A Trip to the Moon (and Five Other Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Special Effects

If you’ve taken a film studies course, you’ve almost certainly seen the work of Georges Méliès. His 1902 short A Trip to the Moon, at the top, which some cinema scholars cite as the picture where special effects as we know them began, has a particularly important place in cinema history. Nobody who watches that fourteen-minute production ever forgets the image of the moon’s consternation after the protagonists’ spacecraft crashes into it. And the rest of the movie, if narratively shaky, still has an impressive visual power. If anybody had both sufficient imagination and sufficient know-how to commit such a voyage to that cutting-edge medium known as motion film over a century ago, the theater owner and seasoned illusionist Méliès did. Charged by the cinematic pioneering of his countrymen the Lumière brothers, he began doing it in 1896, and continued until 1913, which makes A Trip to the Moon a mid-career highlight.

A mid-career highlight, that is, alongside 1904’s The Impossible Voyage (just above), which continues in the same vein of Jules Verne-style fantastical science fiction. This time, in fact, Méliès took not just the sensibility from Verne but, in part, a story, drawing inspiration from Verne’s play Journey Through the Impossible about a young Danish baron tempted to travel to far-off lands, planets, and realities. He wrote into this sequel, of sorts, a natural destination: the sun. MUBI.com’s “public domain greats” page offers a list of these and other Méliès films available free to watch online, the likes of which inspired Martin Scorsese to adapt Brian Selznick’s Méliès-centric novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret into Hugo, a film visually inventive by the early 21st century’s standards just as A Voyage to the Moon excelled by the early 20th century’s. Those films currently available include:

They will all be added to our collection of 550 Free Movies Online.

Related Content:

The Power of Silent Movies, with The Artist Director Michel Hazanavicius

The Birth of Film: 11 Firsts in Cinema

The Early Days of Animation Preserved in UCLA’s Video Archive

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Brian says:

    Well Georges Melies have very impressive personality. George’s melies full name is Marie- Georges- Jean Meliens. He was born on the 8th of December 1861 in Paris. He was a French illusionist and filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in cinema. Méliès is sometimes referred to as the first “Cinemagician” his two famous films are A trip to the Moon and The Impossible Voyage. Both stories involve strange, surreal voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne, and are considered among the most important early science fiction films, though their approach is closer to fantasy. He gets success in his life through the stage shows. In every big and famous cinema’s his movies are played. High amount of families come there and entertain their life from his acting.

  • Walker says:

    I am impressed Brian you have a lot of knowledge about that great filmmaker. I have been watched that famous movie few years ago such a wonderful story. I really liked the story, a group of astronomers hold a meeting where they discuss how to travel to the Moon. The head astronomer proposes that they build something like a huge gun or cannon and fire themselves at the lunar face.

  • Timothy says:

    Very informative post for all blog readers. This film contains one of the most recognizable images in motion picture history. It is also still surprisingly enjoyable and bursts with many of Melies’ technical innovations. In this movie a group of men travel to the moon by being shot in a capsule from a giant cannon.

  • Toad says:

    Tom Hanks did an amazing tribute to Georges Méliès in the HBO series he produced on the Apollo program, From Earth To The Moon. The final episode of that series is a reenactment of the making of Le Voyage dans la Lune, funny and poignant, with Hanks playing the assistant of Méliès. They went to great effort to make the episode; it’s clearly a labor of love that Hanks had a lot of fun making. The whole series is excellent if you like NASA stories, but that particular episode is something anyone with an interest in Méliès should see.

  • Repent says:

    Full of pagan symbolism and satanic allegory. Just looking at the titles of his further films I can tell this guy was into some strange and occultish things.

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