From ET to Starman: Four must-watch sci-fi films

American director Jeff Nichols has made no secret of his love for nostalgic sci-fi chase thrillers, with his new film Midnight Special an homage to the murky psychological films that reigned supreme in the 70s and 80s. Here are some of the titles that inspired him

words Mike Atherton 

Close Encounters (1977)

Close Encounters

Steven Spielberg’s classic tale of mashed potato and ARP 2500 synthesisers also features Richard Dreyfus ducking and weaving myriad government roadblocks in an attempt to get up close and personal with UFOs and their occupants. The aliens in this film broke the mould; instead of exploding American landmarks, they helped lost humans find their way home. If you haven’t watched Close Encounters yet, do – if only to bask in the glow of its young director and revel in the groundbreaking soundtrack.

ET (1982)


The now-timeless story of Elliot and the lovable Extra Terrestrial that he finds, hides, looks after, loses, finds again and eventually says goodbye to. If Close Encounters was Spielberg’s vision of a first encounter from the human perspective, then ET provides a beautiful counterpoint from the diminutive alien’s point of view. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, ET never fails to stir your emotions. And for the adults reading this with kids of their own – well, let’s just say that this is the perfect opportunity to upset the little blighters in a very wholesome way.
Starman (1984)


 This is a rare beast – a sci fi romance. Jeff Bridges stars as an alien who takes the guise of Karen Allen’s dead husband. While being pursued by the military, the two hit the road and love blossoms. Starman has all the glowing/flashing light special effects of the 80s but it’s the unlikely relationship between the main characters that sticks with you. Allen’s reaction is initially one of horror, but slowly and intriguingly changes thanks to Bridges’ disarming performance. Catch this now before the threatened remake.

Firestarter (1984)


Firestarter shares the same DNA as Midnight Special. Based on the novel by Stephen King and starring a very young Drew Barrymore, this is the story of a kid cursed with the power of pyrokinesis. Her dad takes her on the road to escape the 
clutches of an evil government agency known as The Shop who want to weaponise poor Drew. Like Midnight Special, the heart of Firestarter is the relationship between parent and child – although like in Midnight Special stuff does go all explodey at just the right time.