Executive Summary

War of the WorldsScience fiction as an American film genre between the 1950s and 1970s was a platform for cultural processing. This platform consisted of hypothetical scenarios offering counterfactual histories of the future. Producers constructed realities responding to the angst presently pervading society; thus, seemingly laughable movie sets and absurd character casts grappled with serious subjects and even set a tone 2001: A Space Odyssey of poignant introspection.

Some of the most effective films of this era did not answer questions about the future but rather posed them and allowed viewers to ruminate either on the agency with which they could divert the devolution of American society or on their powerlessness as individuals under the command of ascendant cultural movements and political ideologies.

How could the average American reconcile the perils with the advancements of science? The War of the Worlds (1958) comes into play here. Was America’s economic progress in the post-war years truly a Golden Age, and if so, how long could it last? 2001: A Space Odyssey has answers. Was living in the suburbs a utopian or dystopian dream? The Stepford Wives (1975) offers insight on the nation’s second wave of feminism.

Stepford WivesOverall, this unit seeks to understand how American science fiction film in the three decades of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s interpreted the present by conceiving particular futures. What agency did American citizens have over their lives and their legacy during a period of rapid technological development, world-wide ideological struggle with the communist world and burgeoning dissatisfaction with traditional family values and gender roles?