The first Godzilla movie, Gojira, debuts in Japan. Directed by Ishiro Honda and starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi and Akihiko Hirata, the film is intended to be an allegory to the ravages of the atomic bomb rather than the beginning of a franchise (though the door is clearly left open to a sequel by dialogue at the close of the movie). The franchise proper will not begin until the first sequel five years later. In the meantime, an American dub of the movie attracts worldwide attention to Gojira, eventually rechristening the character Godzilla for much of the world.
The first Godzilla movie, Gojira, is re-released in America, dubbed into English with additional scenes starring actor Raymond Burr, as Godzilla, King Of The Monsters! Despite the quite noticeable differences between old footage and new, the movie proves popular, and sparks the western world’s obsession with Toho Studios’ signature creation. It is also just the first of several attempts to westernize the Godzilla mythos (chiefly for American audiences).
Director Stanley Kubrick writes to author Arthur C. Clarke, initiating a lengthy discussion about “the proverbial really good science fiction movie”, a discussion which eventually leads to the movie (and novel) 2001: a space odyssey. Kubrick’s letter mentions that he is particularly interested in exploring the theme of the effects that first contact with an alien race would have on humanity.
After a year of story development and refinement, filming begins on 2001: a space odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on a story hashed out between Kubrick and SF writer Arthur C. Clarke from their mutual desire to create “the proverbial good science fiction movie” rather than the man-in-a-monster/robot-suit variety of movie that passes for science fiction in theaters. The film is budgeted at a hefty $10,000,000 – an impressive budget for the mid-1960s – including the construction of a rotating, hamster-wheel-like set for the interior of the spaceship Discovery. The unusual post-production and effects demands of 2001 will keep the movie “in production” for over two years.
Based on the popular television series of the same name, 20th Century Fox’s feature film Batman premieres in American theaters, starring Adam West, Burt Ward, and, reprising their villain roles from the series, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin, while Lee Meriwether takes over the role of Catwoman. With a budget significantly greater than that of its TV counterpart, the movie introduces new Bat-vehicles, including a helicopter and a boat, footage of which will be spliced into many a later episode of the TV series.
Starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, 20th Century Fox’s big-screen release of Planet Of The Apes quickly becomes one of 1968’s movie success stories, and easily one of the year’s two most influential genre films. Propelled into the future aboard a spacecraft from Earth, a trio of astronauts find themselves on a world ruled by sentient apes with no love of humanity whatsoever – for humanity nearly destroyed their world. The studio almost immediately sets the wheels in motion for a sequel.
The product of a four-year collaboration between visionary SF writer Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick, MGM’s 2001: a space odyssey premieres, delighting fans of hard SF and bewildering audiences and critics. It is released alongside Clarke’s novel of the same story, which both clarifies some of the more inscrutible story points (such as the reason for the behavior of HAL, the ship’s computer) and confuses others (the book depicts a mission to Saturn; the movie depicts a mission to Jupiter). Many critics and science fiction writers regard the movie as an instant classic of the genre, one which continues to be hugely influential in the years and decades to come.
ABC premieres the two-hour TV movie Earth II, starring Gary Lockwood (2001: a space odyssey) and Mariette Hartley. The movie is intended to serve as a pilot for a potential series, but despite making a powerful impression on science fiction fans, Earth II doesn’t draw a large enough audience to merit a series pickup.
Service Electric Cable, the local cable company in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, embarks on an ambitious experiment, launching a movie channel that only a few hundred of their subscribers pay extra to receive. The channel, Home Box Office, is the brainchild of a New York City broadcasting entrepreneur seeking a workaround for the tendency of the city’s own high-rise architecture to block over-the-air signals. Originally code-named the Green Channel (presumably for the cash it is hoped it will rake in), HBO begins life with a mix of movies and live sports events (such as pro hockey) with no commercial interruption. Within a year, HBO will be acquired by Time-Life, expanding to nine hours of programming every day. With HBO having proven that cable subscribers will pay extra for an ad-free movie and sports channel, competing pay cable networks such as Showtime will spring up in the years to come. HBO also pioneers the concept of broadcasting exclusively via satellite, years ahead of the broadcast networks.
The last of the original cycle of time-bending sequels, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes is released in theaters. Facing diminishing returns, and a desire on the part of 20th Century Fox to exploit the Apes franchise on the small screen, the series comes to a suitably post-apocalyptic end.
Written and directed by science fiction author Michael Crichton, Westworld debuts in theaters, mashing up familiar western tropes with a tale of cyborgs gone mad. Richard Benjamin (Quark), James Brolin, and Yul Brynner guest star; Majel Barrett (Star Trek) and Dick Van Patten play cameo roles. A hit for MGM, Westworld will spawn many attempts to follow up on its success, from the 1976 movie Futureworld to numerous TV revivals well into the 21st century.
With a budget of $8,000,000 behind him, writer/director George Lucas begins filming his ambitious new science fiction film Star Wars. The location shooting in Tunisia is far from easy, with every thing from dust storms to the language barrier between the filmmakers and the locals impeding progress.
The MGM movie Logan’s Run premieres, starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter, and based on the science fiction novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Set in an unspecified future, Logan’s Run depicts a world where citizens of a domed society must be euthanized at the age of 30 (21 in the original novel), supposedly to alleviate overpopulation; those who try to avoid this fate are labeled runners, to be pursued by armed Sandmen. Logan is a Sandman who finds himself running as his 30th birthday approaches. A television version follows in 1977, though without any of the movie’s cast.
After grueling location shooting in Tunisia and lengthy studio filming at Elstree Studios in England, principal photography wraps up on George Lucas’ Star Wars. But returning to America, Lucas finds his newly-founded special effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic, in disarray, and months of miniature and second-unit filming must still be done before the planned (and later rescheduled) release date of Christmas 1976.
