A top-secret United States Air Force base in the Nevada desert... until 2013, when it was revealed to be a test site for spy planes. (Unless that's what They want you to think, of course.)
In fiction, this is usually associated with the otherworldly and all manner of government conspiracies. The most popular theory is that aliens and spacecraft (particularly those recovered from Roswell, New Mexico) are being held and studied there. If any of this tech has seeped into common human use, the assertion may be made that E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi. Characters will often outright deny the existence of the base, despite its existence and uses prior to Roswell being relatively well-known and even documented.
In Real Life, Area 51 is an Air Force base of some kind (in the middle of an area officially designated as a bombing range, no less), officially known as the US Air Force Flight Test Center, and also known by the nicknames Groom Lake (for the dry lakebed the runways are on), Dreamland and Neverland. It is one of several remote facilities that make up the massive complex of Nellis Air Force Base. The more popular nickname stems from the naming system for areas involved in the Nevada atomic weapons testing; "Area-XX" was the default system for naming regions within or near the testing range, and the base was located in "Area 51" according to this system. The location was chosen due to the lakebed, which made an ideal landing strip when Lockheed Martin needed to relocate its Skunk Works; the base has the longest purpose-built runway in the world, though it appears to have been partially decommissioned following the U-2 spyplane project. It's been used in the past to test extremely secret experimental aircraftnote , which is probably the source of some of the rumors. What's going on there now (if anything) is way beyond your security clearance, and US maps as well as Google Maps (but not Google Earth, oddly enough) just show a big blank over the area. The closest anyone has gotten to revealing what goes on at Area 51 was a lawsuit brought by workers at the base due to unsafe conditions — apparently, Area 51 has No OSHA Compliance — but the suit was thrown out of court when the state secrets privilege was invoked. It has been pointed out by many that the government has to develop secret (from other governments) projects somewhere, even if those projects have nothing to do with otherworldly things.
The secrecy surrounding the base makes it a tempting subject for real-life conspiracy theorists and Speculative Fiction writers alike. Some stories make an important plot point of the true goings-on in Area 51, while others just allude to it as a Historical In-Joke. Proof of how evil and devious the complex is can be seen in how intruders are dealt with; using a system of buried motion sensors and guys in jeeps, they, um... Well, they call the Lincoln County Sheriff, who escorts the intruders back outside.
There is also an "Area 52", the Tonopah Test Range. This was home to a now-declassified Cold War program called "Constant Peg", involving American pilots training against real MiGs, small numbers of which had been delivered by defectors.
Dulce Base, a similar underground government base in northwestern New Mexico, has begun to take the place of Area 51 in the conspiracy theorist/UFO enthusiast circles as the shroud of secrecy surrounding the latter has faded. Indeed, some go as far as to claim that Area 51 conspiracy theories are all just disinformation designed to focus people's attention on a fairly non-exotic facility. Given that the Groom Lake facility is visible from the Nellis perimeter fence, they may have a point about it being a less-than-perfect base for things we aren't supposed to see. So far, it's presumed that Dulce is actually just an urban legend. Then again, Area 51 was thought to be an urban legend until the Soviet Union released satellite pictures of it.
- Lot 51 (Army Corps of Engineers Secret Base, Nevada) makes a brief appearance in the DC Comics Elseworld JLA: Age of Wonder, as an excuse for making Hal Jordan a test pilot when officially airplanes haven't been invented yet. And they do have an alien corpse there; the previous ringwielder, who looks more like a Grey than Abin Sur.
- The Elseworld Superman: Red Son also has Abin Sur's ship held in Area 51. And it was Sur who crashed in Roswell.
- Hellboy apparently spent his childhood there, but seems to have enjoyed it.
- Area 51 is apparently among the secrets in the Presidents' Book in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.
- The 39 Clues: Lucians have control of Area 51, and store the clue calcium carbonate there.
- In Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, Area 51 is said to have been made solely to cover for a senator who crashed a jet into a mountain.
- In the Star Trek: Myriad Universes story Seeds of Dissent, the facility (known only as "Groom Lake") was sold off by the US government to an eccentric investor to cover their debts. He then developed it into a rocket launch facility and used it to construct several cryogenic transport ships, including the SS Botany Bay which a small crew used to escape Khan Noonien Singh's empire just before it finished taking over the world.
- An episode of CSI has the agents uncovering what appears to be an alien corpse, later revealed to be a guy in a costume, buried in the desert just outside Area 51.
