The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still

Colorized reprint of the 1951 poster
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Written by Edmund H. North
Harry Bates (story)
Starring Michael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Billy Gray
Hugh Marlowe
Sam Jaffe
Frances Bavier
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Leo Tover
Editing by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) September 28, 1951 (1951-09-28)
Running time 92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget about $1.2 million
Box office about $1.85 million
Movie trailer

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 American science fiction film directed by Robert Wise and written by Edmund H. North based on the short story "Farewell to the Master" (1940) by Harry Bates. The film stars Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe, and Hugh Marlowe. In the film, a humanoid alien visitor visits Earth with a warning, accompanied by the powerful robot, "Gort".



An extraterrestrial flying saucer is tracked streaking about the Earth until it gently lands on the President's Park Ellipse in Washington, D.C. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges, announcing that he has come from outer space on a goodwill mission. Upon opening a small, suspicious-looking device, he is wounded by a nervous soldier and the device is destroyed. In response, Gort, a large humanoid robot emerges from the ship and disintegrates all weapons present with a ray emanating from his head, without harming the soldiers. Klaatu orders him to stop and explains that the ruined object was a viewing device, a gift for the President.

Klaatu is taken to an army hospital, where he is found to be physically human-like, but stuns the doctors with the quickness of his healing. Meanwhile the military attempts to enter Klaatu's ship, but finds it impregnable. Gort stands by, mute and unmoving.

Klaatu reveals to the President's secretary, Harley (Frank Conroy), that he bears a message so momentous and urgent that it can and must be revealed to all the world's leaders simultaneously. However Harley tells him that it would be impossible to get the squabbling world leaders to agree to meet. Klaatu wants to get to know the ordinary people. Harley forbids it and leaves Klaatu locked up under guard.

Klaatu escapes and lodges at a boarding house, assuming the alias "Mr. Carpenter". Among the residents are Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a World War II widow, and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). At breakfast the next morning, during alarming radio reports, Klaatu takes in the unknowing fellow boarders' suspicions and speculations about the purpose of the alien's visit.

While Helen and her boyfriend Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe) go on a day trip, Klaatu babysits Bobby. The boy takes Klaatu on a tour of the city, including a visit to his father's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, where Klaatu is dismayed to learn that most of those buried there were killed in wars. The two visit the heavily guarded spaceship and the Lincoln Memorial. Klaatu, impressed by the Gettysburg Address inscription, queries Bobby for the greatest person living in the world. Bobby suggests a leading American scientist, Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who lives in Washington, D.C. Bobby takes Klaatu to Barnhardt's home, but the professor is absent. Klaatu enters and adds a key mathematical equation to an advanced problem on the professor's blackboard, and then leaves his contact information with the suspicious housekeeper.

Later, government agents escort Klaatu to see Barnhardt. Klaatu introduces himself and warns the professor that the people of the other planets have become concerned for their own safety after human beings developed atomic power. Klaatu declares that if his message goes unheeded, "Planet Earth will be eliminated." Barnhardt agrees to arrange a meeting of scientists at Klaatu's ship and suggests that Klaatu give a demonstration of his power. Klaatu returns to his spaceship the next evening to implement the idea, unaware that Bobby has followed him.

Bobby tells the unbelieving Helen and Tom what has transpired, but not until Tom finds a diamond on the floor of Klaatu's room do they begin to accept his story. When Tom takes the diamond for appraisal, the jeweler informs him it is unlike any other on Earth.

Klaatu finds Helen at her workplace. She leads him to an unoccupied elevator which mysteriously stops at noon, trapping them together. Klaatu admits he is responsible, tells Helen his true identity, and asks for her help. A montage sequence shows that Klaatu has neutralized all electric power everywhere around the planet except in situations that would compromise human safety, such as hospitals and airplanes.

