4 BS Alien Movies & Stories People Presented As Truth
Imagine if Marvel promoted their movies by saying, "By the way, this actually happened. Spider-Man and Doctor Strange are real people. Avengers: Endgame is some phone footage we found in a used iPhone." That's basically the marketing strategy for a whole subgenre of movies and shows about aliens, and some filmmakers pull it off more convincingly than others. Here are some of the most ludicrous examples:
Universal Pictures Planted Fake News Stories To Promote A Milla Jovovich Movie, Got Sued
In 2009, Universal began hyping The Fourth Kind, an alien abduction movie that wasn't just based on actual facts (as the poster proudly announced) but included "actual footage" of hypnotized people recalling their close encounters, which are so intense that the recordings always glitch out during the creepiest parts -- even the camera itself was freaked out. The first thing you see in the movie is Milla Jovovich, who plays psychiatrist Abigail Taylor, saying that everything you're about to watch is extremely real and you should be very scared.
Of course, it was all extremely fake: the real premise of the movie wasn't "Let's make a cool alien abduction story," it was "Paranormal Activity made a crapload of money by making everyone think ghosts exist; how do we do that but with aliens?" To that end, they created a bunch of fake websites about Jovovich's character and the mysterious disappearances in her small Alaskan town. They even used the names of actual Alaskan newspapers and journalists to make everything seem more believable. The problem? They never asked those newspapers or journalists if they wanted to help promote some dumbass movie, prompting legal action that resulted in Universal paying $20,000 and taking down the fake news sites/misguided ads.
The people of Nome, Alaska also didn't appreciate Universal using the deaths of their loved ones to advertise a sci-fi movie -- it's true that the town has a tragic number of disappearances, but authorities say they are due to people getting drunk and wandering into the brutal Alaskan cold, not aliens. If they were lying, surely they'd come up with something better to tell the bereaved than "Your uncle got sh*tfaced and froze in a pond."
The worst part is that Universal went through all that effort to make the movie seem credible ... only for the acting in the "real footage" scenes to kill that credibility in two seconds. (Milla Jovovich herself is okay, but honestly, at this point, we wouldn't be surprised if we learned someone made her up in CGI.)
The "Alien Home Invasion" Movie That (Accidentally) Fooled America
Today, The McPherson Tape is billed as "the world's first found footage horror movie," but back in the '90s, it was better known as "HOLY CRAP ALIENS ARE REAL, YOU GOTTA WATCH THIS AAAAAHH." An impressive achievement for a film made by a 25-year-old director (who also played the 16-year-old cameraman) for $6,500, using equipment vastly inferior to the webcam on your crappiest old laptop.
To be fair to '90s kids, most watched this through, like, 8th generation VHS copies that had degraded to the point where people looked like Nintendo 64 polygons (which are inherently creepy). The movie was made in 1989 by first-time director Dean Alioto, who was just looking for an idea he could shoot on "a budget that equaled the size of craft service for a day on a studio feature film" and was surprised when someone expressed interest in distributing this thing. A couple of months later, the distribution company's building burned down along with the movie's master tape, presumably right after the big spaceship from Independence Day was seen loitering in its general vicinity. After that, Alioto sorta forgot about The McPherson Tape and moved on -- but the UFO community didn't.
What Alioto didn't know was that some copies of the tape did get out and were passed around UFO enthusiasts who didn't know where the hell they came from since they had no title screen or credits. The tape achieved legendary status, and its veracity was hotly debated by the "I Want To Believe" crowd, reportedly fooling at least one former military intelligence official speaking at a convention. In the mid-'90s, some journalists managed to track down Alioto and ask him where he found this disturbing footage. After confessing that he just made it all up during an interview with the show Encounters, Alioto was contacted by Dick Clark's production company, which offered him the chance to shoot the movie again with an actual budget, effects, and actors this time. The result:
Alioto says that some TV executives grabbed the remake, took out the "This program is fictional" disclaimers, and added some interviews with talking heads who assured viewers that what they were watching was real (including some UFO experts who weren't told their comments would be used in a sci-fi movie), and aired it on UPN. By now, you've already guessed that plenty of people thought they were watching legit evidence of alien life in, of all places, what is now The CW, to the point that the Lake County sheriff had to issue a statement that no alien abductions had been reported and they didn't have a McPherson family there. Yeah, because they were being dissected in Jupiter by then.
