The Day the Earth Stood Still

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The Day the Earth Stood Still
Day the Earth Stood Still 1951.jpg
Colorized reprint of the 1951 poster
Directed byRobert Wise
Produced byJulian Blaustein
Screenplay byEdmund H. North
Based onFarewell to the Master 
by Harry Bates
StarringMichael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Hugh Marlowe
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byWilliam H. Reynolds
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • September 28, 1951 (1951-09-28)
Running time92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,850,000 (US theatrical rentals)[2]
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The Day the Earth Stood Still
Day the Earth Stood Still 1951.jpg
Colorized reprint of the 1951 poster
Directed byRobert Wise
Produced byJulian Blaustein
Screenplay byEdmund H. North
Based onFarewell to the Master 
by Harry Bates
StarringMichael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Hugh Marlowe
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byWilliam H. Reynolds
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • September 28, 1951 (1951-09-28)
Running time92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,850,000 (US theatrical rentals)[2]
Movie trailer

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 science fiction film directed by Robert Wise. It was written by Edmund H. North, based on the 1940 short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. Produced by 20th Century Fox, the film stars Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe. A humanoid alien visitor comes to Earth, accompanied by a powerful robot, to deliver an important message to humanity.


A flying saucer approaches the Earth, eventually landing on the President's Park Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The military quickly encircles the spaceship. A humanoid emerges from the saucer, announcing that he has come in peace. However, when he advances and unexpectedly opens a small cylindrical device he is carrying, he is shot by a nervous soldier. At that moment, a large robot emerges from the ship and disintegrates all of the military's weaponary using an energy ray. The robot, named Gort, is eventually ordered by the humanoid visitor to halt. The wounded humanoid then explains to the soldiers that the now-broken device was simply a gift for the President which would have enabled him to study life on other planets.

He is taken to hospital, where he reveals his name: Klaatu. He stuns his Army doctors when he uses a salve he has with him to quickly heals his wounds. Meanwhile, the military attempts to enter the spaceship but finds it impenetrable. Gort stands outside the ship, silent and unmoving.

Klaatu tells the President's secretary, Mr. Harley, that he has come with a message so momentous that it must be revealed to all the world's leaders simultaneously. Harley tells him that such a meeting is impossible. Klaatu suggests that he be allowed to go among humans to better understand their suspicions and attitudes, Harley rejects his proposal and leaves Klaatu under armed guard.

Klaatu escapes and lodges at a boarding house, assuming the alias "Mr. Carpenter" (the name on a cleaners' tag on the suit he "borrowed"). Among the residents are young widow Helen Benson and her son Bobby. At breakfast the next morning, during alarming radio broadcasts about the alien, Klaatu listens to his fellow boarders' suspicions and speculations about the alien's purpose in coming to Earth.

While Helen and her boyfriend Tom Stephens go on a day trip, Klaatu chaperones 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 (though do not enter) and the Lincoln Memorial. Klaatu asks Bobby who the greatest person living is; Bobby suggests Professor Jacob Barnhardt), who lives in the city. Bobby takes Klaatu to Barnhardt's home, but the professor is absent. Klaatu adds a mathematical equation to a problem on Barnhardt's blackboard and leaves his contact information with the suspicious housekeeper.

Later, government agents escort Klaatu to see Barnhardt. Klaatu warns the professor that the people of the other planets have become concerned for their own safety after warlike human beings developed atomic power. Klaatu declares that, if his message goes unheeded, "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, unaware that Bobby has followed him. When Bobby sees Gort render two guards unconscious and Klaatu enters the ship, he runs home scared.

Bobby tells Helen and Tom what has transpired, but not until Tom finds a diamond on the floor of Klaatu's room do they begin to believe him. The next day, when Tom takes the diamond for appraisal, the jeweller informs him it is unlike any other on Earth. Klaatu finds Helen at her workplace. They use an elevator which mysteriously stops at noon, trapping them together. Klaatu admits he is responsible, reveals his true identity and asks for her help. Klaatu has neutralized all electricity around the planet except in situations that would compromise human safety, such as hospitals and aircraft in flight.