After the thirty-minute blackout ends, the manhunt for Klaatu intensifies and Tom informs authorities of his suspicions. Helen is very upset by Tom's betrayal of Klaatu and breaks off their relationship. Helen and Klaatu take a taxi to Barnhardt's home; en route, Klaatu instructs Helen that, should anything happen to him, she must tell Gort "Klaatu barada nikto". When they are spotted, Klaatu is shot by military personnel. Helen heads to the spaceship. Gort awakens and kills two guards before Helen can relay Klaatu's message. Gort gently deposits her in the spaceship, then goes to fetch Klaatu's corpse. Gort then revives Klaatu while the amazed Helen watches on. Klaatu explains that his revival is only temporary; even with their advanced technology, they cannot truly overcome death that power is reserved for the almighty god.

Klaatu steps out of the spaceship and addresses the assembled scientists, explaining that humanity's penchant for violence and first steps into space have caused concern among other inhabitants of the universe who have created and empowered a race of robot enforcers including Gort to deter such aggression. He warns that if the people of Earth threaten to extend their violence into space, the robots will destroy Earth, adding, "The decision rests with you." He enters the spaceship and departs.


Well-known broadcast journalists of their time, H. V. Kaltenborn, Elmer Davis, Drew Pearson and Gabriel Heatter, appeared and/or were heard as themselves.

Spencer Tracy and Claude Rains were originally considered for the part of Klaatu.[1]


In a 1995 interview, producer Julian Blaustein explained that Joseph Breen, the film censor installed by the Motion Picture Association of America at the Twentieth Century Fox studios, balked at the portrayal of Klaatu's resurrection and limitless power.[2] At the behest of the MPAA, a line was inserted into the film; when Helen asks Klaatu whether Gort has unlimited power over life and death, Klaatu explains that he has only been revived temporarily and "that power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit."[2][3] Of the elements that he added to Klaatu's character, screenwriter Edmund North said, "It was my private little joke. I never discussed this angle with Blaustein or Wise because I didn't want it expressed. I had originally hoped that the Christ comparison would be subliminal."[4] The fact that the question even came up in an interview is proof enough that such comparisons did not remain subliminal, but they are subtle enough that it is not immediately obvious to all viewers which elements were intended to compare Klaatu to Christ.[5][6] For example, when Klaatu escapes from the hospital, he steals the clothing of a "Maj. Carpenter," carpentry being the profession of Jesus' father Joseph.



Producer Julian Blaustein set out to make a film that illustrated the fear and suspicion that characterized the early Cold War and Atomic Age. He reviewed over 200 science fiction short stories and novels in search of a storyline that could be used, since this film genre was well suited for a metaphorical discussion of such grave issues. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck gave the go-ahead for this project, and Blaustein hired Edmund North to write the screenplay based on elements from Harry Bates's short story Farewell to the Master.[2] The revised final screenplay was completed on February 21, 1951.[7]


The set was designed by Thomas Little and Claude Carpenter. They collaborated with the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the design of the spacecraft. Paul Laffoley has suggested that the futuristic interior was inspired by Wright's Johnson Wax Headquarters, completed in 1936. Laffoley quotes Wright and his attempt in designing the exterior: "... to imitate an experimental substance that I have heard about which acts like living tissue. If cut, the rift would appear to heal like a wound, leaving a continuous surface with no scar."[8]


Principal outdoor photography for The Day the Earth Stood Still was shot on the 20th Century Fox sound stages and on its studio back lot (now located in Century City, California), with a second unit shooting background plates and other scenes in Washington. The primary actors never traveled to Washington for the making of the film.[2]

The robot Gort, who serves Klaatu, was played by the naturally tall Lock Martin, who worked as an usher at Graumann's Chinese Theater and stood seven feet tall. He worked carefully with the metallic suit, for he was not used to being in such a costume. The costume also had wires for the robot's other parts. Wise decided that Martin's segments would be filmed at half hour intervals, so Martin would not face discomfort. The segments, in turn, went into the film's final print.[citation needed]

