The 10 Best Silent Era Sci-Fi Films (2022)

The 10 Best Silent Era Sci-Fi Films (1)By Ethan Lewis | |

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Last year science fiction films turned 110. Filmmakers have tapped into science fiction since the beginning of cinema, usually reimagining science fiction novels. You can see the elements of science fiction films evolve from the earliest of movies. Europeans dominated early science fiction movies and are credited with some of the most ground breaking movies in the genre. All of the films on this list are in the public domain and can be found on YouTube. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FrdVdKlxUk

1. Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902)

Well of course we had to include Georges Méliès’ seminal masterpiece. Méliès invented the science fiction film. Le Voyage dans la Lune was the first science fiction film ever made and remains relevant today. We’ll let you take that in for a moment. The very first science fiction film. Damn.

Le Voyage dans la Lune follows the journey of some very ambitious astronomers as they fly off to the moon. They manage to fight off the moon people before returning to Earth as triumphant heroes. It is important to view this film in context. Science fiction novels had been around a long time but film was still in its infancy. When Georges Méliès decided to put some of these science fiction concepts on the big screen, he created a film that continues to be a huge influence. The HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1998) features an entire episode devoted to Le Voyage dans la Lune. The Martin Scorsese modern masterpiece Hugo saw it resurrected from the ashes of lost films. The Smashing Pumpkins video for “Tonight, Tonight” pays homage to this early science fiction classic.

The most remarkable thing is the vision of the filmmaker. In 2013 the view of the moon may seem silly, but Méliès created the look over 110 years ago, almost 30 years before we knew Pluto existed and 67 years before anyone actually landed on the moon. So this film is really quite marvelous and forward thinking.

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2. A Trip to Mars (1910)

Not to be outdone by the French, early filmmaker and famed light bulb creator Thomas Edison directed the first American science fiction film. America doesn’t just want to settle for a journey to the moon! Heck no. We’re going all the way to Mars. Despite being made almost 10 years after Le Voyage dans la Lune, there is a lower quality feel to this film. It is a very simply told story of a man creating “reverse gravity.” With his invention he is able to travel to Mars where he comes across quite a few issues. He finally makes his way back home relatively unharmed. The effects are simple. Although it is short film (approximately 5 minutes long), it paved the way for the American exploration of the science fiction genre.

3. Frankenstein (1910)

The Thomas Edison Company wasn’t done experimenting with the science fiction genre. It should come as no shock that the first mad scientist in cinematic history would be Dr. Frankenstein himself. This vision of Frankenstein differs significantly from both the novel and the famous 1931 version with Boris Karloff as the creature. Frankenstein follows Dr. Frankenstein as he creates his monster and then deals with the consequences of interfering with life and death.

Frankenstein sees the beginning of the mingling of science fiction with horror. The monster in this film is just incredible in terms of costuming and the early use special effects. It is interesting to watch the filmmakers use a mirror to create early film magic. No doubt this was one of the first times this effect had been used.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggxcywksycc

4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)

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We continue our cinematic exploration of the mad scientist with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The thing that is most remarkable about this film is that we can see an evolution in editing. In many early science fiction films, illusions were based on theatrical tricks, the literal use of smoke and mirrors. But with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde we begin to see filmmakers using the medium of film itself to create the special effects. A very cool evolution that is most evident in the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Again, the interplay between science fiction and horror is wonderfully presented.

Another interesting thing about this era of films is the timing. These early films rely on very concise storytelling and manage to fit entire stories into the span of a short film.

5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea further experimented with special effects and editing. The film is best known for its underwater shots which were created using tubes and mirrors. It is also incredible to see the use of such large sets, most notably Captain Nemo’s submarine. Submarines were just beginning to be widely used at the time. This film is a steam punk’s dream come true with sea monsters, submarines, and disclaimers about innovative and radical technology.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the first feature length film in this series and reflects the growing interest in the creation of science fiction films.

6. The Mechanical Man (1921)

By the time the 1920s roll around, we begin to see the early versions of many of our favorite science fiction tropes. This early Italian science fiction film introduced us to evil killer robots. Unfortunately, like many films of this era, a great deal has been lost. Only about a half hour remains of the original footage.

