12 Most Influential UFO-Inspired Movies and TV Shows2
By Spencer Stokell
12 Most Influential UFO-Inspired Movies and TV Shows
UFO mythology has been present in our culture for as long as we have been able to record it. From ancient architecture to religious manuscripts, UFOs appear all throughout our history. As our civilization has modernized, so has our fascination with UFOs. Our constant skyward expansion opens new avenues for interpretation of this ancient lore. Many of our major industries have been inspired by UFO mythos, the least of which is our space exploration industry.
The UFO-movie industry has created several classic films that make us re-evaluate not only the possibility of alternate civilizations in space but our own core values as well. In addition to this, it is arguable that UFO theories have inspired the entirety of the sci-fi genre, spawning such classics as Star Wars and Star Trek, as well as newer endeavors like Battlestar Galactica and Frontier: Prelude to Darkness. Regardless of their factual base, UFO films and television shows have had a significant cultural impact – either because it touched our imagination or our intellect.
Frontier: Prelude to Darkness – Part 1
12. Mars Attacks!
Based on the 1962 trading card series, the surreal and ridiculous ‘Mars Attacks!’ takes our number 12 spot. Directed by Tim Burton, ‘Mars Attacks!’ follows events in America in the face of a full on, no holds-barred UFO invasion. The film has a superstar cast, featuring names such as Jack Nicholson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J Fox, Martin Short, and Natalie Portman. Despite this, the movie was considered a complete commercial flop. Costing around $100 million, the film only pulled in $9.38 million on its opening weekend. In spite of this, the film found an audience in Europe and has in recent times come to be considered a cult classic.
11. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ is next on our list, having rocked audiences with its 1977 release. Four years in the making, the film features Roy Nearly, an electrical lineman who gets caught up in a mysterious police chase involving UFOs. The film blew audiences minds with its (for the time. spectacular special effects and a musical setting, leading it to be a huge critical success. Having made its impact on history, the movie is still considered to be a classic and was selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in their National Film Registry.
10. The Last Starfighter
Like ‘Mars Attacks!’, ‘The Last Starfighter’ is one of those “too ridiculous to pass up” UFO movies. Released in 1984, the film is directed by Nick Castle. ‘The Last Starfighter’ follows the endeavors of Alex Rogan, who is tasked by aliens to save the local galaxy. What makes Alex prime galaxy-saving material? If you guessed ‘magic,’ or ‘the chosen one,’ you guessed wrong. No, the savior of the galaxy is chosen by getting the high score in a (nowadays. terribly-dated, vector-graphics arcade game. Apparently the aliens traveled millions of miles with naught but an Atari Jaguar to guide them. The film is a huge cult favorite and is riddled with such classic lines as:
“What do we do now, commander?”
9. Independence Day
Roland Emmerich’s 1994 film “Independence Day” was a smash hit, largely contributing to ‘Mars Attacks’ commercial failure in the same year. Earning $817 million, it was, at its time, the second-highest grossing film of all time. ‘Independence Day’ follows various individuals as the earth faces a full-scale UFO invasion. In addition to helping launch Will Smith to superstardom, the film won the Academy Award for Visual Effects. The film featured over 3000 individual special effects shots (another record at the time. and set the precedent for all UFO movies to come.
Over it’s run, ‘The X-Files’ created what may be the most in-depth and engaging setting seen in UFO-based fiction. The series follows Fox Mulder, who having witnessed his sister’s abduction as a child, works as a paranormal investigator for the FBI. With him is his skeptic counterpart Dana Scully, also of the FBI. The two get entangled in a web of conspiracy and cover-up, eventually unveiling a worldwide shadow government, run by none other than aliens. The series ran from 1993 to 2002 and is a key piece in the evolution of UFO fiction.
The modern master of suspense, it was only a matter of time before M. Night Shyamalan created a UFO movie. Signs is possibly the most subtle UFO movie ever released. The film tells the story of a small, rural family as they learn of an alien invasion. They do what they can in their small home to prepare for the inevitable contact. Released in 1997, Signs scared the hell out of audiences, made a nice profit, and created a whole new way of looking at aliens and UFOs.