- On NewsRadio, Joe claimed that Area 51 was just a cover-up for the even-more-secret Area 52.
- In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Annoying Red Planet", UFO sightings in 19th century Toronto turn out to be an airship being constructed by the Canadian and American governments, based in a plot of land registered with the city as "Concession 51". At the end of the episode the characters conclude that the governments will move their experiments to somewhere more out of the way, probably somewhere in the US desert.
- On Eureka the surveillance balloon debacle is still something they never got over for the guys from Area 51. The Eureka bowling team mocks theirs about it.
- In the pilot, when Allison is taking Jack to Global Dynamics for the first time, he asks, jokingly, if she's taking him to Area 51. She laughs and tells him that Area 51 people wish they had GD security.
- In the "The One Who Got Away", while flying for the CIA, Harm is detailed to fly the Aurora spy plane from a secret location, which even the usually reliable Title In names as "Diamond Lake, Location classified".
Harm: So what is this place, anyway?
Allen Blaisdell: The Directorate for Development Plans Area.
Harm: I thought that was Area 51.
Allen Blaisdell: DDP hasn't been there for years.
Andy Watson: It's kind of difficult to do top secret flight ops, huh, on a base surrounded by tourists with telescopes and video cameras.
- However, in a later scene we do see on a flight map that the base is located somewhere around the Nevada Test Site.
- In "Impact", although the story is set around Twenty-Nine Palms, California, the secretive Bradenhurst Corporation test area exhibits many subtropes commonly associated with Area 51, such as: use of deadly force authorize signs, armed private security guards, mysterious unidentified aircraft originating from that area, and blanket security cover for the whole operation.
Clark: Listen, since when did top secret become everybody's business? Do you have any idea how many nutcases we have trying to break onto this site because they think we have crashed spaceships and aliens on ice out here?
- In the "The One Who Got Away", while flying for the CIA, Harm is detailed to fly the Aurora spy plane from a secret location, which even the usually reliable Title In names as "Diamond Lake, Location classified".
- On Leverage during an episode involving conspiracy theories, Eliot and Hardison convinces Parker that there isn't an Area 51 (or at least that any conspiracies about it aren't true), but Area 52 on the other hand....
- Nevada State Route 375 is a random dusty road that runs near the base. The state playfully dubbed it "The Extraterrestrial Highway" and post signs to that effect.
- And there's the Fun T-Shirt: What happens in Area 51 stays in Area 51.
- The Las Vegas Minor League Baseball team, the Las Vegas 51s (of the AAA Pacific Coast League), are named for the base; their logo is a Grey with baseball seams on his giant forehead.
- Alien Hominid had a row of buttons on an FBI spacecraft; Area 50, Area 51, Area 52, Area 53, etc...
- The Backyard Soccer series has a Dummied Out field called Area 51½ (also known as A Nameless Field).
- SimCity 4 gives us Area 5.1. Constructing the facility grants the player the ability to pilot an attack jet and UFO, in addition to a small monthly income.
- The Rail Shooter, Area 51, obviously.
- World of Warcraft has Area 52, a goblin outpost in Netherstorm complete with Men in Black guards at the entrances.
- Perfect Dark features 4 missions that are based on Area 51. There's also a multiplayer map named Area 52.
- Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped has one of its levels, called "Area 51?". It's a motorbike level where Crash has to race flying saucers with his bike to the finish to get the Plot Coupon, and it's set at dark midnight.
- In the Futurama episode "Roswell That Ends Well", when Truman is shown Zoidberg and the remains of Bender recovered from Roswell:
President Truman: Take this to Area 51.
Soldier: But sir, that's where we're building the fake moon landing set.
President Truman: Then we'll have to really land on the Moon! Invent NASA and tell them to get off their fannies!
- At the beginning of Lilo & Stitch, one of the aliens mentions that Earth is in a region of space known as Quadrant 51.
- The Simpsons: Lisa Simpson, after accidentally getting on bus 22a instead of the 22, finds Area 51. Her excitement is squashed, however, when she's told it's actually Area 51-A.
- "You are here. We are not."
- When the rest of the League goes looking for the Martian Manhunter in Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare, hoping he'll help them undo Know Man and Doctor Destiny's reality warping, they find him in what's was supposed to be implied to be Area 51, artistic license was taken as the site of the gate sets it in Roswell.
- Dept. 51 in Paperinik New Adventures is the repository for recovered Evronian technology-and a lot more, as seen in an issue where boxes containing artifacts and data about previous alien contacts are seen.