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In The Mechanical Man, a scientist creates a robot only to have the robot stolen from him. The robot ends up in the hands of a woman named Mado who commits crime by robot proxy. Eventually there is a robot battle when a duplicate is created. Which is pretty damn cool. It also has a great use of color schemes to indicate dark, light, and even fire. And of course the robots are amazing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XtA9xnf3To

7. Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924)

Aelita: Queen of Mars isn’t the first to explore space travel, but it is one of the first films to explore some of the more human aspects of space travel, like love and nationalism. The film was made in post revolution USSR and it infuses elements of socialism and national pride. Before Captain Kirk had a green woman in every spaceport, Aelita: Queen of Mars had it’s own strange intergalactic love story between our cosmonaut and the Queen of Mars. She has fallen in love with him while viewing him through a telescope. The concept that we are looking off into outer space and it is looking back at us in a very cool concept. They eventually join forces to overthrow the Martian Elders.

This film has been praised for its costume and set designs. Both of which are futuristic and imaginative. It influenced a great deal of the science fiction films that came after it. Especially atomic age science fiction.

8. The Lost World (1925)

As science fiction leapt forward into the imaginary future it also looked back to a fantasy past, taking audiences from space travel to dinosaurs. Adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle novel, The Lost World follows an expedition guided by a diary that leads explorers to living proof that dinosaurs are still wandering the Earth. When the explorers attempt to bring the dinosaurs back to England they run into more than a couple problems.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about The Lost World is its use of stop animation. The special effects of this film were incredible by 1925 standards and helped to perfect the use of claymation. It is also the first feature film to focus on dinosaurs and it would clearly influence films from Godzilla to Jurassic Park. And of course it helped cement the career of special effects genius Willis H. O’Brien who would continue to perfect his work on films like King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949).

This is another easily accessible public domain classic that you should check out. If not just to see what scary claymation dinosaurs looked like in the prehistoric days of 1925.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1XdMMJDSjA

9. Paris Qui Dort (The Crazy Ray) (1925)

Mad scientists adventures continued in this French science fiction film. A mad scientist uses a freezing ray on people in Paris. But not everyone is affected. Those unaffected run around Paris looting, rioting, and having a good time. Its premise is very original and creative. Paris Qui Dort adds to the rich European science fiction films of the era. It is also one of the longer science fiction films on this list, clocking in at about an hour. The plot has obviously influenced a number of the atomic age science fiction films. Because, ya know. Ray guns are cool.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j92E9J8uafc

10. Metropolis (1927)

Georges Méliès may get the credit for creating the first science fiction film, but Fritz Lang gets the credit for perfecting it. Metropolis is considered one of the best science fiction films to this day. It is also an excellent example of German expressionism.

Metropolis follows a classist dystopia where the very wealthy have total control over society. They live in opulence above ground while people in poverty live below ground and keep the machinery of society running. All this is going just fine until the Master of Metropolis’ son falls in love with a subterranean radical schoolteacher named Maria. And together they must destroy this dystopia from the inside. But Maria’s place as a figure head for a peaceful tomorrow is destroyed when the Master of Metropolis creates a robotic double that is programmed to encourage violence and rioting.

Metropolis remains as interesting and relevant today as it was when it was new. The film was also prophetic. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells criticized its warning about the drudgery of technology, wondering how technology could lead to misery. Clearly our view of the film has shifted in its almost 100 years.

As with all of these films, the special effects are very impressive for their time. Maria’s robotic double influenced George Lucas when he created C3PO. Besides this obvious connection, Metropolis has touched almost every science fiction film in the genre.

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FAQs

What is the most famous silent film? ›

The General

What is considered the best sci fi movie of all time? ›

The 25 Best Sci Fi Movies of All Time
  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Director: Stanley Kubrick.
  2. Blade Runner (1982) ...
  3. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) ...
  4. Alien (1979) ...
  5. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) ...
  6. Planet of the Apes (1968) ...
  7. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) ...
  8. The Matrix (1999) ...
31 May 2022

What were the famous films made during the silent film era? ›

Top grossing silent films
  • The Birth of a Nation (1915) - $10,000,000.
  • The Big Parade (1925) - $6,400,000.
  • Ben-Hur (1925) - $5,500,000.
  • Way Down East (1920) - $5,000,000.
  • The Gold Rush (1925) - $4,250,000.
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (film) (1921) - $4,000,000.
  • The Circus (1928) - $3,800,000.

Are all silent era films truly silent? ›

Silent films were never silent. From their earliest days as an exhibition attraction, motion pictures were accompanied by some form of music–typically a piano, a musical combo in more modest sized houses, and sometimes an entire orchestra in movie palaces.

Which is the first silent movie? ›

Roundhay Garden Scene, which has a running time of just over two seconds, was filmed in 1888. It is believed to be the world's earliest surviving motion-picture film.

