Alien Encounter: The Life and Death of Walt Disney World's Scariest Ride Ever 

Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It was hard to hear the dialogue above the screams, but riders sitting through early test runs of ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, got the ride’s basic premise. A friendly group of aliens are showing off their new teleportation technology. Halfway through the demonstration, something goes wrong: They accidentally send a carnivorous monster to Earth, and when the lights flicker off, the alien creature starts attacking audience members.

Though the attraction didn’t offer any steep plunges or high-speed turns, it aimed to be one of Disney’s premier thrill rides, with the most heart-pounding moments taking place as guests sat still in complete darkness. But when Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner experienced ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter for himself in January 1995, he was unimpressed.

By that point, Disney had already spent eight years developing the ride, which was meant to be the showpiece of Tomorrowland's $100 million makeover. It frightened early test-riders—the Orlando Sentinel reported people screaming over the dialogue and running for the exit—but Eisner felt the ride wasn't scary enough. Instead of clearing it to open later that month as planned, he ordered the park’s designers (also known as Imagineers) to shut it down and ramp up the intensity.

Five months later, one of the most terrifying rides in theme park history opened in "The Happiest Place on Earth."

From Alien Encounter to ExtraTERRORestrial

Concept art for ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.
Concept art for ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.

Disney wasn’t a top destination for thrill-seekers when Michael Eisner took over the company in 1984. The parks’ classic rides, like It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even The Haunted Mansion, were beloved for their nostalgia, not for their fear factor. Eisner’s teenage son Breck made this clear when he turned down the chance to go to Disneyland in California, saying the park was too lame. Determined to lure the teen demographic, Eisner began looking for ways to bring more thrills to Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Alien Encounter was conceived as part of this reimagining. A lot of the early ideas of what the ride would be ended up making it into the final product—guests would be seated in an arena-style theater facing an animatronic alien that would ultimately escape and terrorize them all in the dark. But instead of a generic alien, the villain was originally meant to be the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise.

A gory, R-rated property may seem like an odd match for Disney World, but the partnership was years in the making. Disney had come close to building an Alien-themed ride in the 1980s called Nostromo, where riders would shoot down Xenomorphs with laser guns mounted to their cars. Nostromo never made it past the design stage, but Alien found another home at Disney World when The Great Movie Ride opened at MGM Studios in 1989. The ride recreated iconic scenes from film history, including Ripley’s showdown with a Xenomorph at the end of Alien. Following that attraction’s success, Disney looked for more opportunities to use its license of the Alien franchise.

Disney launched an ambitious renovation project of Tomorrowland around that time. Walt Disney’s concept of the future hadn’t aged well since the parks first opened, and Imagineers were tasked with recreating the world of tomorrow for modern audiences. Tomorrowland 2055 would welcome parkgoers into an intergalactic alien spaceport—a.k.a. the perfect setting for the next attempt at an Alien ride.

Eisner was 100 percent on board with Alien Encounter, and a full-fledged Alien ride may have opened at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World if it wasn’t for some detractors working behind the scenes. Many of the theme park’s more seasoned Imagineers opposed a ride that was not only based on an R-rated property, but contradicted Walt Disney’s optimistic vision of tomorrow. Unable to convince Eisner to nix the project on their own, the Imagineers enlisted the help of entertainment heavyweight George Lucas, who was working as a consultant on the Indiana Jones ride for Disneyland at the time.

Lucas also felt that Alien Encounter was too intense for the family-friendly park, and he agreed to collaborate on a toned-down, Xenomorph-free version of the ride. With Lucas’s name attached, Eisner was willing to let go of the Alien brand, and an updated take on Alien Encounter, now called ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, went into development.

Though their project no longer featured aliens that burst through chests or bled acid, the design team still had the chilling atmosphere of Alien on the brain. The movie’s influence was apparent when ExtraTERRORestrial opened in Tomorrowland on June 20, 1995.

