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Top 10 First Contact Movies

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Aaron Cameron Movies where humans are able to make first contact and meet aliens, or extra terrestrials from outer space. WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Movies where Humans Meet Aliens for the first time. But what movie will make the top spot on our list? Will it be Stanly Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, or one of Steven Spielberg's science fiction classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or E.T. The Extra Terrestrial? Watch to find out! Watch on WatchMojo: Big thanks to MikeyP for suggesting this idea, and to see how WatchMojo users voted, check out the voting page here: http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+First+Contact+Movies

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Because you only have one chance to make a first impression... Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 First Contact Movies.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the films that best represent the concept of first contact with alien - that is, otherworldly - peoples and races. The events that follow don’t have to go completely smoothly, but we will be drawing the line at all out invasions and conflicts.

#10: “Flight of the Navigator” (1986)

David Freeman is just barely in his double digits when he’s plucked up by an alien spaceship. Picked up in 1978, David is offloaded in 1986 and finds- from his perspective anyway- that his 8 year old brother has become 16 in the span of about 4 and half hours. Crazier still, somewhere along the way during his 1120 light year round trip to Phaelon, young David’s brain has become jam packed full of data and starmaps. Max, the ship’s robotic pilot, realizes he needs David’s maps and that he’s plunked the lad in the wrong decade but is unable to undo his mistake. But, as adventure unfolds, Max does find a way - and it’s a journey loved by so many that a remake has been discussed.

#9: “Starman” (1984)

Directed by John Carpenter, and leading to a TV spin off and an Oscar nom for lead Jeff Bridges, “Starman” is a love story disguised as a sci-fi. When an alien race mistakes humanity’s invitation to visit Earth as sincere, they take us up on it- only to have their scout shot down over Wisconsin. As his people live as pure energy, Starman needs to take a physical form to try and salvage his vaycay in the Midwest- and he becomes the spitting image of a widow’s recently deceased husband. Through good will and proof of peaceful intentions, the widow agrees to help the alien meet up with his rescue party. Along the way, Starman takes part in the finest of Earthly pleasures- driving a Ford Mustang, gambling in Vegas, and making sweet, sweet love.

#8: “The Abyss” (1989)

Directed and written by James Cameron, The Abyss is a first contact film unlike any other. Following a submarine accident, the US government sends in a team of scientists and Navy SEALs. Soon the group discovers a society of aliens- dubbed NTIs or non-terrestrial intelligence- living under da sea. Known as much for the horrid filming conditions- 40% of the film was shot underwater at an abandoned nuclear power plant- as it is for its game changing effects, The Abyss mixes the wonders of off-world life forms with the highs and lows of the human condition, and sets it all against Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union.

#7: “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976)

Few will deny that the late David Bowie was a genius, and an equal few would likely deny that he was a little... odd. All of this made him a perfect casting choice for Thomas Jerome Newton- a charming, yet quirky alien who lands on Earth. On a mission to locate a source of water for his drought-plagued planet, Newton quickly learns to play the industrial game and files patents for his off-world tech, raking in millions in the process. The thin white duke from another sun plans to use the money to build a ride back home, but then the government has to railroad his plans as only the government can. Thanks to Bowie’s performance and its striking imagery, the sci-fi drama has since earned itself a cult following.

#6: “District 9” (2009)

At its best, sci-fi uses its futuristic and alien trappings to tackle subject matter that would otherwise be taboo, unsettling, or unpleasant- something District 9 pulls off like few others. Ostensibly the story of the fallout of South African contact with an alien species, D9 is in many ways an allegory for the country’s Apartheid era past and the real life District Six. Made with $30m set aside for an unmade Halo movie, D9 sees Wikus van de Merwe- a bumbling government agent- overseeing the relocation of Johannesburg’s alien population. However, things are flipped, turned upside down when Wikus is hit by an alien spray that begins altering his DNA. The result is a masterful, emotional and captivating movie with the makings of a sci-fi classic.

#5: “Contact” (1997)

Based on a novel by Carl Sagan, Contact is the story of a really good day for the SETI. While the government works towards defunding and even ending the program, Dr Eleanor Arroway picks up a series of prime numbers, a definite sign of intelligent alien life. Arriving with the numbers and a repeat of Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Address is 60,000 pages of data- all of which researchers determine came from the Vega system, 26 light years away. When Arroway is elected to make contact with the alien people, it raises questions of the merit of religion and faith in the face of scientific discovery and how far either side will go to defend its position.

#4: “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)

Although remade in 2008 with Keanu Reeves in the lead role, it’s the 1950s original that has stood the test of time. Directed by Robert Wise, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a sci-fi by which all others are judged. Based on the 1940 short story “Farewell to the Master”, the film sees an alien craft land in Washington, DC. Its occupants- an alien named Klaatu and his robot guard Gort- have brought an important message for all of Earth’s leaders: play nice or be destroyed. When Klaatu goes native as “Mr Carpenter,” the Jesus allegories stack up - but the film’s main thread of Earth’s need to toe the line remains clear.

#3: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

Developed from Steven Spielberg’s stalled sci-fi horror project Night Skies, the more kid-friendly ET would become one of the biggest and highest grossing films of the decade. Essentially the story of an alien botanist stranded on Earth, ET shows himself to be able to restore life, but he also has seemingly Jedi-like powers- including telekinesis and a psychic bond with Elliot, the young boy who helps and looks after him. Its uplifting story of friendship and family, as well as its elements of sci-fi fantasy, have earned it critical acclaim, multiple awards and a spot in millions of hearts.

#2: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

It’s hard for anyone to say exactly what this 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic is actually about, but let’s try anyway. Although it’s easy to be distracted by the film’s signature dish, the sentient computer Hal 9000, 2001 is at its core about first contact, in the form of the ominous black monoliths that repeatedly change the course of the film. Kubrick did in fact consider putting aliens on screen but was advised against using humanoids by author/astronomer Carl Sagan, as well as by limitations of budget and special effects technology. The result, instead, is the mysterious and ambiguous monoliths that accelerate humankind’s knowledge and natural evolution with each encounter.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “Super 8” (2011)
- “Cocoon” (1985)
- “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996)

#1: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)

When lineman Roy Neary experiences a UFO flyby, it opens up a whole new world to him. Eventually uncovering government cooperation with extra-terrestrials, Roy discovers not only a UFO landing zone but also witnesses an organized offloading of people from decades past. Finding the aliens to be peaceful explorers rather than hostile invaders, Roy ultimately decides to join them. Aliens aside, the critically and commercially successful Close Encounters has been forever etched into pop culture, from its distinct five note musical motif to the iconic image of an obsessed Roy sculpting Devils Tower in mashed potatoes.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite first contact movie? For more ambassadorial Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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