Is ‘The Fourth Kind’ Actually Based On A True Story?

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: a UFO sighting in which a person is abducted.

At the beginning of the film The Fourth Kind (2009) actress Milla Jovovich appears on the screen to warn the audience that what they are about to see is a dramatization of a true story that happened to real people in and around Nome, Alaska in October of 2000. Jovovich says that the director (Olatunde Osunsanmi) included actual archive footage in the film. The footage is purported to be from a real Nome psychologist Dr. Abigail “Abbey” Tyler, the “real life” character Jovovich portrays.

By having the actress appear as herself, the audience is led to believe The Fourth Kind will be a different kind of movie based on important actual events.

The one-minute scene ends with a warning: “Please be advised that some of what you are about to see is extremely disturbing.”

“Based on a true story”

Though “names and professions” of the people involved have been changed, make no mistake, this scene is intended to fool audiences. It’s a throwback to the 1938 Orson Welles radio drama “The War of the Worlds”, which also purported to be a real news story. It was actually an adaptation of the 1898 H.G. Wells book, The War of the Worlds.

Horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) also begin with a claim that the events of the film are based on a true story. Chainsaw director Tobe Hooper says he did this on purpose to allude to the unsettling real life situation during the time of the release in which the public was receiving information from actual news sources which purported to be true but was not (the stories that inspired Hooper to take this direction were based on Vietnam and Watergate). He probably didn’t expect that for decades to come audiences would continue to relate to the idea that even when an “authority” is giving us information, we no longer have the ability to trust them, nor can we fully shake their claims and convince ourselves that what we are seeing is a gimmick. We are stuck in a double bind between fact and fiction, having only the information presented to us, at least until we emerge from the theater.

Purported footage of director Olatunde Osunsanmi interviewing the real life Dr. Abigail Tyler is actually British actress Charlotte Milchard. The watermark shown is for Chapman University, a real college in southern California.

Officially, the movie is a “pseudocumentary” which is a fancy way of saying the “based on a true story” aspect is total farce. The script and the film are entirely fictional. There was no low key alien invasion of Nome, Alaska. Dr. Abigail Tyler does not exist.


There is no shortage of real life creepy info that mirrors the fictional events portrayed in The Fourth Kind.

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

The title of The Fourth Kind comes from a system of classifying encounters with extraterrestrial life made by astronomer, professor, and ufologist J. Allen Hynek who was a scientific advisor to the U.S. Air Force’s UFO studies such as Project Sign, Project Grudge and Project Blue Book from 1947-1969.

An alien abduction is considered a “close encounter of the fourth kind”, giving the film its title.

A few decades into his career, Dr. Hynek began to publicly disagree with his military colleagues about the nature of UFOs. After finishing his work with the Air Force he went on to create Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and urging the United Nations to create a centralized authority on UFOs. He also believed there was sufficient evidence to support belief in extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and extradimensional intelligence (EDI). In his book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry published in 1972, Hynek classified encounters with UFOs on the following scale:

  • Nocturnal Lights: simply seeing unidentified lights in the night sky.
  • Daylight Discs: seeing a UFO in the daylight.
  • Radar-Visual: a UFO that appears on radar.
  • Close Encounters of the First Kind: seeing a UFO within 500 feet.
  • Close Encounters of the Second Kind: seeing a UFO and experiencing some kind of physical effects (a vehicle malfunctioning, observing animals reacting, feeling heat from the object, etc).
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind: a UFO sighting in which some kind of alien life is also witnessed.
  • Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: a UFO sighting in which a person is abducted.
  • Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: direct contact is made between aliens and humans.

Dr. Hynek later served as a consultant to Steven Spielberg in the production of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

We have gone from Kitty Hawk to the moon in some seventy years, but it’s possible that a million-year-old civilization may know something that we don’t.

J. Allen Hynek, Proceedings of the First International UFO Congress

Owls & Aliens

In the movie, Milla Jovovich’s character (Dr. Tyler) is a psychologist who has a number of patients who report frequent sightings of a strange white owl. While they can’t remember much about the owl, they all report the same dream-like quality saying that the owl can even enter their home though the doors and windows are shut and locked. This mirrors a real life phenomena where people have paranormal encounters with the birds, often connected to alien abduction stories. Writer Mike Clelland wrote about the connection in his book The Messengers: Owls, Synchronicity and the UFO. Here’s an example of a personal encounter Clelland has collected over the years:

Switching between “archival footage” and the dramatization, Dr. Tyler asks one patient about the owl.

Strange stories within his book include the testimony of Ron Johnson, a regular UFO conference attendee who claimed to have had alien visitations at home, and who noticed a steady stream of guest owls by the porch of his mothers’ house. One in particular would watch him as he left for work, and remain perched on the same branch when he returned later that day. Once, Johnson says, he felt an inexplicable desire to leave the house in the middle of the night, and when he did, found a four-foot-tall owl standing in his driveway, waiting to exchange stares.

Tamlin Magee, For UFO Hunters, the Owls Really Aren’t What They Seem

The real Nome, Alaska

A sign warning of the real dangers of travel near Nome, Alaska. Photo courtesy of ra64 via Wikimedia Commons.

At first glance, you should already be able to tell that The Fourth Kind is not meant to be an earnest portrayal of Nome or events that Nome residents have gone through. While indigenous people make up 51% of the town, there are no indigenous characters in the film. The real town and the whitewashed version that appears in the film do not bear a resemblance to each other.

The film was also criticized by locals who felt The Fourth Kind mocked the real people who have disappeared in the area and spread misinformation that harmed their loved ones. Nome, Alaska does have a high number of both missing people and UFO sightings, however its much more likely that the missing people are a result of the realities of living in a remote and isolated location. The only way in or out of Nome is by flight.


Following the release of The Fourth Kind, Universal Pictures was sued by local newspapers the Nome Nugget and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for circulating fake articles with the paper’s real names in order to market the movie. The dispute was settled when Universal removed the fake newspaper stories and paid the Alaskan Press Club $20,000 in addition to donating $2,500 to the Calista Corporation.

While there is no world in which the information and stories told in The Fourth Kind are true or even based on real stories, the phenomena itself is quite real. The existence of UFOs are not controversial, the simple study of unidentified flying objects is something the U.S. government is involved in. Whether or not those objects are directed or related to alien life is another question.

Meet The Author

Chrissy is the co-founder of Creepy Catalog. She has over 10 years of experience writing about horror, a degree in philosophy and Reiki level II certification.

Chrissy Stockton