“Sci-fi” and “G-rated” are two things that you definitely don’t see in the same sentence too often.
In a genre crawling with carnivorous aliens, epic space battles, mad scientists, gruesome (not to mention ethically questionable) experiments and things with teeth the size of skyscrapers, it’s almost impossible for the MPAA to put most science fiction movies under the microscope without giving them at least a PG rating.
When the Motion Picture Association of America launched its new film-rating system in 1968, it was intended as a guide for parents that would give them an idea which films were appropriate for their children—or at least when to cover their kids’ eyes. While the updated filter replaced the outdated and censorship-prone Motion Picture Production Code, the qualifications for appealing to general audiences (read: all ages) are still strict.
Often, this dreaded "G"" branding was synonymous with good clean entertainment, but that wasn't always the case. Few movies in the vast galaxy of sci-fi have qualified as “nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.” Flesh-hungry extraterrestrials and paranormal phenomena just weren’t destined for the ultimate family-friendly stamp of approval. While the Kraken may have not been suitable for innocent eyeballs, there were still some tentacles that managed to make it through MPAA filters.
From the terrors of Witch Mountain and Ape City, through the Stargate past V'ger, into Wonka's wacky chocolate factory and onward to the far side of the sun, this treasure trove of 18 live-action features from 1968 and later prove that G-rated sci-fi flicks really do exist. See for yourself!
I remember seeing this on TV in the '70s and, being an Apollo Program nut, was mesmerized by its accurate depiction of current NASA technology and the cold silence of space. Released during the height of America's rabid interest in the space race and moon landing months earlier, this sci-fi thriller depicts an international rescue mission after an Apollo command capsule suffers a mission failure following a rendezvous with a new Skylab-like space station. The XR-V rescue craft used in the film was an actual NASA prototype at the time. Authentic, claustrophobic and intense, Marooned was directed by legendary filmmaker John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape) and showcased Academy Award-winning special effects by Robbie Robertson.
The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Here's one of Disney's kooky '70s sci-fi comedies, this time revolving around an extraterrestrial tabby cat that emergency lands on Earth to try and repair its flying saucer with a substance called ORG 12. And yes, the cat can talk and wears a magical collar that amplifies its telekinetic and telepathic abilities. A whole mess of governmental shenanigans and calamitous chases unfold as the mysterious element needed to fix the alien cat's saucer and allowed to return to the mothership is revealed to actually be gold. Share some catnip with your own furry friend and watch this fun adventure movie with ample time allowed for litter box breaks. It was directed by Disney veteran, Norman Tokar, who blessed our childhoods with classics like The Happiest Millionaire, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Big Red.
Silent Running (1972)
Emerging from the rising tide of the environmental movement in the early '70s, this provocative sci-fi adventure comes from director Douglas Trumball, the mastermind behind the Academy Award-winning special effects in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the future, a fleet of greenhouse space freighters parked outside the rings of Saturn contain samples of Earthly plant life being saved from the planet's devastating pollution Bruce Dern becomes the sole custodian of his biosphere space ark, the Valley Forge, after orders are given to destroy the domes. Three robotic gardeners, Huey, Dewey and Louis help Dern tend to the flora and fauna while learning all sorts of philosophical wisdom about planting seeds and the importance of preserving nature. It's a quiet, and sometimes quite transcendent, movie with a great performance by Dern as the unstable botanist, cheesy Joan Baez songs, and fantastic special effects.
Space Buddies (2009)
Well, if you really want to drag us through the mud over this goofy sequel, have at it! This Disney sci-fi fantasy adventure is not pure science-fiction, but come on, talking puppies aboard an unmanned space shuttle? Gotta give it a spot on the list. It's space, dog! This is the third entry in the Air Buddies series of chatty canine family films from the Mouse House, and this outer space entry went straight to DVD. It serves up a severe cute factor, with golden retriever pups in mission flight suits, meteor showers, a lunar landing, Russian cosmo-pooch named Spudnick and even a sentimental moon rock tossed in for good measure.
