5 Plot Point Breakdown: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

By Xiaofeng Chen · April 26, 2015

Screenplay Genre: Sci-Fi / Western

Movie Time: 135 minutes


The desolate west, after Civil War. A man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the wild with a blank mind. He can’t remember what happened to him, even who he is. He finds a deep cut in his rib and a strange bracelet on his wrist. The man robs a horse from the bounty hunters who are passing by and rides to a small town. But there he is identified for Jake Lonergan: the head of the gang and put into the jail.

Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano): the infamous wastrel is making troubles around the town like he always does. But this time he goes too far: he misfires at the deputy sheriff. So, even though his father Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is the magnate in the town, the sheriff unbearably arrests him.

Three of Woodrow’s men are grazing cattle by the river. One of them is suddenly blown into the river by some kind of shock wave. When he climbs back on the shore, he sees the ground burning and the charred bodies of the cattle scattering here and there. (00:19:09) 

2. LOCK IN (End of Act One)

In the night, the sheriff is transferring Jake and Percy to Federal Police. Woodrow comes with his armed men and tells the sheriff he wants his son. The sheriff refuses. A fight is breaking out between the two sides. But something interrupts: Some flashing lights emerge on the dark horizon and come over with thunders… something flying in the sky. The flying machines strike them with fierce fire. (00:33:32)

The wagon which is keeping Jake and Percy is overturned. They get free from it, but Percy is taken by a flying machine. Jake suddenly finds the bracelet on his wrist is beeping and flashing (as if being activated). And it launches out a powerful ray beam at a flying machine and shoots it down! People see an alien pilot on it. It is wounded and runs away in the darkness.

Half of the town is blown up. Many people are killed, some are taken by the flying machines: including Woodrow’s son Percy, Doctor’s (Sam Rockwell) Mexican wife Maria, boy Emmett Taggart’s (Noah Ringer) grandfather. Woodrow gathers his men to save the lost people and asks Jake to help him. Doctor, Father Meacham (Clancy Brown) and Emmett join in too. And a girl named Ella (Olivia Wilde) is following Jake around. Nobody knows where she is from or what she wants. They find the footprints of the monster which are heading north. They track them…

On the way Jake remembers something from his lost memory: a terrible place where monsters live. His wife was killed by them and he escaped. Gold at the center of the problem. In the rain they find an overturned boat lying on the plain ground. Nobody knows how it got there, but it’s big enough for a shelter. The people enter, but don’t know the monster is there too. They have an encounter and fight it. The monster kills Father Meacham and runs away.


They bury Father Meacham and go on. Then they meet a group of gangsters. The gangsters recognize Jake and call him boss. Yes, Jake was the head of the gang. But now a new leader’s taken his place. A fight for that throne is inevitable. But the monsters from the sky come again and attack Woodrow’s men and the gangsters. So the two sides have to stay together to fight them. Ella is taken by a flying machine. Jake jumps on it and shoots at its engine with his bracelet. The flying machine crashes on the river. But the monster on it is still alive and hurts Ella bad. (00:76:34)

Woodrow and Doctor find Jake and Ella, but it is too late. Ella is dead. And then they’re captured by Chiricahua Indians. The Indians blame the monsters on the white people and throw Ella’s body into the fire. As they’re killing Jake and Woodrow, Ella comes back to life in the fire like a Phoenix.

Ella tells the people her story: she is from another planet. Her homeland and people were ruined by those monsters: they’re aliens and desire gold. Now they want to do the same thing to the earth. These monsters are their scouts to find gold resources and study human weaknesses.

4. MAIN CULMINATION (End of Act Two)

The four sides: the town men, the gang, the Indians and Ella decide to fight side by side against the alien monsters.

The Indian wizard helps Jake to remember where the aliens’ base is. They get to it and find it is a giant tower. Jake leads the gangsters to climb on the tower and throw explosives to its hanger. With a big bang, all the flying machines are blown up. When the aliens rush out to drive the gangsters out, the Indians shoot at them from the flank. It’s a fierce battle. The humans almost fall back, but Woodrow leads the people to turn it around and defeat the aliens at last.

On the other side, Jake and Ella find another entrance to the aliens’ base and go in it. There they find the lost people and set them free. (119:07)

Woodrow finds his son, but can’t see Jake and Ella. He goes into the aliens’ base for them.


Jake finds the room where he and his wife were tortured. And the alien who is melting gold here is exactly the one who killed his wife. He can’t fight the alien alone. Woodrow comes and helps him kill the alien. They get out of the base, but Ella is still on it.

The aliens find they have lost the battle and want to run away. Their base takes off from the ground and flies into the sky. Ella is in the center of it. She knows if she lets the aliens go, more of them will return and ruin the earth like they did to her homeland. She detonates the bracelet. (124:04) The aliens’ base is blown up in the sky!

The earth steered by a catastrophe. And with the gold ore which the aliens found, the town becomes prosperous. People want Jake to settle down here, but Jake refuses. He rides alone to the broad wild of west!

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