On July 7, 1947, personnel from the Roswell Army Air Field recovered materials from a ranch outside Roswell, New Mexico. Their initial press release stated that the materials resembled a "flying disc"; later the same day, they issued a correction that it was in fact a weather balloon, which is quite the switch.
The Roswell Incident was forgotten for over 30 years, until ufologist Stanton Friedman interviewed Major Jesse Marcel about it in 1978. Marcel claimed that the government had pressured him and other eyewitness into silence about what they had seen: the object recovered from Roswell was a spacecraft containing alien bodies. Interviews with other witnesses added to the story until it grew into a major piece of UFO lore. In the '90s, the government offered a new explanation of the events: there was a coverup, but it was to hide the existence of Project Mogul, not aliens (note that in both versions of the story, the debris was from high-altitude balloons). In light of this, and the questionable research of some Roswell conspiracy theorists, even most serious pro-UFO advocates have become convinced there were no aliens involved.
Regardless of what actually happened (The Other Wiki has a good overview of what's known), the idea of a crashed alien spacecraft—and a subsequent government coverup - has become permanently associated with the city of Roswell in the popular imagination. The fame and ambiguity of the original incident have inspired every Speculative Fiction series ever to explain (or just make an oblique reference to) "what really happened", with varying amounts of seriousness. The town itself, meanwhile, has capitalized on this, building a lucrative tourist industry around the event and aliens in general.
Named after an Emmy award-winning episode of Futurama, which posited that the entire incident was caused by the Planet Express ship accidentally travelling back in time and showing up in Roswell on that fateful day. The "flying disc" in question is actually a deconstructed Bender's "shiny metal ass".
The wreckage and bodies from Roswell may be stored in Area 51. At least one Alien Autopsy was performed and videotaped. The Men in Black may be involved in the coverup. And we may have reaped the wreckage for our own technological benefit. (But there probably isn't, there probably wasn't, they probably weren't, and we probably didn't. Makes for good plot fodder nonetheless.)
Compare The Tunguska Event.
- Axis Powers Hetalia has a strip for this, in which the arrival and existence of America's friend Tony are explained.
- Serial Experiments Lain gives a discussion on the Roswell incident and conspiracy theories, and implies that the Wired might have been created using alien technology. Whether that's true, and how relevant it is to the story, is left entirely open, since Lain's world is one where consensus reality is in full swing.
- Hellboy: Scenes involving Hellboy's childhood and the early years of the BPRD are sometimes set at the Roswell Army Air Field, where the Bureau was based until the famous 1947 spaceship crash. (It's possible that they might've been able to stay there, were it not for an incident involving kid Hellboy, his dog Mac, and some of the residue from the ship. In the aftermath, it was decided that the time had come for the Bureau to go its own way, at which point it moved to the Connecticut facility seen in stories set during Hellboy's tenure as a BPRD agent.)
- The Roswell Incident figures big in the second volume of The Invisibles.
- Roswell Little Green Man from Bongo Comics. The series followed the misadventures of an extraterrestrial who arrived at Earth via the 1947 Roswell UFO incident.
- Roswell, Texas is all about the Roswell crash in an alternate Texas. Turns out there was only one alien, the rest were humans from Mars.
- Independence Day: the crashed spaceship from Roswell (stored in Area 51) proves vital to humanity's battle against the alien invaders.
- In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, debris from Roswell is seen in Area 51. Indy claims that he was one of a team of 20 experts who were called in to analyze artifacts leftover from the saucer's wreckage, though none of them had any idea what they were examining and they were forbidden from even comparing notes.
- My Favorite Martian alludes to it, when a Man in Black, frustrated, says that they're not going to get any more out of this than that Roswell fiasco. His boss immediately rebukes him, saying "Not only is that incident classified, but it never happened."
- In The Rock, the secrets that John Mason stole include the truth about Roswell.
- A TV movie involves a ship crashing near Roswell in 1947 with two Human Aliens and a number of genetically-engineered pilots (i.e. The Greys) aboard. The aliens are actually mercenaries, hired to "cleanse" Earth from humans for re-settlement by their employers. Roswell is specifically chosen, because the military base there has an atomic bomb, which one of the aliens (posing as a nuclear physicist) modifies with alien technology to boost its yield to allow it to wipe out everyone on the planet. However, he ends up falling in love with a beautiful widow and becoming fond of her son. He kills his partner/ex-lover, stops the countdown, and departs in a one-man ship to ensure that no other mercenaries are sent to finish the job. The military promptly covers up the event. Before departing, though, the alien reveals that Earth's humans are descended from a group of alien prisoners, whose transport crash-landed on the planet millennia ago.
- In Animorphs, their version of Roswell (many things were renamed ostensibly to obscure the character's location from Yeerks) explained the object that they found was... an Andalite toilet.
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
- First Frontier, set in New Mexico and Nevada in 1957, covers a lot of UFO mythology bases, including the Roswell incident.
