Top 10 Soviet Science Fiction Movies

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.

†1924-1988 selection.

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.

Music by Former Ghosts and Tim Hecker.

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.

A Polish-Soviet co-production based on stories by Stanislaw Lem, it is a mix of ”Blade Runner” & ”Alien”. Released before them.

“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:

Через_тернии_к_звездам_фильм

***

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 hellVern’s video vortex, assholes watching movies, ohthatfilmblog, the corvid review, write out of L.A., sci-fi&scary, Jordan and Eddiethe missing reel, dbmoviesblog, ruthless cultureexperience film, justkillingti.me and of course Raistlin0903.

 

35 thoughts on “Top 10 Soviet Science Fiction Movies

  1. It’s always nice to discover movies that I have never even heard about. This is a great list. I’m definitely going to check bsck into this post and see if I can find any of these movies. Stalker looks especially interesting. Great list, and thank you for the shout out: really appreciate it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bonkers list Bobinsky! Absolutely brilliant post buddy. “Stalker” had to be top, yep total masterpiece and a film very close to my heart. “Solaris” I have only small memories of as I watched it many years ago on dodgy VHS tape whilst stoned! I have always intended to watch it again but never find the perfect time to view it in the right setting.
    Preferably I was waiting for an invite to MIR to watch it but they turned that into a fire ball in 2001 and my dream cinema idea vanished. My 2nd choice is inside a test Soyuz module in a factory in Star City while wearing Yuri Gagarin’s cosmonaut suit. I’ve sent 27 letters asking if I can do this whilst watching Solaris, I get 27 “HET” replies! Can you believe it?
    So it looks like option 3 will have to do, A bottle of Stolichnaya and a home viewing.

    Apart from the space setting I had no love for the US remake!

    Took me a while but I found a English subtitled “Inquest Of Pilot Pirx”. So hoping to move this up the list soon. Oh and “Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel” is on YT in full. Again I salute you for this awesome post and thank you for the shout out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha-ha I laughed hard while reading this. You should keep on trying.

      Thanks, Mike! I remember what you said about Stalker in the other post… I recently stumbled upon this… http://www.filmjuice.com/stalker-review/
      …and it is a very good insight about the film.

      Yes, mostly all these movies are subtitled only… There’s a good website where you can watch all of them online including City Zero, Dead Man’s Letters and the others. Here’s Pirx: https://sovietmoviesonline.com/fantastic/231-doznanie-pilota-pirksa.html

      …or you can ask me for some links if you’re having trouble, I have my sources 🙂

      “Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel”… I didn’t include it in the top 10 for a reason, it’s just a very uneven movie, but it has some weird aura (in good way). I think it deserved at least a mention anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hehe I might of got a little carried away. 🙂
        Yes Soviet Movies Online is the site I found with the English subs. Looks a brilliant site too.
        Thanks for the offer of links too, very kind.
        Will give that Stalker review a read later, thanks for the share. I’m gonna have to watch it again very soon.
        “Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel” story sounds very intriguing but I’m not sure I will get to that one for a while.
        Cheers buddy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic list. Being a Russian-speaker, I am quite ashamed of not having watched more on this list. Oh, maybe I did in my baby years, but do not remember now? hehehe lol Tarkovsky is a genius, goes without saying: Stalker and Solaris are must-watch. I probably heard of City Zero, but I like your description that it is “Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere” – sounds like my kind of a film. And, sure, “Kin-Dza-Dza!” is a classic of a sort. I have to check out others, again, a great list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! It took quite a while to gather it all together. 🙂 I haven’t seen all of them too prior to making the list, but I did watch the top-6. Some of them fell already into oblivion even in Russian-speaking countries, except for cinephiles and sci-fi fans. Yes, City Zero is absolutely fantastic and can be appreciated by anyone. I’m glad you pointed it out. It feels as relevant as 20 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting list! I’ve watched Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, both beautiful and original. Thanks for introducing me to these others sci-fi films, I’m adding City Zero (1988) to my watchlist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Which of them did you enjoy more and what are your thoughts on them? I’ve notoced you’re reviewed Andrei Rublev too, so I guess you were familiar to some extent with Tarkovski’s works already? 🙂
      City Zero – yes, it’s a brilliant and multi-layered surreal film, easy to watch as well (which isn’t a typical trait of films like that). It would be great to knos your opinion about it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know a few of (but not all of) Tarkovsky’s films. Often are tricky to interpret, but I like the challenge, and I even read the book Sculpting in Time to try and understand his thinking. I can’t really pick a favorite between Solaris and Stalker, both very good. The Mirror is the film he did I was most affected by emotionally, another enigmatic work.

    If I can find City Zero with Eng subtitles, I’ll share my thoughts on it at my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You can watch it here: https://sovietmoviesonline.com/fantastic/18-gorod-zero.html

      There are many other good Russian and Soviet films too. In the recent decade there was some good movies (I mean, non sci-fi, of course ;)) made in the vein of “Ghost World” and “Sideways”, like “Geographer Drank His Globe Away” and some Zvyagintsev movies.

      As for Tarkovsky, he wasn’t an easy person either, I guess. I’ve read some commentary from people who have worked with… I’ve always preferred to leave some space to interpret his movies in my own way. I guess it was one of his initial aims – to give some space to his viewers, without insisting just on one meaning.

      The Mirror is an incredible work. It made a big impression on me too since I’ve seen it for the first time about 10 years ago…

      What do you think about “Sculpting in Time”? I’ve read only some excerpts, plus some of his diaries, which show well his difficulties with the Soviet cinema authorities (he dedicated quite a lot of his time writing about it)…

      I definitely prefer Stalker as I’ve felt it has enormous depth inside. Solaris has it too, but to a lesser extent.

      If you have time, I’d love to hear your feedback on “Dead Man’s Letters”, too. It was a directional debut of one of Tarkovsky’s followers and has a similar style.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the feedback and recommendations. I agree there’s not just on one meaning to Tarkovsky’s work. Sculpting in Time was a sporadically interesting book, I actually transcripted the important quotes(maybe to use for a later review), so could e-mail that to you if you are interested? But I get it if you prefer not to read and want to keep the mystery intact 🙂

        If there’s time, I’ll give Dead Man’s Letters a try.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post! I have seen a few films on this list and look forward to checking out the others. And on a somewhat related topic, I suspect that you may enjoy Aleksei Fedorchenko’s 2005 faux-documentary entitled First on the Moon. It uses a lot of Soviet-era footage and makes a pretty strong political statement about the USSR’s forgotten heroes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, sir! 🙂 Yes, that movie is definitely on my list, I’ve heard of it. Also there is a very good and precise from scientific point of view film “The Spacewalker” (2017).

      Like

  7. […] Watch instead: anything else. Perfect ”Moon” & ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, quite good “Exam” & ”Signal”, all of these are valid flicks for some mind-bending thrills, not mentioning old classics like ”Solaris”. […]

    Like

  8. […] is a very minimal movie. Mostly it tries to follow the mood of “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky but with a more romantic flair. The ideas (and there are quiet many of […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s