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Science-fiction movies are well known for getting a little weird, to the point where much of the time, it’s arguably expected to some extent. These are movies that can show unusual futures, wild alternate realities, or sometimes even bizarre twists on the past. The genre lets writers go for broke if they so desire, with sci-fi being a safe space of sorts to explore outlandish technologies, feature alien, monstrous, or robotic characters, and look at where humanity may be heading many years from now.
As such, it’s safe to say that every decade in cinema history has its fair share of out-there science-fiction movies, but the 1970s may well have the highest number. Filmmakers were taking risks after the cultural liberation of the 1960s, and continually improving technology meant much of what could be imagined could be shown on screen. In celebration of the decade’s strangest sci-fi movies, here are 10 particularly unusual ones, roughly ranked from worst to best.
10 ‘Zaat’ (1971)
Approach Zaat like a so-bad-it’s-good movie, and you’ll surely walk away entertained: any other approach is futile. It’s an infamously low-budget and poorly made movie, but its bizarre and amateurish qualities are also responsible for it being something of a cult classic.
It’s about a scientist who transforms himself into a creature that’s more or less a humanoid catfish, after which his personality shifts, and he begins terrorizing a small town. It’s slow at times, quite funny (probably unintentionally) at others, and would probably make for a surprisingly effective double feature with the superior man-fish movie that is 2017’s The Shape of Water.
9 ”Gamera vs. Jiger’ (1970)
Seven Gamera movies were churned out between 1965 and 1971, with Gamera vs. Jiger being the sixth entry in the bizarre series. All the films focus on a giant, flying, radioactive monster that is essentially for turtles what Godzilla is for lizards (and was likely made to capitalize on the success of said King of the Monsters).
Most Gamera movies involve the titular monster having to defend Earth and its population from another monster that’s far more malicious, and Gamera vs. Jiger is no exception. This one’s made more interesting (and arguably more ridiculous) because much of it takes place inside Gamera himself when two young boys go into his body via a submarine to help save him from eggs that Jiger has laid inside him. Die-hard giant monster movie fans will probably love its silliness; others need not apply.
8 ‘Zardoz’ (1974)
Zardoz is known as that movie where Sean Connery wears a ridiculous outfit and stumbles through a plot that doesn’t make much sense. Such an assessment is fair because Zardoz is aggressively bizarre, taking place in a future world where a violent, savage man (Connery) finds himself living with a group of immortal beings who end up experimenting on him.
The visuals are distinct, and the world it creates is an undeniably eerie and memorable one. Zardoz deserves its status as a bizarre curiosity and a cult classic of sorts, but it’s unlikely many people will walk away from it knowing exactly what it was trying to say (but, in all honesty, that won’t necessarily be a bad thing for all who watch it).
7 ‘Godzilla vs. Megalon’ (1973)
There are plenty of Godzilla movies out there; a few dozen, in fact. The character’s first movie was released in 1954, with plenty of popular sequels released in the decades since, mostly from Japan, with a few American productions featuring the character, too.
Many movies featuring the King of the Monsters are willing to get pretty strange, but still, Godzilla vs. Megalon stands out for being one of the series’ strangest. Godzilla faces two foes here — Megalon and Gigan — but thankfully gets an ally to help him out, too: the shape-shifting robot Jet Jaguar. It’s one of the cheaper-looking and schlockier Godzilla movies, but it’s also so much fun and concludes with one of the most ridiculous fight scenes in movie history.
6 ‘The Visitor’ (1979)
The Visitor is the kind of movie you just have to surrender to, especially if you’re the kind of person who usually feels a strong urge to understand everything. It’s a movie that feels purposefully vague and mysterious, more intent on giving an experience rather than communicating a clear narrative.
The premise is ostensibly about an alien race wanting to save humanity from Satan, whose influence seems to be coming through a powerful demonic young girl. Much of the movie, however, feels unwilling to make this all clear, which is okay in the end because the style and unpredictability of it all keeps The Visitor surprisingly engaging. It also has one of the most wonderfully bizarre casts of all time.
5 ‘Fantastic Planet’ (1973)
A movie that’s half a century old yet doesn’t feel dated, Fantastic Planet has built a reputation that makes it one of the most popular and acclaimed animated sci-fi movies of all time. It’s about a race of giants on an alien planet that keeps regular humanoid creatures as playthings and the experience of those smaller creatures who haven’t been captured and find themselves constantly evading the blue giants.
Its style is unique and haunting, with the simple narrative and relative lack of dialogue leaving much of the film up to the interpretation of those who watch it. It’s certainly strange and unsettling, but it’s also possible to find beauty and wonder within the alien world it depicts on screen in such a distinct fashion.
4 ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976)
It might not be the most popular movie featuring David Bowie, but The Man Who Fell to Earth is home to one of his best performances. Bowie plays an alien who comes to Earth because he wants to find a way to save his dying planet, only to find himself corrupted by humanity and put in great danger by those who choose to exploit him.
It’s a very dark and cynical movie about human nature, presenting its look at the inhabitants of Earth through the perspective of a true outsider. The film also has an odd and uncomfortable atmosphere which, when coupled with its bleak story, certainly makes The Man Who Fell to Earth a difficult watch, but it is a compelling one.
3 ‘Time After Time’ (1979)
One of many great movies released at the end of the 1970s, Time After Time has such an outlandish premise that it shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a time travel story where the hero is the writer H.G. Wells, and the villain is the literal Jack the Ripper, with the former pursuing the latter through time after his working time machine is stolen by the serial killer.
They end up in San Francisco in the 1970s, with the sci-fi movie ultimately becoming, simultaneously, a fish-out-of-water comedy, a crime/thriller, and a romance. It wholeheartedly commits to the wildness of its premise and overall makes it work surprisingly well, ensuring Time After Time is easily one of its decade’s most underrated films.
2 ‘The Super Inframan’ (1975)
Those looking for unconventional martial arts movie classics need not look further than the spectacular and wild The Super Inframan. This takes classic martial arts action and fuses it with Godzilla-style monsters (admittedly, they’re human-sized here, more often than not), making it one of the most ridiculously fun superhero movies of all time.
The titular hero needs to save Earth from an evil princess and her invading army of monsters, leading to non-stop goofy fight scenes and general hilarity that also proves very charming. It’s a relentless assault on the senses in the best way possible, and with its tongue firmly in cheek, it’s not even ironically great; it’s just great.
1 ‘The Man Who Stole the Sun’ (1979)
The Man Who Stole the Sun is sort of a sci-fi movie, but it’s also far too unpredictable to be given such an easy classification. It’s about a high school teacher who breaks bad almost 30 years before it was cool, but instead of going into the drug business, he decides to build his own atomic bomb and use it to extort the government.
It follows the man’s lust for continual power and influence while also depicting the hunt for him before he causes serious damage with such a weapon. It’s a wild movie that feels like it belongs in most genres under the sun and is a continual blast to watch unfold over its borderline-epic runtime of 147 minutes.
KEEP READING: The Greatest Movies of the 1970s, Ranked