- In Neal Shusterman's novel Everlost, Roswell is explained to have happened when a "Afterlight" boy who died in The Hindenburg crash ended up flying the ghost of the Hindenburg to Roswell for sixty years. Somehow it ends up being seen by non-Afterlights in 1947.
- Little Green Men explains that the Roswell "crash" was one of the first events faked up by MJ-12 to prove that aliens existed and imply that the United States possessed their technology in the Cold War.
- Mario Acevedo's The Nymphos of Rocky Flats is (apparently) about a soldier who is now a vampire, stuck between vampire hunters and the Roswell aliens. Sounds awesome.
- The below-mentioned Roswell series was based on Melinda Metz' Young Adult book series Roswell High.
- Agent Carter subverts the circumstances of the event, making the MCU's version of it an explosion of Zero Matter instead of a crashed ship of any kind.
- Doctor Who: In "Dalek", the mileometer from the Roswell ship is seen in a museum of alien artifacts. In the same episode, Van Statten claims that alien tech from the incident ended up creating Broadband.
- Eureka makes mention of it during one episode. Apparently, it was just a weather balloon, and is a constant embarrassment to the visiting bowling team from Area 51.
- Honorable mention goes to Lost in Space, whose third season episode "Visit to a Hostile Planet" sees the Jupiter 2 hurled back in time and space to 1947 Earth. In this case it's the backwoods of Michigan rather than the deserts of New Mexico, but the Robinsons et al. are mistaken for aliens, and their disc-shaped craft is witnessed (and attacked!) by many locals. It's a strange example, given that it predates the pop culture resurgence of Roswell itself by over a decade.
- Roswell, natch. The protagonists are alien survivors of the Roswell Incident, masquerading as humans.
- Sliders's episode "The Return of Maggie Beckett": Adlai Stevenson becomes President and signed the Reticulan-American Free Trade Agreement (RAFTA), giving the US access to advanced alien technology. Oddly, even a world where the knowledge of aliens is not hidden has its share of conspiracy nuts, who claim that the US Government is deliberately sabotaging humanity's efforts to reach other stars for some unspecified reason, despite knowing full well that this world's Maggie Beckett's death was due to faulty radiation shielding on her spacecraft.
- 7Days: the Time Travel machine was reverse engineered from alien technology salvaged from the Roswell crash. Which was an alien prison transport spaceship.
- Stargate SG-1: Lampshaded in "Prometheus". A group of reporters are told by Sam that Prometheus was designed from reverse-engineered parts of an alien crash in Fairbanks, Alaska. Jonas, knowing the truth, inquires "Fairbanks?" Sam answers that it sounds a lot better than Roswell.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Little Green Men": The aliens were Quark and co., sent back in time by accident.
- Taken: Played with. In "Beyond the Sky", Mac Brazel discovers the wreckage of the Project Mogul high-altitude surveillance balloon on the Foster ranch in Roswell, New Mexico and reports it to the 509th Bomb Group. Although Colonel Thomas Campbell asks him to keep it quiet, Brazel tells the press that he has found a strange metal from another planet. In order to divert attention from Mogul, Campbell lends his support to the story and the Roswell Daily Record reports that the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) has discovered a Flying Saucer. However, it turns out that an alien ship actually did crash, as a direct result of colliding with the Mogul balloon. The ship is discovered by two young boys and their father while on a hiking trip to Pine Lodge near Roswell.
- Alluded to on The West Wing, when CJ explains why she doesn't believe in government conspiracies.
There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting. It's how I know for sure that the government isn't covering up aliens in New Mexico.
- The Roswell crash is brought up again when Bob Engler, a ufologist and conspiracy theorist Sam had dealt with previously, insinuates that the remains from the crash had been moved from storage in Area 51 to the Fort Knox bullion depository. He's petitioning the government for permission to audit the vault, and Sam suspects he's been obliviously put up to it by Republicans to bother the Bartlet Administration.
- The X-Files
- The final book of BattleTech's "Blood of Kerensky" novels riffs off of this. On Alyina, there were frequent reports of 'Unexplained Aerial Phenomena', and a holovid claimed that there were alien bodies in the Hudson Gulf Base, area 51, hangar 18b, which was in the Roswell District. The reality was that they were experiments at reproducing the Star League-era Hammerhead fighter. A scrap of a crashed fighter, being a piece of the advanced Ferro-Fibrous armor they used, was claimed to be an alien material humanity could never reproduce.
- Conspiracy X: The Roswell Incident was the reason for the Watch spliting into Aegis and the Black Book. The scientists who later formed Aegis wanted to make peaceful contact with the aliens, but the soldiers who formed the Black Book shot the ship down. After the event Black Book accused Aegis of responsibility in order to sign a treaty with The Greys.