In a commentary track on DVD, interviewed by fellow director Nicholas Meyer, the director Robert Wise stated that he wanted the film to appear as realistic and believable as possible, in order to drive home the motion picture's core message against armed conflict in the real world. Also mentioned in the DVD's documentary interview was the original title for the movie, "The Day the World Stops." Blaustein said his aim with the film was to promote a "strong United Nations."[9]


The music score was composed by Bernard Herrmann in August 1951, and was his first score after he moved from New York to Hollywood. Herrmann chose unusual instrumentation for the film: violins, cellos, and basses (all three electric), two theremin electronic instruments (played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure), two Hammond organs, a large studio electric organ, three vibraphones, two glockenspiels, marimba, tam-tam, 2 bass drums, 3 sets of timpani, two pianos, celesta, two harps, 1 horn, three trumpets, three trombones, and four tubas.[10] Unusual overdubbing and tape-reversal techniques were used, as well.


Critical response

The Day the Earth Stood Still was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1951.[11][12][13][14] It holds a 94% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[15] The film was moderately successful when released, accruing US$1,850,000 in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 52nd biggest earner.[16] Variety praised the film's documentary style and the Los Angeles Times praised its seriousness, though it also found "certain subversive elements."[9] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "tepid entertainment."[17] The film earned more plaudits overseas: the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave the filmmakers a special Golden Globe Award for "promoting international understanding." Bernard Herrmann's score also received a nomination at the Golden Globes.[18] The French magazine Cahiers du cinéma was also impressed, with Pierre Kast calling it "almost literally stunning" and praising its "moral relativism".[9]

The movie is ranked seventh in Arthur C. Clarke's list of the best Science-Fiction films of all time, just above Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Clarke himself co-wrote.

Cultural influence

Since the release of the movie, the phrase Klaatu barada nikto has appeared repeatedly in fiction and in popular culture.

No translation of the phrase was stated in the film. Philosophy professor Aeon J. Skoble speculates the famous phrase is a "safe-word" that is part of a fail-safe feature used during the diplomatic missions such as the one Klaatu and Gort make to Earth. With the use of the safe-word, Gort's deadly force can be deactivated in the event the robot is mistakenly triggered into a defensive posture. Skoble observes that the theme has evolved into a "staple of science fiction that the machines charged with protecting us from ourselves will misuse or abuse their power."[19] In this interpretation, the phrase apparently tells Gort that Klaatu considers escalation unnecessary.

The Robot Hall of Fame describes the phrase as "one of the most famous commands in science fiction"[20] and Frederick S. Clarke of Cinefantastique called it "the most famous phrase ever spoken by an extraterrestrial."[21]


In 1995, The Day the Earth Stood Still was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[22][23] The film also received recognition from the American Film Institute. In 2001, it was ranked number 82 on 100 Years…100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding films.[24] It placed number 67 on a similar list 100 Years…100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films.[25] In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten" — the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Day the Earth Stood Still was acknowledged as the fifth best film in the science fiction genre.[26] The film was also on the ballot for AFI's other lists including 100 Years…100 Movies,[27] 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains for Klaatu in the heroes category,[28] 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes for the famous line "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!",[29] and AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.[30] In 2004, the film was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.[31]

Lou Cannon and Colin Powell believed the film inspired Ronald Reagan to discuss uniting against an alien invasion when meeting Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Two years later, Reagan told the United Nations, "I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world".[9]

Music and soundtrack

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Film score by Bernard Herrmann
Released 1993
Recorded August, 1951
Genre Soundtracks, Film score
Length 63:41
Label 20th Century Fox
Producer Nick Redman
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars link

20th Century Fox later reused the Herrmann title theme in the original pilot episode for Irwin Allen's 1965 TV series Lost in Space. Danny Elfman noted The Day the Earth Stood Still's score inspired his interest in film composing, and made him a fan of Herrmann.[32]

