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The Top Ten UFO Movies of All Time

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Annotated listing of classic, recommended UFO movies and films, documentaries, and more.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) . A grand tour of ufology, with pre-X-Files government conspirators, UFO lunatics and early abduction themes. Richard Dreyfuss is fine as an average guy whose UFO experience turns his life upside down. The railway crossing scene is a classic, plus the cameo by noted ufologist Dr. J. Allen Hynek.

The Abyss (1989) . Unidentified underwater objects (UUOs) turn out to be curious aliens. The stunning effects and cinematography make this film an outstanding first-contact story.

Uforia (1980) . Sadly underrated story of a checkout clerk who thinks she’s been chosen by aliens to carry their message of peace to the masses. She attracts quite a following, and there’s lots of resemblance to Elmer Gantry. But then it seems the government is taking her seriously for some reason...

The UFO Incident (TV) (1975) . A teleplay of The Interrupted Journey. Wonderful low-key and believable performances by Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones as Betty and Barney Hill. A thoughtful portrayal of the “grandaddy” of all UFO abductions.

Earth Versus the Flying Saucers (1956) . One of the best saucer movies of the 50s. Excellent special effects for its time, including the frequently-seen stock footage of plastic model saucers flying over Washington, D.C.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) . A classic even beyond ufology, when Klaatu’s saucer hovers over Washington, it creates absolute chaos, despite good intentions. A story of hope dashed by our inherent xenophobia.

Hangar 18 (1980) . Probably the true forerunner of the X-Files. When a saucer collides with a NASA vehicle, it’s all quickly hushed up because it’s election time. Can the heroic astronauts find the saucer in time? Aliens = good. Government = bad.

Communion (1989) . Very strange film which is more a character study of Whitley Streiber, with Christopher Walken going over the top to portray absolute dissociation and paranoia when aliens seem to be haunting his entire life.

Fire in the Sky (1993) . Yes, I know I panned this movie when it first came out. (But Tracy Torme and I have made up since then.) The last half hour of the film is just plain silly, but leading up to it, showing how UFO investigations unfold, is admittedly well-presented and thoughtful.

The Brother From Another Planet (1984) . The UFO is seen only at the beginning, but the story of an alien dealing with the reality of Earth as a fish out of water again underlines our xenophobia. This low-budget film gets my vote as a touching, yet powerful statement about our society.

Plus... A Broad Field of Also-Rans (in no order whatsoever)

E.T. (1981) . Yes, many people consider it a classic. The trouble is he was a little too cute. The scenes of the bumbling government containment reps are funny, but phoning home with a TI Speak and Spell is pushing it.

Invasion: UFO (1972) . A TV movie compilation of the best of the UFO TV series as the mysterious SHADO monitors alien activity around the Earth and protects us from the advancing menace. Gerry Anderson at his best.

Foes (1977) . A ufologist’s dream come true: A UFO investigator single-handedly saving the world from the aliens.

Glitterball (1977) . A surprisingly well-done kids’ movie about an alien and its tiny spherical spaceship that must be protected from narrowminded grownups. Wait a minute, that sounds like another movie about kids and an alien...

Sphere (1998) . A much larger sphere found at the bottom of the ocean, which is where this panned movie should be sunk permanently. What on Earth was Dustin Hoffman doing in this?

Stardust Memories (1980) . When Woody Allen meets aliens, they of course advise him to tell funnier jokes and make better movies. Another highlight: a frighteningly accurate depiction of a UFO conference with wide-eyed believers.

Spaced Invaders (1990) . Silly movie in which aliens hear a rebroadcast of War of the Worlds and decide to help the Martians invade us on Hallowe’en. Cute.

Flight of the Navigator (1986) . A young boy disappears and reappears several years later flying an alien spaceship that thinks he is its pilot. Pee Wee Herman is sentient?

The Mothman Prophecies (2002) .* Okay, so there’s no flying saucer, but this is still so much a part of the UFO milieu it’s hard not to consider this movie as a marker for ufology. Dramatic buildup of menacing MIBs and the associated paranoia. (Never mind if it really happened.)

Space is the Place (1974) . What Liquid Sky tried to do with acid rock is done better in this movie, since avant-grade jazz is more likely to be preferred by aliens. Sun Ra and his band from outer space land in Oakland and face persecution for being too interesting.

*batteries not included (1987) . Miniature aliens help Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy battle evil businessmen. Yes, even robotic aliens can have babies.

The Thing From Another World (1951) . The classic first-contact story in which an alien spacecraft is found frozen in ice.

MIB (1997) and MIB II (2002) . Taken as a pair, this couple of movies has neat special effects,, but does little for ufology in any way. Of course, they were never designed as anything else.

The Cat From Outer Space (1978) . A nice, dated Disney movie that predated Cats and Dogs. Ken Berry and Sandy Duncan and Harry Morgan and Roddy McDowall and McLean Stevenson, all in one silly romp!

Independence Day (1996) . Infamous for its ridiculous premise that an Apple computer could be compatible with anything at all, let alone an alien computing system. Best scene: when UFO nuts welcome the giant saucer hovering directly above them, getting what they deserve.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) . Who else but David Bowie could play an alien this convincingly? Best scene: Buck Henry in the spaceship, trying to be straight.

Starship Invasions (1977) . Robert Vaughn was in fine form battling Christopher Lee in this movie. Most memorable was Vaughn’s character’s ability to save the Earth with a pocket calculator.

Liquid Sky (1982). . Tiny aliens get an energy boost when someone has an orgasm. Nothing more needs to be said.

