15 Best Alien Contact Movies - A Countdown
There are lots of threats that divide us and attack our mental health us on a daily basis. Donald Trump, North Korea, Justin Bieber, ISIS, Wall Street, just to name a few. But it doesn't matter how big these problems are, they would be easily ignored and transported to the background if a worldwide social paradigm shift took place.
And what is the most scientifically possible way for the current social paradigm to crack in front of our eyes? Easy, the first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Just imagine how futile everything else will look in comparison. No wonder is one of our most marked and intense concerns as a human species.
Logically, the total uncertainty about the outcome of that encounter has inspired thousands of artists and entertainers for decades. There are positive, neutral, and, of course, a ton of pessimistic views about it.
In cinema, the topic has sparked thousands of works of the most diverse genres. Action, horror, comedy, family adventure, all framed in a sci-fi waiting to stop being fiction at any moment.
So, as hard as it was to select just a bunch, here is our selection of the best 15 Alien Contact films of all time.
15) Avatar (2009)
First, the obvious one: With Avatar, James Cameron revolutionized (again) the film industry with incredible technological advances. And with an interesting premise about human discovering a unique way to "infiltrate" an alien race to get to know it better, along with wonderful character design, this movie secured its spot in many "best-of-all-time" list.
Secondly, the controversial one: the biggest criticism of Avatar is that its script is a kind of "Sci-fi Pocahontas rip-off" with a clear ecological, anti-war and anti-colonial message. Taking a look at our current situation as humans, how in the hell can that be perceived as negative?! On the contrary, kudos to Cameron for having used his gigantic showcase for a message that evidently has not been drilled deep enough in all of us.
14) Signs (2002)
M. Night Shyamalan is definitely a polarizing director. And although his final plot-twist-movies (with the exception of Split) have had a bad record with both box-office and critics, it's impossible to deny his talent and creativity.
Signs is one of the best films about the fear of an alien invasion. The way the rumors, sightings, news and the imminent contact slowly and progressively permeate the daily life of a humble average citizen is something that it’s impossible not to relate to.
Unfortunately, its ending, although with interesting ideas, is lost in the corny and absurdity of its execution. The whole affair with the "sea" and the "swing away" phrases was an overreaching device that didn't quite deliver the necessary emotionality.
But even with that ending (which isn't a complete disappointment), this movie is definitely a must-see.
13) The World’s End (2013)
The World's End begins as a story about a reunion between old friends, a bar tour and a declaration about the dangers of nostalgia as a life paralyzer. An hour later, this great Edgar Wright's wonderful gem becomes also about an alien race replacing humans with androids.
It's a perfectly planned wonderful trainwreck, and a delight to witness.
It's also the rebel entry on this list. This is perhaps the only movie in the genre that, from an almost anarchic point of view, defends and vindicate our chaotic humanity.
12) Starship Troopers (1997)
Paul Verhoeven magnifies the scope of the horror of the war by way of interplanetary clashes, to convey his corrosive message: war's lone achievement is to turn us into intolerant and xenophobic fascists.
Using controversy as fuel, the universe of Starship Troopers is aesthetically similar to Nazi propaganda. The human species, already with the technology to colonize near planets, encounters a race dubbed "Arachnids", which have counterattacked in the face of the invasion.
Starship Troopers is a fantastic satire about our arrogance. Humans not only underestimate the Arachnids because they associate them with their limited perception about insects being creatures without intelligence; but assume that their expansionist bellicist culture is right and that all species must adhere to that.
But the “bugs”, of course, don’t believe that.
11) Predator (1987)
It makes no sense to debate how iconic the Predator is in our pop culture. It’s simply one of the first extraterrestrials to come to our minds, just behind the classic little gray humanoid, E.T. and the Xenomorph.
Predator's wonderful twist is that it mirrors our own consuming and predatory culture. We quickly villanize an alien for doing to us exactly what we do with many other species. The irony is exquisitely greater when the victims of the big extraterrestrial's deadly sporting game end up being a group of muscular, macho, interventionist military men.
Yes, I am aware that Arnold Schwarzenegger triumphs in the end. Not all messages can be delivered perfectly when there are millionaire contracts in the mix.
