The world went UFO doolally this last week, with not one, not two, not even three, but four flying objects shot down in North American airspace.
Sure, the White House responded to speculation about their origin with the following statement: “There is no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.” But then they would say that, wouldn’t they? Given he can barely board an aircraft without stumbling, Joe Biden is hardly going to climb inside a fighter jet and shoot down the mothership himself.
Somewhere extraterrestrials can definitely be found, however, is on-screen. Hollywood loves nothing more than ramping up alien invasion stories and tales of strange spacecrafts in our skies. Some are great. Some are good. Many are absolutely terrible. So allow us to guide you through the minefield of UFOs in movies. Because you want to believe – and so do we.
Jordan Peele wrote Nope during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020. “I knew I wanted to make something that was about the sky,” he explained. “I knew the world would want to be outside and at the same time, I knew we had this newfound fear from this time of what it meant to go outside. Can we go outside?” The answer is yes, although there is a chance you’ll be sucked into an enormous floating intestine if you do.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Steven Spielberg’s follow up to Jaws was released towards the end of a decade peppered with allegations of alien abduction and he went all out to ensure his film had as much credibility as possible: enlisting J. Allen Hynek, who had worked on a US Air Force-commissioned study of UFOs, to advise. Spielberg also reached out to NASA, hoping they would get involved. They declined to cooperate, claiming that to release the film would be “dangerous”. Make of that what you will.
30 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Both of Dan Trachtenberg’s movies to date – this film, the second in the Cloverfield franchise, and 2022’s very good Predator reboot, Prey – have been about alien life arriving on earth. But for well over half of 30 Cloverfield Lane’s running time, you wouldn’t think the movie was an alien invasion flick at all. Much like the best zombie movies, it proposes that the real monsters reside within the human form. Clever, eh?
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Unlike the majority of films that feature on this list, the appeal of E.T. lies in the movie’s relentless wonder. Spielberg modelled the creature on an imaginary friend he’d manifested in the wake of his parents’ divorce. As Elliott (Henry Thomas) and co bid goodbye to their pal at the climax of the film, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that E.T. is the alien encounter you might hope to have. The best-case scenario. Nobody dies, and better still, nobody gets probed.
War of the Worlds (2005)
“For the first time in my life I’m making an alien picture where there is no love and no attempt at communication,” Spielberg said upon the release of his 9/11-inspired, Tom Cruise-starring adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel of the same name. It’s an imperfect film but the tripod aliens and sweet father-daughter side storyline, still packs a punch. This is the last entry from the big man, we promise.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
Blurring the line between fact and fiction, The Fourth Kind is presented as a documentary, with lead actor Milla Jovovich introducing it as herself, explaining that she will be playing a character based on a real person (she isn’t). Petrifying at times, the film didn’t receive critical praise, perhaps down to the fact Universal played on actual missing person cases in Nome, Alaska, where it’s set, to promote the movie’s release. Problematic, to say the least.
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Unsurprisingly, given that debate over what did or didn’t crash at Roswell in 1947, the Hollywood of the 1950s produced a glut of alien invasion movies. One of the best? Fantasy cinema veteran Jack Arnold’s 1953 flick. The alien’s big reveal still sends chills up the most resolute of spines – even if it does look a bit more like a supermarket’s own brand bin bag than life from beyond the stars. We’ll let them off.