This month TCM is leaving the world of Earth behind to explore the galaxy with Out of This World: A Celebration of Sci-Fi Movies. Every Tuesday in July audiences will get a chance to explore the history of science-fiction in cinema, seeing how it influenced the culture and vice versa. If anything, the movies of the past certainly predicted a few things we use today. Alicia Malone, the theme night’s main host, sat down with Journeys in Classic Film to discuss her take on sci-fi and what films you should make time for this month!
There are so many ways people define science fiction. What defines a science-fiction feature to you?
Alicia Malone: To me, science-fiction is a genre which can take big concepts and ground them in reality. They allow us to have difficult conversations about real issues, while also being entertaining. For example, sci-fi films of the 1950s spoke to the fear people felt at the time about the Cold War and the nuclear bomb through depictions of outsider aliens and gigantic monsters taking over the planet. Sci-fi is a safe way to exorcise our collective terror about the world.
Do you remember the first sci-fi classic you ever saw? What about it connected and stuck with you?
I can’t quite remember which classic sci-fi I saw first, but as a child of the 1980s I do have vivid memories of being entranced by E.T. Just like so many kids around the world I fell in love with the little alien and cried when he had to go home! It’s still a film that has a special place in my heart. I appreciate how it’s a children’s film that is scary at times and manages to talk about tough issues like divorce. And that musical score!
What are some of the individual themes you’ve noticed in the films being screened and what should people be looking out for in certain movies?
To write my scripts for this series I watched all the films in chronological order and what I really noticed was how much each movie influenced the ones that came after. For example, you watch Metropolis, made by Fritz Lang in 1927, and you see how Ridley Scott took inspiration for Blade Runner many years later in 1982. As for themes, it’s interesting to tie the films to what was happening in America (and the world) at the time and it’s always fun to watch the evolution of special effects, though I’ll never understand how Stanley Kubrick managed to create 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968!
On the surface this sounds like a very male-dominated genre. As a writer who has uncovered and championed the contributions of women, are there certain female characters in these movies or themes that you think undo these notions?
There are absolutely many female characters who are there just to scream and follow the male character around as he saves the world. But there are many examples of women who broke the mold, playing characters who are still inspiring audiences years later. Of course, I have to mention Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia – a smart, tough, bold woman whose entire journey through Star Wars has been exhilarating to watch. And Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek is a fantastic example of why representation is important. Finally, people around the world could see a woman of color taking charge in a sci-fi film (and show).
What are the must-see movies you recommend everyone watch?
Beyond the films every movie lover should see, like A Trip to the Moon, Metropolis and 2001: A Space Odyssey, I have a few of my favorites to recommend! Since I love 1950s sci-fi, I adore The Day The Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and It Came From Outer Space. Beyond that, one of the movies I had never seen before which made a huge impact on me was the documentary For All Mankind. This weaves together the stories of all the astronauts who made that terrifying journey to the moon, to make it really feel like a collective human experience, rather than the accomplishment of a few men or just one country.
Out of This World airs every Tuesday night on TCM
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.