Who was the king of silent movies? ›

Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American actor, comedian and filmmaker. He is best known for his silent film work, in which his trademark was physical comedy accompanied by a stoic, deadpan expression that earned him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".

What is the most realistic sci-fi? ›

The Martian (2015)

The Martian just may be the most scientifically accurate sci-fi movie ever made. A faithful adaptation of Andy Weir's novel of the same name, which itself was praised for its authenticity, The Martian takes a realistic look at how a lone astronaut would survive being stranded on Mars.

Why sci-fi is the best genre? ›

Sci-fi movies have inspired most of the current technological advancements. They are the most creative and imaginative due to the endless possibilities. They allow the film creators to talk about sensitive matters indirectly and helps reflect on the current societal problems.

What was the first sci-fi movie in color? ›

The science fiction film was the French classic Le Voyage dans la lune, or A Trip the the Moon, created by science fiction special effects and animation pioneer George Méliès, who modern film audiences may know as one of the heroes of Martin Scorcese's Academy Award-nominated film Hugo.

Who was the most famous silent movie actor? ›

03Charlie Chaplin is the most famous silent film star of all time, spanning a career of more than 75 years until his death in 1977.

How many silent films are lost? ›

Seventy-five percent of all silent films made at the end of the 19th Century and in the first three decades of the 20th, are considered lost, according to a 2013 study by U.S. Library of Congress. Some of these vanished artifacts have taunted film historians for decades.

Who is the most famous silent film maker? ›

Charlie Chaplin

In any case, his real talent was coaxing performances out of his co-stars. While many of his comedy contemporaries made “The Girl” or “The Kid” a blank slate to splash gags on, Chaplin at his best made his co-stars the emotional center of his films.

What is the last silent movie? ›

In 1922, when Hollywood was young and anarchic, an actor known as Baby Peggy made a silent film called The Darling Of New York.

Why did the silent era end? ›

By the early 1930s, the silent film era was over as “talkies” became a theatre sensation. Hollywood was quick to take advantage of the new technology, but European filmmakers were hesitant and believed sound could diminish the aesthetic value of movies.

Why are silent films important? ›

Silent films have always had a huge impact on cinema. The themes and stories portrayed in some of the best silent films have influenced filmmakers for decades to come. Even without any special effects or CGI, silent films have always been memorable.

What is silent era of cinema? ›

In the 1800's, many inventors, such as Thomas Edison and the Lumiere Brothers worked on machines that projected images. This led to the silent movie era which ranged from 1894 to 1929. During this time period, a number of moving pictures were created and shown in theaters on big screens.

Who was the first silent film star? ›

Fifty-three years passed before actor and film-history buff Roddy McDowall sprang for a headstone that marked the departed's singular place in cinematic history: “The First Movie Star

The First Movie Star
Biograph Girl was a phrase associated with two early-20th-century actresses, Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford, who made black-and-white silent films with the Biograph Company.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Biograph_girl
.” Her name was Florence Lawrence.

When did the silent era end? ›

The gradual transition from silent films to talkies took place between 1926 and 1930 and included many small steps — both technological developments and adjustments to audience expectations — before it was complete.

Why do silent movies move so fast? ›

Silent films were mostly shot on hand-cranked cameras, which meant they were intended to run at variable speeds through the cinema projector, rather than today's standard 24 frames per second. Run a silent movie at the modern speed and more often than not it will look ridiculous – jerky and comically fast.

What is silent acting called? ›

Silent acting is known as "Mime". It is a form of acting in which no speech or sound is used but the message is conveyed through gesture and body movement.

Are there any modern silent movies? ›

Contemporary silent films
  • Juha (1999) Not Rated | 78 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance. ...
  • Tuvalu (1999) Not Rated | 101 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance. ...
  • The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish (2005) 16 min | Short, Drama, Romance. ...
  • Brand Upon the Brain! ( 2006) ...
  • The Aerial (2007) ...
  • Dr. ...
  • The Artist (I) (2011) ...
  • Return to Babylon (2013)

Does sci-fi have to be scientifically accurate? ›

So your movie absolutely should be engaging, well-structured and well-executed, but it doesn't need to be accurate. If you want to gain some genuine scientific knowledge, go read a book. (In fact, go read my book!) Most scientists I know actually find sci-fi movies pretty ridiculous and laughable.

How scientifically accurate is 2012? ›

It's no surprise that 2012 was named the most absurdly inaccurate sci-fi film ever with NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous head Donald Yeomans calling it an "exceptional and extraordinary" example of bad Hollywood science - ha!