The Ambushers (1967). . Dean Martin as superspy Matt Helm trying to recover a secret American saucer from the evil South American baddies. Bears no resemblance to the original novel.

The Flying Saucer (1950) . The CIA and the Russians trying to get to the bottom of a wave of saucer sightings in Alaska. Kind of fun, really, for its time, but kind of lame.

Flying Saucer Daffy (1958) . Described as one of the worst Three Stooges movies, they try to fake a saucer photo and make money.

Mars Attacks! (1996) . Tim Burton’s homage to science fiction B movies of the 50s, with over-the-top performances and dumb in-jokes.

Dreamcatcher (2003) . A movie that can’t decide if it’s a UFO film, a monster movie, a comedy, a coming-of-age movie or a thriller. Stand By Me meets Predator.

Signs (2002) . Water and a baseball bat? We don’t need to use laser cannons to defeat highly-advanced aliens? Suspenseful film that really grabs you and plays on your fears, but, geez...

War of the Worlds (1953) . Heat rays zap armies and buildings as the Martians invade Earth. Not quite the way Wells described it, but good effects for its day.

Space Jam (1996) . Marvin and his friends invade Earth and challenge Larry Jordan to a game of basketball. Bugs Bunny saves the day.

Taken (TV) (2003) . Very ambitious ten-episode miniseries which follows UFO abductees and their progeny to a climactic conclusion proving that aliens are smarter than we are, but need to work on that sex thing. Nice shots of British Columbia pretending to be Maine.

Coccoon (1985) and Coccoon: The Return (1988) .  Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy again, with Don Ameche! That’s some big saucer, but I guess you need it if you keep losing your pods on the ocean floor.

UFO Fever (2002) . Trailer trash decide to fake a UFO sighting to win a million dollars. Billed as “an all-improvised comedy,” it sure looks like it. I’m still in shock.

Scary Movie 3 (2003) . The third installment of the series, this time Charlie Sheen trying to help the President (Leslie Nielsen) save the world from the evil girl from The Ring and aliens who pee out of their index fingers. Highly silly, and with a tribute to Airplane! at the end.

No UFOs Onscreen, But the Idea is There

Horror Express (1972) . An alien is found frozen in ice and is shipped in a cargo compartment of a passenger train, with predictable, but suspenseful results. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in great dramatic roles.

K-Pax (2001) . Is he really an alien or is he just nuts? Nice acting tour de force by Kevin Spacey.

Repo Man (1984) . Pretty darned strange movie in which MIBs are after something left in the trunk of a car, but the repo man gets to it first.

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) .

Return from Witch Mountain (1978) .

Beyond Witch Mountain (TV)(1982) .  Taken together, this series of Disney movies pits two lost alien kids against the evil government types. Yes, they really do fly a Winnebago, but I don’t count that as a flying saucer.


In Advance of the Landing (1993) . Brilliant movie based on the book by Doug Curran. Basically, the cameras travel the continent, filming people obsessed with aliens and UFOs, from Ruth Norman to The Aetherius Society.

Flying Saucers are Real (1979) . Stanton Friedman’s documentary ferreting out the facts on UFOs and the Roswell crash, featuring interviews with the original witnesses. (There’s also a little-seen bio of Stan titled Stanton Friedman is Real!)

Six Days in Roswell (1998) . An updated version of In Advance of the Landing, the film crew visits Roswell for its UFO Days celebrations. Does to ufology what Trekkies did for Star Trek.

Shag Harbour UFO Incident (TV) (2000) . Mike Mcdonald’s case study of the crash of something off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1967.

Must-See Shorts

Non-Abductees Anonymous (2002) .

Superbly brilliant short film focusing on a support group for people who want to be abducted by aliens, but haven’t. Best line, from an alien (roleplayed) explaining why he didn’t abduct a group member: “I was busy.”

Herd (2000) . A lonely man finds companionship with an annoying alien that looks and sounds like Ed the Sock.


And then I heard from those of you who asked: “How come [insert movie title] wasn’t on your list?”

Answer: Because.

Here are some of the movies you have mentioned:

The Arrival (1996) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115571/ . Charlie Sheen in a dramatic role, just like Two and a Half Men. A paranoid astronaut finds out that aliens are really here after all and have assumed human appearance. (NB: That would explain politicians.) He detects the WOW signal and everyone tries to silence him. Not a bad thriller.

Contact (1997) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118884/ . An astronomer detects the WOW signal and everyone tries to … Hey! Wait a minute!

The Last Starfighter (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087597/ . It seems that video games were designed by aliens to find the most talented joystick operators in the universe to help fight other aliens. Robert Preston is hilarious in heavy prosthetics.

Starman (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088172/ . Jeff Bridges as an alien who takes human form as he tries to survive a crash on Earth. Steamy intergalactic sex ensues.

Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers (1956) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0131627/ . This is the original documentary which I haven’t been able to find myself, but is obviously out there. One ufologist told me it was what started him on his quest to seek the truth about UFOs.

The X-Files (1998) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120902/ . Curiously, no one who wrote or called to complain about movies missing from the list ever mentioned this one. That in itself tells me something, but I’m not sure what. Yes, it does contain most current ufological elements, so it must qualify. Mulder and Scully get up to their necks (literally) in the alien/government conspiracy plot, and somehow get out of it alive.

UFOs: Past, Present and Future(1974) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365874/. Bob Emenegger’s classic documentary that started when he was at Holloman AFB and was shown a film of military UFO encounters.


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