ExtraTERRORestrial: A Ride "Too Intense for Children and Some Adults"

After months of anticipation, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter finally earned Eisner’s approval, and Disney World guests were able to experience it for themselves. By adding new special effects and tightening up the story, Imagineers had retooled the ride into something guaranteed to engage and terrify even the toughest critics.

Warnings posted outside indicated this wasn’t an average Disney ride: “The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter is a frightening theatrical experience in a confined setting with loud noises and moments of total darkness,” one sign read. It went on to say the ride “may be too intense for children and some adults.” But that didn’t stop parents from taking their young children into the attraction.

Once inside the building, guests waiting in line watched a robot voiced by Tim Curry demonstrate a “teletransporter” made by the fictional alien technology company X-S Tech, using a furry, yellow alien named Skippy as his guinea pig. When transporting Skippy from one containment tube to the other, the machine glitches, and the cute alien materializes looking burnt-up and in pain. The disturbing pre-show was meant to introduce riders to the teleportation device’s intended purpose, as well as its flaws, and to give them a taste of the ride’s dark tone while they still had time to turn around and run.

The main show began when riders were ushered into the theater-in-the-round and strapped into their seats with harnesses. A team of Alien X-S Tech representatives greeted Earthlings from their home planet via video monitors and announced that they were about to do an interstellar demonstration of their teleportation device. X-S Tech’s chairman volunteered to make the journey to Earth, but what appeared in the tube at the center of the room was clearly not the same alien audience members saw on the screen.

Through strobe light flashes and billowing fog, riders caught a brief glimpse of the animatronic creature—a towering monster with leathery wings, a reptilian tongue, and glowing red eyes. The sound of shattering glass echoed throughout the theater and then the lights went dark: The creature had escaped.

In an effort to impress Eisner, the Imagineers tasked with tweaking the ride added more tactile special effects. They borrowed elements from Honey I Shrunk the Audience!, a newly opened show at Epcot that used 4D effects, such as water spritzers to simulate being sneezed on.

On ExtraTERRORestrial, these same effects were meant to horrify parkgoers, not gross them out. Through strategically placed speakers and 4D devices, riders heard repulsive slurping and crunching noises, then were sprayed in the face with warm water—making them think they had been splattered with fresh blood. At one point, harnesses pressed down onto riders’ shoulders to make it feel as if the monster was crouching on top of them. Warm air and water released from the seats replicated what it might feel like if the creature was slobbering down the back of each audience member's neck. Instead of watching the horror unfold on a screen, each guest was made to feel as though the alien was stalking them personally. Screams filled the room from start to finish, though it wasn't always possible to tell which cries for help were coming from audience members and which were part of the scripted show.

Eventually the monster was captured and the lights came back on, revealing that no one in the theater had actually been harmed ... or consumed.

Though the ride didn’t inflict any physical damage, it did leave some psychological scars. Children often left the theater in tears. As The Missoulian reported in 1996, one 9-year-old was too scared to get an ExtraTERRORestrial T-shirt from the gift shop after the show. Karal Ann Marling, author of Designing Disney's Theme Parks, told the Ottawa Citizen, "This is the first time in a Disney park you're really, authentically scared.”

Stitch invades ExtraTERRORestrial

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, ExtraTERRORestrial was Disney World’s most divisive attraction. Young kids and parents coming to Disney to see Cinderella and Goofy may have felt betrayed by the ride’s intensity, but older kids and teens, the group Eisner originally wanted to win over, loved it.

Despite the praise it received, ExtraTERRORestrial’s life at Disney World was cut short. In 2003, Disney closed the ride with plans to open a new, much tamer theme park experience in its place: Stitch's Great Escape! recycled much of ExtraTERRORestrial’s setting, special effects, and concept—but instead of surviving an encounter with a bloodthirsty alien, riders instead faced the cute protagonist of Disney’s hit property, Lilo & Stitch.

Disney never explicitly stated why it shuttered ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, but it was clear they wanted Stitch’s Great Escape! to appeal to a wider audience. The Orlando Sentinel called the new ride, "a milder version of the Magic Kingdom's too-scary ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter."

