Contact (1997) Cast Then and Now

Contact (1997) Cast Then and Now

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, Contact premiered in 1997 to both critical and commercial success. Based on Carl Sagan's 1985 novel, the thought-provoking sci-fi drama tackles complex themes about science, faith, and humanity's place in the universe.

Anchored by Jodie Foster's powerful lead performance as the determined astronomer Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, Contact boasted an ensemble cast that included Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, and Angela Bassett. Over 25 years later, what has the talented cast been up to since appearing in this philosophical exploration of life beyond Earth?

The Unwavering Jodie Foster as Dr. Ellie Arroway

Jodie Foster

No stranger to complex, intelligent characters, Jodie Foster brought an unwavering conviction to eccentric astronomer Ellie Arroway. Obsessed with finding signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, Ellie dedicates her life to searching the skies, unwilling to give up on her quest to make contact.

"I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?" ― Ellie Arroway

Despite ridicule from her peers, Foster's Ellie persists, eventually detecting a signal from the star Vega and fighting for the resources to interpret it. Her valiant performance earned Foster her fourth Academy Award nomination.

Now 61 years old, the decorated actress has continued working steadily in both film and television. In more recent years, she has pivoted towards directing, helming episodes of Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Black Mirror as well as feature films like Money Monster (2016). She remains an outstanding and risk-taking performer and can currently be seen on the new season of True Detective.

Matthew McConaughey's Breakthrough Role as Palmer Joss

Matthew McConaughey

As Ellie's love interest, Palmer Joss, a philosopher and theologian, Matthew McConaughey delivered a star-making performance that led to greater leading man roles. Charming and handsome with an easy confidence, Palmer challenges Ellie's staunch atheism while also supporting her work. Their romance adds emotional stakes to Ellie's cosmic journey at the film's climax.

"You gotta slow down, you gotta risk being unsure." ― Palmer Joss to Ellie Arroway

Their memorable scenes, including one quiet interlude where the two leads gaze up at the stars, crackle with romantic and philosophical tension.

Now 54, the prolific Texas native has built an acclaimed career over the past two and a half decades, winning an Oscar for his terrifying turn in Dallas Buyers Club (2013). Known for his "McConaissance" reinvention, he continues working constantly in dramas and action films alike. He is best known for his roles in Interstellar (2014) and the first season of True Detective in the same year.

Dazed and Confused 1993

Supporting Veteran Tom Skerritt as David Drumlin

Tom Skerritt

As Ellie's mentor David Drumlin, veteran character actor Tom Skerritt brought nuance and gravitas to a complex parental figure. Once a source of guidance, Drumlin becomes envious and controlling over Ellie's career. However, in the end he has faith in her convictions.

With nearly 200 film and television credits to his name, the prolific Skerritt has proven one of the industry's most reliable players. Now 90, some of his most memorable performances where from Alien (1979) and Top Gun (1986)

The Enigmatic John Hurt as S.R. Hadden

John Hurt

With his distinct gravelly voice and unconventional looks, the late John Hurt brought ominous mystique to reclusive billionaire S.R. Hadden. Obsessed with making contact with extraterrestrial life, Hadden funds Ellie’s expensive research. The actor captures the character’s unpredictable, eccentric nature.

One of Britain’s most celebrated performers before his passing in 2017, Hurt enjoyed an expansive career spanning over 50 years. Turning in countless memorable performances, the two-time Oscar nominee starred in many seminal films like Midnight Express (1978), The Elephant Man (1980) and 1984 (1984).

Jena Malone’s Breakout Role as Young Ellie

Jena Malone

As the young iteration of Jodie Foster’s passionate protagonist, a 12-year-old Jena Malone showcased maturity beyond her years. Communicating Ellie’s isolated childhood and early obsession with science, Malone’s scenes underline the events that shaped the determined astronomer.

After her breakout debut, Malone has built an eclectic, unpredictable career over the past 25 years. Now 40, some highlights include acclaimed indies like Saved! (2004) and modern classics like Pride & Prejudice (2005) and The Neon Demon (2016). She is set to make a small appearance in the 2024 film "Love Lies Bleeding" later this year.

INTERESTING FACT: Ever wonder how they filmed the Mirror Scene? Check out this interesting article to see how

David Morse's Moving Turn as Ted Arroway

David Morse

In Contact's most poignant sequence, Jodie Foster’s Ellie reconnects with her beloved but long-deceased father, Ted Arroway. Played stirringly by David Morse, Ted’s return delivers the emotional climax absent from Ellie’s wondrous but isolated experience traveling through the cosmic machine.

