A serial, film serial, movie serial or chapter play, is a motion picture form popular during the first half of the 20th century, consisting of a series of short subjects exhibited in consecutive order at one theater, generally advancing weekly, until the series is completed. Generally, each serial involves a single set of characters, protagonistic and antagonistic, involved in a single story, which has been edited into chapters after the fashion of serial fiction and the episodes cannot be shown out of order or as a single or a random collection of short subjects.
Each chapter was screened at a movie theater for one week, and ended with a cliffhanger, in which characters found themselves in perilous situations with little apparent chance of escape. Viewers had to return each week to see the cliffhangers resolved and to follow the continuing story. Movie serials were especially popular with children, and for many youths in the first half of the 20th century a typical Saturday matinee at the movies included at least one chapter of a serial, along with animated cartoons, newsreels, and two feature films.
Many serials were Westerns, since those were the least expensive to film. Besides Westerns, though, there were films covering many genres, including crime fiction, espionage, comic book or comic strip characters, science fiction, and jungle adventures. Although most serials were filmed economically, some were made at significant expense. The Flash Gordon serial and its sequels, for instance, were major productions in their times.
Serials were a popular form of movie entertainment dating back to Edison's What Happened to Mary of 1912. There appear to be older serials, however, such as the 1910 Deutsche Vitaskop 5 episode Arsene Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes, based upon the Maurice LeBlanc novel, and a possible but unconfirmed Raffles serial in 1911. Usually filmed with low budgets, serials were action-packed stories that usually involved a hero (or heroes) battling an evil villain and rescuing damsel in distress. The villain would continually place the hero into inescapable deathtraps, or the heroine would be placed into a deathtrap and the hero would bravely come to her rescue, usually pulling her away from certain death only moments before she met her doom. The hero and heroine would face one trap after another, battling countless thugs and lackeys, before finally defeating the villain.
Many famous clichés of action-adventure movies had their origins in the serials. The popular term cliffhanger was developed as a plot device in film serials (though its origins have been traced by some historians to the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle or the earlier A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy from 1873), and it comes from the many times that the hero or heroine would end up hanging over a cliff, usually as the villain gloated above and waited for them to plummet hundreds of metres to their deaths. Other popular clichés included the heroine or hero trapped in a burning building, being trampled by horses, knocked unconscious in a car as it goes over a cliff, crashing in an airplane, and watching as the burning fuse of a nearby bundle of dynamite sparked and sputtered its way towards the deadly explosive (at the beginning of the next chapter the endangered character usually simply got up and walked away with only minor scrapes). The popular Indiana Jones movies are a well-known, romantic pastiche of the serials' clichéd plot elements and devices.
The silent era was the zenith of the movie serial and serial stars from this period were major stars such as Pearl White, who starred in the quintessential silent serial The Perils of Pauline, which still ranks among the best known silent films. Ruth Roland, Marin Sais, Ann Little, and Helen Holmes were also early leading serial queens. Most of these serials put beautiful young women in jeopardy week after week. The serials starring women were the most popular during the silent period but in the sound era few serials had a female character in the major role. Years after their first release, serials gained new life at "Saturday Matinees", theatrical showings on Saturday mornings aimed directly at children. For that reason, serials are sometimes called "Saturday Matinee Serials", even though they were originally shown with feature films.
In the early days of television in the United States, movie serials were often broadcast, one chapter a day, and in the late 1970s and 1980s, they were often revived on BBC television in the United Kingdom. Many have been released in home video formats.
Besides the hero or heroine, some terms are used to define villains and supporting players:
Famous American serials of the silent era include The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine made by Pathé Frères and starring Pearl White. Another popular serial was the 119-episode The Hazards of Helen made by Kalem Studios and starring Helen Holmes for the first forty-eight episodes then Helen Gibson for the remainder. Other major studios of the silent era, such as Vitagraph and Essanay Studios, produced serials, as did Warner Bros., Fox, and Universal. Several independent companies (for example, Mascot Pictures) made Western serials. Four silent Tarzan serials were also made.
Europe had its own serials: in France Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset launched his series of Nick Carter films in 1908, and the idea of the episodic crime adventure was developed particularly by Louis Feuillade in Fantômas (1913–14), Les Vampires (1915), and Judex (1916); in Germany, Homunculus (1916), directed by Otto Rippert, was a six-part horror serial about an artificial creature.
