Space aliens definitely exist and it’s possible they are already living alongside us on Earth.
It may sound out of this world, but that’s the view of Dr. Helen Sharman, who famously became Britain’s first astronaut when she travelled to the Soviet space station Mir in May 1991.
The 56-year-old space pioneer made headlines with her remarks on extraterrestrial life in a wide-ranging interview with The Guardian newspaper’s Observer magazine, which published her views last Sunday.
"Aliens exist, there’s no two ways about it," Sharman said. "There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life. Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not. It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them."
She’s not the first high-profile supporter of the idea — Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Liberal defence minister in the 1960s, has said not only do aliens walk among us, but they are refusing to share their advanced technologies until humans change their warring, polluting ways.
"We have a long history of UFOs and of course there has been a lot more activity in the last few decades since we invented the atomic bomb," Hellyer said on Russian TV.
In real life, it may be some time before we know whether little green men truly walk among us. In the movies, however, Hollywood has already given us the answer, as we see from today’s cinematic list of Five Famous Films Featuring Aliens Visiting Earth:
The earthbound plot: For the record, we are talking about the black-and-white version, not the 1978 remake. Kevin McCarthy stars as rakish Dr. Miles Bennell, who returns to his peaceful home town to be confronted by what seems to be an outbreak of mass hysteria, with a number of his patients convinced that their loved ones have been replaced by emotionless impostors.
Miles gradually uncovers the horrifying truth: the town has been infected by alien spores, which are responsible for replacing residents with soulless, submissive clones. It seems the alien spores have fallen from space and grown into large seed pods, each one capable of reproducing a duplicate replacement copy of each human. The heroic MD ends up in a hospital telling his story to another doctor via scary flashbacks. A creepy moment involves our hero being chased by a mob, then seeing a transport truck carrying pods bound for Los Angeles, prompting him to scream at passing motorists: "They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!"
Fun film fact: Famed American director Sam Peckinpah had a small part as Charlie, a meter reader. Also, the pop culture phrase "pod people" was spawned by the emotionless duplicates featured in the film.
What the critics said: Largely ignored at first, it has become a cult classic and has been hailed by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." Chirps popular review site Rotten Tomatoes: "One of the best political allegories of the 1950s, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an efficient, chilling blend of sci-fi and horror." Like the man said: "They’re here already!"
The earthbound plot: The Voyager 2 space probe, launched in 1977, carried a gold record with a message of peace, inviting aliens to visit Earth. In this movie, Starman, a glowing ball of energy, accepts the invite, but his ship crashes in Wisconsin after being shot down by the U.S. government. Naturally, the glowing ball finds the home of a recent widow, Jenny, and uses a lock of hair from her deceased husband, Scott, to clone a new body for itself.
Not surprisingly, Jenny is a bit freaked out but learns to communicate and care for Starman in a sci-fi film that is equal parts romantic comedy and old-school road movie. With Jeff Bridges milking laughs from his new body’s birdlike lurching movements, the couple, with the government in hot pursuit, make their way to a meteor crater where Starman can get a ride home. Our favourite moment was when Jenny teaches Scott/Starman to drive. Boasts the alien: "I watched you very carefully. Red light, stop; green light, go; yellow light, go very fast!" Starman’s final gift to Jenny — a baby with her late husband’s DNA.
Fun film fact: Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar as best actor, making Starman the only film directed by John Carpenter to earn an Academy Award nomination. The script was developed at Columbia at the same time as another alien film, so the head of the studio let the second script go to a rival studio. That script was for a little project called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
What the critics said: Here’s what the legendary film critic Roger Ebert had to say back when the movie premiered: "Starman contains the potential to be a very silly movie, but the two actors have so much sympathy for their characters that the movie, advertised as space fiction, turns into one of 1984’s more touching love stories."
The earthbound plot: You might think we picked this film for today’s list because it was the first one we watched when we bought a big-screen plasma TV for our den, but you would be wrong. District 9 earned its way to our No. 3 spot because it is arguably the most realistic film portrayal of what would happen if humanoid aliens and humans were forced to live side by side on this planet. Nominated for four Academy Awards and inspired by events in apartheid-era South Africa, it’s the gripping story of extraterrestrial refugees stranded on Earth, only to find themselves exiled to a slum on the fringes of Johannesburg. Twenty-eight years after first contact, the sick and malnourished aliens are being moved from District 9 to a new internment camp.
