“Avatar.” “Alice in Wonderland.” “How To Train Your Dragon.” The success of these latest big budget 3-D epics wouldn’t have been possible if not for the groundwork laid by previous filmmakers decades earlier, during a time when 3-D filmmaking was considerably less sophisticated than the material currently seen in movie theaters. Many of these movies, some ranging all the way back to the 1950s, aren’t quite as involved as the trip from your theater chair to the lush jungles of Pandora, but the efforts are nonetheless quite impressive — or, at the very least, highly nostalgic.
After the jump, we’ve listed some of the classic 3-D movies that might pale in comparison to today’s technological standards, but still thrilled and invigorated audiences in their prime.
Produced, written and directed by Arch Oboler, this 1952 drama is widely considered the first full-color American 3-D motion picture. Robert Stack starred as Jack Hayward, a man forced to contend with a pair of man-eating lions that are terrorizing railroad workers constructing the Uganda Railway in Africa. The movie wasn’t widely embraced by critics at the time of its release, but its place in 3-D filmmaking history can’t be ignored.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE
Universal’s first ever 3-D effort was “It Came From Outer Space,” a 1953 science fiction film starring Richard Carlson. Based on a story by “Fahrenheit 451” writer Ray Bradbury, “It Came From Outer Space” centers on an alien spaceship that crash lands outside of a small Arizona town, with the invaders starting to assume control over several local humans. Critics were generally impressed with the movie, and actress Barbara Rush won a Golden Globe for her performance as school teacher Ellen Fields.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
Universal followed up “It Came From Outer Space” with Jack Arnold’s “Creature From The Black Lagoon,” a 3-D feature focusing on the monster side of the horror genre. The 1954 film tells the tale of an amphibious underwater creature — the Gill-man — that terrorizes a group of scientists on an expedition along the Amazon river. “Lagoon’s” place in popular culture is well-established, with an upcoming remake planned by director Carl Rinsch.
The 3-D craze of the 1950s cooled for a bit but picked up later with plenty of science fiction, horror and action movies to choose from. 1983’s “Jaws 3-D” is one such film, the third entry in the famous aquatic horror franchise, though certainly not the best. Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. aren’t quite the combo that Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss are, but the 3-D sequel’s tagline — “The third dimension is terror” — earns major points for being one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.
Considered the first 4-D film thanks to its use of in-theater physical effects, “Captain EO” was accompanied with the tagline: “We are here to change the world.” While it wasn’t quite a game-changer on the level that “Avatar” seems to be, the 1986 debuting “EO” nonetheless revolutionized entertainment seen in theme parks like Epcot, Disneyland and Universal Studios. The movie hadn’t been shown in theme parks since the late 1990s, but the death of Michael Jackson in 2009 has since prompted Disney to re-release the film.
Tell us about some of your favorite 3-D classics in the comments section and on Twitter! And be sure to check out the rest of our 3-D Week coverage, including exclusive looks at “Clash of the Titans,” “Tron Legacy” and “Legend of the Guardians.”