We earthlings have long been fascinated by the thought of alien abduction, and that fascination is reflected in the staggering number of movies dedicated to the mysterious topic. Whether you're a horror fan or someone who prefers family-friendly alien fare, there's an abduction movie out there to satisfy your specific tastes.
Below, we've rounded up 12 movies that demonstrate the sheer variety of films dedicated to exploring what might happen during and after an extraterrestrial kidnapping. Read on to learn more about the good, the so-bad-they're-good, and the weird cinematic depictions of truly close encounters, ranked from most terrifying to least.
Something creepy is happening to Lacy and Daniel’s family. Unexplainable phenomena occurs in their house. Their sons, Sammy and Jesse, find strange symbols on their bodies. Most chilling of all, Lacy wakes one night to see a figure standing over Sammy's bed—a figure that disappears when the lights are on. After installing security cameras inside the house, and reviewing some truly disturbing footage, Lacy and Daniel seek the aide of ufologist Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons) to try and save their family before it’s too late. Dark Skies is a surprisingly scary alien movie that will have even seasoned horror fans looking over their shoulders.
The Fourth Kind
This 2009 documentary-style horror movie stars Milla Jovovich as Dr. Emily Tyler, a psychologist from Nome, Alaska. The movie uses two storytelling formats: a 'televised' interview with Dr. Tyler about a close encounter in Nome several years ago, and 'reenactments' of the events. At times, these formats are featured in split screen to enhance the 'documentary' effect. During the interview with Dr. Tyler, she describes the incidents that changed her life forever, beginning with the mysterious death of her husband and an encounter that some townsfolk claim to have had with a white owl. But to quote Twin Peaks, the owls are not what they seem—and through hypnosis, the terrifying truth comes out.
What's the worst-case-scenario for a honeymoon? If you answered ‘one of the newlyweds is abducted and turned into an alien host,’ then you must have already seen Honeymoon. Honeymoon is the only movie on this list with a female director, Leigh Janiak. It also stars Rose Leslie, known for her role as Ygritte on Game of Thrones.
For their honeymoon, Bea (Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) decide to stay in a cabin in a remote forest (which, if they'd seen any of the other movies on this list, they'd have known was a bad idea). The locals tell Bea and Paul to leave, but the two think nothing of the warning until Bea disappears one night, and is later found naked by Paul in the woods. But now that Bea's back, she's ... different. The honeymoon period is over, and so is Bea and Paul's chance at marital bliss.
In Altered, director Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project) gives the phrase 'alien abduction' a whole other meaning. When they were 15, a group of friends on a hunting trip was abducted and experimented on by aliens. One friend was killed, but the rest survived and have spent the years since trying to process their trauma. Two of them have become obsessed with killing an alien in reprisal for the death of their friend, and eventually track one down with the intent of getting revenge. What could go wrong? More horror than sci-fi, Altered will probably satisfy those who like their alien movies with a lot of gore.
Fire in the Sky
Although initially met with mixed reviews, 1993's Fire in the Sky has since become somewhat of a cult favorite. The movie was adapted from Travis Walton's memoir The Walton Experience, which chronicles his alleged alien 1975 abduction.
In the movie, Walton (played by D.B. Sweeney) is driving home from work with a group of fellow loggers in Snowflake, Arizona when they encounter a UFO. Walton gets out of the truck to investigate, and is struck by a forceful beam of light. Believing Walton to be dead, the other loggers flee to get help, but are stonewalled by local law enforcement who believe the loggers conspired to kill Walton. Even when Walton shows up naked, dehydrated, and disoriented—but alive—days later, the witnesses are still met with skepticism. Fire in the Sky features an unsettling flashback in which Walton remembers some of what he experienced during his abduction. It's a scene that will stay with viewers for a long time.
