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(Credit: Warner Bros)


Five classic science-fiction films inspired by true events


Some of the most iconic science fiction films of all time, from Alien to Blade Runner, involve scenarios and situations so utterly bizarre and otherworldly that they could only exist in the minds of some of cinema’s most ingenious creatives. Others, however, are rooted in a disturbing reality, emanating from real-life stories, urban legends and theories about alien creatures and distant planets. 

Many such films that purport to be based on truth are often merely linked to old wives tales, unreliable newspaper clippings or cases of bizarre coincidence, with some even creating their own myth to seem more legitimate. The Blair Witch Project, directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, famously presented itself to be real to attract a wider audience intrigued by its apparent true story. 

Whilst many take advantage of the benefits of the ‘true story’ tagline, there are indeed some science fiction movies that reflect reality a little too well and arise some disturbing truths about the mysteries of the universe at the same time. Digging deep into archival research and desperately scrambling to find ancient newspaper clippings, we have devised a list of five classic science fiction films based on actual true events. 

Five science-fiction films based on true events:

Fire in the Sky (Robert Lieberman, 1993)

A slightly obscure alien science fiction thriller, Fire in the Sky is a barely remembered alien abduction movie that just so happens to contain one of the most disturbing scenes of extraterrestrial capture ever put to screen. 

Though it certainly took a few liberties from the source material, the novel The Walton Experience by Travis Walton, the film remains an adaptation of the bizarre events of Turkey Spring, Arizona, in 1975. Working in the fields at the time, Walton and his coworkers suddenly remembered seeing a blinding light in the sky. Approaching the UFO whilst his friends waited, Walton remembered being blasted by a powerful beam of energy before disappearing into thin air.

Five days later, Walton was found at a local phone booth too disturbed to discuss what had happened to him. The book and 1993 film remain one of the most detailed accounts of alien abduction. 

Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997)

From Robert Zemeckis, the same director behind Back to the Future, The Polar Express and Forrest Gump comes Contact, an alien sci-fi starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, John Hurt and more. 

The story follows Dr. Ellie Arroway (Foster) who, after years of searching, finds conclusive proof of extraterrestrial life. Her journey is inspired by Jill Tarter, the head of the Project Phoenix of the SETI Institute whom Jodie Foster met before the production of the film began. Serving as a story consultant on the film, Tarter helped to realistically portray the struggles of female scientists in the field of research in the mid-20th century. 

Her efforts to find alien life in the particular field of research is all completely true. 

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

Neill Blomkamp’s ingenious 2009 science fiction film works so well because it is based on a specific reality that helps to ground the cosmic madness into some sort of established realism. 

Of course, no gigantic spacecraft was spotted hovering over Johannesburg, nor any scuttling alien ‘prawns’, though Blomkamp did take inspiration from the racial conflict that erupted from the apartheid government throughout the 20th century. In the film, the aliens are segregated into a shantytown where conditions are grim and basic supplies, limited. Similarly, in South Africa, whites and nonwhites were forcibly separated and in 1966 the country declared ‘District 6’ a ‘whites-only’ area, relocating any other undesirables to nearby ghettos. 

Though Blomkamp’s inspiration involved no aliens, it did contain disturbing discrimination that becomes apparent in the film. 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)

From the influential father of blockbuster cinema, Steven Spielberg, the mind behind Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an eerie alien thriller based on several events from years of government research. 

Spielberg’s story follows an electric lineman from Indiana named Roy Neary who has a close encounter with a UFO and is inspired to look for answers. Starring Richard Dreyfuss and François Truffaut, the film has the testimony of several witnesses at the very heart of its plot, with Spielberg employing the astronomer Dr. J Allen Hynek to help him develop the classification system of alien sightings. 

Starting his research into UFO’s as a strong sceptic of alien life, Hynek was later unquestionably convinced of their existence after researching the sheer abundance of sightings around the world. 

Godzilla (Ishirō Honda, 1954)

Right, so let’s get one thing clear, Japan never has experienced (and likely never will) an attack from a giant lizard, though the inspiration behind the original story is certainly based on some catastrophic truth. 

Detonating two nuclear bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, respectively, to bring an end to WWII, America committed an act so violent and existentially dooming that it would spawn multiple science fiction novels and films. Godzilla was just one of these films, with the concept arising from Japan’s own anxieties that manifested as a result of nuclear disaster. 

As a walking, radioactive monster, Godzilla embodies these fears.