Humanity’s ideas about alien existence often say more about us than the little green men we envision. Our outlook on life beyond Earth reflects our collective hopes and fears about the unknown and technology, as well as our knowledge of the larger universe, which changes dramatically over time.
No medium has captured and used alien life scenarios better than film. Extraterrestrials first appeared on screen in 1902, in “A trip to the moon” by Georges Méliès. After 1947 – in which the UFO sightings of civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold and the discovery of a mysterious “flying disc” near Roswell, New Mexico occurred – a subculture devoted to the creatures of a another world called “ufology” has emerged, leaving a lasting mark on cinema.
As America faced the Red Fear in the 1950s, influential alien films like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The War of the Worlds” used intergalactic characters to reflect the citizens’ fear of Communism. and other “foreigners”, as well as the fear of humanity. inclined to destroy itself from within. Aliens were also common sci-fi horror monsters, ranging from the titular alien in the 1979 Ridley Scott classic to the shape-shifting arctic creature in “The Thing.” However, in the 1970s and 1980s, friendlier and sometimes lovable aliens were also reflected in films such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Cocoon”. These days, otherworldly characters appear in a wide range of roles, from the alien force that mutates biological creatures in “Annihilation” to the nicer, more temporal heptapods in “Arrival.”