Big Bugs

by admin - December 4th, 2017

By Katelynn Colpitts

After the war during the 1950s and early 1960s, Hollywood had a huge sci-fi boom. Films Aproduced during this time mainly revolved around “big bugs” as the main characters. A well known bug movie of the time was Them!, which was “the story of ants from the nuclear testing ranges of New Mexico, mutated to gargantuan size by long-term exposure to residual radiation” (Tsutsui 2). The film was such a hit because it was as realistic as a horror film could be at the time. Soon after its’ release, bug movies appeared more and more frequently and became more and more popular. Here you can find a list of the 25 best bug movies from the 1950s and so on. Critics and scholars have spent much of their time pondering exactly what the hidden meaning was behind all these bug movies.

Above is an image that advertises the film Them!. You can see the giant mutant ants and the military force that was used to attack the creatures in the film.

Bug films caused such an uproar because they portrayed actual scientific possibilities that people feared for. “In the case of the “big bug” films, this fear of science run amok took a unique form: nervously conflating warring arthropods and anthropoids, these films raised doubts as to which side was ultimately the graver threat to the earth and its creatures” (Bellin 3). In the 1950s pesticides were being used to fight off insects. As scientists made stronger and more advanced pesticides, the fear of big bug mutations grew. Pesticides were viewed “as a new and even deadlier form of alien invader–one that, ironically, humanity has loosed on itself in its reckless chemical war against the insects” (Bellin 4). Not only could pesticides be used to maintain insect infestations, they could also be used to poison and hurt human beings. “Chemists, entomologists, and military researchers knew that chemicals toxic to one species often killed others, so they developed similar chemicals to fight human and insect enemies” (Bellin 9).

The big bug phenomenon became so surreal because scientific advances were making the movie plots become more and more possible, which grabbed the audience’s attention. “As another influential critic put it, “The monster is the symbol of what we have to fear: it is not fear itself; it is the horror of what we have done, scientifically and militarily, to bring the world to the brink of destruction” (Tsutsui 8).

Another approach to the meaning behind the bug films is that they warned of nuclear fear. “The oldest and most esteemed critical approach to movies like Them! is that they are all about nuclear fear, the widespread anxiety about the threat of atomic annihilation that (so the story goes) gnawed at the middle-class psyche throughout the glory days of the Pax Americana” (Tsutsui 6). All in all the “big bug” movies of the 1950s serve as entertainment as well as warnings of chemical and scientific advances.

Today, viewers can enjoy the films and see how far our horror film plots have come, as well as speculate on what hidden meanings they are capturing in today’s society.

Works Cited

Tsutsui, William M. “Looking Straight at THEM! UNDERSTANDING THE BIG BUG MOVIES OF THE 1950S.” Environmental History 12.2 (2007): 237-53. ProQuest. Web. 29 Nov. 2017.

Bellin, Joshua David. “Us or them!: Silent Spring and the ‘big bug’ films of the 1950s.” Extrapolation, vol. 50, no. 1, 2009, p. 145+. General OneFile, Accessed 29 Nov. 2017.

One Response to “Big Bugs”

  1. Jessica Fournier says:

    This new trend of science fiction movies, specifically looking at ones involving bugs, in the 1950s captured my attention because it can seem a bit random before realizing the potential reasons behind them. Though it could be true that these movies might not have an underlying meaning, it is interesting to think about the impact movies that are about invasions of large insects can have on explaining the mentality of the whole entire country, or how they can represent important events that happened during this important decade. Awesome blog post, I enjoyed reading it!