Do you miss that sense of awe you used to get while watching summer movies? Director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg deliver it in spades in Super 8, which opens in theaters everywhere today and is destined to become a classic. The story follows a group of young teenagers making a movie in a small Ohio town in 1979 who witness the massive derailment of a train en route from Area 51. With the strange disappearances of people, pets and random metal objects around town and the speedy arrival of the military, the group sets out to find out what classified cargo—or being—might have been onboard the train.
Super 8 isn't exactly original, but at least it's derived from several other unforgettable movies and mixes bits and pieces of them into an almost perfect summer smoothie. The following five favorites provide valuable clues about Super 8 and are worth checking out again on DVD and Blu-ray.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The big-eyed alien in Spielberg's 1982 classic just wants to "phone home" when he's not eating Reese's Pieces, so young Elliott and his friends try to help E.T. meet up with his otherworldly pals before the military snatches him up. You might get that signature Spielberg sentimental feeling again watching Super 8 that you get with E.T., which is available in DVD in its theatrical version and a 2002 Collector's Edition with improved special effects.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Richard Dreyfuss plays an Indiana electrical lineman who has a close encounter with a UFO and becomes singularly obsessed with sculpting the Devils Tower National Monument in his mashed potatoes, shaving cream and anything else he can get his hands on. Once he figures out what it is he is carving, he pairs up with a frantic mother whose child has been abducted by aliens and sets off to Wyoming for the big alien welcoming party. Spielberg's Close Encounters is available on DVD and the Blu-ray contains three different cuts of the movie on one disc.
The Goonies: The Goonies—a group of close friends from the "Goon Docks" neighborhood of Astoria, Oregon—are still "good enough for me," as the title song by Cyndi Lauper goes. With their families' homes facing foreclosure, the Goonies set off on an adventure to discover the treasure of a legendary pirate named One-Eyed Willie. There are parallels (a "Chunk," for example) between the close-knit crew of Super 8 and the cast of this 1985 Richard Donner adventure that was also produced by Spielberg and is available on DVD and Blu-ray packaged with a board game, a collectible magazine and more booty.
District 9: This Best Picture Oscar nominee is the only film on this list that doesn't have some direct connection with either Abrams or Spielberg, but its story about a persecuted alien "prawn" father and son trying to escape from their government camp and get home will feel familiar once you see Super 8. Neil Blomkamp's thinking-man's sci-fi stunner that tackles themes like social segregation and xenophobia is available on both DVD and Blu-ray.
Cloverfield: Abrams produced this Matt Reeves-directed blockbuster that, like Super 8, was cloaked in secrecy before its release in 2008. Now we know that the movie is about a giant alien who crashes into the water near New York and goes all Godzilla on Manhattan while a group of friends tries to document the catastrophe and escape from New York, Snake Plissken style. Something is going on a rampage in the small fictional town of Lillian, Ohio in Super 8 as well, but it's not exactly the monster in Cloverfield, which is available on DVD and Blu-ray.