7.2 8.0 8.35

I hesitated including King Kong as a sci-fi film, some resources say no, some say yes it's sci-fi. Numerous resources do include the sci-fi genre for Mighty Joe Young and it's essentially a spin off of King Kong, so I decided to include this landmark film. The film made approximately $2 million in its initial release, with an opening weekend estimated at $90,000.

Kong did not receive any Academy Awards nominations. Selznick wanted to nominate O'Brien and his crew for a special award in visual effects but the Academy declined. Such a category did not exist at the time and would not exist until 1938. Sidney Saunders and Fred Jackman received a special achievement award for the development of the translucent acetate/cellulose rear screen � the only Kong-related award.

The film has since received some significant honors. In 1975, Kong was named one of the 50 best American films by the American Film Institute, and, in 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1998, the AFI ranked the film #43 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.

Other All Time lists for King Kong include AFI's 1 100 Years...100 Thrills � #12, 100 Years...100 Passions � #24, 100 Years of Film Scores � #13, 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) � #41, and AFI's 10 Top 10 � #4 Fantasy film.

Also in 1933, The Invisible Man is another sc-fi horror classic, earning a 7.61 SFMZ final score. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." James Whale also won the Venice Film Festival Special Recommendation Award for The Invisible Man. In order to achieve the effect that Claude Rains wasn't there when his character took off the bandages, the director had Rains dressed completely in black velvet and filmed him in front of a black velvet background.

1934 & 1935 - The Bride of Frankenstein

9.0 / .6 7.9 8.37

The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 was profitable for Universal, with a 1943 report showing that the film had by then earned approximately $2 million ($26.5 million as of 2013) for the studio, a profit of about $950,000 ($12.6 million as of 2013). The film was critically praised upon its release, although some reviewers did qualify their opinions based on the film's being in the horror genre.

The New York Times called Karloff "so splendid in the role that all one can say is 'he is the Monster.'" The Times praised the entire principal cast and Whale's direction in concluding that Bride is "a first-rate horror film", and presciently suggested that "The Monster should become an institution, like Charlie Chan."

Bride was nominated for one Academy Award, for Best Sound Recording (Gilbert Kurland). The film's reputation has persisted and grown since its release. In 1998, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". Frequently identified as James Whale's masterpiece, the film is lauded as "the finest of all gothic horror movies".

Time rated The Bride of Frankenstein in its "ALL-TIME 100 Movies", in which critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel declared the film "one of those rare sequels that is infinitely superior to its source". In 2008, Bride was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. Also in 2008, the Boston Herald named it the second greatest horror film after Nosferatu. Entertainment Weekly considers the film superior to Frankenstein.

While nothing worth mentioning for 1934, the year 1935 was a good year for sci-fi film. Though The Bride of Frankenstein's SFMZ final score edged out King Kong by a fraction, both films could be considered the best of the decade.

Another sci-fi classic released in 1935 was Peter Lorre's Mad Love, earning a 7.47 SFMZ final score. Lorre's performance as the insane surgeon Dr. Gogol was the focus of critic's praise. Charles Chaplin called Lorre the screen's best actor after seeing his performance in Mad Love.

Audiences were also treated to Super-Speed (IMDB 7.1), a scientist invents a "superspeed" device that makes people fight for its ownership. Also, Gibel sensatsii (giant robots!), and Transatlantic Tunnel, a team of international scientists and engineers attempts to build a tunnel under the ocean.

1936 - The Devil-Doll

7.8 / 6.8 7.0 7.20

The Devil-Doll is a sci-fi horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring a cross-dressing Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O'Sullivan as his daughter, Lorraine Levond. The movie was adapted from the novel Burn Witch Burn! by Abraham Merritt.

Paul Lavond (Barrymore), who was wrongly convicted of robbing his own Paris bank and killing a night watchman more than seventeen years ago, escapes Devil's Island with Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) a scientist who is trying to create a formula to reduce people to one-sixth of their original size. The intended purpose of the formula is to make the Earth's limited resources last longer for an ever-growing population. The scientist dies after their escape.

Lavond joins the scientist's widow, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), and uses the shrinking technique to obtain revenge on the three former business associates who had framed him and to vindicate himself. Lavond clears his name and secures the future happiness of his estranged daughter, Lorraine (O'Sullivan), in the process. Malita isn't satisfied, and wants to continue to use the formula for personal gain. She tries to kill Paul when he announces that he is finished with their partnership, having accomplished all he intended, but she ends up blowing up their lab and killing herself.

