Summer is back ! Fortunately, the United States is slowly reopening. Around the same time last year, most of us were squatting in our homes hoping that vaccines would arrive to save us from the COVID-19 pandemic. They did it, and in record time. It is possible, at least for now, to eat out again, go to the movies and go to the stadium. But while we have more choices for what to do this summer than last summer, the heat and humidity of the season ensures that most of us will still be spending a lot of time indoors. So we decided to relaunch the series of summer movie recommendations that we started last year. We will be posting a new list every Friday until Labor Day.
The same rules as last summer’s series apply: First, we’re limiting our choices to English-language films. Yes, many great foreign policy films have been made in languages other than English. But we will not pretend to know which are the best films in Italian, Japanese or Spanish. Second, we’ll only pick a movie once for these summer listings. So you won’t see the 2016s Arrival today because we recommended it last year. Third, each movie must be available for streaming or rental online.
Wars and conflicts
We kick things off with a subject that has long captured the imagination of the public and Hollywood: unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and extraterrestrials.
Why start with films about UFOs and aliens? Two reasons. First, filmmakers often use stories about UFOs and aliens. as metaphors for personal and political relationships, showing how fear of “the other” can tear the world apart or bring it closer together. Second, UFOs – or if you prefer, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) – are in the news. At the end of last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a nine-page report revealing that indeed, many flying objects cannot be explained. The report, however, did not take a position on the existence of extraterrestrials. Either way, most Americans seem to have made up their minds on the matter. A recent Pew Research poll find that 51% of them believe the military’s UFO / UAP sightings are likely evidence of extraterrestrial life.
We have no position as to whether humanity has been visited by other residents of the universe. We have five great movies to recommend on how UFOs and extraterrestrial visitors could reshape the world as we know it. We’re also launching a Colleague Bonus Pick.
The day the earth stood still (1951). An alien named Klaatu (Michael rennie) lands behind the White House. It carries a message from an interplanetary organization: Humans cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons, and Earth must submit to the organization’s oversight or “face erasure.” When the US government rejects Klaatu’s request to address world leaders, he fled to Washington to learn about humans. Based on Harry Bates’ 1940 short story, “Farewell to the Master, ”And directed by Robert sage, The day the earth stood still portrayed benevolent aliens and heroic scientists, unlike other popular sci-fi horror films of 1951, Man from Planet X and The thing from another world. Producer Julien blaustein says the movie recommended for a “stronger UN” as the nuclear arms race intensifies. The day the earth stood still received the now-retired Golden Globe for “promote international understanding. “The American Film Institute ranked it fifth best science fiction film all time. You can watch it on Apple tv, google play, or Youtube.
War of the Worlds (1953). A UFO crashes in a small town in California. However, it does not carry friendly aliens. Rather, it is part of the first wave of a Martian invasion. World capitals are quickly overwhelmed, and defeat seems imminent. Taking the premise of the superb HG Wells 1898 novel, director Byron Haskin follows a scientist and commuter, played by Gene Barry and Ann robinson, as they frantically seek out the weakness of the Martians. The film’s implicit theme is the fear of the “other” of the cold war and world conflict. At least moviegoers in 1953 knew that the War of the Worlds was a fiction: when Orson Welles adapted Wells’ novel for radio in 1938, many listeners believed it was a real show announcing a Martian invasion. Movies “chilling”Special effects won an Oscar, and the American Film Institute ranked Martians the Twenty-seventh greatest movie villain all time. You can look War of the Worlds at Amazon prime, HBO Max, or Youtube.
Wars and conflicts
Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The life of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is upset when UFOs fly over him in Muncie, Indiana. They leave him with a story no one believes in and an inexplicable mental image of a mountain. Meanwhile, the U.S. military and researchers around the world are investigating a sudden increase in UFO sightings and mysterious incidents. Director Steven spielberg said the US Air Force and NASA refuse cooperate in the filming of Close encounters-may be worried that the film triggers public paranoia around UFOs like Jaws made with sharks. However, President Jimmy Carter and many American moviegoers were big fans. American Film Institute ranked Encounters of the Third Kind the thirty-first most exciting movie all time. He won two Oscars, one for cinematography and the other for sound effects, while being nominated for seven others. You can find it on Amazon prime, google play, or Youtube.
Independence Day (1996). When ranking summer blockbusters, Independence Day almost always make the list. Earth is undergoing a devastating attack from alien invaders. Professional armies and air forces are wiped out. A motley crew emerge as heroes as the United States rallies the world for a counterattack that begins, you guessed it, on July 4th. With explosions, catchy presidential speeches, and a star cast featuring Will smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day carried an optimistic message of global unity under the banner of American leadership. It is perhaps not surprising that the film was shot during a time of American unipolar power– perhaps by sounding his message of heartbreaking naivety a quarter of a century later, at a time of great competition between the powers. (Independence Day also introduced the Hollywood tradition of massive advertising campaigns for cinema.) Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day Won Oscar for Best Visual Effects and was nominated for Best Sound. You can watch it on Amazon prime, HBO Max, or Youtube.
District 9 (2009). A spaceship arrives over Johannesburg in 1982. It is not filled with benevolent messengers or hostile invaders. Instead, he’s full of malnourished aliens. Under international pressure, South Africa is confining the aliens to a slum called District 9. Twenty years later, during a forced relocation of aliens out of the city, alien handyman Christopher Johnson (Jason cope) is planning his escape from Earth when Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto copley), a human, comes into contact with alien fuel in his lab and begins to mutate. Director Neill Blomkamp highlights the brutality and inequality of alien life compared to apartheid, with particular similarities to the forced relocation of black residents of Cape District 6 in 1966. District 9 remains relevant today in the conditions refugees face in dangerously crowded camps and international tensions in the face of increasing global migration. You can broadcast it on Amazon prime, Starz, or Youtube.
This week, we turned to our colleague Terry Mullan for a bonus pick. Terry is Deputy Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program at CFR. He supported our recommendation last year to Arrival. He also suggested:
The phenomenon (2020). If you want to refresh the history of UFO sightings, The phenomenon is for you. The documentary examines reports from the 1940s to the present. Longtime director and “ufologist” James fox uses archival footage and interviews with eyewitnesses and officials to demonstrate that the government knows more than it has told us. Terry said: “Although we have to make some jumps from the existence of a government program on aerial phenomena not identified with the existence of extraterrestrial encounters, The phenomenon includes intriguing new testimonials from Navy pilots and former senior government officials including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Chief of Staff of Clinton John Podesta and former Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon. You can look The phenomenon at Amazon prime, google play, or Youtube.
Next week, we’ll have some movie suggestions about love and war.
Check out our recommendations from last summer for foreign policy films on the costs of war, foreign intrigue, WWII, the threat of nuclear war, journalists, uprisings and revolutions, and prisoners of war. We also suggested foreign policy comedies, satires, movies with women in mind, etc. Still looking for something to watch? You can find all the movie (and book) recommendations from The water’s edge here.