The arrival of sound technology made it costlier to produce serials, so that they were no longer as profitable on a flat rental basis. Further, the Great Depression made it impossible for many of the smaller companies that produced serials to upgrade to sound, and they went out of business. Only one serial specialty company, Mascot Pictures, transitioned from silent to sound filmmaking. Universal Pictures also kept its serial unit alive through the transition.
In the early 1930s a handful of independent companies tried their hand at making serials, but managed only two or three, including the once-prolific Weiss Brothers. The Weisses bought a little time when Columbia Pictures decided to take a try at serials, and contracted with them (as Adventure Serials Inc.) to make three chapterplays. They were successful enough that Columbia then established its own serial unit and the Weisses essentially disappeared from the serial scene. This was in 1937, and Columbia was probably inspired by the previous year's serial blockbuster success at Universal, Flash Gordon, the first serial ever to play at a major theater on Broadway; and by the success of that same year of the newly created Republic Pictures, which dedicated itself to a program of serials and westerns, eschewing major productions in their favor. The creation of Republic involved the absorption of Mascot Pictures, so that by 1937, serial production was now in the hands of three companies only - Universal, Columbia, and Republic, with Republic quickly becoming the acknowledged leader in quality serial product. Each company turned out four to five serials per year, of 12 to 15 episodes each, a pace they all kept up until the end of World War II when, in 1946, Universal dropped its serial unit along with its B-picture unit and renamed its production department Universal-International Pictures. Republic and Columbia continued unchallenged, with about four serials per year each, Republic fixing theirs at 12 chapters each while Columbia fixed at fifteen.
By the mid-1950s, however, episodic television series and the sale of older serials to TV syndicators by all the current and past major sound serial producers, together with the loss of audience attendance at Saturday matinees in general, made serial-making a losing proposition.
There have been several post-1950s attempts at reviving or recalling cliffhanger serials, by both fans and professional studios, and serials were often spoofed in cartoons of the 1960s.
An early attempt at a low-budget Western serial, filmed in color, was entitled The Silver Avenger. One or two chapters exist of this effort on 16mm film but it is not known whether the serial was ever completed.
The best-known fan-made chapter play is the four-chapter, silent 16mm amateur effort made to resemble Republic and Columbia serials of the 1940s Captain Celluloid vs. the Film Pirates, completed in 1966. The plot involved a masked villain named The Master Duper, one of three members of a Film Commission who attempts to acquire the only known prints of various lost nitrate films, and the heroic Captain Celluloid, who wears a costume reminiscent of that of the Black Commando in Columbia Pictures' serial The Secret Code, is determined to uncover him. Roles in the serial are played by, among others, film historians and serial fans Alan Barbour and William K. Everson.
In the 1970s, serial fan Blackie Seymour shot a complete 15-chapter serial called The Return of the Copperhead. Mr. Seymour's only daughter, who operated the camera at the age of 8, attests that as of 2008 the serial was indeed filmed but the raw footage remains in cans, unedited... "perhaps someday" to be assembled.
In 2001, King of the Park Rangers, a 1-chapter sound serial was released by Cliffhanger Productions on VHS video tape in sepia. It concerned the adventures of a Park Ranger named Patricia King and an FBI Agent who track down a trio of killers out to find buried treasure in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
A second 10-chapter serial, The Dangers of Deborah, in which a female reporter and a criminologist fight to uncover the identity of a mysterious villain named The Terror, was released by Cliffhanger Productions in 2008.
In 2006, Lamb4 Productions created its own homage to the film serials of the 1940s with its own serial titled "Wildcat." The story revolves around a super hero named Wildcat and his attempts to save the fictional Rite City from a masked villain known as the Roach. This 8-chapter serial was based heavily on popular super hero serials such as "Batman and Robin," "Captain America," and "The Adventures of Captain Marvel." After its premiere, "Wildcat" was posted on the official Lamb4 Productions YouTube channel for public viewing.
The serial format was used with stories on the original run of The Mickey Mouse Club (1955–58), with each chapter running about six to ten minutes. The longer-running dramatic serials included "Corky and White Shadow", "The Adventures of Spin and Marty", "The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure", "The Boys of the Western Sea", "The Secret of Mystery Lake", "The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of Ghost Farm", and The Adventures of Clint and Mac.
