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Close Encounters of the Cinematic Kind: Our Top 5 Alien Contact Movies 

Written by Fathom Events on Jun 14, 2024 11:32 AM

Mysterious lights. Unidentified objects. Alien abductions. Movies about extraterrestrial encounters have been igniting our imaginations since the early days of film. Georges Méliès dreamed of exploring space and alien lifeforms, bringing it to life in his 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, which arguably reignited audiences’ fascination with our universe. However, in 1916, the first disaster film with an otherworldly comet causing terror on Earth, The End of the World, set off the craze of alien invaders looking to conquer humans, enslave the world, or just study our race in cinema.   

This fascination would evolve over the decades, creating some of the most iconic alien invasion movies of all time. With Close Encounters of the Third Kind invading theaters nationwide this July to celebrate Columbia Pictures’ 100th anniversary, we revisited this subgenre and picked our top five close encounters of the cinema kind, ordering them by the Tomatometer.   

5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Arguably one of the greatest alien encounter films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind follows the story of Indiana power-company technician Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss) and his increasing UFO sightings. As more and more people start to get involved in the story, he focuses on the odd-shaped mountain known as the Devil’s Tower. This fixation leads to one of the greatest alien encounters depicted in cinema, and Steven Spielberg masterfully guides us to that point by injecting a feeling of uneasiness as the tension builds.    

Using revolutionary special effects, lingering sound effects that imply communication with the otherworldly beings, and a narrative that taps into the zeitgeist of American culture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind will stick with you long after the credits roll and deserves a place on our list.  

4. Arrival (2016)

Adapted from Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life,” Arrival is an alien invasion movie that deviates from our perception of this subgenre. Instead of grounding itself in an alien race looking to enslave our world, Dennis Villeneuve focuses on the existential topics of grief, time, communication, and compassion. To understand why these 12 spacecrafts have landed on our planet, linguist Louise Banks must connect emotions and language to understand the Heptapods before world powers attempt to use violence against them.  

Arrival’s ability to connect us with the characters and themes being explored earns this film a spot on our list.  

3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Based on a short story by Harry Bates and directed by legendary director Robert Wise, The Day the Earth Stood Still remains a staple of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. During this time audiences were captivated by the fears of alien-invaders hellbent on world domination. The Day the Earth Stood Still flipped this idea, presenting a cultured, wise and omniscient being named Klaatu. Accompanied by a menacing robot named Gort, the alien visitors come with a message of peace and a warning for humanity.  

Drawing parallels to Christ, the governments are unwilling to accept him and violently reject the messenger and his message. However, ordinary decent citizens welcome and accept his ideas, creating a thoughtful narrative that is more restrained than most science fiction of the era.  

Overall, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a thought-provoking film that decades later still captures the imagination of viewers.  

2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) 

Another film from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a staple of the close encounters subgenre. Exploring themes of xenophobia, fueled by the anti-communist fears and sentiments of McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklisting, the film unfolds as a cautionary tale that nobody can be trusted as aliens begin to possess humanity.  

Director Don Siegel masterfully injects the growing paranoia as the story builds to the dehumanizing reality that most of the population are now “pod people.” Invasion of the Body Snatchers is so popular that two other versions have been created since. One in 1978 starring Donald Sutherland of the same name, and one in 2007 titled The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.  

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 

Unlike other films on this list, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a remarkably optimistic coming of age film about a troubled child named Elliot and his mission to help a friendly alien escape from Earth and return to his home. Focusing on the power of friendship, exploring themes of hope, innocence, and finding yourself, the film feels like a continuation of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  

We are whisked away into this sci-fi fantasy, in which Steven Spielberg injects the right amount of magic and humor to make us feel like the film is a childhood bedtime story we were told growing up. Along with John Williams’ Oscar winning® score, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has become a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

The film was ranked number 24 on American Film Institute’s top 100 movies list, and will continue to inspire generations to come. Plus, who doesn’t love an alien who loves Reese’s Pieces? 

Unidentified Cinematic Objects

There you have it, our top five close encounters of the cinematic kind list is complete. From alien invaders looking to conquer humans to a unique bond between an alien and a kid, these films have captivated the imagination of viewers for generations.   

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