Beware of alien invasions, first contact and abductions! UFOs have long permeated pop culture and thanks to the Letterboxd community, it’s easy to determine the most popular UFO movies to date. The fascination with alien contact was in part started by the H. G. Wells 1897 novel War of the Worldswhich has received numerous film adaptations over the years, proving that UFOs have long been on the mind of mankind.


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UFO movies can vary between peaceful or violent interactions depending on whether the visitors are benevolent or malevolent. Some films focus on contact with aliens, while others see humanity fleeing for their lives. Some try to poke fun at the glamor of the silver age of cinema, others try to convey a profound message, while recent films like No(2022) shakes up the subgenre altogether.

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‘Under the Skin’ (2013)

Under the skin

Under the skin portrays an eerie perspective of a transvestite female alien (Scarlett Johansson) that attracts single men. In an abstract opening sequence of spherical shapes shaping and passing through lights on a journey to Earth, it is implied that the female alien is left to prey on humans. A blink of an eye and you miss it the shot of a skyscraper sees the UFO fleeing again in the overcast skies of Scotland.

As far as UFO movies go, this is as close to this movie as you can get. What ensues is a voyeuristic experience of uneasy tension as the female alien surveys humanity with an emotionless gaze, luring men with promises of intimacy to harvest their body. However, as the alien experiences a variety of physical and emotional interactions, his identity is shaken.

‘Signs’ (2002)

Signs 2003

M. Night Shyamalan brings his twisty brand of suspense to the sci-fi genre Signs. Hero Mel Gibson, Joaquin Feniceand young actors Rory Culkin And Abigail Breslin, Signs tells a story of alien invasion from the point of view of a small family in a rural farming town.

Discovering crop circles in their cornfields and other mysterious occurrences, the family witnesses aliens lurking around their farm. As the family grows increasingly paranoid and shares the evidence broadcast on their tiny TV, the perspective of the invasion remains intimately focused on the characters who are simultaneously struggling with grief, regret and loss of faith.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)

2001 A Space Odyssey Monolith

From one of cinema’s most illustrious directors comes 2001: A Space Odysseythe fascinating and interpretive sci-fi masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick. The introduction shows how unseen alien entities send a monolith to Earth, thus triggering the dawn of humanity. A Leap into the Future describes how humans finally discover a monolith buried on the moon. That monolith is sending a message to Jupiter, so a mission leaves Earth to search for its source.

Kubrick isn’t known for telling audiences everything they need to know, instead, the journey is filled with abstract moments meant to inspire an emotional response. Dabbling in scientific interpretations of the concept of God, fears of artificial intelligence, evolution and rebirth, the film doesn’t bother defining anything as the vast cosmos of existence is simply beyond human comprehension.

‘Men in Black’ (1997)

Men in black

Toying with the audacity of the 50s comes the sci-fi action comedy Men in black. Parallel to immigration, the Men in Black are a secret government agency that authorizes, monitors, and polices alien activity on planet Earth. Offering the audience a plethora of aliens, weapons and spacecraft, this film pokes fun at so many sci-fi clich├ęs and tropes.

The film is interpreted by a nonsense Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K who recruits young Agent J, played by Will Smith. The two form a hilarious partnership as both Jay and the audience learn about the alien community that has been living right under our noses. Conflict ensues when a crashed alien ship carries a slimy alien Bug masquerading as human skin (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the new partners must stop the Bug from escaping Earth with a valuable commodity.

“Independence Day” (1996)

Independence Day

Alien invasions at their most destructive! Independence Day is an action-packed disaster film that sees hostile aliens arrive with their massive fleet to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. Independence Day is a rah-rah motivational adventure that supports the people of Earth to resist malevolent aliens.

Will Smith plays a fighter jet pilot whose first contact with evil aliens makes him eager for revenge. The film also stars Bill Pullmann as the president of the United States, he is not afraid to enter battle when he needs to, and Jeff Goldblum, who uses his intellect to outwit the alien menace. While simple storyline and characterizations are slapped on the cover of this blockbuster epic, it delivers explosive entertainment that audiences keep coming back to.

