Film / When Worlds Collide

"If our calculations prove to be correct, this will be the most frightening discovery of all time."
Dr. Bronson

When Worlds Collide is a 1951 sci-fi film produced by George Pal (of Destination Moon fame) and directed by Rudolph Mate. Based upon the 1933 novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, it follows a group of astronomers who discover that a star is on a collision course with Earth. They work to build a spaceship to carry a small group of humans to a passing planet in an effort to save humanity.

This is often considered the first true impact event film and one of George Pal's best works.

The story was slated for a remake in 2012, to be produced by Steven Spielberg.

When Tropes Collide!

  • Adaptation Name Change. Bronson Alpha and Beta from the book become Bellus and Zyra.
  • Ace Pilot: Randall. It actually becomes important only in one particular plot point (see Plot Tailored, below).
  • America Saves the Day: Dr. Hendron's rocketship, which will take a grand total of forty people to their new world. Mention is made of other rockets being built around the world, but we never see any of them, nor learn if they were completed, launched and/or landed successfully.
    • Until the sequel novel, After Worlds Collide, published a year later, in which we learn that multiple rockets, launched from multiple nations, reached Beta.
  • Colony Drop / The End of the World as We Know It / Earth-Shattering Kaboom
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Stanton. While we never see any evidence of his actual business practices, he has a rather unpleasant personality.
  • Beta Couple: Eddie and Julie. The kicker: his number comes up for evacuation, hers does not.
  • Diesel Punk: A differential analyzer (admittedly at the cusp of its own obsolescence in 1951) is used to calculate Bellus's course.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Stanton, who freely admits to being completely selfish, expects that the human race will tear itself apart in an attempt to escape the disaster. "It's dog eat dog — the law of the jungle!"
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: After Hendron is laughed out of the UN, we see a newsboy announcing the latest news.
  • Genre Buster: Generally considered a Speculative Fiction story, but the film is more a human drama, studying and tracing out people's psychological reactions to The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hendron keeps himself and Stanton from boarding the rocket in order to lighten the load. As it turns out, their sacrifice was crucial as the fuel still runs out too soon.
  • If My Calculations Are Correct: invoked nearly word for word.
  • Ignored Expert: When Dr. Hendron first takes his warning of the impending Colony Drop to the U.N., they literally laugh him out of the room.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Toyed with; Randall initally must bring some data from one Dr. Bronson to Dr. Hendron for analysis and confirmation, but he (Randall) has no clue what the data is, much less what it means. When Joyce Hendron meets Randall, she assumes he already knows the details and speaks candidly to him; he plays this up in hopes that she will let slip what's going on.
  • Infant Immortality: The little boy is one of three people who doesn't need to Lottery his way onto the ship. Which, given the situation, is probably entirely justified.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tony steps aside nobly and gracefully (well, eventually) when it becomes clear that Joyce loves David.
  • Jerkass: Sydney Stanton, the wheelchair-bound financier.
  • Lottery of Doom: Only forty people can fit onto the rocket and thus escape the end of the world. A few seats are reserved for the expedition leaders (Dr. Hendron, Joyce, Tony, Dr. Frye) and a couple of select passengers (Randall, Stanton, the little boy and his dog).
  • Money to Burn: David does this after learning the world is ending.
  • Only in It for the Money: Randall, at first.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Played with and/or invoked; Joyce manages to cajole the evacuation into including Randall despite the fact (as even he readily admits) that he has no skills necessary to the trip — until it is pointed out that should something happen to the ship's pilot, only Randall could fly it.
  • The Professor: Dr. Hendron, Dr. Bronson.
  • Raygun Gothic
  • Retro Rocket: The Ark, although it's not a tail-sitter (it launches from a gigantic ramp).
  • Romantic False Lead: Tony
  • Scenery Gorn: Planet Zyra's close call with Earth causes massive earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and all other manner of Stock Footage.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Dr. Hendron says that Bellus is exactly three billion miles from Earth. That is precisely the orbit of Neptune, and it is hard to imagine that a star heading for Earth wouldn't be seen long before getting that close.
    • The second line of the film says that Bellus and Zyra have moved a million miles in two weeks. Later, upon hearing they are three billion miles away, David laughs and says people will need to worry in a hundred years. At that speed and from that distance, it would take a hundred years to hit Earth, not the eight months that pass in the film.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Dr. Hendron enforces this upon Stanton, who wants to finance the rocket in exchange for complete control.
  • Technology Porn: The differential analyser (a digital/mechanical computer) and the helicopter (still new to audiences in The '50s) get a lot of visual emphasis.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the first half of the film, there are passing mentions that similar rockets are being built in other nations. However, after the passing of Zyra, there is absolutely no mention of whether these ships were completed and made it off the planet.
    • The book's sequel described the fate of the other ships: the French ship crashed in the Alps on takeoff, the British ship landed in a lake on the new planet, and the broad Asian ship lands successfully and tries to claim the new world as its own.