Designing it for everyone didn't make Stitch's Great Escape! very popular. The 4D effects that had felt thrilling on ExtraTERRORestrial now seemed obnoxious; instead of splattering you with "blood," Stitch let out a chili-dog scented burp in your face.

Attendance was so low that in the 2010s, the ride transitioned to seasonal operation. In 2018, the ride closed indefinitely, and while Disney denied reports that Stitch’s Great Escape! was gone for good, leaked images of a dismantled Stitch animatronic suggest the ride won’t be reopening.

Though ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter has been closed for more 15 years, the demise of Stitch's Great Escape! is a loss for fans of the original attraction. The updated show had recycled many parts of the 1990s ride, including animatronics like Skippy the alien (he was never tortured in the Stitch version). Now nostalgic Disney lovers have to scour memorabilia on eBay for evidence that the horrifying Magic Kingdom ride ever existed.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

29 Movies That Almost Starred Harrison Ford

Stephane L'hostis/Getty Images
Stephane L'hostis/Getty Images

By 1976, Harrison Ford had been acting for over a decade, most prominently as Bob Falfa in George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973), and Martin Stett in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974). Unfortunately for Ford, he was still as well known for his carpentry as he was his filmography, and Lucas was against using the same actor in more than one of his movies. Still, there was hope: Lucas hired Ford to read lines as Han Solo during auditions with prospective actors, and Lucas was eventually convinced that the Chicago-born actor was the man to play the incorrigible Millennium Falcon captain with the heart of gold. Now, let's look back at some films that almost featured Harrison Ford.

1. The Graduate (1967)

Director Mike Nichols rejected the then 25-year-old Ford for The Graduate's Benjamin Braddock, who ended up being played by Dustin Hoffman. Nichols and Ford finally worked together in Working Girl (1988) and Regarding Henry (1991), the latter of which was written by The Force Awakens' writer-director J.J. Abrams.

2. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Ford flew 3000 miles to New York City—on his own dime—to audition for the role of Midnight Cowboy's Joe Buck. John Schlesinger went with Jon Voight.

3. Alien (1979)

Two years after Star Wars, Ford was turning down parts. He declined playing Captain Dallas in Alien, letting Tom Skerritt handle that.

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Ford was cut from E.T. He played Elliott’s school principal. His face was not visible, because other than Elliott’s mother, Steven Spielberg tried to not show the faces of the adults.

5. Making Love (1982)

The then-controversial film was about Zach (Michael Ontkean), a doctor who is married to Claire (Kate Jackson), but starts a relationship with Bart (Harry Hamlin), a novelist. Ford, Michael Douglas, and Richard Gere all turned down playing the male leads. Making Love ended up being a commercial and critical failure.

6. Terms of Endearment (1983)

Jack Nicholson won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment. Ford turned that role down.

7. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Ford admitted he was offered the lead after Sylvester Stallone dropped out, and before it was turned into a comedy starring Eddie Murphy. He said he saw the movie and had no regrets on declining. It helps that he starred in Witness (1985) instead, which landed him his first (and so far only) Oscar nomination.

8. Big (1988)

Off of Anne Spielberg (Steven’s sister) and Gary Ross’ script, producer/director James L. Brooks spent six months waiting for Ford to play Josh Baskin. But Ford wasn't pleased with the choice of director. Eventually, Tom Hanks ended up playing the lead, with Penny Marshall directing.

9. Die Hard (1988)

Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard' (1988).
Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, and Ford all turned down the role of John McClane before Bruce Willis signed up for Die Hard.

10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

There was “alleged idle talk” between Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Ford to star as Eddie Valiant before they moved on to trying—and failing—to contact Bill Murray. Bob Hoskins got the part.

11. Ghost (1990)

Ford read the script to Ghost three times and didn’t understand it, so he turned the role of Sam Wheat down. Patrick Swayze apparently understood, and the rest was history.

12. The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Director John McTiernan tried to get Ford to play CIA analyst Jack Ryan, years before he would do so for the sequel Patriot Games (1992), replacing Alec Baldwin.

13. Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates and James Caan star in 'Misery' (1990)
Kathy Bates and James Caan star in Misery (1990).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Warren Beatty, and Ford said no to playing novelist Paul Sheldon in the adaptation of Stephen King's Misery. James Caan said yes.

14. Cape Fear (1991)

Martin Scorsese asked Robert De Niro to ask Ford to play the lawyer Sam Bowden in the remake of the 1962 thriller Cape Fear. Ford told De Niro he would only do it if he could play Max Cady and De Niro would play Bowden. De Niro did not want to do that, so Nick Nolte ended up in the role.

15. JFK (1991)

Ford was Oliver Stone’s first choice to play district attorney Jim Garrison in JFK, but he was unavailable, on a long vacation. Kevin Costner played the part instead.

16. Jurassic Park (1993)

Sam Neill in 'Jurassic Park' (1993)
Sam Neill in Jurassic Park (1993).
Universal Pictures

Ford could have been Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill). Spielberg claimed he offered the role to the actor at the 30th anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark after Ford said Spielberg only hired him for the Indiana Jones movies.

17. Outbreak (1995)

Producer Arnold Kopelson asked Ford to play Sam Daniels, but he said no. Dustin Hoffman, who became famous 10 years before Ford after he beat him out to play Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, said yes.

18. Half Baked (1998)

Dave Chappelle asked Ford to make a cameo in Half Baked. Ford declined, without giving a reason.

19. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Paschal Friel, Rolf Saxon, and Adam Shaw in 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998)
Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Paschal Friel, Rolf Saxon, and Adam Shaw in Saving Private Ryan (1998).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Spielberg considered both Mel Gibson and Ford before tapping Tom Hanks to play Captain Miller, in an Oscar nominated performance.

20. The Thin Red Line (1998)

Sean Penn, on behalf of director Terrence Malick, called Ford and asked him to appear in the war epic alongside him, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, and John Travolta.

21. Runaway Bride (1999)

Ford, Mel Gibson, Michael Douglas, and Ben Affleck were set to play Ike Graham during the 10-year development process. Richard Gere got the role as part of a Pretty Woman reunion with Julia Roberts and director Garry Marshall.

22. The Patriot (2000)

Ford believed the movie would be too violent. Mel Gibson was okay with that.

23. The Perfect Storm (2000)

George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Allen Payne, and John Hawkes in The Perfect Storm (2000)
William Fichtner, John C. Reilly, Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney, Allen Payne, and John Hawkes in The Perfect Storm (2000).
Warner Home Video

Air Force One director Wolfgang Petersen wanted to work with Ford again, but he turned the lead role of Captain BIlly Tyne down. After Mel Gibson wanted too much money, George Clooney got the role.

24. Proof of Life (2000)

Ford and, once again, Mel Gibson could have played Terry Thorne in the action movie. Instead, director Taylor Hackford told the studio he preferred Russell Crowe for the role, and won the argument.

25. Traffic (2000)

20th Century Fox decided they only wanted the Steven Soderbergh-directed project if Harrison Ford agreed to star. Ford became interested before backing out, and the major studio did, too. The movie ended up being produced by USA Films, and won four Oscars.

26. The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Ben Affleck became the third actor to play Jack Ryan when Ford and director Phillip Noyce couldn’t agree on how to fix the script.

27. Insomnia (2002)

Ford and director Jonathan Demme worked on getting an American remake of the Norwegian thriller made. Ford was to play police detective Will Dormer but Christopher Nolan ended up directing, and Al Pacino took over the lead.

28. Syriana (2005)

Ford had questions over the validity of some of the geopolitical story involving petroleum products and the oil industry, only later finding that the parts he found untruthful were taken out. He said he wished he took the role of Rob Barnes after seeing the movie. George Clooney ended up playing Barnes, and won a Best Supporting Actor for his work.

29. A History of Violence (2005)

Ford turned down playing small-town diner owner/mobster-in-hiding Tom Stall in David Cronenberg's crime thriller. Viggo Mortensen got the gig.

This story has been updated for 2020.