- Dust: Super-tech reverse-engineered from the wreck of a crashed UFO found on the Antarctic provide the Axis (who deposed Hitler from power) with the capacity to turn the Russian campaign into something more manageable, allowed them to succeed when they performed Operation Sealion, and at the time of the "present day" on the game's setting they have now started a campaign of limited ground warfare on the coasts of the United States. The best hope the United States has is their own super-tech, engineered from that which they have captured from the Axis and a recent UFO crash on Roswell, New Mexico...
- Two different GURPS worldbooks - Atomic Horror and Black Ops - mention the event. As the books are not set in the same continuity, the exact details are different; in AH it was an actual starship crash, whereas in BO the event was a hoax created to divert public attention from a real paranormal event elsewhere.
- A third, GURPS: Warehouse 23 claims that the crash, while genuinely alien, was not a spacecraft - it was a classroom, with technology designed to be easily reverse-engineered by humans, dropped as something of a bribe to the CIA and similar forces.
- In GURPS Technomancer, where The Fair Folk take the role of aliens in pop culture, seelieologists believe much of the modern understanding of magic has been reverse-engineered from two faeries captured in Roswell.
- Secrets Of The Third Reich: The members of Program "Sentinel Of Freedom" (essentially Captain America Expies) are given their powers with the "Roswell Cocktail", reverse-engineered from the crash's tech. The British Hero Unit Black Jack is a Cyborg made with salvaged mechanics from the ship (ironically because his body fatally rejected the Cocktail).
- In Destroy All Humans!, the alien protagonist travels to "Rockwell" to free a comrade.
- The original Deus Ex features a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink, so of course it includes an explanation for Roswell that is half based on the typical fiction as well as based on an intricate network of new conspiracies. You also eventually go to Area 51, and yes, you will find what you might expect to find... sort of.
- Supposedly, if one takes the map of the world of MOTHER (a game about an alien invasion), turns it upside-down, and places the city of Ellay where L.A. would be in real life, the protagonist's house roughly corresponds to Roswell, New Mexico.
- In Moon Chronicles the Roswell Conspiracy was the first time humanity was shown that they were not alone in the universe. During the events of the game an alien complex on the moon is discovered to be built by the same aliens responsible for Roswell.
- In Pokémon Black and White, the alien Pokemon Elgyem and Beheeyem's Pokedex entries highly imply that they were the survivors of the Roswell, New Mexico crash. Elgyem's French name is even Roswell backwards, though with only one L.
- Historical in-jokes are par for the course in Shadow Hearts. In the third game, Roswell is where the heroes find septucentenarian Roger Bacon and vampire Hilda Valentine, having crashed when their flying machine ran out of gas.
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope implies that the party member Meracle Chamlotte is the Roswell alien.
- Tex Murphy: In The Pandora Directive, Tex finds out from a former Area 51 scientist that World War 3 was started using Anti Matter salvaged from the Roswell craft. Area 51 itself is on lockdown, after most of the staff were infected with an alien parasite and were gunned down by the guards. Worse, there's a larger vessel hidden somewhere in jungles, and its fuel tanks are full of anti-matter.
- Not historical, but definitely an in-joke. Wild ARMs 3 featured a side-quest where your heroes fend off alien invaders, complete with Flying Saucers. The name of the paranormal investigator you speak to for the quest? Roswell.
- A story arc of Irregular Webcomic! has the MythBusters travel to Roswell in 1947 and innocently convince the local Army Air Field commander that what crashed in the nearby desert is just a weather balloon. (It isn't.)
- In The Last Cowboy, in 1947 the women in the town of Roswell all contract a disease that renders them sterile. Since no-one knows about the visiting aliens, no-one makes a connection between the two events. This has disastrous consequences two decades later when the same aliens land all over the Earth.
- Max and Xylene from Ben 10 use the phrase "we'll always have Roswell." However, Max was still a very young child in 1947, so there must have been a different alien incident in the same area...
- Turns out not only was it the same event, but Max himself was involved in the Roswell incident. As revealed in Ben 10: Omniverse, Max was the one who encountered the aliens, who were actually Blukic and Driba, and aided in their escape when they got captured.
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command plays this out in reverse when Team Lightyear crash-lands on the home planet of the aliens responsible for the original Roswell Incident (possibly), which happens to be an awful lot like 1950's New Mexico.
- In Dan Vs. "New Mexico", Elise sneaks into Area 51 and steals a spaceship in order to take her revenge on the state.
- Futurama: in the episode that gives this trope its name, the Planet Express crew accidentally Time Travels back to 1947 and causes the Roswell Incident.
Bender: That's no flying saucer! That's my ass!
- The Roswell UFO crash appears in the prologue of one Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures episode taking place in the Anasazi region of the US Southwest.
- There was an episode of the Arthur Spin-Off Postcards from Buster that visited, among other places, Roswell.
- The entire Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths and Legends animated series, of course.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), it is revealed that the Roswell incident occurred when the Earth Protection Force, led by Agent Bishop, shot down an alien ship belonging to the aliens that initially abducted him.
- Tripping the Rift: One of the main characters is the alien responsible for the original incident.