- Independence Day, unbeknownst to the president for reasons of Plausible Deniability. He begins to reassure a conspiracy theorist that the government has never captured a UFO and really had no idea an invasion was coming, only to be told by his Secretary of Defense that "that's not entirely accurate". The film actually lost its Backing By The Pentagon because of this since the official policy of the U.S. military is that there are no aliens at Area 51 and there never have been.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens in Hanger 51 (presumably making it some strange composite of Area 51 and Hangar 18), including mention of Roswell. Additionally, we find out that The Ark of the Covenant is also stored there. It turns out this was the same warehouse it was brought to at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- In Zero Dark Thirty, Area 51 is where the stealth helicopters for the raid on Osama bin Laden are being tested. Notable in that there is no mention of aliens whatsoever - it's just another wetworks base.
- In the direct-to-TV William Shatner film Groom Lake, a government official arrives to Area 51 to shut down the facility after the end of the Cold War, laughing that their fake UFO rumors successfully prevented the Russians from discovering the secret aircraft testing that has been really going on there. He finds out, though that the base commander is hiding a real-life spaceship and an alien.
- The Found Footage Film, Area 51 is about a group of people who sneak into a base beneath Area 51 and find far more then they bargained for.
- "Crucial" is stretching it, but Animorphs has the Fictional Counterpart Zone 91. #14 revolves around the protagonists and the antagonists trying to figure out if the government is really trying to cover up evidence of an alien crash, because the antagonists depend on the idea of an Alien Invasion being utterly unbelievable to the average guy on the street. The book is pure comedy, especially when Sixth Ranger Ax reveals that the piece of alien technology is just an Andalite toilet, but "only the most primitive model."
- Ice Station by Matthew Reilly mentions that UFO storage facilities have been built in the Nevada desert. They've remained completely empty.
- Robert Doherty's Area 51. Of course....
- Most novels by Dale Brown involve HAWC, the High Technology Aerospace Weapons Center, located at Groom Lake. No aliens, just top secret Air Force projects.
- In Adaptation. by Malinda Lo, Reese's car crashes in Area 51. She wakes up in a hospital where she gets a mysterious operation performed by aliens. The aliens have been doing testing on many people in Area 51.
- The third book in the Nemesis Saga, Project 731, reveals that Area 51 is the location of the Elaborate Underground Base used as the headquarters of G.O.D.
- In Stargate SG-1, the Asgard are more or less the classic Grey aliens associated with the site. Furthermore, the base is referred to often as one of the USAF's primary R&D bases regarding captured/acquired alien technology.
- It does become a major plot point in some episodes. In the series finale of Stargate Atlantis the Wraith kamikaze Area 51 to keep humans from fighting back with the technology stored there.
- It is also implied that prior to the Stargate Program, Area 51 was simply a top secret Air Force R&D base. This is probably due to the show being heavily Backed by the Pentagon. The Stargate Wiki notes that it explicitly made clear that Area 51 didn't have any alien technology stored there until after the Stargate Program became active otherwise the show would have risked losing their collaboration with the U.S. Air Force.
- Additionally, the SGC is once referred to as Area 52.
- The X-Files (more important place in the Myth Arc; also visited in episodes "Dreamland I & II", where we learn it's just a testing ground - "they build 'em up in Utah.")
- In Seven Days, The Sphere operates out of Area 51, and is reverse-engineered from alien technology.
- They do have several alien bodies stored there, as well as one comatose alien, who was knocked out by a scared soldier. Turns out, he's a criminal who's pissed off at humans and in 2 episodes ends up causing the End of the World as We Know It. Luckily, Frank is there to fix things.
- Tracker had an episode called "Area 51" (aka "Roswell") that centered on breaking into Area 51.
- The "Little Green Men" episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the Ferengis end up at Area 51 due to a time-travel mishap.
- War of the Worlds. Another piece of UFO conspiracy mythology, Hanger 18 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, is referred to as military disinformation to cover up for the real hanger where Martian technology is kept.
- Featured in the Doctor Who episode "Day of the Moon".
- Area 52 shows up in The Wedding of River Song. Inside a pyramid. It Makes Sense in Context. More or less.
- The song "Faaip De Oiad" by Tool features the real audio of a man who called the Art Bell radio show on Sept 11, 1997, claiming to be a former worker at Area 51, on the run because he wanted to expose the terrible secret held there. Curiously enough, the power at Art Bell's radio station was cut during the phone call, and someone claiming to be the caller called Art Bell two weeks later to declare that the call was a hoax.
