Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason), a noted scientist, receives an unusual substitute for electronic condensers that he ordered. Instead, he receives instructions and parts to build a complex communication device called an interocitor. Although neither Meacham nor his assistant Joe Wilson (Robert Nichols) have heard of the device, they immediately begin construction. When they finish, a mysterious man named Exeter (Jeff Morrow) appears on the device's screen and tells Meacham he has passed the test. His ability to build the interocitor demonstrates that he is gifted enough to be part of Exeter's special research project. Intrigued, Meacham is picked up the next day at the airport by an unmanned, computer-controlled Douglas DC-3 aircraft with no windows. Landing in a remote area of Georgia, he finds an international group of top-flight scientists already present – including an old flame, Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue). Cal is almost immediately suspicious of the odd-looking group of men leading the project
Cal and Ruth flee with a third scientist, Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson), but their car is attacked and Carlson is killed. When they take off in a Stinson 108 light aircraft, Cal and Ruth watch as the facility and all its inhabitants are incinerated, and their aircraft is drawn up by a bright beam into a flying saucer. They learn that Exeter and his group are from the planet Metaluna, having come to Earth seeking uranium deposits as well as scientists to help defend their planet in a war against the Zagons. Exeter informs the Earthlings that he is taking them back to his world. Exeter and the Metalunans are attacked by Zagon starships guiding meteors as weapons against them and Metaluna. The Metalunan saucer easily avoids each attack, dodging oncoming meteors. They arrive to find the planet under bombardment and falling quickly to the enemy. Metalunan society is breaking down and there is little hope. Their leader, the Monitor (Douglas Spencer), reveals that the Metalunans intend to relocate to Earth and insists that Meacham and Adams be subjected to a Thought Transference Chamber in order to subjugate their free will so they cannot object. Exeter believes this is immoral, and misguided since it would impede their ability to help the Metalunans. Before the couple are sent into the brain-reprogramming device, Exeter decides to help them escape.
Exeter is badly injured by a Mutant while the three flee from Metaluna in the saucer as the planet's protective "ionization layer" becomes totally ineffective. Under the Zagon bombardment, Metaluna heats up and turns into a lifeless "radioactive sun". The Mutant also boards the saucer and tries to attack, but dies as a result of pressure differences on the journey back to Earth.As they enter Earth's atmosphere, Exeter sends Cal and Ruth on their way in their aircraft, but Exeter himself is dying and the ship's energy is nearly depleted. The ship flies out over the ocean and rapidly accelerates until it is enclosed in a fireball and finally crashes into the water and explodes.
- Jeff Morrow as Exeter
- Faith Domergue as Ruth Adams
- Rex Reason as Cal Meacham
- Lance Fuller as Brack
- Russell Johnson as Steve Carlson
- Douglas Spencer as The Monitor
- Robert Nichols as Joe Wilson
- Orangey as Neutron the cat
- In a magazine article the special effects department admitted that the "mutant" costume originally had legs that matched the upper body but they had so much trouble making the legs look and work properly they were forced by studio deadline to simply have the mutant wear a pair of trousers. Posters of the movie show the mutant as it was supposed to appear.
- It is believed that the Earth miniature used in the effects shots was also used to make the 50's-80's Earth in space Universal Pictures fanfare opening.
- After the dinner at the secret facility, what the German scientist says is: "Ladies and gentlemen, the meal was excellent, but after Mozart's marvelous music I need to be alone with myself for a while. Good evening."
- According to Faith Domergue, the pants of her costume were so skintight that she could not wear underwear. A female assistant had to help her put them on and take them off.
- Most of the sound effects, the ship, the Interociter, etc are simply recordings of radio teletype transmissions picked up on a short wave radio played at various speeds.
- The only woman from Metaluna seen in the film is played by Charlotte Lander, in her only screen appearance, at the control console for the decompression tubes on board the saucer.
- After Dr. Meacham has arrived at the secret lab in Georgia and the scientists are having a dinner, a woman comments on the music playing at the background by saying: "Mozartti on oikein kaunista." This is Finnish and means "The music of Mozart is very beautiful."
- Universal, dissatisfied with some of Joseph M. Newman's work, brought in Jack Arnold to re-shoot the Metaluna scenes.
- Actors Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason went on record in interviews promoting this film that when the scenes involving the Mutant came up, they did all they could from not trying to sneak out of the theater at the premiere. They were totally embarrassed by the Mutant costume that they likened to a giant bug. They felt that the Mutant completely ruined what they thought was an otherwise decent film.
- The Metaluna flying saucer design was, in fact, based on a famous photograph of an Unidentified Flying Object. In 1950, a farmer by the name of Paul Trent saw, and photographed, a strange craft flying overhead. He managed to take two photos before the craft sped off at fantastic speed and disappear over the horizon. Known as "The McMinnville Incident", because it occurred in McMinnville, Oregon, Trent's photographs have never been exposed as a hoax, and they remain amongst the very best photos ever taken of a UFO.
Reception and legacy
- At a preview screening in January 1955, audience members were asked on their comment cards who their favorite character was. Exeter got eighty votes, Cal Meacham got fifty-three, Ruth Adams got fourteen, and the Mutant got four.
- The film was shown in drive in theaters in the US in the summer of 1960 on a double bill with Forbidden Planet (1956).
- There was a sequel to this film in the works in 1956. Screenwriter Franklin Coen and producer William Alland submitted a script titled "Aliens In The Skies" to Universal Pictures, and for a short time it was announced as in "pre-production development" at the studio. However, the studio boss, Edward Muhl, shot down their proposal when he looked over the proposed budget for the film, to be shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope, and to co-star Rex Reason and Faith Domergue reprising their roles, to be released in 1957. It was too expensive, he said. Muhl's idea of a science-fiction movie in the 1950s was a cheaply-made B-movie with a monster in it for the kids.
- Shock-rock group GWAR titled their fourth album "This Toilet Earth" as an homage and parody of this picture.
- The internal elevator tubes used in the spacecraft and on Metaluna are same type used in The Time Tunnel TV show for its Tic Toc Center.
- A brief homage to This Island Earth is seen in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. E.T. turns the TV on during a showing of the film, at the scene when Cal and Ruth are being abducted by the aliens and Cal says "They're pulling us up!"
- An episode of the Wonder Woman TV series (season 2 episode 10, 1977) uses space battle and alien planet footage from this film.
- The album "Happy Together" (1987) by the a cappella group The Nylons featured a track titled "This Island Earth".
- The video game Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders contains key references to this movie, such as large-headed aliens disguised as humans, communications through interstellar teleconferencing, and an aircraft pulled into a flying saucer.
- New Jersey punk band The Misfits included a song tribute entitled "This Island Earth" on their 1997 album "American Psycho".
- The alien character Orbitron, the Man from Uranus from the 1960s toy line The Outer Space Men (also known as Colorform Aliens) is based on the Mutant.
- Weird Al Yankovic, a fan of This Island Earth, has featured the Interocitor in both his film UHF and the music video for "Dare to be Stupid".
- The Metaluna Mutant is one of the many alien monsters held captive at Area 52 in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. It was later one of the aliens released by Marvin the Martian so that it could stop the main characters from taking the "Queen of Diamonds" card.
- Experimental pop artist Eric Millikin created a large mosaic portrait of the Metaluna Mutant out of Halloween candy and spiders as part of his "Totally Sweet" series in 2013.