The Brave Person in Every Sci-Fi Movie

The things a gal has to do to save humanity. Image: Pinterest

Something we admire about sci-fi films is the courage one or more characters must display to defeat the monster.

Battling a sci-fi monster is not easy, whether it’s a giant insect, a mutant sea creature, or an alien from outer space. Despite all danger and difficulty, one or more characters must eventually say, “Enough,” and go head-to-head with the beast.

This is what we find in the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, a timely film about the dangers of mixing petty human nature with weapons of mass destruction.

The plot, briefly: An unidentified flying object lands in a baseball field in Washington, D.C. A human-looking alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges from the ship and requests a meeting with world leaders. Klaatu says the entire universe has learned to live peacefully, except for warmongering Earth, whose antagonistic ways threaten galactic stability.

He’s travelled 250 million miles to deliver a blunt ultimatum: Smarten up or be destroyed.

After military personnel question and detain Klaatu, the alien escapes to find refuge in a nearby boarding house. He’s anxious to find a back door to global peace negotiations.

He meets a widowed woman (Patricia Neal), and her 10 year-old son (Billy Gray). Klaatu becomes pals with the boy, who tours him around the city. However, Neal’s fiancé (Hugh Marlowe) is understandably suspicious of the stranger who claims to be American, but knows almost nothing about the nation’s capital.

The irony is, of course, Klaatu’s mission to avert global warfare may be kiboshed by a jealous fiancé.

Take me to your leaders – all of them. Image: Cat vs Kirk

As noted earlier, sci-fi films usually feature a terrifying and unreasonable Monster. In The Day the Earth Stood Still, it quickly becomes apparent the Monster is not Klaatu or his laser-shooting robot; it is we humans and our desire for war.

A clever twist, no?

The hero in this film is often cited as Klaatu with his Get-Along-or-Get-Out message. But how heroic is he, really? He has a laser-shooting robot to kill attackers, plus a zippy get-away spaceship. Let’s face it: Klaatu has a whole universe at his disposal.

Nay, the hero, in our opinion, is a Nobody: Neal’s character. She’s an office grunt and a single mother without power, money or influence. (She lives in a boarding house, for pete sake!) She’s not at the top of the socio-economic food chain, but she is sensible and smart – and heroic when she has to be.

Here’s the definition of a hero:

Hero (n) A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

Neal’s character demonstrates these qualities in her everyday life, even before she finds herself an unofficial ambassador for global peace.

Near the end of the film, she argues with fiancé Marlowe. He’s uncovered Interesting Information about Klaatu with which he intends to capture the alien and gain national prominence. He doesn’t care if his actions sideline covert peace negotiations.

Marlowe: “You’re going to marry a hero.”
Neal: “I’m not going to marry anyone.”

Did you catch that? This 1950’s woman, with limited life options, is trading her future security for (hopefully) a world that benefits everyone.

Before long, she will prove to be braver still.

If you don’t need me, I’ll be running along. Image: Flickr/Hive Mind

To us, Neal’s character represents the countless heroes who demonstrate this type of courage every day. They’ll never receive a book/movie deal or any other kind of public recognition. To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott, these folks are unwept, unhonoured and unsung¹.

Even if these unknown heroes are scared and know there’s no reward, they carry on nevertheless.

This is the type of person sci-fi movies need; indeed, it’s the type of person our world needs. The next time you watch The Day the Earth Stood Still, let us know if you agree.

  • ¹”Breathes There the Man” by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
  • This is part of the INSPIRATIONAL HEROES Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe. Directed by Robert Wise. Written by Edmund H. North. Twentieth Century Fox, B&W, 1951, 92 mins.




  1. Beautifully done article on a wonderful sci fi classic. Great performances and script. Was so poorly remade with a nihilistic ending in the 2000s, but this movie is the real deal. Love it’s message!