10) Contact (1997)
Robert Zemeckis adapts Carl Sagan and does it properly. Contact, with the great Jodie Foster as the protagonist, is perhaps one of the most realistic and plausible films about extraterrestrial contact.
Contact feels like something that is just about to happen or is already secretly happening. It deals with the struggle of scientific programs of this type to obtain funding and the bureaucracy, politics, and security slowly taking possession of the discoveries made. These, among others, are scenarios more than plausible today.
In addition, it modifies the paradigm about how the first contact could look like. If you will, Contact is sort of a cinematic cleanser, created to expand our limited perception filled with decades of stories about humanoid grayhead creatures, Area 51 myths, and UFOs.
This is, without a doubt, the most interesting near-sci-fi in the list.
9) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Robert Wise classic was selected for preservation in The United States National Film Registry for one simple reason: It was the first movie that far from showing the aliens as a conflicted, hostile, threatening race with almost no reasoning ability, presented the possibility that perhaps the problem resides in us.
The human-looking alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his robot Gort (Lock Martin) have come to Earth with a simple and straightforward message: our planet is only one among thousands of systems and we must stop our structural warlike behavior and embrace peace, or be annihilated, all in the name of the stability of the universe.
Yes, the interstellar dictatorship is a nice paradox, but it doesn't fail to motivate the debate about whether we really are condemned as a species to eternal conflict and self-extinction.
8) Independence Day (1996)
You can say anything about Roland Emmerich - especially about his last 20 years full of failed experiments - but with Independence Day, the explosive German pop-corn movie creator proved to be on the top of his game, creating iconic images in the history of cinema, and touching the appropriate keys of fear about an alien invasion. Just remember the static shot of the white house blowing into a million pieces to understand its huge impact.
Independence Day is the perfect blockbuster based on urban legends about hostile extraterrestrials. Area 54, imposing UFOs, a desire to extinguish the human race, all with a giant budget, a luxury casting and the most spectacular Emmerich in the center of it all. Shallow and stupidly patriotic, ID4 is one of the near-perfect examples of pure summer entertainment.
7) Arrival (2016)
Arrival is not afraid to show its spiritual inspirations. From Contact, for example, has its mysterious sobriety to show new paradigms. From Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it has the grandiosity of the act of communicating with the unknown.
But above all, Arrival is about human connections and how the ego and the "protocols" have mutated what should be a primarily emotional, positive and non-calculating nexus. All under the premise of a linguist (Amy Adams) that faces the challenge of designing and understanding a way to communicate with enigmatic extraterrestrial visitors.
Denis Villeneuve, destined to become one of the best directors of this era, is blunt with his frames. Nothing shouts better the motif of this work as that shot in which all the monitors of 12 different countries shows a red font word: "disconnected". All because of the distrust, paranoia and bad communication between governments.
This is a resounding call to hope and love, in an era full of cynicism.
6) District 9 (2009)
The debut of Neill Blomkamp provided a unique twist to the alien contact genre. Using Apartheid South Africa as a backdrop, District 9 shows a universe where an insect-like alien spacecraft is stranded in Johannesburg, forcing the government to take "humanitarian" measures. 20 years later, the scenario doesn't look good. The aliens have been confined to a concentration-camp-like area called District 9.
Blomkamp perfectly imagines the situation and exhibits it: misery, famines, social tensions between humans and extraterrestrial refugees, smuggling and exotic inter-species illegal trade including arms trafficking, drugs and prostitution, and lethal political bureaucracy. The overlapping with our reality is so obvious, that at times, we forget that this is a sci-fi film.
The structure is also innovative. It begins as a documentary with found footage, security cameras feed and interviews; and makes the transition to an explosive blockbuster, without us noticing. That requires a gigantic talent.
5) The Thing (1982)
As a strong proof of the wide range of emotions that the possibility of our encounter with an alien race triggers, John Carpenter's The Thing premiered two weeks after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. And although the positive light of Spielberg's blockbuster ended up crushing The Thing at the box office, the story of RJ MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David) facing an extraterrestrial threat in icy Antarctica ended up becoming one of the more respected and adored cult films of all time.