At 70 years old this steadily-working staple of film and television for decades, Morse's standout performances include roles in The Green Mile (1999), The Negotiator (1998), and the medical drama St. Elsewhere (1982–1988). Most recently, he has appeared on critically-acclaimed series like The Outsider (2020).

Government Officials Played by Established Stars

As the government officials overseeing Ellie’s unprecedented machine, Geoffrey Blake and Angela Bassett brought a grounded integrity to the fantastic proceedings.

Geoffrey Blake as the Conflicted Fisher

Geoffrey Blake

Blake’s Fisher, though initially blocking Ellie’s plans, showcases how even rational people can react with fear and scepticism when faced with the unknown. As Ellie says, his doubts stem from feeling powerless. Best known for his roles in Young Guns (1988) and Forrest Gump (1994). Now 61, the veteran actor has since appeared in TV Shows like "The Godfathers of Harlem".

Angela Bassett’s Stalwart Ally Rachel Constantine

Angela Bassett

As diplomat Rachel Constantine, Angela Bassett provided strong female representation working alongside Foster’s protagonist. Fighting budget cuts and shake-ups over Ellie’s research, Rachel believes profound discoveries require taking bold risks.

A captivating screen presence, 65-year-old Bassett earned an Oscar nomination for portraying Tina Turner in 1993’s What's Love Got to Do with It. She has since starred in smash hits like How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) and took on the role of Ramonda in Marvel's Black Panther (2018) and its sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).

Media Figures Played by Scene-Stealing Stars

As the opportunistic media figures seizing on Ellie’s unprecedented discovery, both Rob Lowe and James Woods steal scenes.

Rob Lowe's Smug Tabloid Personality Richard Rank

Rob Lowe

Oozing arrogance and condescension as vain reporter Richard Rank, Rob Lowe makes Ellie’s televised inquiry play like a courtroom drama. Accusing her story of being faked despite contrary evidence, the actor encapsulates the media’s knee-jerk scepticism and showboating.

Lowe’s scene-stealing panache has enlivened many projects over his eclectic decades-long career in Hollywood. The well known bratpack boy starring in St Elmo's Fire and The Outsiders in the 1980s, is now 59. His highlights also include political satire The West Wing (1999-2006) and meta comedy Parks and Recreation (2009-2015), along with scene-stealing cameos in Austin Powers (1997) and Wayne’s World (1992).

James Woods as Bombastic Preacher Michael Kitz

James Woods

As the opportunistic reverend exploiting Ellie’s story for his own benefit, James Woods brings a captivating flamboyance to late-night preacher Michael Kitz. Twisting Ellie's message into his own ministry, Kitz showcases how scientific discoveries can be misinterpreted to serve an agenda.

One of Hollywood’s most eccentric personalities on and off-screen, Woods earned Oscar nominations early in his career for intense turns in Salvador (1986) and Ghosts of Mississippi (1996). Now 76, Woods steals the show in projects as wide-ranging as Casino (1995), Hercules (1997) and Straw Dogs (1971).

Supporting Cast Members' Continued Success

Rounding out Contact's ensemble are actors who deliver memorable turns as government agents both helping and hindering Ellie's cosmic quest.

William Fichtner's Chilling Security Officer Kent

William Fichtner

As National Security Agency representative Kent, William Fichtner brings chilling intensity to the role. Suspicious of Ellie's motives in traveling through the machine, Kent's hostility threatens to shut down the entire project.

Now 67, Fichtner has made a career specializing in creepy, off-kilter roles in films like The Perfect Storm (2000) and The Dark Knight (2008). A distinctive, unconventional screen presence, he also starred in the acclaimed series Prison Break (2005-2009).

Jake Busey's Doomsday Priest

Jake Busey

Jake Busey showcased his skills by portraying the lead voice in opposition to the scientists who were trying to make "contact", in the form of a religious cult leader. Still working regularly three decades into his career, Busey has appeared in blockbusters like Starship Troopers (1997) and The Predator (2018).

An Intelligent Sci-Fi Powered by Its Ambitious Cast

Anchored by heavy-hitters like Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey while featuring an eclectic supporting ensemble, Contact showcases its game cast rising to the challenges of its complex, philosophical narrative. Over 25 years later, the film serves as both a time capsule of its era and a meditation on humanity's eternal quest to find meaning in the vast cosmos.