Other Disney programs shown on Walt Disney Presents in segments (such as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, The Swamp Fox, The Secret of Boyne Castle, The Mooncussers, and The Prince and the Pauper) and Disney feature films (including Treasure Island; The Three Lives of Thomasina; The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men; Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue; and The Fighting Prince of Donegal) edited into segments for television presentation often had a cliffhanger-serial-like feel.
In England, in the 1950s and 60s, low-budget 6-chapter serials such as Dusty Bates and Masters of Venus were released theatrically, but these were not particularly well-regarded or remembered.
Of course, perhaps the greatest number of serialized television programs to feature any single character were those made featuring Doctor Who, the BBC character introduced in 1963. Doctor Who serials would run anywhere from 3 to 12 episodes and were shown in weekly segments as had been the original theatrical cliffhangers. Doctor Who was syndicated in the US as early as 1974 but did not gain a following in America until the mid-1980s when episodes featuring Tom Baker reached its shores.
The 1960s cartoon show Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle included two serial-style episodes per program. These spoofed the cliffhanger serial form. Within the Rocky and Bullwinke show, the recurring but non-serialized Dudley Do-Right, specifically parodied the damsel in distress (Nell Fenwick) being tied to railroad tracks by arch villain Snidely Whiplash and rescued by the noble but clueless Dudley. The Hanna–Barbera Perils of Penelope Pitstop was a takeoff on the silent serials The Perils of Pauline and The Iron Claw, which featured Paul Lynde as the voice of the villain Sylvester Sneakley, alias "The Hooded Claw".
Danger Island, a multi-part story in under-10-minute episodes, was shown on the Saturday morning Banana Splits program in the late 1960s. Episodes were short, full of wild action and usually ended on a cliffhanger. This serial is notable for having been directed by Richard Donner and featuring the first African American action hero in a chapter play. The violence present in most of the episodes, though much of it was deliberately comical and would not be considered shocking today, also raised concerns at a time when violence in children's TV was at issue.
On February 27, 1979, NBC broadcast the first episode of an hour-long weekly television series Cliffhangers!, which had three segments, each with a different serial: a horror story (The Curse of Dracula, starring Michael Nouri), a science fiction/western (The Secret Empire, (inspired by 1935's The Phantom Empire) starring Geoffrey Scott as Marshal Jim Donner and Mark Lenard as Emperor Thorval) and a mystery (Stop Susan Williams!, starring Susan Anton, Ray Walston as Bob Richards, and Albert Paulsen as the villain Anthony Korf). Unfortunately, though final episodes were shot, the series was canceled and the last program aired on May 1, 1979 before all of the serials could conclude; only The Curse of Dracula was resolved.
In 2006, Dark Horse Indie films, through Image Entertainment, released a 6-chapter serial parody called Monarch of the Moon, detailing the adventures of a hero named the Yellow Jacket, who could control Yellow Jackets with his voice, battled "Japbots", and traveled to the moon. The end credits promised a second serial, Commie Commandos From Mars. Dark Horse attempted to promote the release as a just-found, never-before-released serial made in 1946, but suppressed by the US Government.
The classic sound serial, particularly in its Republic format, has a first episode of about 30 minutes (approximately three reels in length) and begins with reports of a masked, secret, or unsuspected villain menacing an unspecific part of America. This episode traditionally has the most detailed credits at the beginning, often with pictures of the actors with their names and that of the character they play. Often there follows a montage of scenes lifted from the cliffhangers of previous serials to depict the ways in which the master criminal was a serial killer with a motive. In the first episode, various suspects or "candidates" who may, in secret, be this villain are presented, and the viewer often hears the voice but does not see the face of this mastermind commanding his "lead villain", similar to a sergeant, whom the viewer sees in just about every episode.
