The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The alien, Klaatu, outside his spaceship.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic, intelligent science fiction film released in 1952, directed by Robert Wise, and starring Michael Rennie, as the alien Klaatu, and Patricia Neal (see science fiction involving extraterrestrials, on television and film). In it, radars pick up a fast-moving object in the atmosphere. A flying saucer sets down in Washington, DC, and is immediately surrounded by the military – the heavy-handed response to the arrival of all interplanetary travelers since The War of the Worlds radio play in 1938. A man-alien emerges holding a device that, unfortunately for him, looks indistinguishable from a Buck Rogers ray-gun. Encircled by tanks and other artillery, he then makes the awesomely crass mistake of pressing a button on the gadget (a gift, it turns out, intended for the President). Cue a nervous young soldier to open fire. Cue Gort, a giant ponderous robot, to emerge menacingly from the saucer, vaporize a few of the heavy artillery pieces and carry his injured companion back into the spaceship. The man-alien's mission, it transpires, is to try to make world leaders see sense and abandon their nuclear brinkmanship before it is too late. But when he fails he reveals that the Earth will effectively be put under house-arrest until it is mature enough to join the wider community of space-faring worlds. As a final twist, the robot emerges as the real master – an indestructible, interstellar police-officer built to keep the galactic peace.


Barely had the film been released when it seemed it might come true. In July 1952, unidentified blips were reported to have appeared on radar screens around Washington, DC (see "Washington Invasion").