Here is my Top 10 Soviet sci-fi movies with a dozen of modern trailers I made specially for it while studying some video editing.
Beautiful new ambient, shoegaze, dreampop, synthpop and techno soundtracks included.
1. ”Stalker”, 1979.
A cerebral timeless masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, probably the most renowned and influential Soviet/Russian director. Loosely based on a story by important Soviet science fiction writers Strugatsky brothers (and seen by many as a prophecy for several upcoming catastrophes including Chernobyl), “Stalker” could be interpreted as a philosophical tale about destiny and choices. But there’s much more that that. It’s simply one of the most important cinema achievements ever, let alone science fiction. The story follows three men as they penetrate deeper into into a mysterious area called “The Zone”, each of them for a different purpose. A thinking sci-fi geek’s must-see. This movie is like a Universe, there are always new layers to discover. Read more here and here.
Music by Bowery Electric.
2. ”City Zero”, 1988.
Theatre of the absurd, a mysterious tragicomedy, a dark metaphor. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially rock music but also cinema. ”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. The film is normally classified as sci-fi/mystery – but if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. It’s the sum of all parts that is greater than the whole… The famous headcake scene actually happened once in Russia. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review here. Watch online here.
Music by Auktyon (Аукцыон).
3. ”Dead Man’s Letters”, 1986.
Directed by K. Lopushansky, surely the most faithful of all Tarkovsky’s followers (he worked as assistant on ”Stalker” set), this film is a heavy and realistic portrayal of the end of the world. Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Men, children, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle. Just a matter of time. My full review here. Watch online here.
Music by Ital Tek.
4. ”Solaris”, 1972.
Another sublime masterpiece by A. Tarkovsky, also providing a great insight into a human soul, but more with space travel and love relationship flavour. Seen by many as a rival of ”2001” by S. Kubrick, the film has an incredible sensibility, stunning photography and chilling story which allows it to still be on of the most poetic films ever made. And for a movie dedicated to space… it has a gorgeously shot Earth’s nature. The opening scene of the underwater grass is already a masterpiece. Hm, did I mention the word ”masterpiece” too many times? You bet I did. Still, my personal preference goes to ”Stalker”.
Music by me.
5. ”Parade of the Planets”, 1984.
Probably the least sci-fi movie in this list, woven of some impalpable light and invisible matter. The film, a continuous surreal metaphor shot in the everyday life style, may seem a little hard to interpret without knowing the context (the upcoming Perestroika and the end of the empire in 1991), but it’s impossible not to appreciate the incredible sense of weightlessness and doom it manages to combine at the same time. Youth, aging and death pass by in front of the men we are observing, and just for a moment they’re here, together, feeling different. My full review here.
6. ”Kin-Dza-Dza!”, 1986.
Looking for some truly unorthodox and brilliant dark sci-fi satire? Adore ”A Boy and His Dog” and other oddball dystopias as much as I do? Probably you wouldn’t expect this from a Soviet science fiction, but it is actually a black absurdist comedy set on a faraway planet. It’s a hilarious, weird and sad parody on both capitalist and communist societies. In Soviet Union “Kin-dza-dza!” quickly gained a cult status, which is remarkable for such a weird parody. My full review here.
7. ”Inquest of Pilot Pirx”, 1978.
“Inquest of Pilot Pirx” is one of those good old sci-fi movies I miss sometimes so desperately. Unhurried, detailed, with smart plot and good acting, the film takes its time to prepare you for everything and develops slowly, but somewhere in the middle you suddenly realize that it’s grasping you right by the throat. ”Pirx” is a solid psychological sci-fi thriller about human-like androids and space travel, that with years gained somewhat of a cult following, especially in Poland and ex-USSR countries. The film doesn’t quiet reach the height of Ridley Scott, obviously, but nevertheless it’s a very sturdy 70-s science fiction. One of the role was played by A. Kaidanovsky, who one year later became the stalker. Full review here.
Music by Klangstabil.
8. ”Planet of Storms”, 1962.
