Science Fiction Film & Television

From sacred to scientific

Epic religion, spectacular science and Charlton Heston’s sf cinema

Science Fiction Film & Television (2019), 12, (3), 303–322.


Charlton Heston was an epic actor who went from literally playing God in The Ten Commandments (1956) to playing ‘god’ as a messianic scientist in The Omega Man (1971). Best known for playing Moses, Heston became an unlikely science-based cinema star during the early 1970s. He was reimagined as a scientist, but the religiosity of his established persona was inescapable. Heston and the science-based films he starred in capitalised upon the utopian promises of real science, and also the fears of the vocal activist counterculture. Planet of the Apes (1968), Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973) and other science-based films made between 1968–77 were bleak countercultural warnings about excessive consumerism, uncontrolled science, nuclear armament, irreversible environmental damage and eventual human extinction.

Heston’s transition from biblical epic star to sf anti-hero represents the way in which the role and interpretation of science changed in post-classical cinema. Despite the shift from religious epic to science-based spectacle, religion remained a faithful component of Hollywood output indicating the ongoing connection between science and religion in US culture. This article considers the transition from sacred to science-based narratives and how religion was utilised across the production process of films that commented upon scientific advances.

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Author details

Chambers, Amy C.