The most significant sci-fi movie of the year was definitely dystopian but didn't feel much like other films in the genre, and that's Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
Kubrick is considered by many to be the best director of all-time, making classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove.
This was an adaptation of a well-received novel by English author Anthony Burgess written in 1962. The book is excellent and Kubrick's movie is pretty faithful to it, especially compared to some of his other literary translations, such as The Shining, which Stephen King, the author of the source material, wasn't a fan of.
A Clockwork Orange has been discussed to death so I won't spend too much time gushing over it but suffice to say, it's an absolute masterclass in cinematography, editing, and acting.
It qualifies as science fiction in my mind as it's set in the future, but it forgoes most of the tropes most commonly associated with SF such as aliens or time travel.
It doesn't show or focus much on advanced technology and someone is even shown using a typewriter. There are some tiny futuristic cassette tapes, but they're not fundamentally different from what was available at the time.
However, society is definitely different from the 1970s, especially in terms of fashion, interior design and the slang argot called Nadsat created specifically for the book and utilized heavily in the film.
Another visionary director, George Lucas also came out with a dystopian science fiction work in 1971, his being THX 1138. This was his first feature before going on to direct American Graffiti and Star Wars.
His debut was based on an earlier 15 minute short he made at the University of Southern California film school called Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB.
The feature version was also produced by one the greatest filmmakers ever, Francis Ford Coppola. The script was written by Lucas and Walter Murch, a highly influential editor and sound designer who has won three Oscars and been nominated nine times, and worked on movies like Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and The English Patient.
THX 1138 was distributed by Warner Bros. and was the first movie produced by Coppola's company American Zoetrope. It ran a lean 95 minutes and a had a couple big names in the cast, such as a pre-The Godfather Robert Duvall as the title character and Donald Pleasance, who you may know from the Halloween series or as Bond villain Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.
It even featured Sid Haig, who appeared in the seminal 1967 horror flick Spider Baby, as well as notable blaxploitation films Foxy Brown and Coffy.
George Lucas' first feature is quite different from his later works, as it's much more experimental, cold, and slow paced. To this day THX 1138 and American Graffiti from 1973 are the only non-Star Wars films he's directed.
Lucas' effort was profitable as its modest budget came in under $800,000 and it made over $2 million. It wasn't a huge success, but it obviously gained much more attention after Lucas became a household name.
Reviews at the time weren't that great, but it now has an 88% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes as well as a 74% audience score.
Set in the 25th century, THX 1138 portrays a rather bleak vision of the future where everyone dresses in identical monochrome clothing, has shaved heads, and are identified by a series of numbers and letters instead of more personal names. There are also android police that keep the population in line and chase down the main characters for getting involved romantically and showing emotions.
If you haven't seen it, I suggest checking it out if you're a fan of George Lucas or science fiction films in general. Just keep in mind it's not the most exciting or action-packed film.
Another dystopian cinematic vision called The Omega Man was released in 1971 starring Charlton Heston of Planet of the Apes and Touch of Evil fame.
The Omega Man was based on the 1954 science-fiction/horror novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which had previously been made into a film in 1964, called The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price in the title role. Of course, there was also the 2007 version starring Will Smith, called I Am Legend.
All three are quite different, but in my opinion, this is clearly the best version of Matheson's novel.
The film adaptation was directed by Ukranian Boris Sagal who made 19 features in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and episodes of TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Like THX 1138, it depicts a very unpleasant future. Taking place mostly in 1977 and set in a desolate Los Angeles, The Omega Man portrays a world where biological warfare has wiped out most of humanity and turned the rest into albino mutants that are in some ways similar to vampires or zombies. In the source material, a plague was the cause and the creatures are much more vampiric.
The film is pretty entertaining. The designs of the mutants are cool and creative and Heston gives a decent performance as Dr. Robert Neville and basically carries the film on his shoulders, given the small cast. However, I will say that his acting in this movie isn't dramatically different from his other performances. Rosalind Cash and Anthony Zerbe also do well in supporting roles.
There's also plenty of action and the movie is never boring, featuring great imagery of an empty city devoid of life.
The Omega Man is also notable for being one of the earliest mainstream cinematic examples of an interracial kiss.
Modern reviews are mixed and it has a 59% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a passable user score of 6.6 out of 10 on IMDB. Despite this, I think any fan of science fiction movies should check it out. I'd say it's the second best science fiction flick of 1971, behind A Clockwork Orange.
Another major 1971 science fiction movie was The Andromeda Strain, about a lethal alien pathogen and the attempts to contain it.
It was adapted from a 1969 book by Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, who cameos in the film. Directing duties were handled by Robert Wise, who won Best Director and Best Picture twice, for The Sound of Music and West Side Story. He also edited Citizen Kane and went on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The Andromeda Strain featured groundbreaking special effects by Douglas Trumbull and was one of the first movies to use computer created visual effects. Other films Trumbull worked on include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Partly because of the expensive effects, the movie had a pretty sizable budget of $6.5 million but made almost double that in ticket sales. The sets were another huge addition the budget, costing over $300,000 to create.
It was nominated for two Academy Awards, in Art Direction and Editing, but lost both. The Andromeda Strain is currently sitting at a 67% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie lacks character development and is quite understated and subtle, so don't go in expecting an action-packed epic, but I'd recommend it to fans of more cerebral science fiction.
The third film in the Planet of the Apes franchise came to theaters in 1971 under the title Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
The first installment, simply called Planet of the Apes, came out in 1968 and was one of the most important science fiction movies ever made. The second one was titled Beneath the Planet of the Apes and made in 1970, with Escape coming hot on its heels only a year later.
The third Apes film was directed by newcomer to the series Don Taylor, who was a successful actor in the 1940s and 1950s and went on to direct Damien: Omen II in 1978 and the 1980 science fiction movie The Final Countdown.
This was the first Apes movie to not feature any new footage of star Charlton Heston, but he did appear as the filmmakers used clips from earlier films. Roddy McDowall returned as the ape Cornelius after being absent from the previous installment.
Due to the rather final nature of the second Planet of the Apes, this one understandably went in a different direction. Instead of being set in the far future, Escape takes place in the present day of the early 1970s and is therefore chronologically the first Planet of the Apes film.
The plot revolves around three apes landing back on Earth after traveling through space and being sent backwards in time.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes was financially successful making over $12 million on a budget of around $2 million.
Escape was followed by two sequels in 1972 and 1973, as well as a short-lived 1974 TV show and a cartoon that aired on NBC in 1975. It was eventually rebooted by Tim Burton in 2001 and again in 2011 with a trilogy that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Japan produced two kaiju films in 1971 called Godzilla vs Hedorah and Gamera vs. Zigra. The former was the eleventh movie is the long-running Godzilla franchise produced by Toho and was shown in American theaters the next year as Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.
Gamera vs. Zigra was the seventh movie in the Gamera series that began in 1965. Gamera has been rebooted twice, with the most recent entry coming out in 2006.
Other minor science fiction movies from 1971 include Dracula vs. Frankenstein, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, and Quest for Love, about a parallel universe and featuring Joan Collins.