In the succeeding weeks (usually 11 to 14) thereafter, an episode nearly 20 minutes (approximately two reels) in length was presented, in which the "lead villain" and lesser thugs commit crimes in various places, fight the hero, and trap someone to make the ending a cliffhanger. Many of the episodes have clues, dialogue, and events leading the viewer to think that any of the candidates were the mastermind. As serials were made by writing the whole script first and then slicing it into portions filmed at various sites, often the same location would be used several times in the serial, often given different signage, or none at all, just being referred to differently. There would often be a female love interest of the male hero, or a female hero herself, but as the audience was mainly children, there was no hugging and kissing.
In 1938, Republic introduced the "economy episode" (or "recap chapter") in which the characters summarize or reminisce about their adventures, so as to introduce showing those scenes again (in the manner of a clip show in modern television). This type of episode usually had a cheap, mechanical cliffhanger, like a time bomb rather than being unconscious in a runaway vehicle.
The beginning of each chapter would bring the story up to date by repeating the last few minutes of the previous chapter, and then revealing how the main character escaped. Often the reprised scene would add an element not seen in the previous close, but unless it contradicted something shown previously, audiences accepted the explanation. On rare occasions the filmmakers would depend on the audience not remembering details of the previous week's chapter, using alternate outcomes that did not exactly match the previous episode's cliffhanger.
The last episode was sometimes a bit longer than most, for its tasks were to unmask the head villain (who usually was someone completely unsuspected), wrap up the loose ends, and end with a triumphal proclamation, followed by a joke – and sometimes a kiss (provided that the story supplied a heroine to receive it).
The major studios had their own retinues of actors and writers, their own prop departments, existing sets, stock footage, and music libraries. The early independent studios had none of these, except for being able to rent the sets of independent producers of western features.
The firms saved money by reusing the same cliffhangers, stunt and special effect sequences over the years. Mines or tunnels flooded often, even in Flash Gordon, and the same model cars and trains went off the same cliffs and bridges. Republic had a Packard limousine and a Ford Woodie station wagon used in serial after serial so they could match the shots with the stock footage from the model or previous stunt driving. Three different serials had them chasing the Art Deco sound truck, required for location shooting, for various reasons. Male fistfighters all wore hats so that the change from actor to stunt double would not be caught so easily. A rubber liner on the hatband of the stuntman's fedora would make a seal on the stuntman's head, so the hat would stay on during fight scenes.
Exposition of what led up to the previous episode's cliffhanger was usually displayed on placards with a photograph of one of the characters on it. In 1938, Universal brought the first "scrolling text" exposition to the serial, which George Lucas first used in Star Wars in 1977 and then in all of the following Star Wars films. As this would have required subcontracting the optical effects, Republic saved money by not using it.
Universal had been making serials since the 1910s, and continued to service its loyal neighborhood-theater customers with four serials annually. The studio made news in 1929 by hiring Tim McCoy to star in its first all-talking serial, The Indians Are Coming! Epic footage from this western serial turned up again and again in later serials and features. In 1936 Universal scored a coup by licensing the popular comic-strip character Flash Gordon for the screen; the serial was a smash hit, and was even booked into first-run theaters that usually did not bother with chapter plays. Universal followed it up with more pop-culture icons: The Green Hornet and Ace Drummond from radio, and Smilin' Jack and Buck Rogers from newspapers. Universal was more story-conscious than the other studios, and cast its serials with "name" actors recognizable from feature films: Lon Chaney, Jr., Béla Lugosi, Dick Foran, The Dead End Kids, Kent Taylor, Robert Armstrong, Irene Hervey, and Johnny Mack Brown, among many others. In the 1940s Universal's serials employed urban and/or wartime themes, incorporating newsreel footage of actual disasters. The 1942 serial Gang Busters is perhaps the best of Universal's urban serials; Universal often cannibalized it for future cliffhangers. Don Winslow of the Navy may exemplify Universal's best war-themed chapterplay. The studio's reliance on stock footage for the big action scenes was certainly economical, but it often hurt the overall quality of the films. When the studio reorganized as Universal-International, it shut down most of the production units, including the serial crew. Universal's last serial was The Mysterious Mr. M (1946).
