Flyer saucers. Little green men. UFOs. From the early pulp adventures of Flash Gordon to the famous Orson Welles Halloween radio broadcast of War of the Worlds to Area 51, there’s a longstanding cultural fascination with aliens. In the 1950s, Hollywood cranked out alien invasion movies like The Thing From Another World, The Blob, It Came From Outer Space, and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Forty years later, Chris Carter sparked renewed interest in aliens and government conspiracies with the pop culture phenomenon The X-Files. Today, we’re all familiar with alien abduction myths. Of course, Hollywood has exploited these stories to deliver jolts and scares. With Jordan Peele’s Nope just around the corner, now feels like a good time to re-visit some familiar – and less familiar – alien abduction movies.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Though a certain other 1977 science fiction fan favourite probably overshadowed it, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is rightly considered a classic. Modern audiences may find Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to Jaws a little slowly paced. As compared to the other movies on this list, Spielberg’s take on our first contact gives us much friendlier visitors. Nonetheless, Close Encounters of the Third Kinds is packed with iconic moments from its mashed potato mountain scene to the alien’s visiting Terri Garr’s single mother. And the climatic meeting between Earth and the Mother Ship at the Devil’s Tower set to John William’s amazing score remains movie-making magic.
No other movie on this list comes close to the absolute insanity that is Lifeforce. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper, Lifeforce is an alien invasion movie boasted nude space vampire and an apocalypse in the streets of London. By today’s standards, most of the special effects don’t hold up at all. Not that it matters. Just the movie’s persistent weirdness is enough to keep cult movie lovers watching from start to finish. Somehow this oddity secured a handful of distinguished British actors to round out the supporting cast. Whether it’s a good movie or not remains debatable. However, there’s no doubt that you likely won’t ever forget it.
Like other movies on this list, Communion claims to be based on true events that happened to alleged alien abductee, Whitley Strieber. In contrast to other movies on this list, critics dismissed Communion and it fizzled at the box office and has largely languished in obscurity. Starring Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone), Communion tells the story of a New York author and his family who experience a strange phenomenon at a remote cabin. Not surprisingly, Walken is easily the best thing about this alien abduction movie that can’t quite decide on a tone. This isn’t to say Walken fits the role – he really does not. Most of the movie vacillates between weird technical babble and underwhelming sci-fi effects and storytelling. Rarely shocking or engaging, Communion just ends up feeling like a strange effort.
Fire in the Sky (1993)
Months before The X-Files premiered on television, Fire in the Sky enjoyed some modest box office success. Today it’s looked upon as something of a cult classic. Outside of its admittedly disturbing alien abduction and experiment scene, however, Fire in the Sky is pretty middling stuff. For starters, this thriller doubles down on its ‘based on a true story’ conceit and often feels like a made-for-television movie. While the cast is uniformly good, Travis Walton (played by D.B. Sweeney) feels like a supporting character in his own movie. Its mix of science fiction, horror, and police procedural never gels. Instead, it feels like a movie built around one admittedly cool scene. Still plenty of people seem to like this one.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
Capitalizing on the popularity of documentary style shows on A&E, The Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel, The Fourth Kind styled itself as a mockumentary. No, it’s not based on actual alleged events. Instead, writer and director Olatunde Osunsanmi took The Blair Witch Project approach even going so far as to create fake news stores. Set in Alaska, the movie sandwiches ‘archival footage’ and ‘dramatic reenactments’ between ‘an interview’ with Milla Jovovich’s (Resident Evil) psychologist who recounts hypnosis sessions with alien abductees. The shocks here are more obvious and visceral than other alien abduction movies on this list. And some of the shocks are pretty effective. But the results aren’t so much underwhelming as they are just kind of poor. Bottom-line, The Fourth Kind is a a B-movie at heart that takes itself too seriously.
Dark Skies (2013)
It didn’t take Blumhouse Productions much time to jump on the renewed public interest in aliens and UFOs. Dark Skies boasted good production values, a strong cast that included Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, and J.K. Simmons, and a couple of nice hooks in the promotional trailers. Unfortunately, Dark Skies is a mixed bag that feels like it left a lot of potential on the table. Writer and director Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) ensures that this alien abduction thriller has atmosphere to spare. All of the performances, particularly Keri Russell, are excellent. But the sci-fi/thriller never feels as scary or impactful as one might expect. And it’s ending feels more flat than shocking.
Skinwalker Ranch (2013)
Skinwalker Ranch is the most obscure entry on this list. A found-footage thriller, it barely saw the inside of movie theaters mostly landing on VOD platforms. This sci-fi/thriller also bases its fictional story on the real ‘Skinwalker Ranch’ or Sherman Ranch, a Utah site alleged to be hotspot for UFO activity. Arguably, the only noteworthy thing about this movie is that manages to be derivative of not one, but two, genres. Writer and directors Devin McGinn and Steve Berg fill Skinwalker Ranch with alien abduction tropes on top of recycling found-footage conventions. The result is an utterly conventional movie that struggles to hold your attention.
Before Leigh Janiak directed the fun Fear Street trilogy for Netflix, she made this subtly creepy indie horror movie, Honeymoon. The story is simple on its surface – a newlywed couple’s honeymoon retreat to an isolated cabin is disrupted by strange blinding lights in the middle of the night. When Paul finds Bea wandering the woods disoriented, he notices strange behaviors and begins questioning whether the woman sharing a bed with him is his wife anymore. Boasting some shade of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Honeymoon is a consistently dread-inducing thriller. Don’t expect any big shocks or scenes. This is an indie horror movie that shows off what a filmmaker can do with a good story and skillful direction.