75 YOF: “War of the Worlds” and Silly Sci-Fi Scariness (1953)

What’s more 1950s than a movie about the space age and all the wonders and dangers lurking out there in the cosmos? Rockets! Lasers! Invasions! Golly-Gee Whillakers!

Martians attack Earth. Simple as.

Not really. Back in the 1950s this may have been new and scary, but in 2016, there’s nothing special. The acting isn’t very good, the characters aren’t very interesting, and while the effects are great for the time, they’ve clearly aged. The pacing is also terrible–sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow. Scenes of war and destruction feel like filler after several minutes, especially when they reuse footage you saw five seconds ago. And the whole story is resolved at the last second by the ultimate deus ex machina.

Honestly, the whole thing plays like a lifeless disaster movie similar to 2012 or the like. I can appreciate this movie as significant for the time, but I don’t want to watch it again. 2/5 stars, and it only reached 2 for historical significance.

It’s amazing how simple, yet realistic this fear of space was.

Remember: this story was previously broadcast in 1938 as a radio program and it was presented in such a simplistic and realistic fashion that some people thought there was an actual alien invasion when they tuned in.

Sputnik had not yet gone up, but space was all the rage. Thus, fears of that mysterious beyond began to take hold around the 1950s. Rockets and other scientific advances made space a probable frontier for exploration, but what was out there, waiting in the inky blackness of space? Everyone wanted to know.

Today? Not so much.


In part, we can blame skepticism. Not many believe that alien life actually exists and therefore there’s no fear of them. In the 1950s, who knew? Even now, we cannot say that there is no life out there with actual certainty (we’ve never been there), but aliens are just so…Hollywood. Alien, E.T., Star Wars, plus video games like Mass Effect… Aliens are so commonly associated with TV screens that it’s hard to imagine them actually existing. Thus, alien invasions have become more exciting than actually frightening.

We can also blame realism. Science has skyrocketed since 1953 and we know infinitely more. Thus, sci-fi terrors have been modified. The fear in Alien wasn’t some massive, indestructible force, but rather a single creature that nobody could understand or escape. The tagline for Alien was “In space, no one can hear you scream.” It’s the feeling of helplessness, and the crippling nature of ignorance that are just as threatening as the alien itself.

We saw a similar thing in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where the fear isn’t so much the aliens as the invasion itself, the subtle, almost invisible way they take over. It’s creepy.

And in 2013 we got Gravity, a movie about space where the enemy is space itself. Low gravity, zero oxygen, lack of control, all natural phenomena that we 100% know exist in space. Even Armageddon gave us the threat of a meteor, something we also know exists and could actually hurt us.  The more we know about space, the more sophisticated our fears become.

Plus, we now have movies that focus more on the wonders of space than the terrors. E.T. taught us that we need not be afraid of what we don’t understand, that goodness may exist out there. Treasure Planet and Wall-E made space look more like a wondrous adventure than a deadly terrain. The more we know about space the less we’ve come to fear it.

Times have changed. That’s why I said I can respect this movie as significant to film history without actually enjoying it. War of the Worlds represented a real fear of a real time. However, it’s no longer 1953. We know more and our experiences are different. I think that’s why the 2005 remake wasn’t so successful. Not many were really scared of aliens by that point, so it was just a movie. In 1953, it was so much more.

But who cares what I think? Do you think sci-fi thrillers have progressed? What do you think of alien invasions? Sound off in the comments!

Previous: 1952–“Don’t Bother to Knock” and the Magnificent, Maniacal Monroe

Next: 1954–White Christmas

See all films.


3 thoughts on “75 YOF: “War of the Worlds” and Silly Sci-Fi Scariness (1953)

  1. Like you, I think its hokey now, but back when I was a kid…..it was fairly scary. Especially with the new one out, this one is hard to watch. If I hadn’t seen it, I’d likely recommend it for the historical aspect- good, so now that you have- move on….nothing to see here….

    Liked by 1 person

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