Republic was the successor to Mascot Pictures, a serial specialist. Writers and directors were already geared to staging exciting films, and Republic improved on Mascot, adding music to underscore the action, and staging more elaborate stunts. Republic was one of Hollywood's smaller studios, but its serials have been hailed as some of the best, especially those directed by John English and William Witney. In addition to solid screenwriting that many critics thought was quite accomplished, the firm also introduced choreographed fistfights, which often included the stuntmen (usually the ones portraying the villains, never the heroes) throwing things in desperation at one another in every fight to heighten the action. Republic serials are noted for outstanding special effects, such as large-scale explosions and demolitions, and the more fantastic visuals like Captain Marvel and Rocketman flying. Most of the trick scenes were engineered by Howard and Theodore Lydecker. Republic was able to get the rights to the newspaper comic character Dick Tracy, the radio character The Lone Ranger, and the comic book characters Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Spy Smasher. Republic's serial scripts were written by a team of up to seven writers. By 1950 Republic had amassed an impressive backlog of action highlights, which were cleverly re-edited into later serials to save money. Most of the studio's serials of the 1950s were written by only one man, Ronald Davidson—Davidson had produced many serials. Republic's last serial was King of the Carnival (1955), a reworking of 1939's Daredevils of the Red Circle using some of its footage.
Columbia made several serials using its own staff and facilities (1938–1939 and 1943–1945), but usually subcontracted its serial production to outside producers: the Weiss Brothers (1937–1938), Larry Darmour (1939–1942), and Sam Katzman (1945–1956). Columbia built many serials around name-brand heroes. From newspaper comics, they got Terry and the Pirates, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, and Brenda Starr, Reporter; from the comic books, Blackhawk, Congo Bill, time traveler Brick Bradford, and Batman and Superman (although this last owed more to its radio incarnation, which the credits acknowledged); from radio, Jack Armstrong and Hop Harrigan; from the pulp novels the Spider and The Shadow (despite also being a very popular radio series); from the British novelist Edgar Wallace, the first archer-superhero, The Green Archer; and even from television: Captain Video. Columbia's early serials were very well received by audiences—exhibitors voted The Spider's Web (1938) the number-one serial of the year. Former silent-serial director James W. Horne co-directed The Spider's Web, and his work secured him a permanent position in Columbia's serial unit. Horne had been a comedy specialist in the 1930s, often working with Laurel and Hardy, and most of his Columbia serials are played tongue-in-cheek, with exaggerated villainy and improbable heroics (the hero takes on six men in a fistfight and wins). After Horne's death in 1942, the studio's serial output was somewhat more sober, but still aimed primarily at the juvenile audience. Batman (1943) was quite popular, and Superman (1948) was phenomenally successful. Spencer Gordon Bennet, another silent-serial veteran, directed most of the later Columbia serials. His western-themed efforts were suitably accomplished, but Columbia cut corners in every respect until the quality of the serials suffered. Columbia also used cartoon animation instead of more expensive special effects with its science-fictional serials. By the 1950s Columbia serials were low-budget affairs, consisting mostly of action scenes and cliffhanger endings from older productions, and even employing the same actors for new scenes tying the old footage together. Columbia outlasted the other serial producers, its last being Blazing the Overland Trail (1956).
Film serials released to the home video market from original masters include the majority of Republic titles (with a few exceptions, such as Ghost of Zorro)—which were released by Republic Pictures Home Video on VHS and sometimes laserdisc (sometimes under their re-release titles) mostly from transfers made from the original negatives, The Shadow, and Blackhawk, both released by Sony only on VHS, and DVD versions of Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (Hearst), Adventures of Captain Marvel (Republic Pictures), Batman and Batman and Robin (Sony), Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman (Warner), and The Green Hornet (VCI). Notable restorations of partially lost or forgotten serials such as The Adventures of Tarzan, Beatrice Fairfax, The Lone Ranger Rides Again, Daredevils of the West and King of the Mounties have been developed and made available to fans by The Serial Squadron. A gray market for DVDs also exists consisting of DVD companies releasing titles from privately owned 16mm prints or even copies of previously released VHS or laserdisc editions, and various websites and internet auctions. These DVDs vary between good and poor quality, depending on their source. In 2017, Adventures of Captain Marvel became the first serial to be released on Blu-Ray.
Several serials are now in the public domain. These can often be downloaded legally over the internet or purchased as cheap DVDs. The list of public domain serials includes:
The "golden age" of serials is generally from 1936 to 1945.
Alias the Cat is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Kim Deitch, published by Pantheon Books in 2007. It originally appeared as a three-issue comic book in 2002 as The Stuff of Dreams from Fantagraphics Books.
