The Most Important 1970s Science Fiction Debut Is Being Kept Away From Younger Generations

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

Six years before Star Wars was released in 1977, George Lucas made his directorial debut with THX 1138. Set in a dystopian world where humans are controlled by android police and are forced to take drugs that suppress emotions, this sci-fi classic has gone on to become one of the most important features to come out of the 1970s. Unfortunately, this classic flick is being kept from young cinephiles as it is unavailable to stream anywhere.

George Lucas Made THX 1138 Before Star Wars

THX 1138 originated from George Lucas’s 1967 student film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, made during his time at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It’s the movie that launched the young filmmaker’s career, as well as put him on the radar with his soon-to-be filmmaker best friend, Steven Speilberg. The feature film adaptation was produced through a collaboration between Warner Bros. and Francis Ford Coppola’s studio American Zoetrope, and a novelization by Ben Bova was released in 1971.

Made When Lucas Was A Young Man

Lucas directed the feature at the age of 27, showcasing off the bat his innovative approach to storytelling that would later transform the landscape of sci-fi cinema. Walter Murch helped Lucas rewrite the script for THX 1138 to adapt the short film to a feature format. The film stars Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, with supporting performances by Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, and Ian Wolfe.

Backed By Francis Ford Coppola

Made on a budget of $777,777, THX 1138 was a low-budget film, even for the early 70s, when most features cost an average of $6 million. Upon its initial release, the film received mixed reviews from critics and underperformed at the box office. Francis Ford Coppola, a producer for THX 1138, ended up owing Warner Bros. $400,000 for budget overruns, which forced the producer to take the job directing The Rain People, the last movie he directed before releasing his iconic film The Godfather in 1972.

However, despite the movie’s rough start, following the success of Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), THX 1138 gained critical acclaim and developed a cult following.

A Bleak Tale Of A Dystopian Future

In the film, THX 1138 is the name of the main character, a factory worker who creates the androids who police the city. In this dystopian future, sexual intercourse and reproduction are forbidden, and citizens live under strict drug control to suppress emotions. 

After THX 1138’s female roommate, LUH 3417, secretly replaces his medication, THX develops feelings for her, leading to a romantic relationship and their subsequent arrest. In prison, THX escapes with fellow inmates SEN and SRT, ultimately discovering the city is underground and making his way to the surface.

Holds A Record For George Lucas

In 2004, George Lucas released a director’s cut of the film, featuring an extensive restoration and digital enhancement by Lowry Digital and ILM, supervised by Lucas. This included scanning the original negative, digital color correction, adding computer-generated imagery, and creating new visual effects with the help of the Skywalker Ranch previsualization team. 

The runtime for the THX 1138 director’s cut increased to 88 minutes, and the film received an R rating for “sexuality/nudity,” making it Lucas’s only R-rated film.