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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

2. The First Science Fiction Film Ever

As with all episodes of this podcast there are spoilers ahead! I would love for you to join in by watching the film, Le Voyage dans la Lune here. The film was made by the pioneer French film director George Méliès in 1902. It is widely considered to be the first sci-fi film ever. There is a small rumble of a potential contender which I have added at the bottom of the shownotes below.


The experts

​Richard Neupert is the Charles H. Wheatley Professor of the Arts and a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Georgia. He has written extensively on film including numerous books. His book French Film History, 1895-1946 was published in 2022.

Bert Ulrich probably has one of the best jobs in the world! He acts as NASA’s liaison for film and TV collaborations. He is a film and visual arts author. In 2022 his essay A Legacy of Spectacle: The Impact of George Méliès on Science Fiction Filmmaking was published in the academic journal Film International.



00:00 Introduction to show and guests

01:37 How the son of a successful bootmaker became a theatre performer

04:14 George Méliès watches a Lumiere brother’s screening

06:35 A quick overview of the film

08:12 Méliès satire and style

12:30 The father of special effects

15:27 France’s Belle Époque: optimism, industrialism, and exploration

20:47 Success and piracy

23:42 The pros and cons of Méliès’ solo working style

27:54 Méliès’ decline

31:27 Rediscovery of his work

33:49 The development of Sci-fi cinema since 1902

44:18 Concluding thoughts

The shownotes

  • The official George Méliès project is run by his great great granddaughter Pauline Mélies.

  • Jules Verne was a French writer born in 1828 who wrote many science fiction stories years before the phrase ‘science fiction’ was commonly used. (The phrase science fiction was thought to be first coined in 1851 by Willian Wilson but common usage was not until the 1920s.)

  • Le Voyage Dans La Lune was based on a few stories. Firstly the Jules Verne novels From the Earth to the Moon and the sequel Around the Moon.

  • Jacques Offenbach was a French composer. His Operetta also named Le Voyage Dans La Lune influenced Méliès.

  • HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon is considered another source of inspiration and was published in French a few months before Méliès made his film.

  • Tom Gunning is an influential film historian and scholar. He coined the phrase ‘cinema of attractions’ to describe the way early cinema sought to provide novelty and spectacle to the audience.

  • Selenographers! They are people who study the moon. In the mid 19th century moon gazing became quite popular. This was a very challenging task due to distance and the equipment available at the time. Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt was a German astronomer born in 1825. I adore his drawings of the moon’s surface that you can find towards the bottom of this Wikipedia page.

  • A full gallery of various moon drawing can be found here. (Brought to you by the power of ADHD hyper focus!)

  • Thomas Edison was a famous American businessman and inventor born in 1847. He ran a research and development lab at Menlo Park, New Jersey, USA. He had patents for multiple inventions including many US patents related to film production. Edison and other US film producers pirated and copied films from Melies and other filmmakers. In 1908 Edison founded the Motion Picture Patents Company which was eventually closed due to losing a federal anti trust suit. The company was in essence a cartel. Edison was one of the reasons Hollywood was created as filmmakers wanted to get away from his control on the East Coast of the US.   

  • Andre Deed was a successful French actor and director born in 1879. After having worked for Méliès and then Pathé he moved to Itala Film studios in the northern Italian city of Turin. He continued to act and went on to direct films including the silent science fiction film The Mechanical Man. You can take a look at the film here or here. The film is incomplete as parts of the film are lost.

  • Studio 28 first opened in 1928. It is still open to the public with regular screenings. You can see a time line of the cinema on its website here. It is in French but the google translation is pretty decent.

  • The stargate sequence mentioned from 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most famous science fiction cinema scenes (in arguably the most highly regarded sci-fi film of all time).

  • Susan Sontag’s 1965 essay on the spectacle of science fiction cinema can be read here

  • I mentioned in episode one that during my research I had found someone claiming that this was not the first science fiction film ever. You can see the contender here and the argument in its favour here.


  • Next episode I will be speaking to David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist and best selling author, about his favourite Sci-fi film The Creator. This 2023 film is streaming on Disney+. You may be able to check where you can rent or buy the film at JustWatch

  • The next film we will be looking at is Aelita Queen of Mars. A 1924 film from Soviet Russia. You can watch the film here on YouTube. You can check where it is available to stream, rent or buy at JustWatch. The film is available to buy on Amazon in some locations. DVDs of the film are available though not common.

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