Flying saucers and the notion of alien visitors have been a staple of Hollywood films since the '40s and '50s — capturing the imaginations of viewers and making them ponder what's out there while gazing up at the night sky. Whether the guests from outer space are friends or foes in films, audiences never seem to tire of seeing what the aliens have in store for the human race.
Below, A.frame has put together a list of 13 films featuring aliens and UFOs.
Sci-fi films never quite looked the same again after Ridley Scott's chilling tale of outer space terror, which won an Oscar for Visual Effects. Run by blue collar workers, the spacecraft Nostromo answers a distress call on a desolate planet only to come across a derelict ship, a gigantic fossilized astronaut, and an egg-like discovery that unleashes an evolving creature that will put all of their lives at risk. The eye-popping designs by H.R. Giger still look strikingly futuristic and chilling, while the story was revisited by star Sigourney Weaver for an equally popular and influential sequel, Aliens (1986), directed by James Cameron.
This meticulously crafted sci-fi thriller offers a meditative look at linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is brought in to attempt to communicate with aliens after a dozen enormous spacecrafts land at various points across the globe. The choice to fragment the narrative timeline results in a twist ending in this haunting character study from filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. Arrival co-stars Jeremy Renner, and went on to win an Oscar for Sound Effects Editing.
The UFO movie was taken to epic new heights in Steven Spielberg's first of several alien visitation stories, starring Richard Dreyfuss as an everyman whose family is put to the ultimate test by signs that a visit from out of this world is coming soon. The indelible score by John Williams and a crucial role for French New Wave legend François Truffaut are just a few of the joys in the film that defined an entire generation's view of visitors from another planet and received eight Oscar nominations, winning for Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography and receiving a Special Achievement Award for Frank Warner’s sound creations.
A major surprise with moviegoers and a nominee for four Oscars, including Best Picture, this South Africa / New Zealand / U.S. co-production marked an auspicious debut for director Neill Blomkamp. The struggles of immigration and culture clashes are the metaphors here in a society where aliens coexist uneasily with an agitated human race, while alien craft hover above major cities. One Johannesburg bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley) finds his bigoted views upended when he starts to undergo a sudden transformation, leading him to question the nature of the entire society in which he exists.
Hollywood’s most famous visitor from outer space arrived in the summer of '82 and immediately won over audiences all around the world. Accidentally left behind by his spaceship on a visit to Earth, an alien befriends young Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his two siblings in Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming classic with more than a hint of sadness running through it. Moviegoers never quite watched the skies the same way again.
Milla Jovovich stars in a film whose title riffs on Spielberg’s 1977 film by depicting the fourth kind of alien encounter: abduction and its aftermath. Here, Milla stars as a psychologist whose hypnosis-augmented treatments on post-abduction patients reveal she may have more in common with them than she may realize. The film's pseudo-documentary aesthetic even extended to its promotion with trailers and newspaper coverage aiming for a "you are there" quality designed to have viewers questioning whether what they were seeing was based on a true story, a la previous UFO abduction films like Fire in the Sky (1993) and Communion (1989).
After honing their sci-fi skills on films like Stargate (1994), director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin unleashed a flying saucer movie for the ages that put its impressive alien craft front and center — even on the poster. When a fleet of UFOs attacks key locations all over the Earth, an unlikely group must band their talents together to stage a counteroffensive on the 4th of July. Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and Vivica A. Fox, Independence Day won an Oscar for its explosive Visual Effects, which included a wild alien showdown climax that put movie theaters to the ultimate audio-visual test.
After mixing social commentary and horror in his first two films, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele turned to aliens for his third film, which makes novel use of the IMAX format (right down to making it a plot element). Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as siblings whose family showbiz ranch becomes the epicenter of a terrifying series of attacks from above that causes numerous human disappearances (and a lot of metallic debris). Here, the alien craft and attempting to capture it on film become an analogy for the process of creating cinema itself, rendered with Peele’s signature sharp dialogue and appealing characters.
GET TO THE CHOPPER! Director John McTiernan began his multi-film hot streak with this fan favorite hybrid of Arnold Schwarzenegger action film and alien invader story, here about a weaponized visitor from the skies who hunts the most skilled soldiers around for sport. Predator features a striking creature design overseen by Stan Winston, and was nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. The film went on to inspire numerous sequels and multimedia spin-offs, most recently with a Native American twist in the action-packed prequel taking place in the year 1719, Prey (2022).
M. Night Shyamalan’s fourth feature film found him dabbling in sci-fi for the first time, here depicting a menacing alien visit from the perspective of a family headed by disillusioned preacher (Mel Gibson) and his oddball brother (Joaquin Phoenix). The celebrated found footage birthday party scene has become regarded as one of the more frightening alien moments around, while the crop circles in the cornfield made for an iconic movie poster. Shyamalan draws out silences, creating a tense experience.
After being very loosely adapted as The Thing from Another World in 1951, John W. Campbell’s paranoid sci-fi novella Who Goes There? was turned into a more faithful and now legendary alien invasion classic by John Carpenter in 1982. At an American outpost in Antarctica, several men (including star Kurt Russell) discover that a large, mysterious craft excavated from the ice by nearby Norwegians has unleashed a threat that can imitate any living organism… and now no one can be trusted. From its striking flying saucer opening shot, this terrifying sci-fi horror film remains a master class in tension building and sudden shocks, featuring groundbreaking creature creations by Rob Bottin and a pulsating electronic score by Ennio Morricone.
Scarlett Johansson startled many viewers with her intense portrayal here of a human-like alien in Scotland whose craft serves as a base where she lures unsuspecting men to their doom. Loosely adapted from a novel by Michel Faber, this visually stunning sci-fi creature feature from director Jonathan Glazer leaves much room for interpretation as it mixes body horror and cosmic dread into a dizzying viewing experience. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Under the Skin is now considered by many to be a cult classic.
The classic London-set novel by H.G. Wells was brought to the post-9/11 world with harrowing results in Spielberg’s epic-scale look at a devastating alien attack from visitors below the Earth’s surface. Tom Cruise stars as a single dad fighting increasing levels of chaos and destruction to keep his children safe from terror both alien and all too human.