By Robbie Graham
For the purposes of this article we can define a ‘UFO movie’ as any motion picture that taps directly into any aspect of UFO mythology or notably draws inspiration from UFOlogical literature, incorporating into its plot references to frequently debated UFOlogical phenomena, events and locales, as well as specialised UFOlogical terminology. With this definition in mind, it’s safe to say that the first decade of the new millennium was witness to the release a dizzying array of Hollywood UFO movies.
Of course, flying saucers have always sold well at the box-office – from the Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to Independence Day (1996) and beyond – but the decade past saw an explosion in the popularity of the UFO subgenre with such Hollywood fare as Signs (2002), Men in Black 2 (2002), Dreamcatcher (2003), The Forgotten (2004), War of the Worlds (2005), Chicken Little (2005), Altered (2006), Slither (2006), Transformers (2007), The Day the Earth Stood Still remake (2008), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Objective (2008) Race to Witch Mountain (2009), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), Aliens in the Attic (2009), Knowing (2009), The Fourth Kind (2009), Planet 51 (2009), and Skyline (2010), to name but a few. With major TV series such as the recently re-booted V (2009-) and Spielberg’s Taken (2002) added to the mix, audiences stood little chance against what amounted to a full-scale alien invasion of our popular culture.
Debate has rattled on for years among UFO researchers as to precisely what impact – if any – Hollywood has on popular perceptions of UFOs. Do UFO movies serve to fictionalise the phenomenon for audiences, or to actualise it? There is an argument to be made that Hollywood entertainment may actually serve both functions simultaneously. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard suggested that “simulation threatens the difference between true and false, between real and imaginary.” In the case of the Hollywood UFO movie this is true now more than ever, as cinematic simulations of UFOlogical history have all but consumed through the process of replication the history itself – just as humans were consumed and replicated as ‘pod people’ in genre classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). The blurring of true and false, real and imaginary within the context of that most fantastical of genres – science-fiction – engenders popular acceptance of the UFO as just that: a fictional cinematic construct with little or no grounding in lived historical reality.