The metafictional book stars Deitch himself and his best-known creation, Waldo the Cat. It's about a character named Alias the Cat who appeared in 1915 in a comic strip and a serial film, as well as in real life as a freedom-fighting superhero, but who mysteriously disappears. As Deitch researches the character, the story keeps getting more and more involved.Battling with Buffalo Bill
Battling with Buffalo Bill is a 1931 American Pre-Code Western serial film directed by Ray Taylor and starring Tom Tyler, Lucile Browne, William Desmond, Rex Bell, and Francis Ford.
Based on the book The Great West That Was by William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the film is about a cowboy named Buffalo Bill who goes up against a shady gambler who is attempting to scare off the townspeople so he can gain possession of a gold strike. When a nearby Indian tribe is provoked into attacking the town, the cavalry rides in to the rescue. Cody's book was also used as the inspiration for the studio's highly successful 1930 serial The Indians Are Coming.Battling with Buffalo Bill was Universal Pictures's 78th serial, the 10th with sound and 4th with full sound, of the studio's total of 137 serials.Buck Rogers (serial)
Buck Rogers is a 1939 Universal serial film starring Buster Crabbe (who had previously played the title character in two Flash Gordon serials and would return for a third in 1940) as the eponymous hero, Constance Moore, Jackie Moran and Anthony Warde. It was based on the Buck Rogers character created by Philip Francis Nowlan, which had appeared in magazines and comic strips since 1928.Captain America (serial)
Captain America is a 1944 Republic black-and-white serial film loosely based on the Timely Comics (today known as Marvel Comics) character Captain America. It was the last Republic serial made about a superhero. It also has the distinction of being the most expensive serial that Republic ever made. It also stands as the first theatrical release connected to a Marvel character; the next theatrical release featuring a Marvel hero would not occur for more than 40 years. It was also the last live-action rendition of a Marvel character in any media until Spider-Man appeared in the Spidey Super Stories segment of the children's TV series The Electric Company in 1974.
The serial sees Captain America, really District Attorney Grant Gardner, trying to thwart the plans of The Scarab, really museum curator Dr. Cyrus Maldor - especially regarding his attempts to acquire the "Dynamic Vibrator" and "Electronic Firebolt", devices that could be used as super-weapons.
In a rare plot element for Republic, the secret identity of the villain is known to the audience from the beginning, if not to the characters in the serial. The studio's usual approach was the use of a mystery villain who was unmasked as one of the other supporting characters only in the final chapter.Don Winslow of the Coast Guard
Don Winslow of the Coast Guard is a 1943 Universal Pictures Serial film based on the comic strip Don Winslow of the Navy by Frank V. Martinbek.Don Winslow of the Navy
Don Winslow of the Navy is a 1942 Universal Pictures Serial film based on the comic strip Don Winslow of the Navy by Commander Frank V. Martinek. It was theatrically released in January 1942.Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a 1940 American twelve chapter black-and-white science fiction serial film from Universal Pictures, produced by Henry MacRae, directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor, that stars Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles B. Middleton, Frank Shannon, and Roland Drew. The serial was written by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Barry Shipman and was adapted from Alex Raymond's syndicated newspaper comic strip of the same name. It was the last of the three Universal Flash Gordon serials made between 1936 and 1940.
During the 1950s, all three of these Flash Gordon serials were directly syndicated to television by Motion Pictures for Television, along with many of Universal's other serial output. To avoid confusion with the Flash Gordon TV series airing around the same time, they were retitled Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars, and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.
In 1966 Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe was edited down into two feature-length films for television syndication, Purple Death from Outer Space and Perils from the Planet Mongo, by King Features Syndicate. In the early 1970s, a third feature version was re-edited for the 16mm home movie market, using story material from the entire serial. It bore the title Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe and later appeared on television during the 1980s. Afterward, all three edited feature length versions became available through various public-domain video sellers, first on VHS videotape and later on DVD.