The forced relocation is led by a nerdy Afrikaner bureaucrat, who accidentally gets sprayed in the face with some mystery fluid and, surprise, gradually transforms into one of the aliens. The stars of this sleeper hit are the aliens. The director, Neill Blomkamp, wanted the so-called "Prawns" to be insect-like but bipedal like humans. The idea was the aliens would initially evoke disgust in viewers, but gain sympathy as their plight unfolded. "Unfortunately, they had to be humanesque because our psychology doesn’t allow us to really empathize with something unless it has a face and an anthropomorphic shape," the director has said of the creatures and their crab-like exoskeletons. Trust us, you do not want to be eating seafood while watching this sleeper hit.
Fun film fact: In this faux documentary, the insectoid aliens, derogatorily called "Prawns," are obsessed with cat food. That was inspired by a producer who used canned cat food to bait traps when fishing for prawns in Vancouver.
What the critics said: Offered Roger Ebert: "District 9 does a lot of things right, including giving us aliens to remind us not everyone who comes in a spaceship need be angelic, octopod or stainless steel. They are certainly alien, all right."
The earthbound plot: Of all the bizarre, creepy aliens that have visited this planet in a legion of cheesy sci-films, one of our all-time favourites is the main antagonist in the first instalment of the blockbuster Men in Black franchise, which spawned two sequels and a spinoff movie. We’re talking here about "Edgar the Bug" (or just "The Bug"), an interstellar terrorist that resembles a giant cockroach with bobbling antennae and razor-sharp fangs. The Bug crash lands in a farmer’s field in search of the Arquillian Galaxy, a massive source of energy housed in a small jewel. So an abusive farmer named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio) grabs his rifle and approaches the crater to investigate.
"Place your projectile weapon on the ground," an alien voice croaks. Grunts the farmer: "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." Chirps The Bug: "Your proposal is acceptable." Which is when the giant cockroach pulls the screaming farmer into the crater with a large insectoid claw, eats him, then climbs out wearing Edgar’s skin and skull like a suit. In short order, The Bug runs afoul of the secret government agency, MiB, that polices extraterrestrials on Earth and, in the end, is (Hurray!) reduced to slime by the black-suited Agent Jay (Will Smith) and the grizzled Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones).
Fun film fact: The film earned three Oscar nominations and won for best makeup. The sunglasses used by the Men in Black are the Ray-Ban "Predator 2" glasses. After the film’s release, Ray-Ban reported that sales of these glasses tripled from $1.6 million to $5 million.
What the critics said: Gushed David Hunter of Hollywood Reporter: "A terrifically entertaining combination of alien conspiracy fears played for laughs and French Connection-meets-Ghostbusters thrills... Men in Black is so much fun one is actually mildly disappointed when it ends after an economically short 98 minutes."
The earthbound plot: Anyone who is surprised to find E.T. in the No. 1 slot, hold up your hands. No one? We didn’t think so. What we are talking about here is a beloved movie that has been rated the greatest science-fiction film of all time. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not love Steven Spielberg’s most famous work, wherein a lonely boy, Elliott, befriends a cute stranded alien and somehow finds the courage to help him return home while keeping their exploits hidden from the government and, more importantly, his (Elliott’s) mom.
Far from creepy, E.T. resembles a long-necked, big-eyed, extremely wrinkly turtle without a shell. Also, he eats Reese’s Pieces, whereas your standard space monster typically gobbles down human beings like potato chips. The tear-jerking parting sequence at the end of the film was ranked in a 2011 survey of 2,000 movie fans as the most powerful moment in film history. Before blasting off in his spaceship, the big-eyed alien says to Elliott: "Come." Sniffs Elliott (Henry Thomas): "Stay." Which prompts E.T. to touch his heart and murmur: "Ouch!" Elliott echoes "Ouch," the buddies hug it out, the music soars and E.T. offers his quivering friend some gentle reassurance, touching the boy’s forehead with a glowing fingertip and promising: "I’ll be right here."
Fun film fact: Inside the E.T. costume, at various times, were two little people actors and a 12-year-old boy named Matthew DeMeritt, who was born without legs and walked on his hands in scenes where the cuddly alien moved awkwardly or fell over. Reportedly, M&M’s refused to let their candy be used in the film because they felt E.T. was so ugly he’d frighten children, opening the door to a marketing coup for Reese’s Pieces.
What the critics said: Universally beloved, E.T. has won more awards and accolades than you can point a long, wrinkly alien finger at. Here is, perhaps, our favourite review, from James White of empireonine.com: "It remains a classic – undamaged by cosmetic changes, and with power enough to overcome the impact of a hundred crappy telephone commercials." Whether he phones home or not, E.T. is the alien we’d most like as a neighbour.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.