“District 9” (2009)

District 9

District 9 takes a realistic approach to a UFO film, depicting an abandoned alien spacecraft arriving over the South African city of Johannesburg. Delivered partially in documentary format, the film explains how officials discovered over a million malnourished aliens inside the hovering spacecraft. In hopes of rehabilitating them, the aliens are transferred to camps, which are soon turned into a slum.

District 9 is a fantastic example of down-to-earth sci-fi, driven primarily by its gritty documentary style that puts the audience’s boots on the ground. The film turns the tables by sympathizing with exploited aliens who are sequestered in slums, segregated out of fear of their otherworldliness in a commentary on Apartheid. The manipulation is made worse as the aliens are essentially being held hostage so that a weapons manufacturer can exploit their technology.

‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977)

Close encounters of the third kind

Close encounters of the third kind it was a passionate project of the director Steven Spielberg which derived its title from Ufologist writings J. Allen Hyneck, responsible for classifying the various degrees of UFO encounters. The first encounter is classified as a sighting, the second as evidence left behind, and the third encounter is contact with the UFO inhabitant. In the title would be the heart and soul of Spielberg’s classic UFO tale; meeting with aliens.

Along with government officials and UFO witnesses, the film focuses on Roy (Richard Dreyfuss), who, after his UFO sighting, becomes increasingly obsessed. He turns his house upside down and replicates a strange landmark with mashed potatoes and household materials. While there is a feeling of paranoia and anticipation throughout the film, the tension is released with a sense of wonder in the climactic encounter of the film. John Williams the classic soundtrack integrates seamlessly into communicating with the aliens, helping Spielberg’s sci-fi classic stand the test of time.

ET

Spielberg offers another modern classic, the family sci-fi adventure ET the extraterrestrial. Opening the film with starlit night, a UFO lands on a forest floor and baby aliens begin to investigate. However, after being startled by human adults, the craft quickly zooms off, leaving behind a lone alien. That harmless alien would take refuge in a nearby cabin where he would be lucky enough to make friends with a little boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas).

Elliot takes in the stranded alien, now called an ET, and the two form a close physical and emotional bond. While the pushy and fearful adults aim to hunt down ET, Elliot and the other kids are forced to protect the friendly alien. Through Spielberg’s signature sense of awe and wonder, the youth’s innocence and compassion triumph as the children help ET contact his ship and get to safety.

‘The Thing’ (1982)

The Kurt Russell Thing

A shot from space sees an alien spacecraft traveling towards Earth as a piercing light breaks through the screen with the title card; The thing. Cut to an American research facility in Antarctica where a group of men investigate a distressing situation at a nearby Norwegian facility. There, the US team finds a huge spacecraft that has been in the ice for about a hundred thousand years and evidence of an escaped pilot, but no dead bodies can be found.

Starring an ensemble cast, including Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley And Keith David, the isolated group is terrorized by a hideous alien that can mimic any living creature. What ensues is a full-blooded panic as the once-familiar group of men spiral into a maelstrom of paranoia and mistrust. The concept of a wolf among sheep stokes fear while unbridled and ambitious special effects makeup and a freezing environment create a terrifying sci-fi experience.

‘Arrival’ (2016)

Here comes Amy Adams

Topping Letterboxd’s most popular UFO films is the cerebral masterpiece, I arrive. Made by the visionary Denis Villeneuve, I arrive follows linguistic expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose job was to decipher an alien language. Hovering over the landscape are huge upright ships, smooth and featureless, but inside are home to the Heptapods, an alien race who think very differently from humans.

The premise of the film is largely based on the concept that people think differently depending on the language they think in. Therefore, if one were to start thinking in the language of the heptapods, their interpretation of reality could start to change. Communicating in abstract circular thought forms, the heptapods exist within a non-linear reality and over time Louise attempts to connect with this thought process to attain the gifts the heptapods seek to instill.

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