- The same call audio appears in "It's Out There and It's Gonna Get You" by The Paper Chase.
- Megadeth, having Conspiracy Theorist leanings in their music, naturally references this in "Hangar 18."
- The Pixies' "The Happening" is all about human-alien encounters. The opening line is "They got a ranch they call Number Fifty-One".
- The final mission sequence of Deus Ex takes place in Area 51.
- Also it's alluded to that the so-called alien 'Greys' were being used to distract the conspiracy theorists from something even worse, although that does raise the question as to where they got the anti-matter reactor, if not the aliens....
- Tomb Raider III has a level where an artifact is stored in Area 51.
- The Area 51 appears in the park known as "Witchyworld" in Banjo-Tooie.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had one mission where you had to steal a secret jetpack known as the Black Project by infiltrating a military base that is considered not to be on the map by a few people, known as Area 69. Before or after this mission, your warrant level would instantly shoot up to 5 stars if you wandered too close to the base. Try to do this by air and the base would shoot missiles at you.
- Hydro Thunder Hurricane features a level set in Area 51. A portion of the level involves racing through an alien world.
- Perfect Dark has three levels that take place at Area 51. In a genre shift from industrial espionage to straight-up sci-fi, you wind up rescuing a captured alien who's a friend of your boss, and proceed to escape in a captured UFO There's also a multiplayer left called Area 52 which is based on the single player level.
- In Destroy All Humans!, the Majestic agents operate out of Area 42.
- Freelancer has a Fantasy Counterpart Culture Zone 21, which is also the subject of many conspiracy theories. It's a massive minefield that contains a jump gate to the Alaska System, which is where all the top-secret testing actually takes place. The Alaska system is visited once in the storyline.
- Area 51 is a field in Backyard Baseball. It actually belongs to the CIA!
- The arcade games Area 51 and Area 51: Site Four take place at - where else? - Area 51. (They also deal with an Alien Invasion that starts from the aforementioned location.)
- A 2005 first-person shooter, not to be confused with the above, was also titled Area 51.
- Adding an additional 15, Area 66 is MadWorld space theme level, featuring aliens, robots, spatial decompression, flashfreeze guns, and bunch of Star Wars references.
- There's an Area 51 level in the fourth episode of Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition.
- In The Pandora Directive, Tex travels to Area 51 and infiltrates the underground facility, long since shut down. He finds dozens of bullet-ridden corpses there, indicating that the soldiers opened fire on the scientists. The corpses then get up and start chasing the detective. He barely makes it out without being killed or infected. Also, Area 51 is where the Roswell spaceship was reverse-engineered into some of the technology used in this world. Among these was anti-matter, which the military used to build bombs that they dropped on the Middle East, starting WWIII.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, it is revealed that the Patriots stored Big Boss's comatose body in Area 51. Zero, the leader of the Patriots, was somewhat of a UFO enthusiast and even thought that he had been abducted by aliens at one point in his life, so storing his friend's body in such a top secret place may be a subtle nod to this aspect of his character. Raiden eventually does break Big Boss's body out of Area 51 though is captured by the Patriots in the process and is subjected to cybernetic experiments that morph his body into the Cyborg Ninja we see him as in MGS4.
- Area 51 is one of the places you can visit in the desert in Champions Online, which has apparently been taken over by the terrorist organisation VIPER.
- In Treyarch's continuity of the Call of Duty Nazi Zombies series Area 51 is talked about and even showcased a couple of times. The first mention of Area 51 comes in the Nazi Zombies minigame where the various radio transmissions that expand upon the background story of the Zombies makes a reference to a, "remote base in Nevada." and even gives exact coordinates of where it would be located on a map. Later on in the storyline of Nazi Zombies in the map "Five" John F. Kennedy makes references to Groom Lake, which is talking about the lake that Area 51 is situated on, and the various technological achievements made there. Finally in the Nazi Zombies map "Moon" Area 51 is being assaulted by Zombies and you have to escape them by teleporting to the surface of the Moon but you can come back later if you want though it won't contribute to ending your current round as all rounds can only be fought on the Moon. Beyond the Nazi Zombies universe Area 51 is also a multiplayer map called "Hanger 18" which is a reference to conspiracy theorists who believe that at Area 51 all of the most top secret Military Aircrafts are all tested there. Also the Element 115 that is constantly referenced in the Nazi Zombies storyline is based off the account of a former Area 51 employee who is stated to have witnessed the substance in action and who said it had reality warping qualities to it.
