Robert Jackman

UFOs on screen: the best documentaries to watch

UFOs on screen: the best documentaries to watch
Image: Netflix
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In a watershed moment for modern history, the Pentagon’s long-awaited report on UFOs landed last week. And it will no doubt send parts of the internet into overdrive.

Officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity said there were 'no clear indications' that the sightings in the report could be linked to non-terrestrial origins but that the data available was not sufficient to form a clear explanation for the various phenomena observed.

If you're amongst the millions fascinated by mysterious flying objects, here are eight films you may enjoy:

The Phenomenon

Amazon - to rent

Undoubtedly the quintessential appetite-whetter before the big Pentagon report, The Phenomenon is the magnum opus of UFO enthusiast James Fox (not Laurence’s dad); a filmmaker who has spent more than two decades making films about the subject. This time, he delves deep into the American political establishment, quizzing former White House staffers and other ‘in the know’ types about all sorts of strange goings-on: not least the growing number of US naval pilots who claim to have witnessed flying vessels that defy all-known human technology.

Mirage Men

Netflix (with VPN)

Could the whole UFO thing be a government bluff to further the US's military ambitions? That’s the theory posed by Mirage Men, a slightly campy documentary built around an interview with former US intelligence agent, Richard Doty. In his testimony, Doty claims US authorities deliberately stoked UFO conspiracies in order to dupe the Soviets into diverting their own intelligence resources on a wild goose chase. He also offers his answers to some of the longest-standing UFO mysteries: including a rather gruesome explanation for the infamous mutilated cows of New Mexico.

Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers

Amazon - to rent

Few people on this earth have played a bigger role in driving the world's UFO fixation than Bob Lazar: the bespectacled conspiracy theorist whose outlandish claims about Area 51 have enjoyed somewhat of a revival after his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. Like a lot of American-made documentaries, the film is a little soft on its subject - ducking quesitons, for example, around his disputed credentials - but makes for an entertaining watch nonetheless. Mickey Rourke provides the narration.

Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends: UFOs

Netflix

A million miles in tone from his more sombre recent work, Louis Theroux's first BBC series was all about delving into the deepest pockets of American eccentricity. And this 1998 film about UFO hunters is an absolute classic of the genre, with Theroux's faux naive shtick bringing the best out of various madcap types. For a poignant coda watch Louis's recent retrospective Life on the Edge in which he talks about his follow-up visit to Thor Templar - the rather loveable 'Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate', who sadly died in 2019.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Amazon - to rent

Back in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still gave post-War America the unforgettable image of the impeccably smooth spaceship descending to earth - and popular culture was quickly hooked. Velvet-voiced Michael Rennie (born in Harrogate and also in The Third Man) plays Klaatu, the humanoid extraterrestrial who demands an audience with the powers that be. There's also a 2008 remake, in which Keanu Reeves takes on the role.

John was Trying to Contact Aliens

Netflix

If you think all alien enthusiasts are self-interested conspiracy theorists, this touching short-film will serve as a welcome corrective. It tells the story of John Shepherd, a mild-mannered Michigan man who has spent decades of his free-time building advanced broadcasting equipment in the hope of using his music collection to reach aliens. Unlike the bombastic figures in other films, John comes across as charmingly humble; disappointed, yes, that he hasn't achieved his goal, yet grateful the project has given his life so much meaning.

Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?

Amazon - to rent

In the eighty years since Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds apparently had listeners fearing a real-life alien invasion, countless films have sought to blur the line between truth and fiction. But few came closer than Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction, which claims to show the US military examining a dead extraterrestrial. After the film was broadcast on television in 1996, its creator spent years insisting the footage was genuine - successfully convincing scores of Americans along the way. Only a decade later did he finally admit the hoax.

Unacknowledged

Netflix

One of the most popular of Netflix's many UFO documentaries, Unacknowledged sets out to be the best 'one stop shop' for the casual viewer. From pouring over grainy handycam footage of seemingly inexplicable events in the desert to deep dives into leaked intelligence files, this film throws everything it can at its central argument: that the US government has successfully hidden evidence of extraterrestrial beings. And that it bumped off Marilyn Monroe as part of the cover-up.