After the thirty-minute blackout ends, the manhunt for Klaatu intensifies. Against Helen's wishes, Tom informs the authorities of his suspicions. When Helen realizes that Tom's motives for doing so are purely selfish she breaks up with him. Helen and Klaatu take a taxi to Barnhardt's home; en route, Klaatu tells Helen that should anything happen to him, she must go to Gort and say three words ("Klaatu barada nikto") or Gort will destroy the Earth. After being spotted by the military, Klaatu is shot and killed; Helen then heads to his spaceship. Gort awakens and disintegrates the two guards, and is about to disintegrate Helen too, but she utters the three words which prompts Gort to stop. Gort carries Helen into the spaceship, then leaves to reclaim Klaatu's body. Gort revives Klaatu but Klaatu explains to Helen that his revival is only temporary; even his advanced technology cannot defeat death, that power being reserved for the "Almighty Spirit".[3]

Klaatu and Helen emerge from the spaceship as Barnhardt's scientists have assembled. Klaatu declares that the people of Earth have a choice. They can join other races in the peaceful exploration of space, but warns that if they threaten to extend their violence into space, the Earth will be reduced to a burned out cinder. After waving goodbye to Helen, Klaatu and Gort depart in the spaceship.


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.[4][3]


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.[3] 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."[3][5] 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."[6] 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.[7][8] For example, when Klaatu escapes from the hospital, he steals the clothing of a "Maj. Carpenter," carpentry being the profession Jesus learned from his father Joseph. At the end, he rises from the dead and ascends into the sky. Other similarities include his apprehension at night, being a friend to children, having wisdom and knowledge far beyond any human being, and the people wanting a sign.



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.[3] The revised final screenplay was completed on February 21, 1951. Raymond F. Jones worked as an uncredited adviser.[9]


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."[10]


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 DC and at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. The primary actors never traveled to Washington for the making of the film.[3] Robert Wise indicated in the DVD commentary that the War Department refused participation in the movie based on a reading of the script. The military equipment shown came from the Virginia Army National Guard although one of the tanks bears the "Brave Rifles" insignia of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, then stationed at Ft. Meade.

The robot Gort, who serves Klaatu, was played by the naturally tall Lock Martin, who worked as an usher at Grauman'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".[11]


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: violin, cello, and bass (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.[12] Unusual overdubbing and tape-reversal techniques were used, as well. Later, after release, Michael Rennie combined with actress Jean Peters to do a radio production on Lux Radio Theater/Hollywood Radio Theater.


Critical response[edit]

The Day the Earth Stood Still was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1951.[13][14][15][16] It holds a 94% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[17] 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.[18] Variety praised the film's documentary style, and the Los Angeles Times praised its seriousness, though it also found "certain subversive elements".[11] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "tepid entertainment".[19] 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.[20] The French magazine Cahiers du cinéma was also impressed, with Pierre Kast calling it "almost literally stunning" and praising its "moral relativism".[11]

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.[citation needed]


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".[21][22] 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.[23] It placed number 67 on a similar list 100 Years...100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films.[24] In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "10 Top 10" — 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.[25] The film was also on the ballot for AFI's other lists including 100 Years...100 Movies,[26] the tenth anniversary list,[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".[11]

Klaatu barada nikto[edit]

Script of The Day the Earth Stood Still showing the phrase Klaatu barada nikto

Since the release of the movie, the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" has appeared repeatedly in fiction and in popular culture. The Robot Hall of Fame described it as "one of the most famous commands in science fiction",[32] while Frederick S. Clarke of Cinefantastique called it "the most famous phrase ever spoken by an extraterrestrial."[33]

Edmund H. North, who wrote The Day the Earth Stood Still, also created the alien language used in the film, including the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto". The official spelling for the phrase comes directly from the script (as shown in the image to the left) and provides insight as to its proper pronunciation.

No translation was given 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."[34] In this interpretation, the phrase apparently tells Gort that Klaatu considers escalation unnecessary.

