This week’s Entertainment Weekly names District 9, a sci-fi thriller with no big stars and a small budget, the must-see movie of the summer. While those who missed last month’s Comic-Con probably have yet to hear of it, by next week it may be all moviegoers are talking about.

Made for only $30 million by a 29-year-old South African-born director, Neill Blomkamp, the action-packed movie is tinged with a surprising moral intelligence — it’s also an allegory about apartheid — and may become the most unlikely sci-fi blockbuster of the season. Says District 9’s single A-list name, producer Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), “In an industry that’s looking to make movies out of every obscure TV show, District 9 is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

District 9 wasn’t the movie Blomkamp first set out to make with Jackson. In 2006, Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh, hired Blomkamp to shoot a $145 million big-screen adaptation of the videogame Halo, which ultimately fell apart. When he was hired, Blomkamp’s resume consisted largely of visually stunning ads and sci-fi shorts. “I went from zero to a hundred in a few weeks,” says Blomkamp. “It was insane.”

After the jump: An exclusive clip of ‘District 9’

The film’s star, 35-year-old newcomer Sharlto Copley (who plays a corporate emissary sent to evict alien refugees), believed in Blomkamp from the start. The very start. When Copley was a 20-year-old TV producer, he hired a 14-year-old Blomkamp as a computer graphics designer. “I gave Neill his first job,” Copley says. “And he’s certainly returned the favor.” Copley found his first feature-film experience to be unromantic. “Scrounging through real trash to find a prop sandwich strategically placed in the middle of the stuff – it was brutal,” says the star. “They’d have to comb the area before shooting just to pull the nails out.”

Awareness of the film has increased dramatically since Comic-Con. There’s even talk of a sequel. Jackson isn’t counting out the possibility. “Although,” he notes, “if I’ve done my job properly, Neill won’t need me anymore.” Blomkamp is clearly game. “I would do anything to go back to the world of District 9 again,” he says. “Or District 10.”

For more on District 9, including a profile of its star, Sharlto Copley—and a survey of other alien invaders (and their dubious intentions)—check out the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Aug 8. To see an exclusive clip from the film, click below.