Having tried to find a suitable script for a big-screen relaunch of Star Trek virtually since the cancellation of the television series, Paramount – riding the coattails of the much-publicized unveiling of the Space Shuttle Enterprise – issues a press release announcing that the first Trek movie is finally underway – in this case, a still-in-development script called Star Trek: Planet Of Titans, featuring a radically redesigned Enterprise concept by illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, whose other recent genre work – designs for the yet-to-be-released Star Wars – has yet to make him a household name.
On or around this date in 1976, the very first teaser trailers for an upcoming 20th Century Fox movie called Star Wars is shown in theaters for the first time, with the ominous voice of Malachi Throne (who had, coincidentally, appeared or done voice-overs numerous times in classic Star Trek) declaring that “somewhere in space, this may all be happening right now.” With no hint of the genre-defining soundtrack music, unfinished visual effects, stand-in stock sound effects, and a logo rendered in Helvetica, the effect is perhaps a bit underwhelming.
In a pre-holiday telegram to 20th Century Fox’s distribution team, the studio’s VP of domestic distribution, Peter Myers, boldly predicts that the upcoming George Lucas film Star Wars could break all standing box office records in America. “Exceptional entertainment usually pays off,” Myers writes, “but when it is coupled with a spectacular and innovative presentation, the critics, opinion makers, and the public will be electrified, and it is quite possible Star Wars will emerge as the all-time box office champion.” Though enthusiastically championed by 20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr., Star Wars has thus far been considered a risky prospect by 20th Century Fox shareholders and executives.
At Anvil Studios in Denham, England, John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra convene for the first recording session for the Star Wars soundtrack. Over the course of the next 11 days, and with director George Lucas in attendance in the recording booth, all of the music for Lucas’ movie is rehearsed and recorded. Williams and Lucas had been introduced by their mutual friend Steven Spielberg, with whom Williams had worked on 1975’s Jaws (whose score had gone on to win Williams his second Oscar); Lucas’ original plan was to “score” Star Wars entirely with classical pieces. The first scene scored by Williams and the LSO is the rapid-fire chase through the Death Star, culminating in Luke and Princess Leia swinging across a chasm; other pieces recorded on the first day include the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the iconic theme music.
After spending months in development, the much-publicized big-screen relaunch of Star Trek is cancelled by Paramount. Unable to find a satisfactory script, and having great difficulty negotiating with the stars of the TV series, Star Trek: Planet Of The Titans is dumped by the studio, with no other plans to revive Star Trek in the works. Mere weeks later, a record-breaking movie not originating from Paramount convinces the studio to get back into the big-budget science fiction space race.
Boasting a story and characters with universal appeal, a magnificent soundtrack, and special effects unlike anything that had been seen before, George Lucas’ Star Wars arrives, changing the movie industry and geekdom forever. Word-of-mouth – to say nothing of lines of moviegoers winding around the block, eager to immediately see the movie again – spreads like wildfire, and suddenly it’s okay to be a science fiction fan.
The unexpected runaway success of a dark horse in the summer movie race makes for a mad dash for the toy rights. The winner of that race is Kenner Products, the toy division of cereal maker General Mills, and the prize is the exclusive license to market toys and other products based on Star Wars. Prior to the movie’s release, however, George Lucas has convinced 20th Century Fox to allow him to keep all toy licensing rights, meaning that ongoing licensing payments are made directly to Lucas, providing him with the lion’s share of his future wealth. Kenner executive Bernard Loomis finds himself fighting to convince his own sales team that this movie will attract more than a momentary audience. With the late start and the long lead time on design, tooling and manufacture, Loomis concocts an audacious marketing scheme involving an “empty box” available by Christmas.
At a meeting at Paramount, studio head Michael Eisner formally cancels plans for a Star Trek television series reuniting the original cast (a decision made easier by the other networks strong-arming potential advertisers into freezing out Paramount’s network startup attempt) and sets the wheels in motion to revamp the pilot script, Alan Dean Foster’s In Thy Image, into a feature film. Contracts for the series are renegotiated (or in some cases cancelled) for the movie, but scriptwriters and designers continue to work on Trek TV scripts just in case the movie leads to a small-screen resurgence. The impetus for finally getting the long-stalled Star Trek movie underway? 20th Century Fox’s runaway success with Star Wars.
Produced in the wake of Star Wars mania, Meco Menardo’s disco cover of John Williams’ music from Star Wars tops the Billboard Hot 100 chart for two weeks. A shortened, radio-friendly single is the song certified as #1, although the album version (titled Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk) is an extended suite lasting over 15 minutes and covering most of the movie’s major music themes. Meco would continue to ride the Star Wars train, disco-style, for years to come.
A series of story conferences begin between Star Wars writer/director George Lucas and science fiction writer Leigh Brackett, the first work toward shaping the storyline for an anticipated (but still untitled) Star Wars sequel film. Lucas has brought Brackett on board to contribute new ideas, but she will only submit a first draft before succumbing to cancer. The conferences continue through early December; the eventual product of these early story meetings will be 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
Caught completely off-guard by the seemingly unstoppable runaway success of Star Wars, whose toy license it signed on for earlier in the year, toy manufacturer Kenner does something desperate and unprecedented: it sells a mostly-empty box (contents: the Force?) called the Star Wars Early Bird Kit, containing stickers, pictures, and a card to mail off to receive four figures – Luke, Princess Leia, R2-D2 and Chewbacca – by mail sometime between “February and May 1978.” The delay is needed to ramp up production on the figures, which will also be available at retail in 1978. To the surprise of everyone, including Kenner executive Bernard Loomis, who devised the Early Bird Kit, the result is a runaway sales success story.