- In UFO Aftermath, after you establish a solid foothold of reclaimed territory, you get the mission objective to check out what the former US government knew about the alien invaders that have killed off the vast majority of humanity. While it turns out that it was a worldwide initiative to investigate and research the Roswell crash, the first location you raid is Area 51.
- Broken Helix is Die Hard on Area 51.
- Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has Area 64 in Stardust Fields, on the border between the Mushroom and Beanbean Kingdoms which the bros have crash-landed into. Mario and Luigi learn a couple of new moves there, beat up a sniggering, money-taking, froggy thing called Tolstar and usual Big Bad Bowser gets blasted out of a cannon.
- In The Sims 2 the neighborhood Strangetown is heavily based on typical depictions of Area 51. It is a desert area with military presence (the Grunt family) and also has several aliens. There also is a crashed alien spaceship in a crater.
- In Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive, Tex has to search the Area 51 facility to find an alien power cell.
- Area 51 makes an appearance in Puyo Puyo 7 and is visited by Andou Ringo.
- Unlike the movie it draws from, Area 51 is a significant location in the Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius game.
- Jix and Lauren in Jix travel to Area 51 to recover Ambis technology.
- In Escape from Terra the United World government hides a cloned neanderthal girl in Area 51, prompting a Belter raid to rescue her when she is scheduled to be terminated.
- The fourth storyline of Skin Horse, "I Can Fly", is set at Area 51, although it's only referred to as such in one strip, and from then on it's Groom Lake. It's the origin of Nick, the team's Black Helicopter.
- On YouTube, JediMaster362 has posted a Live Stream about a dream he had in regards to Area 51.
- Fine Structure: Not the Area 51, but the base where the Power experiments are carried out is certainly the next best thing.
A desolate air base smack in the North American heartland, surrounded by a sixty-kilometre ribbon of electric fence and razor wire hung with intimidating red, yellow and white signs warding off photographers, trespassers and enemies of the state respectively, plus incomprehensibly secret experiments going on within? It's a little greener, vegetation-wise, but Kuang Ching-Yu thinks you might as well call it Area 51 and save yourself five pages of description.
- Godzilla: The Series had the aptly titled "Area 51". Turns out that atomic weapons testing in the US desert had created a bunch of giant mutant, Godzilla-esque desert creatures that were being kept secret at the base, with the media having stories about aliens leaked out to cover it up.
- In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the protagonists wander into a high-tech science lab through a portal in the desert, run by "Mother". When Bugs ask her if they're in Area 51, she says Area 51 is just a conspiracy theory, and that they are in fact in Area 52. Bugs promptly pulls out a "Screw Ball" rebus sign when her back is turned.
Mother: Don't quote me on that!
- Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders centers around Area 51, or at least a spoof of it. Yes, there are aliens.
- Area 52 is where the monsters in Monsters vs. Aliens are being kept. It's not refered to as such in the film: Gen. Monger refers to it as "a place so secret the mere mention of it is a federal offence", and when one aide starts to say "Area Fifty..." he gets a tranquilizer dart to the neck. In the TV series spin-off, it's refered to as Area Fifty-Something.
- X-Men: Evolution features Area 51 as the area where the army hold the incapacitated mutants they kidnapped after the fight with the Sentinel in the season 2 finale.
- As the name suggests, the Doctor Who animation "Dreamland". (They don't have a grey corpse there - she's still alive.)
- In Unidentified Flying Mater, we get to see Parking Area 51.
- The animated film Planet 51 (the title is an obvious reference, though it is never referred as such in the story) shows the alien version, Base 9.
- In an episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Cindy, Sheen, Libby, and Carl are taken to "Area 86" after they develop superpowers from contact with space radiation.
- An episode of Megas XLR involved 'Area 50', an abandoned US military base near Las Vegas, in which an experimental battle robot was being developed.
- An episode of Kim Possible has Kim and Ron taken inside Area 51, and they are told that every story of UFOs and other unexplained phenomena was made by the government as part of a disinformation campaign - while every word was actually true.
- One episode of Total Drama World Tour has the contestants infiltrate Area 51, which was presented as a huge warehouse full of alien artifacts, most of which were broken. The fact that aliens were shown to be real caused surprisingly little reaction among the contestants.
- Johnny Test features Area 51.1.
- Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths and Legends: Area 51 features in a number of episodes, usually with nasty surprises being found there. The biggest one being it's where the remains of the real General Rinaker are being stored after he was murdered in 1946 by a Shadoen assassin robot.