Is foundation hard sci-fi? ›

The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences, although there are examples generally considered as "hard" SF, such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, built on mathematical sociology.

Why do people love sci-fi films? ›

By engaging in what-ifs that are either far-out and close to home, science fiction stories can challenge assumptions that otherwise would go unexamined. Sci-fi shows us through film, television and literature where our society might have ended up, for better and for worse, had things been different.

Why do people like to watch sci-fi films? ›

Watching science fiction films

fiction films
speelfilm m (plural speelfilms, diminutive speelfilmpje n ) A live-action film (as opposed to a tekenfilm, an animated movie).
https://en.wiktionary.org › wiki › speelfilm
arouses people's interest in science and technology. When we watch more films based on science and technology, it improves their understanding of scientific ideas, concepts, and can give confidence that we will be able to make a career in science.

Why sci-fi is important? ›

Science fiction is absolutely important in literature for a single reason: through its creation of alternate realities in different points of time, readers are attracted to what mirrors where we are today. In that valiant search for the future, science fiction teaches us how to handle the present.

What was the first science fiction story? ›

Published in 1616, The Chemical Wedding predates Johannes Kepler's novel Somnium, which was written in 1608 but not published until 1634 and “which usually gets the nod” as the first science fiction story.

What Sci-Fi was before Star Wars? ›

Metropolis (1927)

It's also often considered the granddaddy of sci-fi filmmaking; movies like Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Star Wars itself all owe a debt of gratitude to the special effects and deep imagination put forth by Lang and his team.

Why did silent movies have no sound? ›

Phonographs and other prototypes of speakers were used to accompany silent films during the late 1920s, yet before this, all films were silent due to the fact that sound recording capabilities within the film itself were not yet developed and wouldn't be until the 1930s.

Who was a famous silent actor in the 1920s? ›

Lon Chaney

Chaney is known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Did actors talk in silent films? ›

Most silent film actors had stage experience and were comfortable delivering dialogue, but were accustomed to directors shouting instructions during filming, and using exaggerated facial expressions and movement to project emotion.

What was the first non silent movie? ›

The Jazz Singer, American musical film, released in 1927, that was the first feature-length movie with synchronized dialogue. It marked the ascendancy of “talkies” and the end of the silent-film era.

Why did Universal destroy silent films? ›

Once the talkie era arrived silents were viewed as taking up valuable studio vault space and many were thrown out. Because of all this, only a small percentage of silent films have survived to be preserved and subsequently copied onto our DVDs and Internet sites.

Why did silent films have music? ›

With skillful scoring, musical accompaniments to silent films become as important as dialogue, and much more expressive. They add to the image a physical immediacy that counteracts the flat screen.

What silent movie actor was known as the man with a thousand faces? ›

"The Man of a Thousand Faces" was silent film star Lon Chaney's moniker. Born in Colorado Springs to deaf parents, Chaney learned early how to communicate through facial expressions and hand gestures.

Why do people watch silent movies? ›

My reasons for liking silent films have to do with obscurity, rooting for the underdog and the fact that a good silent movie is an entirely unique experience. Because we as viewers are required to supply so much of our imagination, a good silent movie will root itself in our brains far deeper than a sound film.

What are old movies called? ›

Classics are renowned films of first rank, reference points in film mythology, or films that have become a part of American cultural folklore.

Who invented silent films? ›

The first film was created by Louis Le Prince in 1888. It was a two seconds film of people walking around in Oakwood Grange garden, titled Roundhay Garden Scene. The art of motion pictures grew into full maturity in the "silent era" before silent films were replaced by "talking pictures" in the late 1920s.

Where did silent films originate? ›

Pioneers of early silent movie era were based almost exclusively in Europe. French Lumière Company sent their cameramen on all four sides of world to record over 1000 newsworthy events, Frenchman Georges Méliès managed to produce astounding amount of movies (beating the entire France production for a time).

What were old black and white movies called? ›

The most glamorous icons of the screen, those actors who only require last names—Garbo, Bogart, Bacall, Gable, Dietrich—are most famously photographed in black and white. And, as its name suggests, at least one whole film genre is defined in large part by the fact that it was shot in black and white: film noir.

What are the dialogue images in silent films called? ›

In this era intertitles were mostly called "subtitles" and often had Art Deco motifs. They were a mainstay of silent films once the films became of sufficient length and detail to necessitate dialogue or narration to make sense of the enacted or documented events.

