When it comes to science fiction cinema, it’s generally thought that the 1970s or 1980s were the decades in which the genre really took off, so to speak. We may be partial to the '70s, with its Star Wars and its Alien. Or we may fawn over the '80s with films like Blade Runner, The Terminator, and so much more. But both of these decades owe something to the more modest, unassuming sci-fi of the ‘60s.

A time of great change - especially when it comes to international cinema - the 1960s were a truly spectacular time for film. The French New Wave had its heyday, and Hollywood began to give way to the younger mavericks of New Hollywood. These artistic movements rubbed off on the genre of science fiction. Though fun, schlocky, “B-movie” sci-fi was still being made in the ‘60s, major auteurs began to try their hand at the genre. And it would never be the same again.

Related: The Best Sci-fi Movies of the 1970s, Ranked

Updated on August 3rd, 2023 by Yosra Ben Lagha: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.

13 Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Guy Montag burns books in Fahrenheit 451
Rank Film Distributors

Based on Ray Bradbury's classic novel, Fahrenheit 451 is a sparkling sci-fi adaptation of French auteur François Truffaut. It was a larger-scale production than Truffaut was used to, but he did a fine job capturing the spirit of Bradbury's dystopian world.

If not always technically competent, Fahrenheit 451 is a marker of the state of science fiction cinema in the 1960s. In particular, it showcases the increasing ambitiousness of directors working with the genre. The novel and film received a modern adaptation in 2018 by HBO.

12 Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

A scene from Mothra vs Godzilla
Toho Co

A classic Japanese monster, or "kaiju," movie, Mothra vs. Godzilla is the best in a series of Godzilla films that were released in the 1960s. Though we wouldn't quite say that the special effects hold up today, they represent the pinnacle of Toho's kaiju production efforts at the time.

Its nonstop monster-on-monster (and military-on-monster) action doesn't hurt either. Depending on the level of your Godzilla fandom, you can either watch the series chronologically or skip straight to this one.

11 Children of The Damned (1964)

Children of the Damned cast

The British science fiction horror film, Children of The Damned is a sequel to its predecessor, the 1960s Village of the Damned, and directed by Anton M. Leader. The film tells the moving story of six children taken under the care of UNESCO doctors and psychologists to be the subject of research for their unusual and advanced intelligence.

They show signs of telepathy and telekinetic abilities. However, what they all have in common is an absent father and an abusive domestic life. One of them in particular, Paul, has a neurotic mother, Diana (Sheila Allen), who despises him. Afraid of what their power might represent, the government agents try to harm the children and the plot turns into a thrilling battle between these gifted children and the military.

Related: Best Sci-Fi Movies for Kids, Ranked

10 Night of the Big Heat (1967)

Jane Merrow in Night of The Big Heat
Planet Film Distributors

Another thrilling British science fiction film, Night Of The Big Heat, is based on a novel of the same name published in 1959 by John Lymington. The movie focuses on the very strange occurrence of an abnormal heatwave hitting a British island in winter.

A former novelist named Richard Callum and his wife Frankie meet a scientist who claims the heatwave is caused by spider aliens sending heat from their planet through a radio wave ray. The movie beautifully portrays the early cinematic conception of humans defending their planet against alien invasion.

9 The Time Machine (1960)

The cast of The Time Machine

In this post-apocalyptic science fiction movie based on the 1895 novella of the same name by H. G. Wells, imagination runs wild. The idea to travel into the distant future is something shared by many, though not everyone is prepared for the consequences that may follow.

In Victorian England, an inventor named George constructs a time travel machine and discovers that mankind's descendants will divide into two opposing species: The vegetarian Eloi and the Morlocks, who feed on the Eloi. Of course, no science-fiction movie is complete without the casual skepticism that the time traveler faces when he tries to share his knowledge with his friends and kin. The Time Machine provides a gripping plot of jumping back and forth in time, setting the foundation for later time-travel movies and TV shows.

8 Last Woman On Earth (1960)

Last Woman on Earth cast ( lead characters)
The Filmgroup

What starts as a delightful vacation in Puerto Rico turns into a dangerous apocalyptic scenario that puts everyone in survival mode. Last Woman On Earth is a science fiction movie directed by Roger Corman.

