Film: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day The Earth Stood Still is a 1951 black-and-white science fiction movie based on the short story Farewell to the Master. The Human Alien Klaatu lands in Washington DC (in a classic flying saucer) during the Cold War era. The paranoid military shoots him, prompting his robot Gort to go on a rampage. Klaatu stops Gort, then tells the President of a message for all the world's leaders (who can't agree on a meeting place). Klaatu later escapes to live among the people of Earth and learns of their penchant for war — but also of their message of peace and understanding.

As a demonstration of power, Klaatu freezes everything mechanical in the entire world (except for airplanes in flight and hospital electronics) for exactly half an hour. (This is the event referred to in the title, though nobody calls it such within the story.) The military takes this as a sign of hostile intent and responds by hunting Klaatu down and killing him. Shortly before they catch up with him, Klaatu gives one of his newfound human friends, Helen, a message to deliver to Gort in his own language: "Klaatu barada nikto." Gort re-activates upon Klaatu's death and begins destroying the city, but Helen's message diverts Gort into retrieving Klaatu's body. The robot temporarily revives Klaatu, who tells the people of Earth of Gort's true purpose: he, and other robots like him, were built to enforce peace in the galaxy — and if humans bring their warlike ways into space, they will be destroyed. Klaatu leaves Earth with a simple phrase to mull over: "The choice is yours."

This film's plot was copied in the extremely similar (yet hilarious) Plan 9 from Outer Space.

There was a remake made in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves.

This film provides examples of the following:

  • Aliens Steal Cable: Klaatu says that his people have been monitoring Earth's radio signals, and that this is the source of his knowledge of Earth culture and language; however, the common subtrope of aliens being unable to distinguish fiction from reality is avoided.
  • All Nations Are Super Powers: Surprisingly averted. Klaatu landed in the Washington, D.C. because he thought that landing in the capital of the world's most powerful country would get the entire world's attention, but he repeatedly insists that his message is for all of humanity, no matter how large or small the country. He brushes off U.S. warnings about the Soviets as internal bickering that doesn't concern him. Moreover, when it is suggested that he could give his message to the whole world by addressing the United Nations, he actually declines, because he feels that not every nation or state-group is represented by it (when the film was made, the People's Republic of China was an unrecognized state, and would not be until 1971, when it replaced Taiwan - but then Taiwan wasn't represented). Ultimately, pressed for time he comes up with the impromptu solution of addressing an international conference of scientists, who are generally apolitical.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Played mostly straight in the original.
  • Covers Always Lie: You know that famous poster with Gort holding a woman and firing lasers from his eyes? Yeah, he's not evil.
  • Crowd Panic: When the spaceship first lands and when Gort first appears.
  • Crush. Kill. Destroy!: Averted
  • Cyber Cyclops
  • Disintegrator Ray: Gort's eye beam
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Klaatu warns that if humanity continues to be so violent, his society will have to do this.
  • Einstein Hair: Professor Barnhardt
  • The End of the World as We Know It
  • First Contact
  • Flying Saucer
  • Future Music
  • Genre Savvy: Klaatu, due to his knowledge of Earth culture. When the human officials try to give him lame excuses why he can't meet world leaders and claiming that such meetings are without any precedents, he points out the United Nations exists to do just that.
  • God Test: As a demonstration that he is a powerful alien, Klaatu is asked to stop traffic so a man can cross the street. He does so by cutting power all over the globe with the exception of hospitals and airplanes in flight.
  • Hanlon's Razor: For the most part, Klaatu blames human aggression and violence on irresponsibility, not malicious intent.
  • Holographic Terminal: The Ur Example. Being a movie from the 1950's, Klaatu of course does not have access to CGI hologram special effects, but he does wave at his computer to control it from a distance.
  • Human Aliens
  • Humanity on Trial
  • Humans Are Bastards
  • Humans Are Morons
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The main twist of the movie's "alien invasion" is that Klaatu is really a peaceful ambassador sent to deliver a warning that humans need to straighten up and fly right. From the perspective of the interplanetary federation that Klaatu serves, Earth is basically their equivalent of a hostile rogue nation, with warlike tendencies and expansionist policies. Klaatu specifically says that the reason they decided to contact Earth now is because recent advances in rocketry and nuclear weapons indicated that humans were on the verge of expanding into outer space, and they feared that they would spread their aggression with them (the film was made six years before Sputnik launched). It's the equivalent of if North Korea or Somalia just detonated a nuclear test bomb, and so the United Nations sends an ambassador to politely but firmly warn them that further aggressive action will result in a foreign intervention. He also specifically underlines that they have no interest in how humans conduct internal affairs on their own planet.
  • Innocent Aliens
  • Interrupted Cooldown Hug
  • Jerk Ass: Tom, who rats Klaatu out to the Feds.
  • Killer Robot
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The item shot out of Klaatu's hand was a gift for the President that would have advanced science significantly.
    • Wearing a face concealing - and unnecessary - helmet and extending an unidentified object without a word of explanation is very poor First Contact protocol.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Professor Barnhardt is a clear stand-in for Albert Einstein.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Almost. Klaatu refuses to deliver his message until he can deliver it to representatives of each nation in person, all at once. The 'kills' part comes from the threat of global destruction if everyone doesn't listen. He also never communicates this threat to the appropriate people.
    • He also assumes that walking right up to the military with a strange object that pops open unexpectedly couldn't be misconstrued at all.
    • Helen tells Tom not to tell the authorities about Klaatu, but doesn't say why it's such a bad idea — that Klaatu's people will destroy Earth.
  • Scare Chord: The Piano got some really bad abuse during the making of this film.
  • Screaming Woman: Helen
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Happens to Klaatu in the beginning.
  • Space Police
  • Space Whale Aesop: Give up war or be destroyed by robots from outer space.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: When Klaatu is telling the President's representative how long and how far he's traveled to reach Earth.
  • We Come in Peace Shoot to Kill: Of the "peaceful alien met with hostility" variety. Klaatu is treated with suspicion from the outset, though at first the only overt hostility is from one nervous soldier. After the Earth Stands Still (a harmless demonstration of power, meant to get Earth to recognize the seriousness of the situation), everyone starts trying to kill him.
  • White And White Morality
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Klaatu's diamonds.