The Love Bug (1969)
Herbie, the self-aware Volkswagen was billed as the screen's first 4-cylinder star. Disney struck gold with this sci-fi fantasy hybrid about an intelligent, sentient auto that was released on Christmas Eve and became one of the yuletide season's huge hits. The magical 1963 Beetle and its driver, played by Disney regular Dean Jones, compete in a series of road races and outwit a pompous British sports car dealer with some fancy maneuvers and goofy gadgets. This was the final live-action film officially overseen by Walt Disney before his death and was based on the story Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford. Upon wide release in '69, the movie went on to rake in over $51 million, a monster haul for the time. The Love Bug spawned two '70s sequels, Herbie Rides Again and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, but the original is still the best.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
I recall dozing off twice during my initial viewing of this first big screen flight of the Enterprise, during the inspection of the iconic spaceship scene. Since then, I've rewatched Star Trek: The Motion Picture many times and its sincerity, respect for its fans and intriguing "Voyager probe found by an alien race" story has elevated its place in cinematic history. Originally released as a G-rated movie, it was re-rated to PG for its director's cut re-release in 1980. It's still pretty tame for today's standards, and the "living machine" story by novelization master Alan Dean Foster, salvaged from the pilot for a scrapped Star Trek: Phase II TV series, was a dignified, if not somewhat dull, adventure into the vast beyond. It was directed by the great Robert Wise, who brought us genre classics like The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Haunting and The Andromeda Strain. Despite this disturbing transporter death scene above, the MPAA somehow felt it was fine for the kiddies!
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Released for General Audiences in 1968, this film was caught up in the first pre-rollout of the MPAA's new roster of official ratings for motion pictures. Despite branded with the same content mark as that year's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Planet of the Apes nevertheless contains many frightening sequences of torture, brutality, enslavement and violence, lobotomized astronauts, mild cursing and even Charlton Heston's bare buttocks. Why this didn't garner a standard "M" for Mature rating is mind-boggling. Subsequent sequels were also given a "G" rating as well. It's a madhouse!!
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
A young Kurt Russell must have had a blast making these wacky Disney films in the heyday of children's matinee movies. His Dexter Riley becomes one with a computer during a lightning storm at good 'ol Medfield College, causing an assortment of predictably unfortunate events. His superbrain is naturally exploited by everyone, including Batman '66's Joker, Cesar Romero. Programmmed for fun and geared for action, this sci-fi Disney delight showcases lots of blinking computer lights, dune buggies, the Generation Gap, beatnik hipsters, mod clothes and even a groovy theme song that'll lodge itself in your cranium forever.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's undisputed masterpiece was given a "G" rating instead of the normal M for "Mature" when it launched. Sure, it's got the Blue Danube Waltz to lull little kids to sleep, but it also centered around the psychotic deeds of a homicidal computer leading to astronaut deaths in cryosleep, a floating space corpse, paranoia, suffocation, psychological torment and the slow, sad demise of a crazy bank of higher logic circuits just trying to sing the sweet song, Daisy...not to mention ape mauling, skull smashing, dying tapirs and a freaky, hallucinatory blast through the Stargate. Today this existential space classic would easily be slapped with a PG-13, for sure. But for our purposes, it definitely qualifies as the ultimate G-rated trip.
Escape To Witch Mountain (1975)
If you ever felt like a preteen outcast, Tony and Tia from Escape To Witch Mountain were probably your spirit animals. At least you didn’t have to run away to a sinister-sounding place called Witch Mountain because shady characters were trying to snare you for your powers. Telekinesis, strange premonitions and being able to move things to the tune of a harmonica are only a few of the talents that make it obvious the supernatural siblings are (literally) from another world. Mad scientist Christopher Lee makes the 1978 sequel Return to Witch Mountain even scarier, but by some kind of magic, both still qualify as G-rated Disney films.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Wonka’s world of pure imagination wavers between sci-fi and pure sugary fantasy, but it’s the Everlasting Gobstopper of strange movies. The warped candy kaleidoscope that is Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory actually passed the MPAA screening process despite the creep factor of the title character who Gene Wilder plays to perfection; not that it matters to a kid rewinding the video for the 785th time. You just can’t ignore the weird science of flavor-changing gum that can blow you up into a blueberry bubble, a transporter that beams anything onto a TV screen, candy that never melts in your mouth and a spaceship elevator that rockets into the stratosphere. What’s even more amazing is that this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is infinitely creepier than the 2005 remake—but that one got a PG rating.