Fantastic Films magazine explored the meaning of "Klaatu barada nikto" in a 1978 article titled The Language of Klaatu. The article, written by Tauna Le Marbe, who is listed as their "Alien Linguistics Editor", attempts to translate all the alien words Klaatu used throughout the film.[35] In the article the literal translation for Klaatu barada nikto was "Stop Barbarism (I have) death, bind" and the free translation was "I die, repair me, do not retaliate."[35]

The documentary Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor examined the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" with some of the people involved with The Day the Earth Stood Still. Robert Wise, director of the film, related a story he had with Edmund North saying North told him, "Well, it's just something I kind of cooked up. I thought it sounded good."[36] Billy Gray, who played Bobby Benson in the film, said that he thought that the message was coming from Klaatu and that, "barada nikto must mean... save Earth".[37] Florence Blaustein, widow of the producer Julian Blaustein, said North had to pass a street called Baroda every day going to work and said, "I think that's how that was born."[38] Film historian Steven Jay Rubin, recalled an interview he had with North when he asked the question, "What is the direct translation of Klaatu barada nikto, and Edmund North said to me 'There's hope for earth, if the scientists can be reached.'"[39]

Mozilla Firefox features an Easter egg that involves this phrase; when typing in "about:robots" into the address bar, the words "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!" appears in the tab display. Other robot-related references on the page include nods to Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, the tears in rain soliloquy from the film Blade Runner, two lines from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a quote from the character Bender from Futurama, and a tagline from Battlestar Galactica.[40] Klaatu and Barada are the names of two minor characters among the personnel on Jabba The Hutt's sail barge (featured in Return of the Jedi).

Professor Jacob Barnhardt's blackboard problem[edit]

The blackboard problem seen in the film is the three-body problem.

Music and soundtrack[edit]

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Film score by Bernard Herrmann
RecordedAugust, 1951
GenreSoundtracks, Film score
Label20th Century Fox
ProducerNick Redman
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic4.5/5 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.[41]


The film was dramatized as a radio play on the Lux Radio Theater on January 4, 1954; Michael Rennie repeated his lead role as Klaatu with actress Jean Peters as Helen Benson and William Conrad. This production was re-broadcast on the Hollywood Radio Theater, the re-titled Lux Radio Theater which aired on the Armed Forces Radio Service.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 246, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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. 
  4. ^ "Cult Movies Showcase The Day the Earth Stood Still". Turner Classic Movies. 
  5. ^ Shermer, Michael (2001). The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. Oxford University Press. pp. 74–75. ISBN 0-19-514326-4. 
  6. ^ Matthews, Melvin E. (2007). Hostile Aliens, Hollywood and Today's News: 1950s Science Fiction Films and 9/11. Algora Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 0-87586-497-X. 
  7. ^ Holloway, David; John Beck (2005). American Visual Cultures. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 135. ISBN 0-8264-6485-8. 
  8. ^ Gianos, Phillip L. (1998). Politics and Politicians in American Film. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-96071-4. 
  9. ^ The Day the Earth Stood Still. Still Galleries, Shooting Script. [DVD]. Fox Video; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
  10. ^ Paul Laffoley, "Disco Volante (the Flying Saucer)", 1998 essay (web site)
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Score analysis by Bill Wrobel, on
  13. ^ "The Greatest Films of 1951". AMC Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Best Movies of 1951 by Rank". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Best Films of 1951: A Definitive List". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1951". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  17. ^ "The Day the Earth Stood Still Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "The Day the Earth Stood Still: Award Wins and Nominations". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Films Selected to The National Film Registry, Library of Congress 1989-2009". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  22. ^ "The Day the Earth Stood Still: Award Wins and Nominations". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  23. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  24. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  25. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  26. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies: Official Ballot". Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary): Official Ballot". AFI. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  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. ^ "The Robot Hall of Fame: Gort". 2006 Inductees: Gort. Carnegie Mellon University. 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  33. ^ Clarke, Frederick S. (1970). Cinefantastique: 2. 
  34. ^ 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 0-8131-2472-7. 
  35. ^ a b Le Marbe, Tauna (April 1978). Stein, Michael, ed. "The Language of Klaatu". Fantastic Films (Blake Publishing Corp.) (1). Archived from the original on June 28, 2004. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  36. ^ Robert Wise (December 2, 2008). Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Event occurs at 0:14:05. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  37. ^ Billy Gray (December 2, 2008). Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Event occurs at 0:14:20. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  38. ^ Florence Blaustein (December 2, 2008). Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Event occurs at 0:14:47. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  39. ^ Steven Jay Rubin (December 2, 2008). Decoding "Klaatu Barada Nikto": Science Fiction as Metaphor (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Event occurs at 0:14:55. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  40. ^ "about:robots - Firefox 3 Secret!". Firefox Facts. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  41. ^ "Oscar Roundtable: The composers". The Hollywood Reporter. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 

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