Denis Villeneuve's Oscar-nominated sci-fi drama Arrival is the perfect example of a First Contact movie, in that it explicitly dramatises the first meeting between a human (in this case Amy Adams' expert linguist) and an alien life-form. Broadly speaking, First Contact movies tend to fall into two categories – either the alien is hostile (as in Independence Day) or it's peaceful (as in E.T.), but there's room for a lot of variation within those two positions. With Arrival descending on to Virgin Movies from Monday 20th March. we've assembled a list of nine of the best First Contact movies.
1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Steven Spielberg may not have originated the idea of a First Contact movie, but he certainly made two of the most famous examples. Close Encounters sees blue collar worker Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) becoming obsessed with aliens after, yes, a close encounter with a UFO. The ending of the film, in which the aliens communicate by repeating back five musical notes, before asking Roy to join them aboard the ship has lost none of its wondrous power in forty years.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is available now on Sky Cinema
2. Contact (1997)
Based on the novel by Carl Sagan, Robert Zemeckis' sci-fi drama stars Jodie Foster as Dr Ellie Arroway, a SETI scientist who's chosen to make first contact with extra-terrestrials after she finds strong evidence of alien life. Contact presents its aliens as intellectually advanced beings who are able to appear to Arroway as human (taking the form of her deceased father) in order to make first contact easier for her, and the film uses that connection to thoughtfully explore ideas of science and faith.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Spielberg's second foray into science-fiction had a phenomenal impact on popular culture and became the highest grossing film of all time, holding the record until Jurassic Park's release in 1993. The film tells the moving tale of an extra-terrestrial who's accidentally left behind on Earth and befriends a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). As in many films where the aliens are peaceful, it's the (adult) humans who are presented as the sinister forces here, with the government keen to capture and study E.T. as soon as they become aware of his existence.
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4. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” Ignore the ropey 2008 Keanu Reeves version – Robert Wise's 1951 classic is one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. The story concerns a humanoid alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie), who arrives on Earth to warn us of the dire fate that awaits us if we don't embrace peace. Naturally, Earth's first response is to open fire on Klaatu, but fortunately he's brought an invincible 7 foot robot called Gort along for just such a contingency. This is also another example of peaceful aliens revealing extraordinary powers – just as E.T. can make Elliott's bike fly, Klaatu has the power to stop electricity all over the world.
5. Independence Day (1996)
Roland Emmerich's alien invasion blockbuster follows in the tradition of films like War of the Worlds (1953) and other classic 1950s sci-fi movies where the aliens are entirely hostile and bent on destroying the Earth, starting with its most famous landmarks. The only First Contact in Independence Day occurs when Will Smith's Captain Hiller punches one in the face after it crash-lands in the desert, although the aliens are later shown to be capable of communicating via telepathy. Incidentally, Independence Day was released the same year as Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, so hostile alien invaders were clearly big that year.
Independence Day is available now on Sky Cinema
6. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
7. Starman (1984)
Essentially E.T reimagined as a love story, John Carpenter's Starman is a similar tale of a stranded, peaceful alien trying to get back to his own planet and meeting hostile human forces, despite the fact that he was invited to Earth by a message aboard Voyager II. Like E.T. and Klaatu before him, Starman (Jeff Bridges) reveals extraordinary powers, courtesy of seven small silver spheres that he uses to perform miraculous acts. However, Starman takes the concept of First Contact a lot further than his predecessors, in that he ends up leaving a human-alien hybrid baby behind after he has intergalactic sex with Karen Allen.
8. Alien (1979)
First Contact doesn't get more traumatic than Ridley Scott's Alien, what with all the face-hugging and chest-bursting. Technically, it's the human crew of the Nostromo that are the alien invaders here, and they pay the price in a big way when the creature hatches aboard the ship in the most terrifying way imaginable. Tellingly, no attempt is made to communicate with the alien in Alien – it's a straight-up kill-or-be-killed situation, forcing crew member Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) – and Jones the cat – into a deadly battle to the finish.
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9. Predator (1987)
John McTiernan's sci-fi thriller sees a group of ultra-macho soldiers facing off against a deadly alien with incredible hunting skills in the South American jungle. Once again, there's no attempt at communication and the only First Contact involves lots and lots of shooting, but the Predator is an interesting example of an intelligent alien who still just wants to kill. That said, the species would get a lot more communicative in 2004's Alien vs Predator, when one of them teamed up with Sanaa Lathan to take down an Alien Queen.
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