The British Reception of 1950s Science Fiction Cinema

  • Matthew Jones

Student thesis: Phd


Scholarship on 1950s American science fiction cinema has tended to explore the relationship between these films and their domestic contexts of production and reception. They are often characterised as reflections of US anxieties about communism and nuclear technology. However, many such films were exported to Britain where these concerns were articulated and understood differently. The ways in which this different national context of reception shaped British interpretations of American science fiction cinema of this era has not yet been accounted for. Similarly, although some research has addressed 1950s British science fiction, this scholarship has been comparatively concise and has left gaps in our knowledge about the domestic reception of these films. Unable to draw on a British reception history of domestic and US 1950s science fiction cinema, debates about the genre have sometimes been underpinned by the presumption that western audiences responded to these films in a uniform manner. This thesis seeks to complicate our understanding of the genre by suggesting the specificity of the British reception history of science fiction cinema during the 1950s.The paucity of documentary evidence of British responses to 1950s science fiction films makes an audience study impossible. Within the intellectual framework of the New Film History, this thesis instead employs a contextually- activated approach to reception. Making extensive use of archival sources, newsreels, newspapers, magazines and other such documentary evidence, it explores some of the different contexts in which 1950s science fiction cinema was received in Britain and suggests how these factors might have shaped the interpretation of the genre.The thesis examines the interplay between American and British 1950s science fiction cinema and the British public understanding of communism, immigration, nuclear technology and scientific advancement. It contributes to our knowledge of these films by demonstrating that Britons did not necessarily understand 1950s science fiction cinema in the same way as Americans because they were party to a differently inflected series of public debates. It exposes the flexibility of the metaphors utilised by the genre during this period and their susceptibility to reinterpretation in different national contexts. This research makes visible, in a more extensive manner than has yet been accomplished, the specificity of the British reception history of 1950s science fiction cinema, and thereby provides a means to resist assumptions about the similarity of western audiences during this decade. Its conclusions call for further research into other national reception histories of these films, so that they too are not overshadowed by the better known American history of the genre, and into the possibility that the British reception history of other genres might similarly have been obscured.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Butler (Supervisor)


  • science fiction
  • reception
  • 1950s
  • film
  • Britain

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