  1. "Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare" – 0:12
  2. "Prelude/Outer Space/Radar" – 3:45
  3. "Danger" – 0:24
  4. "Klaatu" – 2:15
  5. "Gort/The Visor/The Telescope" – 2:23
  6. "Escape" – 0:55
  7. "Solar Diamonds" – 1:04
  8. "Arlington" – 1:08
  9. "Lincoln Memorial" – 1:27
  10. "Nocturne/The Flashlight/The Robot/Space Control" – 5:58
  11. "The Elevator/Magnetic Pull/The Study/The Conference/The Jewelry Store" – 4:32
  12. "Panic" – 0:42
  13. "The Glowing/Alone/Gort's Rage/Nikto/The Captive/Terror" – 5:11
  14. "The Prison" – 1:42
  15. "Rebirth" – 1:38
  16. "Departure" – 0:52
  17. "Farewell" – 0:32
  18. "Finale" – 0:30


The film was dramatized as a radio play on January 4, 1954, which was broadcast on the Lux Radio Theater - with Michael Rennie performing his lead role with actress Jean Peters.

See also


  1. ^ "Cult Movies Showcase The Day the Earth Stood Still". Turner Classic Movies. 
  2. ^ a b c d Julian Blaustein, Robert Wise, Patricia Neal, Billy Gray (1995). Making the Earth Stand Still (LaserDisc; DVD). Fox Video; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  3. ^ Shermer, Michael (2001). The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. Oxford University Press. pp. 74–75. ISBN 0195143264. 
  4. ^ Matthews, Melvin E. (2007). Hostile Aliens, Hollywood and Today's News: 1950s Science Fiction Films and 9/11. Algora Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 087586497X. 
  5. ^ Holloway, David; John Beck (2005). American Visual Cultures. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 135. ISBN 0826464858. 
  6. ^ Gianos, Phillip L. (1998). Politics and Politicians in American Film. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0275960714. 
  7. ^ The Day the Earth Stood Still. Still Galleries, Shooting Script. [DVD]. Fox Video; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
  8. ^ Paul Laffoley, "Disco Volante (the Flying Saucer)", 1998 essay (web site)
  9. ^ a b c d J. Hoberman (2008-10-31). "The Cold War Sci-Fi Parable That Fell to Earth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  10. ^ Score analysis by Bill Wrobel, on
  11. ^ "The Greatest Films of 1951". AMC Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  12. ^ "The Best Movies of 1951 by Rank". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  13. ^ "The Best Films of 1951: A Definitive List". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1951". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Day the Earth Stood Still Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  16. ^ Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards (listing of 'Box Office (Domestic Rentals)' for 1951, taken from Variety magazine), pg. 156, St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1996. ISBN 0-668-05308-9. "Rentals" refers to the distributor/studio's share of the box office gross, which, according to Gebert, is roughly half of the money generated by ticket sales.
  17. ^ Crowther, Bosley (September 19, 1951). "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Emissary From Planet Visits Mayfair Theatre in 'Day the Earth Stood Still'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2008. 
  18. ^ "The Day the Earth Stood Still: Award Wins and Nominations". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  19. ^ Skoble, Aeon J. (2007). "Technology and Ethics in The Day the Earth Stood Still". In Steven M. Sanders. The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813124727. 
  20. ^ "The Robot Hall of Fame: Gort". 2006 Inductees: Gort. Carnegie Mellon University. 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  21. ^ Clarke, Frederick S. (1970). Cinefantastique: 2. 
  22. ^ "Films Selected to The National Film Registry, Library of Congress 1989-2009". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  23. ^ "The Day the Earth Stood Still: Award Wins and Nominations". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  24. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  25. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  26. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies: Official Ballot". Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  28. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: The 400 Nominated Characters". Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: Official Ballot". Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores: Official Ballot". Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  31. ^ Film, The (April 29, 2003). "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Oscar Roundtable: The composers". The Hollywood Reporter. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 

Further reading

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