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Never mind what the MPAA thinks parents should or shouldn’t let their children watch — there isn’t a kid in existence who doesn’t know Godzilla. While many Japanese Kaiju (literally “strange beast”) films are shockingly rated G, this one crushes the others in awesomeness. Destroy All Monsters had a behemoth budget because it was supposed to be the ninth and last film in the Godzilla series. This spawned a killer Kaiju-fest of everything from a gargantuan tarantula to three-headed flying space dragon Ghidorah wreaking havoc on Tokyo with the iconic atomic-breathed lizard. Wanton destruction and monster-tackling chaos are all in a good day's work for this G-rated gem.
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972)
Lightning obviously strikes twice. Every bit the wacky science experiment that The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes was, its sequel sees Dexter Riley returning to Medfield for another semester of mixing dangerous things in test tubes. After his equipment is zapped by an electrical storm (again), an accidental lightning-fortified invisibility formula makes Dexter’s hands and half his glasses disappear. He has a real stroke of genius when he realizes he he can spray it on to investigate a corrupt professor without the culprit seeing a thing. Imagine if the FBI and the CIA got their hands on Dexter’s concoction. It’s surprising this one doesn’t flash a "kids, don’t try this at home" warning before the actual movie starts.
Muppets From Space (1999)
Anyone who grew up with Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo and the rest of the gang knows that most of them already look like aliens (especially Animal). Jim Henson’s only non-musical Muppet film is also the first one not to orbit around a certain talking frog. The Great Gonzo is the center of the universe in this oddball adventure, which starts with the self-deprecating blue creature finding out he’s an alien from strange messages in his morning cereal. The rescue efforts before he becomes some Man in Black’s next alien autopsy, never mind the comically morbid scene of Gonzo on a dissection table, are not something you’d see on Sesame Street. This movie proves that even the most kid-friendly characters can almost get PG when provoked. You have never seen Muppets using invisibility spray and mind control gas until now.
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)
It's not like most adults can even understand the work that NASA or its European counterpart EUROSEC do, but writer-producers Gerry and Silvia Anderson (Thunderbirds. Space: 1999) thought they could distinguish this sci-fi flick from their kids’ TV shows by injecting it with more adult themes while managing not to cross the line into PG territory. Searches for aliens are inconclusive until the crew of the Phoenix realizes they’ve landed in a parallel universe that even the brains on board can’t figure out (which explains why the altverse-compatible ship they build is named Doppelgänger). Ironically, the uncut version that later went to videotape also exists in Counter-Earth — it was rated PG because of a previously deleted shot of birth control pills.
The Green Slime (1968)
Here's everything about this movie that couldn’t have possibly oozed through MPAA filters, but somehow did: A massive asteroid explosion, laser combat, gobs and gobs of unidentified green gloop, and one-eyed monsters that look like a mashup of Cthulhu and Cyclops. And shoot lightning from their tentacles. And regenerate even more writhing beasts with their own blood when attacked. The Gamma 3 space station still managed to pass inspection when it came to ratings. Even though it sounds like anything but Friday night fun for the whole family, The Green Slime was later criticized as “junior league science-fiction” and “schoolboy stuff”. Whether or not that qualifies it for parental approval is anyone’s guess.
The Neptune Factor (1973)
Drowning in monstrous sea creatures, The Neptune Factor (Neptune in this case refers to the mythical trident-wielding god of the deep rather than the planet) is proof that even nightmares can be rated G. The unexplored deep is swimming with ravenous fish and eels that have more teeth than scales, and scientists in a lab on the ocean floor are wash up into some unexpected research when an underwater earthquake throws them into a trench. Even after nearly ending up as fish food and running out of oxygen, most of the scientists surface alive, which may or may not explain the rating. More fascinating than terrifying is that the movie’s Oceanlab was actually modeled after Jacques Cousteau’s real-life research bubble at the bottom of the sea.
Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979)
“UFO” takes on an entirely new meaning in Disney’s 1979 blastoff that merges sci-fi and fantasy when an unsuspecting astronaut and his android doppelgänger travel faster than the speed of light — so fast that they end up in a medieval time warp. Touching down in King Arthur’s court means that he must thwart an evil plot conjured by sorcerers Merlin and Mordred if he ever hopes to return to the 20th century. Evil wizards and a potential burning at the stake aside, this oddball movie is quite the adventure-comedy trip. It’s hard to believe something this futuristic is based on the Mark Twain novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but if sci-fi hadn’t existed in the Victorian era, steampunk would not be a thing.