What is the most famous silent film? ›

The General

How did silent films impact society? ›

Silent movies provided cheap entertainment that overcame the language barrier for the millions of immigrants coming to America in the early 20th century. The Silent Film era was characterized by significant power struggles, as individuals and corporations fought to capitalize on the burgeoning industry..

Are silent films still relevant? ›

Silent films still matter because they're part of the film language that evolved over time. Even as Talkies took over in the late 1920s, the drive and actions of a character still mattered. and look at all the camera angles that needed to be used to show emotion within a silent film.

What was the last silent movie? ›

In 1922, when Hollywood was young and anarchic, an actor known as Baby Peggy made a silent film called The Darling Of New York.

Who made the first silent movie? ›

The oldest surviving silent film is known as the Roundhay Garden Scene. It was recorded on October 14, 1888, by inventor Louis Le Prince in Roundhay, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, England.

Are there any modern silent movies? ›

Contemporary silent films
  • Juha (1999) Not Rated | 78 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance. ...
  • Tuvalu (1999) Not Rated | 101 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance. ...
  • The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish (2005) 16 min | Short, Drama, Romance. ...
  • Brand Upon the Brain! ( 2006) ...
  • The Aerial (2007) ...
  • Dr. ...
  • The Artist (I) (2011) ...
  • Return to Babylon (2013)

What is silent acting called? ›

Silent acting is known as "Mime". It is a form of acting in which no speech or sound is used but the message is conveyed through gesture and body movement.

Why were silent films so popular? ›

The first silent films were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were popular because they were a new technology and people were curious to see them. This may seem strange to us now, but at the time it was a new and exciting way to tell a story.

What ended the silent era? ›

By the early 1930s, the silent film era was over as “talkies” became a theatre sensation. Hollywood was quick to take advantage of the new technology, but European filmmakers were hesitant and believed sound could diminish the aesthetic value of movies.

How many silent films are lost? ›

Seventy-five percent of all silent films made at the end of the 19th Century and in the first three decades of the 20th, are considered lost, according to a 2013 study by U.S. Library of Congress. Some of these vanished artifacts have taunted film historians for decades.

When did the silent era end? ›

The gradual transition from silent films to talkies took place between 1926 and 1930 and included many small steps — both technological developments and adjustments to audience expectations — before it was complete.

What are the 7 film eras? ›

The Evolution of Cinema – 7 eras that defined world cinema.
  • Inception: The Silent Era. ...
  • The Sound Era. ...
  • The Golden Age of Cinema. ...
  • The Blockbuster Era. ...
  • Collaborate. ...
  • The Independent Era. ...
  • New Age Cinema.
7 Sept 2020

Why do silent movies move so fast? ›

Silent films were mostly shot on hand-cranked cameras, which meant they were intended to run at variable speeds through the cinema projector, rather than today's standard 24 frames per second. Run a silent movie at the modern speed and more often than not it will look ridiculous – jerky and comically fast.

What is silent era of cinema? ›

In the 1800's, many inventors, such as Thomas Edison and the Lumiere Brothers worked on machines that projected images. This led to the silent movie era which ranged from 1894 to 1929. During this time period, a number of moving pictures were created and shown in theaters on big screens.

What movie has no talking in it? ›

17 PM. “A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place is a 2018 American post-apocalyptic horror film directed by John Krasinski and written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and Krasinski, from a story conceived by Woods and Beck.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › A_Quiet_Place
” didn't need any dialogue to become a breakout hit at the box office. John Krasinski's near-silent horror film opened to $50 million and is destined to gross over $100 million by the end of its run. Fortunately, it's not the only modern film to take an artistic risk and go the silent route.

What are old movies called? ›

Classics are renowned films of first rank, reference points in film mythology, or films that have become a part of American cultural folklore.

Where can I watch old silent films? ›

The National Film Preservation Foundation website features a virtual screening room replete with silents, including features such as Hell's Hinges (1916) and rarities such as Orson Welles' lost-and-found slapstick treat Too Much Johnson (1938), and the Library of Congress website offers films dating back to the 1890s.

Videos

1. Celluloid Ghosts: Top Ten Lost Films
(Dark Corners Reviews)
2. Top 10 Scariest Silent Movies
(Macs Media)
3. Top 10 Movies of the 1920s
(WatchMojo.com)
4. Woman in the Moon 1929 Fritz Lang Sci-Fi Full Movie Silent Movie
(Classics +)
5. A Trip to the Moon - the 1902 Science Fiction Film by Georges Méliès
(Open Culture)
6. Cosmic Journey (1936) movie
(All soviet movies on RVISION)

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