A Filmmaker Spent Years Trying To Troll UFO Websites (And Trolled Mainstream Ones Instead)
The Phoenix Incident (2015) was officially described as a "fact-based, sci-fi thriller" about a supposedly deadly alien abduction case, created "with the support of the victims’ families, along with classified military documentation, cockpit recordings, Air Force pilot interviews, actual FLIR footage, and first-hand recovered video evidence." This movie was created with the utmost respect for the real-life victims, which was pretty easy because they don't exist.
The movie is loosely based on the 1997 Phoenix Lights event, that time some peculiar light formations were seen over Phoenix and even some authorities admitted they had no idea what they were looking at. Thing is, there are no reports of anyone disappearing or being negatively affected in any way by the event -- in fact, some UFO enthusiasts believe this movie is slandering our cosmic neighbors by trying to pin some fake murders on them.
The first mentions of people mysteriously disappearing during the 1997 incident started popping up online in 2013 and reached sites like Reddit and Wikipedia -- the Wiki page for the Phoenix Lights had a “Missing Persons” section with the names of the movie's characters for four months before it was deleted. It was UFO enthusiasts themselves, presumably the target for these types of hoaxes, who pointed out that the only sources were suspiciously-sparse websites that reeked of "viral ad campaign" and that the only journalist covering the story happens to look exactly like an actor who's been in episodes of Seinfeld and Frasier.
In 2014, this journalist posted posted "leaked footage" of US fighter jets engaging the mysterious lights to YouTube, which was quickly debunked by UFO websites ... but still managed to make it to "serious" news outlets like Yahoo! News and The Daily Mirror, getting nearly 70,000 views.
After the movie came out, the director confessed that he spent nearly four years creating about 60 websites, social media accounts, YouTube channels, and random blog comments about the "Phoenix Lights victims" as part of a "transmedia" marketing campaign for the movie, which ... didn't seem to make much of a splash. For all that effort, it only had a tiny fraction of the impact as way more half-assed hoaxes like ...
Fox Bought A Clearly Fake "Alien Autopsy" Tape And Tried To Pass It Off As Real
The McPherson Tape wasn't even the biggest cultural phenomenon of the '90s involving aliens and tapes. That honor goes to a 17-minute black-and-white film of doctors examining the corpse of one of the unfortunate aliens who crashed into Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, which was aired by Fox as Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction? in 1995. To answer the question on the title, since the "documentary" didn't: the tape is definitely 1000% fiction, and Fox definitely knew it before airing it.
According to Fox's movie, the alien autopsy tape was acquired by British entrepreneur Ray Santilli, who bought it from one of the military cameramen who originally captured the footage in 1947. Fox bought the TV rights from Santilli and hired director John Jopson to make a documentary looking into its veracity, but it didn't take Jopson long to come back to Fox and tell them the whole thing was about as real as the average episode of ALF. Fox, however, "made clear to (him) that if the footage was exposed as a hoax before the show aired, the ratings would suffer," so they pressured Jopson to overlook the many discrepancies -- like how the supposed military cameraman didn't seem to know anything about either part of his job description.
Worse yet, Fox had some of the interviews edited to make it look like people like special effects guru Stan Winston or ufologist Kevin Randle thought the tape was real when they specifically said the opposite. The irony is that a few years later, Fox included the alien autopsy tape in a special called World's Greatest Hoaxes: Secrets Finally Revealed, despite being the ones who helped perpetrate the hoax. Skip to 5:30 below to hear Fox's announcer call Fox's own work "the biggest hoax ever":
In 2006, Santilli finally admitted that he faked the footage using a plastic dummy ... because the real tape that was shown to him in 1992 had "deteriorated due to heat/humidity," you see (never store your world-changing tapes in your shower caddy). He also admitted that the "military cameraman" interviewed in the documentary was in fact a homeless person they grabbed off the street and recorded in a motel, which they HAD to do in order to protect the actual cameraman's identity and prevent him from being punched by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, probably. Now that's going above and beyond to protect your source. Talk about journalistic integrity!
Thumbnail: Universal Pictures, Kiviat/Greene Productions Inc