6. District 9
2009′s District 9 reinvigorated the UFO movie industry, which had been tapering off in the wake of crazy successes from the ’90s. Niell Blomkamp’s film flips the mythos completely on its head, asking questions around issues such as immigration, citizenship, and prejudice. In regarding such ridiculous questions seriously, Blomkamp has created a masterpiece of emotion – something that truly reflects back at us, our flaws, and our misconceptions. By breaking the wall between the aliens and the humans, by completely weakening the godlike perception of aliens, District 9 has been widely regarded as one of the greatest UFO films of the last 10 years.
Released in 1982, ‘ET’ is yet another incredible piece of Americana from Stephen Spielberg. The film follows a stranded alien botanist as a group of three siblings do their best to hide and protect it. Being children, things soon get complicated. Unable to understand the gravity of the events before them, the children struggle to find a way to return the alien to its ship, while the government closes in on their new-found friend. The film won Spielberg a flurry of accreditation and awards, the least of which is not the U.N. Peace Medal he received.
4. War of the Worlds
The grandfather of UFO mythos, War of the Worlds, has been adapted time and time again. With 6 film versions, 8 radio broadcasts, a television show, and even a musical, War of the Worlds set the precedent for all UFO invasion movies to come. Written by H.G. Welles, the first film adaption hit the scene in 1953. Perhaps most notorious, though, was the 1938 radio broadcast of the story by Orson Welles. The format was that of a news show, and listeners responded with paranoia, then outrage at the realization that they had been had. With Spielberg recently adapting the story to film again, the War of the Worlds has seen 70 years of broadcast renditions and will remain a cultural classic for many years to come.
3. Men in Black
Our number three pick is widely considered the end-all UFO movie, quintessential in its embodiment of the genre. Men in Black follows the story of Sergeant James Edwards, a New York cop who gets recruited by a shadowy organization designed to shield the common folk from the knowledge of UFOs. This is another movie that changed the perceived norms of UFO mythology. Instead of debating and struggling to understand and define UFOs, the film portrays a culture where not only UFOs are known to exist, but they are fit in without us ever noticing. The 1997 release was a smash hit and has spawned a television show and two sequels – the second of which is set to come out in 2012.
2. Doctor Who
UK’s longest-running fiction television show, Doctor Who, has taken the hearts of millions. Doctor Who enjoyed a run of over 25 years before being canceled in 1989. In 2005, the series was revitalized and hit the scene with the impact of a hydrogen bomb. The series flips the conventional UFO fiction 180 degrees and follows a time-traveling alien as it travels alongside humanity for hundreds of years. Being of a fluctuating timeline, the show takes viewers from the ancient civilization of Pompeii to Victorian London to the largest library in the galaxy, located thousands of years from now. This setup allows many twists on the interpretation of traditional UFO lore. The show has been, for many decades, a huge cultural juggernaut, the latest manifestation of which was a guest appearance on Comedy Central’s ‘South Park’ in the form of the universe-consuming Daleks. The newer series run has found success among US audiences and has recently been green-lit for US syndication.
Like Doctor Who, our number one pick is a television show that has faced cancellation in the past. With an initial run of four seasons, ‘Futurama’ gained so much popularity that Comedy Central could not help but pick the show up for another run. ‘Futurama’ follows the exploits of one twentieth-century Philip J. Fry as he struggles to fit in with the UFO-centric culture of the year 3000. While hugely significant as a UFO-based show, the show is a cultural phenomenon in general. Not only valuable as an entertainment device, ‘Futurama’ also managed to forge new paths in our collective scientific understanding, posing a new theorem on quantum mechanics in an episode where the Globe Trotters of the future must save the world through physics. Once defeated, but never dead, ‘Futurama’ continues to change the face our world through the unique perspectives it offers us, and will surely keep doing so for many years to come.
Frontier: Prelude to Darkness – Part 2
Frontier: Prelude to Darkness – Part 1
Watch more episodes of the animated sci-fi series FRONTIER: PRELUDE TO DARKNESS
Spencer Stokell is a freelance writer living in the forested Northern California. Having left high school at the age of 17 to work in film, he wrote for various LA publications before returning to his home county in 2009. He currently edits and publishes The NewCal Liberator, an experimental, user-driven newspaper.