    Liked by 3 people

      • Absolutely! I still marvel at the casting in that film, and the genius of having the effortlessly elegant Michael Rennie play Klaatu. At least for me, even from a young age (because I was a kid when I first saw it), I couldn’t help but sympathize with his character. Apart from his physical beauty, Rennie infused Klaatu with so much dignity, strength, decency, and wit that his alien became more human than most of the humans around him. His scenes with Billy Gray are both charming and heartbreaking. And the tension between Patricia Neal and him is still riveting. The film is exceptional in every way and one of my all-time favorites. And, as you say, it is especially timely now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree – Michael Rennie really does give Klaatu dignity and strength. It’s quite a moving scene between he and Billy Gray at the cemetery, isn’t it? It’s scenes like this that have (rightfully) given this film legendary status.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ack! I can’t believe I missed your comment. (Sorry about that.) I liked what you said about Patricia Neal not being an obvious hero, but worth of recognition all the same. She has a lot to lose in this film – mostly her son and financial security (either her job or her fiancé).


  2. When I wrote about this terrific genre classic awhile back, I noted how Klaatu’s speech at the end made me a little uncomfortable in retrospect, because I don’t know if I would want to live in a society where absolute law-enforcement power is given to a bunch of robots who may or may not be able to interpret shades of grey – the law versus justice, in other words – so I like that you’ve emphasized Neal’s heroism; an underrated actress in an intelligent and courageous role.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent piece, Ruth! This film has to be one of the most thought-provoking ones I’ve ever seen. And how about Bernard Herrmann’s score? Really, the whole movie is just beautifully done.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great post. I love this film because Neal plays her part perfectly and yes, saves the planet in the process. It’s great that she’s scared (who wouldn’t be?), but not a screeching stereotype or eye candy at all. I did see that remake a few years back on cable because it was advertised as the original (oops) and I thought it was going to be until it started. I stuck around out of curiosity and nope, it wasn’t that good.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve often thought I should see the remake just because, but I can never bring myself to do it.

      Isn’t Patricia Neal fab in this film? Like you said, she has all the anxieties anyone would have in her situation, but she proceeds anyway.


  5. Neal’s work has always interested and impressed me partly due to her perverseness through a bunch of painful personal stuff. Even in something like 1971’s The Night Digger, she managed to rise above the material and pull of a surprising performance. That and you get another excellent Bernard Herrmann score in that one.

    As to that remake, it’s a case of following it up with a better film as a chaser. I think I saw A Scanner Darkly afterwards which is odd, but worked for me thanks to the animation style used and the somewhat mind-expanding story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. TDTESS is one of my favorite films and Patricia Neal’s heroine is a wonderful example of a common person willing to step up when needed. The scene between her and Klaatu in the shadowy elevator is brilliant cinema. I also love it when she walks out of the spaceship in the closing scene and exchanges a last look with the alien. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Indeed, we need the common man to say “enough!” and work against what is vile and wrong. In this sense, both our articles have the same opinion on this.
    By the way, Patricia Neal deserves more love, she is rarely remembered!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You said it. Patricia Neal doesn’t see much fan love these days, which is a shame.

      I agree – both our essays are about an average person fighting for what’s right, which is often a very difficult thing to do.


  8. BRAVO! So well-said. I haven’t seen TDTESS, but you’re right, the great sci-fi movies (and disaster films as a whole) are the one where the random person with no special hero-skills stands up and says, “Nope, not today.” And inspires us to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. No matter how cheesy the film is (and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is definitely not cheesy), you can’t help but admire the person who decides to go up against the monster.

      Thanks for co-hosting this inspiring blogathon!


  9. Wonderful review regarding “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” I had always thought of the movie as a commentary about the power and tyranny of human fear and the hero’s ability to overcome this. Even today this movie feels unique given that the hero is neither Klaatu nor Tom (the fiancee), but Helen (played by Neal). She doesn’t hunt down criminals or chase enemies or seek revenge as is more typically the hero role in many stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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