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11 Forgotten Sci-Fi Films From The 1970s: 'THX-1138,' 'Zardoz' And More

Entertainment | July 23, 2019

Left: THX-1138. Right: Zardoz. Source: IMDB

After the independent film revolution of the late ‘60s it was easier than ever to film a movie and find distribution. Coupled with advances in special effects technology, the brave new world of moviemaking was ready for science fiction. There’s a glut of amazing science fiction from the 1970s, but some of the best films are those that went unnoticed when they were initially released to theaters.

If you’ve seen these forgotten sci-fi films of the 1970s then you’re one of the few movie buffs who knows about esoteric science fiction outside of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Keep in mind, it’s not that those aren’t great films, they’re just the first thing people think of with science fiction in the ‘70s. These movies are insane weird, and while they might not be for everyone, they’re some of the coolest and most groundbreaking movies of the decade. 

What If Dropping Acid Came Back To Haunt You 10 Years Later?

source: FilmCentrix

The people at Woodstock were warned not to take the brown acid, but no one said anything about “blue sunshine.” This hidden gem from 1977 is part political thriller, part say no to drugs campaign, and all psychotic. The film follows a group of people who lose their minds (and their hair) a decade after taking acid called “blue sunshine.”

In the film things get weird when people lose their hair - literally going completely bald - before turning into raging psychopaths within minutes. At the time the film received middling reviews, but in the decades since its release it's taken on a cult following. 

The Original 'I've Got A Bad Feeling...'

source: Warner Home Video

Before he made what we like to call around these parts the most popular science fiction film series of all time, George Lucas directed the ultra-intense, dystopian science fiction film THX-1138. The movie tells the story of a government controlled society where citizens have no autonomy, no emotions, and no hair.

The film stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a citizen who develops feelings in a monotonous world. The film was under-appreciated upon release, but it showed that Lucas could put images and sound together well enough to make a talkie, so he had a few more chances before making a film about a particular set of wars in the stars. You won’t find any of the levity of Star Wars in THX-1138. The film is a dark, stylish mood piece that offers no hope in this galaxy, let alone one that’s far, far away. 

'The Hunger Games' With Wacky Cars

source: Shout! Factory

On April 27, 1975, the world was gifted with one of the greatest works of satire known to man. Directed by Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul), the film shows a world that’s tipped into totalitarianism. Rather than focus on making the world a better place the citizens of Earth spend their time watching violent TV, culminating in the “Death Race,” a televised, cross country race that’s like the Way Out Wacky Races but with 10 times the death and destruction.

What the film lacks in production value it more than makes up for in humor and action. David Carradine stars as a half man, half machine (sort of) named Frankenstein who’s the best at what he does, which happens to be winning Trans-Continental races while killing people.

As kitschy as the film is, it holds up extremely well. It’s fast paced, campy, and the conceit of the film is like The Hunger Games if it didn’t take itself too seriously. 

The Space Madness

source: Vci Entertainment

Before he made one of the biggest independent movies of all time John Carpenter directed a little known movie called Dark Star. While his first film doesn’t provide the same narrative satisfaction as Halloween or Escape From New York, but it’s still a must watch film for fans of Carpenter, or science fiction fans in general.

The film is about the apathetic crew of the Dark Star as they slowly lose their minds over the course of a long trip through space. If you like dark humor in your science fiction then Dark Star will scratch that itch - and it might drive you a little crazy. 

The Perils Of Being Emo

source: Criterion Collection

Anyone who's ever been worried about having children will immediately fall in line with the existential dread of David Cronenberg’s The Brood. This film from 1979 presents the idea of a psychologist who is able to manifest patients' inner emotions into physical beings. This being a Cronenberg film, the inner beings are obviously not little cuties. Instead, they’re horribly violent creatures that try to kill whatever’s making the patient upset.

The Brood is bonkers, but it’s not necessarily a fun watch, so don’t pull this up when you’re trying to Netflix and chill. This is more of an OMG have you seen this movie kind of flick. 