This 2014 found footage movie follows the Morris family on their ill-fated vacation to North Carolina’s Brown Mountain. It doesn't take long for things to go wrong: the Morris' cellphones and car inexplicably die, birds commit mass suicide in front of them, and they get stuck in a tunnel with a very creepy creature at the end of it. For me, Alien Abduction’s appeal was how it played with the actual mythology surrounding Brown Mountain, particularly the Brown Mountain Lights, strange orbs frequently seen just above the horizon in the region. The area is so known for bizarre phenomena that it was even featured in a particularly gnarly X-Files episode, “Field Trip.”
Communion inspires passion: you’ll probably either love it or hate it. This 1989 film stars Christopher Walken as real-life author and ufologist Whitley Streiber, and is based on Streiber’s autobiographical book in which he describes his abduction by mysterious "beings." However, Streiber himself disliked the movie for the liberties it took in its depiction of him. In the film, Walken-as-Streiber lives in Manhattan with his wife and son, and is frequently woken by disturbing dreams that someone is in the bedroom with him and his wife. Streiber decides that the best cure for these night terrors is to take his family to a remote cabin in upstate New York, where—surprise, surprise—things only get weirder.
Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson plays an alien with a van and a plan in this gorgeous, unforgettable movie based on Michael Faber’s novel of the same name. The unnamed protagonist travels throughout Scotland, offering men a ride in her van. Most of them are never seen again. As she adjusts to life on Earth, Under the Skin suggests that the mundane misogyny women experience might be just as dangerous as the alien's lethal appetite.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
One of the greatest alien movies ever, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind follows Roy and Jillian, who witness UFOs during a night when strange crafts are seen across the globe. They both develop an emotional obsession with the UFOS, while international agencies struggle to respond to the unprecedented number of incidents worldwide, and scientists rush to understand a message sent from space. As the world prepares for alien contact, Roy and Jillian's separate lives begin to fall apart as their preoccupation with the image of a strange mountain increases.
Mars Needs Moms
This 2011 Disney movie was obviously aimed at kids, but its unsettling digital animation style left many viewers more than a little creeped out. Mars Needs Moms was a critical failure, and had the worst financial reception ever of a Disney film. LiveScience suggested the 'uncanny valley' theory— which posits that people are unsettled by human replicas that appear too lifelike—to explain why many found the movie's animation so repellent.
Regardless of how the film's aesthetic was received, its plot is definitely family-friendly: Martians abduct Milo (Seth Green)'s Mom (Joan Cusack), hoping to use her motherly essence to power their 'nannybots.' That extraction process will kill Milo's mom, so—despite recently telling his mom that his life would be better without her—Milo sets out on a mission to save her from the martians' dastardly plan.
Interestingly, Mars Needs Moms's director, Simon Wells, is practically sci-fi royalty: his great-grandfather was The War of the Worlds' author H.G. Wells.
Tim Burton's comedy sci-fi movie Mars Attacks! is about an alien invasion first and foremost, but the Martians certainly abduct some humans in their quest for global takeover. When hundreds of Martian ships arrive in Nevada, the Martians claim that they've come in peace. But after a human bystander releases a dove, the Martians shoot it and then kill or abduct many of the people in attendance. Professor Donald Kessler (Pierce Brosnan) attempts to renegotiate with the Martians, but is later abducted himself.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is an outlier on this list—it's probably the most lighthearted (and certainly the most musical) movie included. Guardians is also one of the few alien abduction films that shows an abductee adjusting to their life in space. Following the death of his mother, young Peter Quill is abducted by a group of space pirates led by the ravager Yondu Udonta. The movie then jumps 26 years into the future, and shows us how Quill has evolved into a true a-hole; a space pirate (dare we say space lord?) who isn’t afraid to double-cross even his surrogate father.
Guardians of the Galaxy might not appeal much to horror aficionados, but space opera fans will find a lot to love—and, unlike other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Guardians doesn't require any previous Marvel knowledge to be enjoyed.
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Featured still of "Under the Skin" via A24