In the mid-1970s all three complete Universal Flash Gordon serials were shown chapter-by-chapter by PBS stations across the US, bringing them to a new generation of science fiction fans, two years before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From the late 1980s onward, all three serials became available on the home video market under their original theatrical release titles, chapters, and running times.Jungle Drums of Africa
Jungle Drums of Africa is a 1953 12-episode, American serial film, shot in black-and-white, which was an original commissioned screenplay by Ronald Davidson produced by Franklin Adreon and directed by Fred C. Brannon for Republic Pictures. The story is set in Kenya, and involves the efforts of an American uranium processing company's representative and a woman medical missionary, to thwart the efforts of agents of a "foreign power", abetted by a disaffected native witchdoctor, to gain control of a large uranium deposit on lands owned by the latter's tribe. This serial features black American actors in major roles, including that of a college-educated chieftain.Jungle Jim (serial)
Jungle Jim is a 1937 Universal serial film based on Jungle Jim, the comic strip by Alex Raymond. Grant Withers starred as Jungle Jim, and Henry Brandon played the villainous Cobra.List of science fiction films of the 1940s
A list of science fiction films released in the 1940s. These films include core elements of science fiction and are widely distributed with reviews by reputable
critics.List of science fiction films of the 1950s
A list of science fiction films released in the 1950s. These films include core elements of science fiction, but can cross into other genres. They have been released to a cinema audience by the commercial film industry and are widely distributed with reviews by reputable critics.
This period is sometimes described as the 'classic' era of science fiction theater. Much of the production was in a low-budget form, targeted at a teenage audience. Many were formulaic, gimmicky, comic-book-style films. They drew upon political themes or public concerns of the day, including depersonalization, infiltration, or fear of nuclear weapons. Invasion was a common theme, as were various threats to humanity.Two of the films from this decade, The War of the Worlds (1953) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) won Academy Awards, while Destination Moon (1950) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) won Hugo Awards.Mystery Mountain (serial)
Mystery Mountain is a 1934 American Western serial film directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason and starring Ken Maynard, Verna Hillie, Syd Saylor, Edward Earle, and Hooper Atchley. Distributed by Mascot Pictures, the series was a remake of Mascot's film The Hurricane Express (1932). Mystery Mountain features the second film appearance by Gene Autry.Nick Carter, le roi des détectives
Nick Carter, le roi des détectives (1908) is a French silent serial film based on the popular American novels featuring the master-detective Nick Carter. It was written by Georges Hatot and directed by Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset for the Éclair company. It was released in six episodes, each of which told a complete story, but their release was timed at approximately fortnightly intervals to create a sense of continuity with the audience. The stories were set in Paris.Stingray Sam
Stingray Sam is a 2009 space-western/musical serial film, directed by and starring Cory McAbee. The film premiered on January 20, 2009 at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as part of the New Frontier program. It is Cory McAbee's latest film after he was not able to secure financing for what was to be his second feature Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest.The Galloping Ghost (serial)
The Galloping Ghost is a 1931 American pre-Code Mascot serial film directed by B. Reeves Eason and Benjamin H. Kline. The title is the nickname of the star, American football player Red Grange.The Law of the Wild
The Law of the Wild is a 1934 American western serial film directed by B. Reeves Eason and Armand Schaefer and distributed by Mascot Pictures.The Mysteries of Paris (1922 film)
The Mysteries of Paris (French: Les mystères de Paris) is a 1922 French silent serial film drama directed by Charles Burguet and starring Huguette Duflos, Georges Lannes and Andrée Lionel. It is based on the novel The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue. The serial ran in twelve installments.The Phantom Empire
The Phantom Empire is a 1935 American Western serial film directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason and starring Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, and Betsy King Ross. This 12-chapter Mascot Pictures serial combined the western, musical, and science fiction genres. The first episode is 30 minutes, the rest about 20 minutes. The serial film is about a singing cowboy who stumbles upon an ancient subterranean civilization living beneath his own ranch that becomes corrupted by unscrupulous greedy speculators from the surface. In 1940, a 70-minute feature film edited from the serial was released under the titles Radio Ranch or Men with Steel Faces. This was Gene Autry's first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.The Whispering Shadow
The Whispering Shadow is a 1933 American pre-Code serial film directed by Colbert Clark and Albert Herman and starring Béla Lugosi in his first of five serial roles. Lugosi received $10,000, the highest known salary of his career, for this film. The serial was filmed in 12 days and was the last role for actor Karl Dane.