Sean Connery Was Really Tired Of Tuxedos. And Dignity

source: 20th Century Fox

Sean Connery in a cloth diaper, what else do you need to know about this mind warp of a movie? Few science fiction films from the ‘70s lean as far into weirdness as this movie, especially with a star who played a little character named James Bond. Upon its release viewers and critics alike were confused to no end by this movie.

It’s not easy to summarize, but Zardoz is about a guy names Zed (Connery) who lives in a post-apocalyptic future where Earth is sort of ruled or maybe just watched by an advanced, immortal race called the Eternals. Zed, a brute, finds his way into the Eternals camp and learns the truth about his gun spewing concrete god Zardoz. 

The Worst Lassie Reboot

shout: Shout! Factory

Based on the Harlan Ellison novella, A Boy And His Dog offers a realistic look at and end of the world, nuclear scenario. If nihilism is what you’re in the mood for then this movie delivers it by the pound. This little known science fiction film stars Don Johnson as Vic, a young man who roams an apocalyptic wasteland with his psychic dog.

As Vic discovers an underground world of crazies who want him to help repopulate their society he learns that life is hell regardless of where he is. It’s no wonder audiences didn’t flock to the box office for this downer of a film. 

David Bowie As An Alien, It Was Just A Matter Of Time

source: Lionsgate

Come for David Bowie’s cinematic debut, stay for the overwhelming weirdness of watching him drink bottle after bottle of milk. The Man Who Fell To Earth is a kind of science fiction romance film that’s also a character study of the entire human race. Out of all the films discussed here this is likely the one people know the most about - thanks to the fact that it features the Starman.

The film focuses on Bowie’s alien character attempting to bring water back to his planet, something that he immediately fails to do when he falls prey to all of the pleasures of Earth. The film is visually amazing, and it has a very ‘70s style of filmmaking which is to say that’s it can be a huge downer if you’re in a bad mood. 

Face Off

source: Shout! Factory

Does The Incredible Melting Man provide the nihilistic catharsis of The Man Who Fell To Earth or the over the top camp of Death Race 2000? No on both fronts. While this “glop movie” isn’t going to win any retroactive Academy Awards, it is one of the most fun movies from the ‘70s. It’s a classic late night movie that’s perfect for watching with a room full of friends.

Most people who’ve seen this full on psycho-ward of a movie has probably watched it on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it’s worth checking out sans commentary just to say you’ve seen this low budget, very gross movie. 

The Russian Masterpiece That's Up There With '2001' And 'Alien'

source: criterion collection

The starkly beautiful Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, is often mentioned in the same breath as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but aside from being a visually stunning, lengthy film it couldn’t be more different from Kubrick’s flick. Don’t be afraid of the nearly 3 hour run time - likely what kept English audiences away - it’s worth sitting through to watch the story of grief and loss play out.

There’s something in this film for everyone, whether you prefer mind blowing visuals or a good story it’s here. After finishing this film you’ll want to take a break to figure out what it really means to be human. 

What If The 'Westworld' TV Series Actually Made Sense?

source: Warner Bros.

This ain’t your daddy’s Westworld. Well, depending on how old you are this might be your daddy’s Westworld. Released in 1973, this Michael Crichton joint takes the audience on a trip to an android filled world where guests are offered the chance to fight and have sex with anyone they want with no repercussions.

The show picks up its early ideas from the film, but Westworld ’73 is unique to itself. It stars Yul Brynner as a robe-cowboy who stalks the film’s heroes in a kind of commentary on his previous work from The Magnificent Seven and Invitation to a Gunfighter. Aside from the cool robot stuff in the movie, it’s a well paced film that grabs audiences and pulls them through a theme park ride of a movie. Imagine a film that was just the first part of Logan’s Run without that snooze of a back half, doesn’t that sound great?

Tags: A Boy And His Dog | Blue Sunshine | Dark Star | Death Race 2000 | Movies In The 1970s | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | Science Fiction | Solaris | The Brood | The Incredible Melting Man | The Man Who Fell To Earth | THX-1138 | Westworld | Zardoz

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.