‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ 4K Re-Release & The Top 5 UFO Arrival Scenes

This week, Steven Spielberg’s science fiction adventure classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, returns to theaters for a 1-week engagement in celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary. The director’s cut has been restored and remastered in 4K, which will be shown on screens, before the arrival of the upcoming 4K UHD release. In anticipation of this release, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of some of the most memorable alien UFO arrival scenes in cinema. While there are a lot of fun options and I went with ones that stuck out the most to me, feel free to add further thoughts in the comments.

To hold to certain parameters these choices when it comes to UFO arrivals, I focused on scenes where characters on Earth were encountering alien spacecraft of some form on a grand scale. Not just an alien (think Signs) and not the discovery of a UFO after it had crash landed (think The Thing). Not to take away from those films, but given the movie that inspired this top 5, there’s a lot to enjoy in witnessing the discovery of something being transported to Earth from another world.


5. Arrival (2016)

The construction of this sequence is pretty spectacular on an auditory level, in addition to how it visually allows things to build to the ultimate reveal. Rather than explicitly show twelve different unconventionally shaped UFO’s arriving in various locations across Earth, we follow the perspective of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she slowly realizes what is happening. First, it’s noticing her students checking their phones, only to turn on the television and see what’s in the news. A scene outside has jets flying at top speeds above Louise’s head to get to one of these important locations. The haunting score by Johann Johannsson escalates the disorienting feelings going on. It is only after some discussion with Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) that we have a chance to see the first full shots of the UFO, complete with a layer of fog arriving off some hills in Montana, nearby (a filming sequence that came by chance, according to cinematographer Bradford Young). The impact of seeing a spacecraft like this is felt.


4. War of the Worlds (2005)

Here’s a film that has proven to be quite divisive and while I have my issues with how it plays out in the second half (Tim Robbins’ basement and onwards), it is hard to deny the sheer thrill that makes up the film’s incredible first hour. Gone are the attempts at reason and compassion when it comes to Spielberg and aliens, as this 2005 remake finds Tom Cruise running for his life once he sees the power of the tripods. But let’s take a step back. In a sequence that pulls together incredible sound design and editing, we see that a large grouping of lightning strikes served as an arrival point for aliens to enter massive machines that have been buried underground already. As the smoke clears we see the first alien ship emerge from the ground, but just as things start to settle, an eruption of noise occurs, and it starts disintegrating people with its ray beams, leaving only gray dust and clothes behind. There is a lot of scary imagery in this film, some involving aliens (the river ferry attack) and other scenes that don’t (a flaming train), but that first instance of trouble provided one incredible jolt.


3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Here’s one that may not be as obvious, but think about it for a second. Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science fiction epic most certainly features an Alien UFO in the form of the featureless black monolith that appears three times in the film. The first arrival is why this classic film made the list. With an opening scene set millions of years ago in the African desert, a tribe of great apes, who have just been driven away from their home, wake up one morning to find the monolith before them. It is upsetting to them, as there is no understanding of how to handle it, but it also somehow inspires them to use a bone as a weapon. Later monolith encounters have left many curious as to whether or not the actual alien beings are peaceful or evil in their intentions (and 2010 is a surprisingly good sequel that helps clear this up), but it is the first arrival and the inherent mood around it that gives it a spot on this list.


2. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Never mind the 2008 remake that squandered the potential there was to make an exciting update on this classic sci-fi story, the original 1951 film remains a classic to this day. Working as a classy B-movie and an examination of the atomic age, there is still plenty of joy to see in a movie that would almost work as a Frank Capra human comedy/drama, were it not for the spaceship and its two occupants. Robert Wise puts together a lot of excellent scenes, including the finale that relays a palpable message, but how about the arrival itself? While not as flashy as what would be seen in the years to come, there is a good amount of tension in how we are presented with a flying saucer that lands in Washington D.C. The Army surrounds it, and an unknown being emerges. It is unsurprisingly met with hostility the moment it presents a foreign object and a greater unknown (Gort, a tall robot with disintegration beams for eyes) emerges and presents the danger to those who’d rather wage war than act cordial. The perfect title for a film such as this, the Earth did stand still when presented with this classic arrival.


1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Of course, it is the film that inspired this list that tops it. Numerous alien arrivals are seen throughout this 1977 classic, but it is the film’s climax that shows Spielberg was saving the best for last. At this point, it has been a bit of a chase that has found several civilians, including Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary and Melinda Dillon’s Jillian Guiler, headed to Devils Tower in Wyoming. However, everything builds to seeing government specialists use a means of communication they believe will work to trigger the arrival of a UFO. They get more than they bargained for, as dozens appear. However, after using the iconic theme and a series of lights to further spur on some form of contact, an enormous mother ship arrives. The sense of scale is still an incredible sight to behold to this day, and the results create such a fascinating feeling. We see alien beings, as well as animals and missing people, emerge, unharmed (and un-aged), showing that no evil intentions were meant in these meetings (even if alien abductions are no less creepy). Regardless, this massive and unique creation has held up for decades, as it is one of the best sequences of events to transpire in any of Spielberg’s films and that is a long list of amazing moments. This arrival is also why it tops the list.


Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical):

The Avengers – You could maybe look at other superhero films as well, but there is a great joy in seeing the arrival of an invading alien army and the work put in by a team of superheroes working together, for the first time, to stop it.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial – This is more of a goodbye than an arrival, a very touching one at that, but also why I didn’t want to place it on the actual list. Still, Spielberg does aliens right.

Fire in the Sky – By all accounts, this is one scary film, but I have not seen it in over a decade to have the best read on the actual arrival.

Independence Day – Some call it too cheesy, but the mix of practical and digital effects, along with the commitment to the story presented helps ID4 stand up (don’t worry about the sequel). There’s a reason the Super Bowl became a place to premiere trailers for huge summer movies, and it’s this film.

Mars Attacks – Tim Burton’s 50’s sci-fi spoof has a mixed reaction and a cult following (and a fun Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast episode, featuring me as a guest). It also features some mean aliens with darkly humorous results that began after their first arrival.

Men In Black – The giant cockroach villain in the first film has a wonderfully hilarious arrival by way of crash-landing on Vincent D’Onofrio’s truck.

Superman: The Movie – Ma and Pa Kent witness the arrival of their son from space by chance and the boy returns the favor by lifting their truck.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – A film that I hope grows a larger audience as the years go on. Valerian features on the best opening credits scenes of this year, as it involves the arrival of hundreds of different alien species, who all rendezvous with an Earth-based space station in an attempt to create peace and live together in harmony.

The 4K restoration of Close Encounters of the Third Kind arrives
on Blu-ray and 4K UHD on September 19.
The film will play in theaters for a week starting September 1.




Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ 4K Re-Release & The Top 5 UFO Arrival Scenes”

  1. Brian White

    Awesome read here!
    Can’t wait to see Close Encounters in 4K next week. Have the Best Buy steel pre-ordered.