It tells the story of Evelyn and her husband who go swimming with their friend Martin only to be surprised with a general state of panic when they resurface. Apparently, there is a mysterious shortage of oxygen and people start dying by the hundreds of asphyxiation. All kinds of marine creatures appear, and the audience is taken on a fantastic journey of survival.

7 La Jetee (1962)

A man undergoes an experiment in La Jetee
Argos Films

La Jetée is an early example of time travel done right that showcases the true artistic potential of filmmakers in the '60s. It focuses on a post-World War III project to send someone back in time to prevent the conflict. But don’t expect a standard narrative film here.

French director Chris Marker chose to create La Jetée using only still images - so instead of recorded footage we get photographs spliced together in sequence. Sometimes, its rapid editing suggests movement where there is none. It’s fitting, we think, that a movie about a radical scientific experiment is so radically experimental.

Related: 8 Movies That Got Time Travel Right

6 Fantastic Voyage (1966)

Spaceship in Fantastic Voyage
20th Century Fox

Fantastic Voyage is a brilliant science fiction movie directed by Richard Fleischer that equally testifies to the 1960s being among the pioneering years of this genre. It tackles the story of scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) who develops a way to shrink human beings and other objects for only one hour. The scientist who is working in communist Russia is transported to America.

During his transportation, he undergoes an attack and his life is endangered. In an attempt to save him, the team decides to shrink one team aboard the submarine Proteus and inject them into the injured scientist's body to fix the clot more efficiently. They only have a short period of time before the miniaturization wears off, which leads to amazing visuals that highlighted the creativity and ingenuity of the '60s.

5 Alphaville (1965)

The cast of Alphaville
Athos Films

Leave it to the French to bring science fiction and arthouse sensibilities together in one picture. Part futuristic sci-fi dystopia and part shadowy noir, Alphaville is Jean-Luc Godard's contribution to a burgeoning genre.

It's a long way from Star Wars, to be sure, but Godard is able to conjure the future without relying on special effects or constructed sets in Alphaville. Lead actors Eddie Constantine and Anna Karenina (Godard's longtime muse) give the film its human center, meaning you may like it even if you don't like sci-fi.

4 Seconds (1966)

A scene from Seconds 1966
Paramount Pictures

John Frankenheimer's Seconds is a film that asks audiences a very familiar question — "What if we could be someone else?" What if we became someone else and then changed our minds?" Like an episode of The Twilight Zone, Seconds follows its ideas to their logical (and perhaps illogical) conclusions.

It's a concept-heavy film that nevertheless probes deeply into human realities. Seconds carries with it a stern reminder to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. Even if you decide that's not what you wanted in the first place.

3 Planet of the Apes (1968)

The 1968 American science fiction film Planet of the Apes
20th Century Fox

When we talk about classic sci-fi, we must invariably mention Planet of the Apes. Based loosely on a novel of the same name, it's a richly imagined version of a world overrun by (surprise!) apes. Beyond its iconic costuming and special effects work, the film's heart lies in its investigation of humanity.

It prompts us to think about our place in the universe, our treatment of animals and plant life, and our ceaseless tendency towards destruction and violence. Spawning a mammoth film franchise, the original Planet of the Apes deserves all the praise we can give it and more.

Related: Why the New Planet of the Apes Movies Are Darkly Accurate Reflections of Humanity

2 Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Zombies in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead
Continental Distributing

Yes, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is both a horror film and a science fiction film. Remember the reason behind the dead returning to life? Well, it's thanks to radiation from an exploded Venus space probe.

With its classic sci-fi setup and iconic horror aesthetics, Night of the Living Dead brings together two genres that seem like a match made in heaven. And in Romero's vision, they are. We have him to thank for all the zombie media to follow.

1 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A scene from A Space Odyssey (1968)

This is it - 2001: A Space Odyssey - the greatest of all '60s sci-fi and one of the most influential films ever made. In Kubrick's hands, science fiction attains the level of high art. Every frame is meticulously crafted; every set or model is rendered in stunning detail.

It's one of the few sci-fi movies to regularly top "best films of all time" lists; and watching it today, it's easy to see why. No other film from this period has aged as gracefully in terms of effects work, and few (if any) have surpassed it in terms of aesthetic grandeur. It is, in short, a cinematic masterpiece and the best science fiction movie of the 1960s.