ByRicky Derisz, writer at
Staff Writer at MP. "Holy cow, Rick! I didn't know hanging out with you was making me smarter!" Twitter: @RDerisz.
Ricky Derisz

What really is out there? Do other forms of life exist? Are we really alone in this expansive universe? The fascination with the unknown, the endless possibilities and what ifs, have been a source of great mystery and intrigue for generations.

Life, the recent sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, is the latest in a long line of films to attempt to answer such questions. In the absence of knowledge, the imagination is a powerful tool, and there's no greater absence than the unexplored abyss of space.

Alien encounter movies provide some of the most thrilling, imaginative and unforgettable stories, if nothing else because we categorically say they'll never happen. Below is a list of some of the best movies like , to give you a host of fictional answers to that question: What really is out there?

9. 'The War of the Worlds' (1953)

Director: Byron Haskin

H.G Wells was one of the first to create an alien encounter tale with his 1897 novel of the same name, which was modernised with the Bryan Haskin helmed 1953 adaptation. The story — which was also adapted by Stephen Spielberg in 2005 — focuses on an alien invasion on a small town in California.

'The War of the Worlds' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'The War of the Worlds' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Although initially conceived as a commentary on the Cold War, the influence and lasting impact of alien invasion cinematic troupes introduced in Haskin's film still shapes modern additions to the genre.

See also:

8. 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' (1951)

Director: Robert Wise

The War of the Worlds wasn't the first, though. Two years prior, The Day the Earth Stood Still told the story of Klaatu, a Christ-like humanoid alien who invades Earth along with his best buddy, a massive, eight-foot robot called Gort. Sounds like a friendly pair.

'The Day the Earth Stood Still' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'The Day the Earth Stood Still' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

Widely considered one of the best science fiction movies of all time, Wise's film — which was added to the National Film Registry in 1995 — is a must-watch for cinema enthusiasts, without which movies like Life may never have been made.

Like all successful films, it was remade, but, despite Keanu Reeves in the lead role, the 2008 version doesn't have much on the original.

7. 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Close Encounters was a passion project created by one of the greatest science fiction storytellers of all time, Stephen Spielberg. As well as being lauded upon release, decorated with a number of awards including eight Oscar nominations, and one win for Best Cinematography, it is also retrospectively adored. Plus, it is peppered with one of the most memorable soundtracks in Hollywood.

'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' [Credit: Columbia Pictures]
'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' [Credit: Columbia Pictures]

Frequently topping "best ever" lists, Spielberg's film depicts two parallel storylines; one of a research scientists investigating the strange appearance of items in various locations, the second on several people who witness paranormal, UFO sightings, including Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon).

6. 'District 9' (2009)

Director: Neill Blompkamp

Moving in a slightly different direction, District 9 is a movie that portrays the alien invasion in a unique and highly politicized way; in Neill Blomkamp's vision, aliens have been organized into a designated interment camp in Johannesburg, South Africa, and are treated as refugees.

Made on a budget of $30 million and told in a found-footage style, the film flips the expectation of an alien "invasion" on its head, instead using the aliens (who humans nickname "prawns") to highlight issues of xenophobia and social segregation.

5. 'Contact' (1997)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

The McConaissance may've started around 2013, but long before earning a reputation as a master of romcoms, Matthew McConaughey was already showing signs of making inspired choices, starring opposite Jody Foster in the nuanced, underrated sci-fi, Contact.

'Contact' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Contact' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Based on Carl Sagan's book, the film is less in-your-face catastrophe, more reflective meditation on the first contact with alien life. Dr. Eleanor Ann Arroway (Foster) and Palmer Joss (McConaughey) approach communication from an extraterrestrial source (and the consequences for humankind) from the view of science and religion respectively.

4. 'The Martian' (2015)

Director: Ridley Scott

The Martian is the only entry on the list that doesn't directly include alien contact, but there are enough parallels to earn its place on the list, mainly, they both focus on Mars. Which, for this list, is enough of a connection.

'The Martian' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'The Martian' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

In Life, a six-member crew of the International Space Station investigate what appears to be the first signs of life from Mars. In The Martian, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) ends up stranded on the planet. He's long presumed dead, and has to use his knowledge of science, as well as the environment around him, to stay alive. But, no aliens. Sorry.

3. 'Under The Skin' (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Under the Skin compliments Life well; both movies portray the encounter of alien life through a lens of , albeit in contrasting ways. While Life takes place in the claustrophobia of space, with humans in a foreign environment, Under the Skin features an alien in human form (Scarlett Johansson) as she enters enter our world and tries to make sense of it all.

'Under the Skin' [Credit: A24]
'Under the Skin' [Credit: A24]

Themes of identity, belonging, sexuality, appearance and xenophobia all underpin a distinctive and chilling portrayal that uses the metaphor of alien life to tackle serious issues. True to its name, it's a film that gets under the skin of anyone who watches it.

2. 'Arrival' (2016)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

It'd be impossible to talk about movies like Life without mentioning a recent alien encounter depiction that has rightfully taken its place as one of the best the genre has to offer — Arrival. Villeneuve's stunning portrayal is as profound as it is simplistic, boiling the essence of alien encounters to their core and filtering them into a study of language, communication and humanity.

Based on Ted Chiang's short story, Arrival approaches alien encounters from the opposite side of the spectrum of Life, opting to show the potential benefits of an encounter with otherworldly beings, rather than fear of the horrors that could ensue.

1. 'Alien' (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Scott gets his second entry for the film that simply had to be number one on the list of movies like Life, because, well, it's abundantly clear that it is the biggest influence over the movie. Alien is the definitive horror, widely considered one of the best films of all time, and the catalyst for a franchise that continues to this day.

'Alien' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'Alien' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

The iconic movie focuses on events aboard the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship making its way back to Earth. When the cast and crew are awoken due to a distress signal from a mysterious ship, they change course to investigate, which leads to an unwelcome visitor who makes the most dramatic of dramatic entrances. The chances are you've seen this by now, but even if so, its always worth a rewatch for face-hugging, chest-bursting, alien-ass-kicking thrills.

Are there any movies like Life you would add to the list?

'Alien' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'Alien' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]


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