[SPOILER ALERT: ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ was released in 1977, and became a huge hit and influence on other films that followed. If you are among the very rare who have not seen this movie, this article contains multiple spoilers. TURN BACK!]
Did you know that perhaps one of the most famous science fiction adventure movies of all time was filmed mostly in Alabama? The houses used in the flick were not props built on a soundstage. These structures are real-life homes that are still standing today.
Principal photography for Close Encounters of the Third Kind began on May 16, 1976. Director Stephen Spielberg had had an uncomfortable experience shooting Jaws in Martha’s Vineyard. Among all the myriad of troubles the crew experienced was the problem of the lookie-loos and crowd control who often ruined takes. Coming off the mass success of his last movie, Spielberg was the hot thing in Hollywood and was being hounded by the press about details of his next film. This was a big reason that he wanted to take production of his next film to a place where the paparazzi would never find him: Mobile, Alabama.
Scenes of Roy & Ronnie Neary’s “Indiana” home, played by Richard Dreyfuss and Teri Garr, were actually filmed in this residential Mobile home. Most memorable is the scene of Roy’s very public meltdown in front of the whole neighborhood.
The production team purchased the house for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors and later resold it after wrapping production. According to county records, this home was most recently purchased in 1989 for $50,000. It is assumed that it has had the same occupants for the last 30 years (so, don’t go bugging these poor people ☺).
The interiors and exteriors of single mom Jillian Guiler’s house (played by Melinda Dillon who also starred as Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story) were filmed here. A major scene shot at this house was the riveting abduction of Jillian’s son, Barry. [Side note, the actor who played “Barry”, Cary Guffey, is now a financial advisor in Birmingham.]
The house is currently available for rent.
The spooky railroad crossing scene was filmed southwest of Mobile, halfway between Irvington and Theodore.
Brookley is a former United States Air Force base that was constructed as a build-up to the European invasion of World War II. After it closed in 1969, it became known as Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. The cavernous hangars at this location - six times larger than the biggest sound stage in the world - were used for many indoor sets, including the landing strip complex behind Devils Tower and many interiors. Spielberg stated it was “the biggest set ever built in an interior space... ever, in history.”
(start the above video at 1:53.)
Many other interior shots were done at this location such as the convention seen early in the film where Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) plays the musical tones for scientists.
The evacuation scene was shot at the two nearby locations. Although the above video is listed as a “deleted scene”, it is actually just a longer scene that had parts edited out to make it shorter for time constraints in some commercial versions of the movie. This full scene was used in the original 1977 theatrical cut and has been restored to many current versions. Many locals were used in this scene. Do you recognize anyone?
“The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.”