The UFO sightings that swept across the United States
The flight did not last long. By the late 1950s, saucer mania waned, both in terms of reported sightings and big-screen appearances. “As far as flying saucer movies go, horror movies did better than serious movies,” says Mark Jancovich, the author of Rational Fears: American Horror Genre in the 1950s. lower cost horror movies. What has happened is that sci-fi horror has moved into the cheap, low budget market. Studios have also recognized that the very big hit 1950s sci-fi movie wasn’t an alien invasion movie, it was Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Then you had this wave of period sci-fi movies like The Time Machine , The Curse of Frankenstein and The Lost World [starring Klaatu himself, Michael Rennie]. The Victorian sets of Gothic horror films made them look respectable, while flying saucers degraded as the 1950s progressed.
Meanwhile, in the real world, 1961 was the year Yuri Gagarin orbited the planet, and President John F Kennedy announced the goal of “landing a man on the Moon and bringing him back to Earth.” safe on Earth”. Actual space travel was so amazing that flying saucers seemed strange in comparison. Finally, in 1969, the US Air Force’s investigation of saucer sightings, Project Blue Book, ended with the publication of a scientific study of unidentified flying objects. His damning conclusion: “Nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge.”
Of course, people continued to report UFO sightings into the 1960s and beyond. Last May there was a U.S. Congressional public hearing on what are now called UAPs – Unexplained Aerial Phenomena – although Scott Bray, the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, pointed out that the military had no found “nothing of non-terrestrial origin”. . You could say that in popular culture too, flying saucers never really went away. Expand a flying saucer and you get the motherships in Independence Day and District 9; flip it sideways and you get the impending monoliths in Arrival. In Star Wars, the Millennium Falcon is a flying saucer with a few extra sharp bits sticking out of the front; and in Star Trek, the USS Enterprise is a flying saucer with a body and legs stuck to its back. But sightings of old-school, no-frills flying saucers in the sky or on screen are now rare. “Like any fad,” says Womack, “the phenomenon in its original form has simply run its course.”
Today, flying saucers are a quintessential piece of 1950s Americana to lay alongside the checkerboard floor of a roadside restaurant and the tail fins of a gas-guzzling convertible. When used in modern sci-fi blockbusters, such as Tim Burton’s Men in Black and Mars Attacks!, it’s because of that vintage quality. Maybe that’s how Jordan Peele will use them, too, sensitive as he is to America’s historical injustices. Once, the flying saucer seemed to have descended from a frightening future; now it’s a comforting relic of the past.
Nope comes out July 22
Do you like cinema and television? Rejoin BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community of film lovers from all over the world.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.