In addition to the overwhelming charisma of its protagonists, The Thing stands out for its interesting proposal on extraterrestrial beings who assimilate humans. Boosted by the paranoia of the times about an incomprehensible new lethal virus (AIDS) and their impact on social structures, Carpenter's work, still having grotesque and wondrous creatures, is more memorable for its tense atmosphere where a group of humans forced to be locked up together, starts to distrust each other.
It's also a sort of Western Sci-fi, with Ennio Morricone scoring the whole thing with synths. A-one-of-a-kind movie, for sure.
4) Alien (1979)
There isn't a more memorable extraterrestrial encounter in movie history than the chestburster scene in Ridley Scott's Alien. Period.
Almost as a cynical, bloody, and horrifying response to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this reunion of geniuses (Scott, H.R. Giger, Moebius, O'Bannon) is an absolute classic of horror and seventh art in general.
Alien deals basically with the worst case scenario in a species clash. Because besides the legacy of the wonderful xenomorph as an absolute villain of pop culture, Alien has horror at every corner in the form of space agoraphobia, claustrophobia and even corporate conspiracy using covert androids to enforce its greed.
The light at the end of the tunnel, and what has given so much longevity to the franchise, is its treatment of the stubborn obsession to survive at any cost. All that incarnated in Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), probably the best cinematic heroine of all time.
A Compilation With 10 First Contact Movies
3) They Live (1988)
They Live is a John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York) movie in which a lonely drifter named John Nada, played by WWE wrestling legend Roddy Piper, discovers--thanks to some cool sunglasses that show the real world--that our planet is dominated by aliens who basically use neoliberalism to control the population. Nada, of course, uses grapples, punches, shots, and explosions to unveil the conspiracy.
Pure entertainment with a type B movie premise, right?
Wrong. They Live is also a film that has inspired dozens of incredible debates, from parodies with social content in South Park form, to wonderful Slavoj Zizek analysis, claiming that the film is about the end of ideologies.
There is no film whose style, so different from its substance, actually works perfectly.
It's also the best film ever created with the "aliens among us" theory.
2) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. is one of Steven Spielberg's many masterpieces because it basically redefined family cinema with a piece that truly charmed both big and small audiences.
E.T. is one of the most impressive examples of cinema as a magic illusion. We are talking about a film where the central figure is a brown funny-looking muppet (especially for today's standards) that makes bikes flies.
But the direction of Steven Spielberg, the immortal soundtrack of John Williams (Who at times share the same responsibility that Spielberg in the success of this film/illusion), the ideal casting (Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas) plus a script that dealt with themes about prejudice, friendship and the new family model after the massive acceptance of divorce, resulted in a timeless classic with a huge heart that still will moistens thousands of eyes.
What Is The Best Alien Contact Movie?
1) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
This is it. Number one. Spielberg Double Whammy. Spielberg's first contact with aliens has the same positive light as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial but focuses more on the anticipation, fear, and fascination with the unknown than on the concept of friendship.
Few pieces have captured the tension of extraterrestrial contact better than this film. Collective hysteria, obsession, destruction of social paradigms and a protagonist (Richard Dreyfuss) who in their disconnection with his planet ends up being the ideal bridge for the positive message about the possibility that curiosity is mutual and non-destructive.
The legacy of this film is simply impossible to quantify. But there can be no doubt: Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been the most important film contribution to that perennial concern that we humans have, as we understand how tiny we are in relation to the vast universe. Although I still believe this one is the quintessential Alien Contact movie, I voted on the Thing in my poll. When I was a kid the number 1 & 2 spots in this list were like miracles to me and I think they still are, but I love me some arctic thrills contact today.
Movies That Didn't Make the Cut
Any of these alien contact movies could have been on the final list and we wouldn't be mad about it:
- The Mist (2007)
- Monsters (2010)
- Pacific Rim (2013)
- Men In Black (1997)
- War of the Worlds (2005)
- Paul (2011)
- Galaxy Quest (1999)
- Starman (1984)
- The Faculty (1998)
- Life (2017)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
- The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
- Cocoon (1985)
- 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
- Super 8 (2011)
- Mars Attacks! (1996)
- Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
- Slither (2006)
- Stargate (1994)
- Under the Skin (2013).
© 2019 Sam Shepards