This naive and educational film allows you to see how the world and space travel were seen in the middle of the XX century, how much romance surrounded it. Compared to the most space sci-fi released in the USA at that time, the film is remarkable (and in fact it was reedited and reissued as an American movie with zero credit to its creators). Here you will see some archetypical sci-fi scenes and space suits that inspired ”Prometheus” (some claim so – I didn’t!). And never forget about John the Robot, who died in burning lava after going rogue The world government will indeed rule according to the laws of mathematics. For all lovers of silly 50-s and 60-s sci-fi. Full review here.
Music by Asylum Party, an awesome French coldwave band from the 80-s.
9. ”Aelita”, 1924.
One of the oldest space sci-fi movies ever (I believe it is the 4th or 5th feature film about space travel). First Soviet blockbuster (the film was hugely popular). Interesting, in first place, due to its historical and cultural importance, but ”Aelita” also features great photography and designs.
Music by Motorama, an awesome Russian new wave/post-punk band.
10. ”Per Aspera Ad Astra”, 1981.
Also known as “Through the Thorns to the Stars” or “Humanoid Woman. I had doubts whether include this movie in the list, but it felt different from other teenager sci-fi movies like ”Amphibian Man” or ”Moscow-Cassiopeia” (or many others) that were hugely popular in USSR and could be considered Soviet analogues to adventure movies of Steven Spielberg. ”Per Aspera Ad Astra” was weirder though… it features some very dark and scary scenes. This video clip wasn’t edited by me – a great guy David Dean Burkhart did it. Visit his amazing Youtube channel. He takes old footage of all kind and makes music videos for awesome obscure indie pop songs.
You may not want to watch the whole film, but check this video. It’s stunning:
There were some other movies I didn’t include in the list but still deserve in my opinion an honourable mention:
– ”A Visitor to a Museum”, 1989. By K. Lopushansky, kind of a spiritual sequel to ”Dead Man’s Letters” which is n. 3 in this Top 10.
– ”Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel”, 1979. A curious Estonian noir detective story about aliens. Based on a story by Strugatsky brothers. Surreal and weird detective movie.
– ”Mirror for a Hero”, 1988. A Soviet version of ”Groundhog Day”. Shot before ”Groundhog Day”. A good movie actually, with a classic story of redemption and the generation gap’s overcoming.
Now let me allow some afterword… Vladimir Lenin famously said, “that of all the arts the most important for us is the cinema.” The government indeed understood well the power of cinema both as a propaganda, educational tool and as an entertainment for the masses. Movies were produced in giant amounts in every corner of USSR, even where mostly nothing is made now anymore (for example, the Riga and Tallinn cinema studios were indeed well-known all over USSR).
Not everything was allowed during the communism period, and this applied to the cinema industry as well. However, both science fiction literature and cinema were often used as a sly gimmick, a loophole to avoid the censorship – the controlling censorship bureau allowed to portray alternative realities or a faraway future just because it operates with something that does not exist. That makes sense, because when you cannot express a different opinion about the past or present, why not fool around with something seemingly non connected to our reality.
Most Soviet sci-fi can be divided in two categories:
- adventure teenager movies that were however incredibly popular even among adults
- weird, often dark or offbeat movies with black humour, absurdism, surrealism and philosophic insights
With only one exception (”Per Aspera Ad Astra” which is darker) I didn’t consider the first category as I find those movies pretty dated and overly childish, plus their Western counterparts were significantly better.
Most films on the list are from the late 70-s or the 80-s and it is not an accident – it was exactly during that time when more and more things became gradually allowed. Thanks to this Soviet science fiction cinema was extremely weird and absolutely not comparable to the Hollywood production. The directors mostly weren’t really into the genre nor they were trying to create blockbusters – they just used it sci-fi as a brilliant way to say something else. Several masterpieces were born this way…
P. S. It took me some time to do all this stuff, so many thanks to different cinematic bloggers and their blogs that supported or simply inspired me, especially Wolfman’s cult film club, table9mutant, onthescreenreviews, vinnieh, Keith and the movies, express elevator to hell, Vern’s video vortex, assholes watching movies, ohthatfilmblog, the corvid review, write out of L.A., sci-fi&scary, Jordan and Eddie, the missing reel, dbmoviesblog, ruthless culture, experience film, justkillingti.me and of course Raistlin0903.