when the world was young: sci-fi movies of the ’70’s

The latest in a series about influences from my earlier days


Sci-fi purists might sneer (but then, that’s what they’re best at) when I tell you that a good chunk of my formative years was spent in darkened movie theaters and in front of the TV.  And what was I watching back in the distant-but-seemingly-resurrected Seventies?  Star Wars, of course, but today, I’ll discuss these other films:


Planet of the Apes.  The original series started in 1968, but I first encountered them in the middle, on TV, with Conquest of…, starring Roddy McDowall as Caesar.  Though the special effects of the Tim Burton version and the most recent reboot are much better, they didn’t do anything for me.  The latter because it didn’t emotionally engage me, the former because I tired of Tim Burton’s schtick many years ago.



(As an aside, it disturbs me how many of the outdoor shots of Conquest look like parts of Washington, DC, where I work).



The first PotA movie featured Charlton Heston, who also starred in Soylent Green, and The Omega Man.  The latter is the middle-aged, not-so-cool-anymore-dad of The Walking Dead.  The former used to be funny for its over-the-top reveal of Soylent Green’s ingredients, but it becomes less and less amusing and more and more prophetic with each news report.




Westworld, by the late Michael Crichton, has largely been forgotten.  A shame, methinks.  An amusement part with robot characters the guests can interact with sounds like something that might open any day now in Japan.  A computer virus that causes said characters to go off-script?  Not far-fetched at all.




The Baby Boomers had been told to “never trust anyone over 30,” and just as they were turning 30, Logan’s Run told them they were about to hit the wall.  Whether they were ready or not.



Then there’s the weirdness that is Zardoz.  Yes, I’ve seen the whole thing.  No, I can’t explain any of it.  I just pray no one ever decides to remake this movie.



Let’s…let’s NOT do this again, shall we?


Speaking of remakes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was redone in 1978, and it may be the best film version of this story.



The “Body Snatchers” come from outer space, so let’s take a quick detour there.  But space is no less spooky and scary than here on Earth.  Sometimes, it’s much, much more.



Alien became an object lesson on how to screw up something awesome by refusing to quit when one is ahead.  The first movie was brilliant, the second was a masterpiece, and everything done with it since—including Prometheus—has been crap.


It’s not all bad up there.  Sometimes, the aliens are nice guys.



Wizards is a science-fantasy outing that was on its way to being something less than awesome when it fell victim to Godwin’s Law.  Nazis ruin everything.



Finally, from the not-too-distant future (2018!), there’s Rollerball.   The rule changes for safety in the NFL turning you off from the game?  Have we got entertainment for you.  Rollerball makes MMA look like sissy stuff.



As you probably gathered from the above examples, sci-fi films of the 70’s 1) often had A BIG MESSAGE (which they usually beat their audience over the head with); and 2) had a paucity of “happy endings.”


(They were also prone to over-the-top acting, as well as effects that weren’t all that back then—and haven’t aged well.  I wonder if we’ll be saying the same about The Avengers and Catching Fire in 35-40 years?)


It’s those characteristics of these films that have stuck with me and influenced my writings.  I’m not compelled to put A BIG MESSAGE into each of my works, but for me, speculative fiction needs to say something about the human condition—either what it is now, or what it might be on its way to becoming.  I’m not interested in doing stories consisting of nothing more than monsters and fights and explosions strung together, one after another.


However, this “saying something” still needs to be engaging and entertaining.  There’s no point in having A BIG MESSAGE if no one’s going to bother reading the story.


While I am not a fan of the bleak and dismal endings of many a 70’s movie (not just in the sci-fi genre, btw), I’m also not wild about “And they all lived happily ever after” (except, of course, in actual faerie tales).  It just seems to me that a character can’t go through the harrowing events of some of these films and come out A-OK hunky-dory peachy keen on the other side.  Not buying it.  All the pieces might NOT get put back together again.


I’ve had several people tell me that they cried at the end of Dragontamer’s Daughters, and if you think THAT was a weeper, just you wait until you get a hold of Lost Dogs.  Hmmm…a post-apocalyptic novel about family pets?  You might want a fresh box of tissues for that.


As to why so many 70’s movies were downers…well, the whole decade was a downer.  Even as a kid I recognized that the country—and the world—was going through some bad, bad times.  Methinks that the sci-fi movies of the ’70’s merely reflected the angst of the time.


Until, that is, Star Wars said, “Screw it: let’s just have some fun,” and blew the doors off the genre.  More about that some other time.


Thank God you guys got here!

One more depressing 70’s movie, and I was about to open a vein


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5 Responses to when the world was young: sci-fi movies of the ’70’s

  1. James Maas says:

    I can honestly say, I’ve seen everyone of the movies you mentioned in this article. (Our ABC affiliate station would run movies afterschool and often they ran Planet of the Apes movies)
    I agree the Seventies sucked.

  2. The movie theater at the nearby mall would run sci-fi and horror films on Saturday mornings for $1, and sometimes they were double features. And yeah, an awful lot of afternoon showings on the UHF channels.

  3. Michelle Sebly/ESWA says:

    I loved watching Twilight Zones on tv in the early 80s (which are from the 60s but I associate them with the 70s lol), and ANY sci fi movie made from the 50s to the well anytime is AWESOME.

  4. Michelle Sebly/ESWA says:

    Brother From Another Planet was good and is no Netflix presently too. Ammityville Horror….

  5. Michelle Sebly/ESWA says:

    I did enjoy the modern planet of the apes because it explained the earlier one…but as far as effects go..I prefer the original effects. That’s part of the charm!