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The Planet of the Apes Series (1970 - 1973)
Yeah, yeah, you know how it ends. Did you also know that it was the most important sci-fi movie franchise prior to Star Wars? Or that it had four genre-bending sequels that, thanks to time travel, all (save for the second) manage to take place simultaneously before and after one another? The original classic satirizes creationism with Charlton Heston as an astronaut trapped on a planet where apes rule over man, and a succession of sequels pile paradox upon paradox explaining exactly how such a thing comes to pass. Dated? Sure. Forgetable? Never.
Tasked with delivering a Soviet "answer" to Kubrick's 2001, Andrei Tarkovsky offered up this meditative adaptation of a Stanislaw Lem story in which a spacefarer orbiting a liquid "brain planet" encounters psychic manifestations borne of his own troubled psyche. Glacially paced (it was remade much shorter with George Clooney a few years back) but intriguing stuff, and very influential on later "thoughtful" sci-fi.
Soylent Green (1973)
Chances are you already know what Soylent Green "is," which renders watching the turgid, heavy-handed film slightly beside the point. Still, imagine what it must have been like to see such a bleak, gonzo premise unfold and not know what was coming.
It was a poorly reviewed but massively popular "beach book" about a New England vacation community stalked by a great white shark that many considered unfilmmable. The job fell to a young upstart named Steven Spielberg who, despite a famously difficult shoot, wound up turning in a box office smash that helped birth the modern age of blockbusters. Yet the film's real legacy is just how good the damn thing is, a living rebuttal to anyone who claims that a gory thriller about a rampaging shark can't also be a deep and involving human drama.
Logan's Run (1976)
A 23rd century utopia is kept in order by the mandatory suicide of everyone who reaches the age of 30. When one of the Sandmen - enforcers who hunt down those who refuse to die willingly - discovers that the quasi-religious ritual used to justify the killings is a sham, he himself goes on the run. Run (pictured) hasn't exactly aged well, but its influence on later films and popular culture is undeniable.
In 1977, George Lucas' Star Wars would debut, propelling nerd movies to the top of the Hollywood stratosphere and creating an entirely new and separate era in genre film. Which is where we'll pick things up ... next week.
(Special thanks to editor Susan Arendt, for making me sound coherent and for suggesting the subject for this column.)
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.