Aelita, Queen of Mars: Soviet Science Fiction film from 1924

In vintage ad archivist Paul Malon's excellent Flickr stream, I stumbled on this beautiful Soviet film poster for a film titled "Aelita."

A quick Googling revealed that this was for the motion picture Aelita, Queen of Mars, which Wikipedia describes as "a silent film directed by Soviet filmmaker Yakov Protazanov made at the Mezhrabpom-Rus film studio and released in 1924 (...) based on Alexei Tolstoy's novel of the same name."

Some describe it as the USSR's first sci-fi flick. has the entire 80-minute film available for online viewing here, though the quality isn't great. It's also on YouTube, and here's part one.

You can also buy it in higher quality on Amazon, and here's their review:

A Soviet sensation upon its heavily publicized release in 1924, Aelita, the Queen of Mars is now a curiosity of post-revolutionary Russian silent cinema, a bit laughable in its revolutionary zeal not only on Earth but on Mars as well! Despite a cool reaction from critics, the film was such a hit with the Soviet public that many Russian babies born in '24 were named Aelita, and the Cubist designs of the Martian sets--heavily influenced by the avant-garde "constructivist" style--would in turn influence science fiction films in the years to follow (most notably the Flash Gordon serials). With costume designs performances that are truly out of this world, Aelita was the 1924 equivalent of a Spielberg spectacular; now it's a museum piece, unlikely to raise anyone's pulse, but it's startling to think that this film was even possible in 1924 Russia.

The story is almost beside the point, revolving around a married Moscow engineer who dreams of Aelita, the Queen of Mars, and is obsessed with building a spaceship that will take him to her. An alleged murder, passionate jealousy, and a bumbling detective are all part of the film's portrait of hardscrabble post-revolutionary lifestyle, but they pale in comparison to the intermittent scenes on Mars, which peak with the engineer's ultimate arrival and the eruption of a Martian slave rebellion! It's pure propaganda, but agreeably light and remarkably revealing of its time and place. Anyone expecting a Soviet Metropolis will be disappointed, but if you're fascinated by imaginative films from the silent era, Aelita is must-see viewing.

--Jeff Shannon

Still more about the film at IMDB.


  1. I had the great good fortune to see this several years ago at the Castro Theater, with live accompaniment by Dennis James (of the Pacific Film Archive) and two of his friends, calling themselves the “Theremin Trio.”  For all the earthly scenes, Mr. James played the organ while his friends played violin and trombone.  For the scenes in outer space, all three played Theremin.  I recall seeing an interview with Mr. James in which he said that the original score for the film was lost, so he pieced together a score for it from music he had in his personal library of Russian silent film scores.

    1. Dennis James and his fellow musicians did a wonderful job accompanying this film in Seattle! So much more interesting than the DVD soundtrack, as it turned out. Was that the group that used obsolete pre-electronic instruments and amplifiers I wonder.

  2. Alloy Orchestra’s album New Music for Silent Films has some pretty cool soundtrack songs for this movie. Neat to finally have a chance to watch it.

  3. I love this movie — it’s weird in ways that modern movies aren’t. And it has one of my all-time favorite insane twist endings. A real “M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN, GIMME MY MONEY BACK RIGHT NOW!” twist. The movie gets away with it by being such a charming time capsule of lots of things — there’s footage of crowded streetcars in Moscow, wacky Constructivist costumes and sets, a Tsiolkovsky-inspired spaceship (before Wesley Crusher drunkenly crashed it into that stellar core fragment) and all sorts of other weirdness that only shows up when you watch movies from other countries in other eras made by people with other axes to grind.

    The only things I know about Communism are what I learned from this movie — Communism is really trippy and someday I too hope to wear a triangular cardboard costume.

  4. Caption for first picture after clip (the grimace pic)…

    “I told you that dip was for the party tonight!”

  5. That third picture after the clip is the inspiration for the Monarch and Dr. Mrs the Monarch in Doc Hammer’s The Venture Bros.  Seriously, that guy is a dead ringer.

  6. I have only read the book, which is, judging by the hints given in the article, better than the movie. It gave me a strange, alien, haunting feeling. Haven’t reread it in a long time, though.
    The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin was also an interesting lecture, leaving aside its dogmatism.
    Both books, especially Aelita, seem surprisingly modern to me, far surpassing the writing of their Western contemporaries. I guess the Soviets took SF more seriously. It’s a pity Tolstoy isn’t better known.

  7. I used to use this film in a class I taught on Soviet film. The film is fun and full of zingers. “Say, do you suppose those radio signals come from Mars?” But it suffers from trying very hard to look like a Constructivist film without actually being one.

    Constructivism was the best thing going in German and Soviet film at the time, but it took a good deal of knowledge to understand. Sort of like ballet, where you need to learn a dance language to understand it’s depth.

    The director Protazanov rubbed shoulders with Mayakovsky, Vertov, Meyerhold, and other futurists who really knew their stuff. But he wasn’t really into Constructivism or Futurism per se. So instead he tried to mimic the look to make this movie. Since you didn’t have to know much about Constructivism in the general sense of the average audience goer, you end up with the look of that style of film making without the soul of it.

    Still, the film is an unusual and striking piece. It stands quite far from other films of its day in its story and theme, but really is quite ordinary in comparison otherwise.

    Well worth watching in any event.

  8. If you get a chance to see this accompanied by Cleaning Women, I heartily recommend you take it. Cleaning Women is an obscure Finnish band who play using DIY electronic instruments.  A small taste:

    They also have an album with music ‘insipired by’ Aelita, but as far as I know you can’t sync it with the movie.

  9. There was a screening here last week with live music, I really like it. I also had the feeling that Jane Cobb from the firefly series was similar to the red army soldier Gusev in Aelita.

Comments are closed.