1936 also produced the sci-fi epic H.G. Well's Things to Come which earned a SFMZ final score of 6.93. The film accurately predicts the scale and usage of large-format, flat-screen jumbo-tron style LCD TV screens.

Another is the sci-fi horror The Invisible Ray with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (the one of a number of film pairings), which earned a SFMZ final score of 6.67. This film was a part of the original Shock Theater package of 52 Universal titles released to television in 1957, followed a year later with Son of Shock, which added 21 more features.

Other sci-fi films of 1936 worth a mention include the charming and nostalgic serial Flash Gordon (IMDB 7.1), Boris Karloff's terrific sci-fi horror The Man Who Lived Again, and the Soviet Union's realistic depiction of a launch to the moon with Kosmicheskii Reis.

1937 & 1938 - Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars


Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars is a serial film of 15 episodes, based on the comic strip Flash Gordon. It is the second of three Flash Gordon serials made between 1936 and 1940. The main cast from first serial reprise their roles: Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon, Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, Frank Shannon as Dr. Alexis Zarkov and Charles B. Middleton as Ming the Merciless.

Also in the principal cast are Beatrice Roberts as Queen Azura, Donald Kerr as Happy Hapgood, C. Montague Shaw as the Clay King, and Wheeler Oakman as Ming's chief henchman. This serial, the first sequel to Flash Gordon, was based on the 1936 "Big Little Book" adaptation of the strip "Flash Gordon and the Witch Queen of Mongo".

According to Harmon and Glut, the location was changed to Mars to capitalise on Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds broadcast. According to Stedman, this serial preceded that broadcast, which made Universal hastily release a feature version of the serial as Mars Attacks the World to capitalise on the publicity.

Universal Pictures also prepared a feature length edited version of this serial and ready for release in October 1938 when Orson Welles astounded the country with his radio production of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. As an exploitation film tie in, Universal had the feature's title changed to Mars Attacks the World, and opened it at a Broadway theater as a major premiere event. Time magazine declared the serial to be "a Grade A cinemedition of the famed King Features strip.

Nothing worth mentioning for this period, Flash Gordon's sequel serial primarily owned the sci-fi spotlight during this time. One of the very few alternatives for sci-fi fans could be the French sci-fi drama horror I, Accuse (1938).

After suffering the horrors of World War I, Jean Diaz immerses himself in scientific research seeking a machine to prevent war. His success is thwarted by the government, so he summons the ghosts of the war dead from the graves to protest. Eeek!

1939 - Son of Frankenstein

7.3 / 7.0 7.1 7.13

After the dissolve of the Laemmles with Universal and the British embargo on American horror films in 1936, Karloff and Lugosi found themselves in a career slump. For two years, horror films were out of the New Universal Studios line up.

On April 5, 1938, a nearly bankrupt theatre in Los Angeles staged a desperate stunt by booking Frankenstein and Dracula on a double bill. The result became a phenomenon and soon, Universal decided to make a big budget version of the next Frankenstein sequel.

As director James Whale was similarly in a slump and did not wish to make any more horror films, Universal selected Rowland V. Lee to direct Son. Lee's film explores dramatic themes: family, security, isolation, responsibility and father-son relationships.

Son of Frankenstein marks changes in the Monster's character from Bride of Frankenstein. The Monster is duller and no longer speaks. The monster also wore a giant fur vest, not seen in the first two Frankenstein films. He is fond of Ygor and obeys his orders. Unlike the previous two films, the Monster only shows humanity in two scenes: first when he discovers Ygor's body, letting out a powerful scream and later when he contemplates killing Peter but changes his mind.

Peter Lorre was originally cast as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, but he had to leave the production when he became ill. Replacing Lorre was Basil Rathbone, who had scored a major triumph in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Other sci-fi films of 1939 worth a mention include Buck Rogers (IMDB 7.1) and Boris Karloff's The Man They Could Not Hang. In Buck Rogers, the bullet cars used in the movie were the same ones used in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. Much of the background music was originally used in The Bride of Frankenstein.

Regarding The Man They Coud Not Hang, the film was part of the Son of Shock package of 21 titles released to television in 1958, which followed the original Shock Theater release of 52 features one year earlier. This was also one of the 12 Columbia titles, the other 61 all being Universals.

While the thirties decade wrapped up with an underwhelming finish, as you can see it was the mid-thirties that turned out a number of sci-fi classics.

SCI-FI BEST FILMS BY YEAR - 1940 to 1949 > > >

Resources: wikipedia.org, imdb.com, rottentomatoes.com, metacritic.com

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