They don't come in peace
From deadly microscopic parasites to gigantic mechanical tripods, aliens have been trying to conquer earth on the big screen for years. The idea of a threat from another world has always touched a nerve in audiences, giving them the thrill of being scared and the satisfaction of seeing humanity rise up and (usually) triumph. The alien invasion film has also provided filmmakers with the opportunity to entertain and horrify moviegoers as well as reflect on the world around them.
Fueled by the general public's fear during the Red Scare in the 1950s, alien invasion movies hit their stride with classics like War of the Worlds, Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Using science fiction to conceal their commentary, filmmakers made the most of the genre, creating timeless movies, many of which have since been remade.
While the popularity of such films dropped off in the '60s, the '80s saw a resurgence of the alien invasion drama. The political and social commentary remained in movies like They Live and Alien Nation, but the horror side of the genre also played a larger role in films like The Thing and Lifeforce. Unfortunately, the gore would often outweigh the storytelling, leading to empty, mean-spirited movies like Xtro.
Then, in the '90s, Independence Day and Men in Black arrived, leaving social commentary aside and instead focusing on being rousing spectacles full of fun and excitement. That decade also offered Mars Attacks!, which had fun parodying the genre, while The X-Files (both on TV and on film) as well as Dark City helped bring the alien invasion genre back to its paranormal roots.
Over the last 10 years, aliens have continued to threaten the planet, sometimes seeking our resources (Signs), and other times simply using Earth as a place to duke it out (Transformers). More alien invasions are on the way with upcoming movies like Battleship and Cowboys and Aliens. This Friday, they return again in Battle: Los Angeles, and the trailers suggests it will be true to the core of the genre by delivering big screen thrills as well as addressing the current state of world affairs.
Let's take a look at 10 modern alien invasion films worth checking out, and five to avoid ...
10 Alien Invasion Movies Worth Watching (1970s - present)
1. The Thing n/a (1982) Add to Netflix Queue
"This is one of those rare remakes that remains faithful to the premise of the original but does something unique with the concept. "
--James Berardinelli, ReelViews
An alien creature that assimilates and imitates any living thing is unleashed at an Antarctic research station. As the men at the station try to stay alive they also begin to suspect each other of having been transformed into the Thing. John Carpenter's remake of the Howard Hawks original was critically panned in 1982 and was a box-office failure, but over the last 30 years The Thing has become one of the most respected and influential science fiction films of all time. Creating tension and horror with great acting as well as groundbreaking practical special effects, The Thing remains an unforgettable experience.
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers n/a (1978) Add to Netflix Queue
"Mr. Kaufman entices his audience with a running what-will-he-think-up-next? technique, and each time you begin thinking he's tried every trick in the book, he writes another new chapter."
--Janet Maslin, The New York Times
After a plant-based alien life form arrives on Earth, it begins to replace humans while they sleep with "pod people," emotionless copies of the original human beings. A small group struggles to stay alive and awake as their world is slowly taken over. In his remake of the 1956 film (which was remade again less successfully in 2007 as The Invasion) based on Jack Finney's novel, director Phillip Kaufman keeps the suspense of the original while also presenting an even darker vision, which he hammers home with a very unconventional and powerful ending.
3. War of the Worlds 73 (2005) Add to Netflix Queue
"The audience is treated to one extraordinary vision after another; the sense of a world literally being destroyed around the principal actors, the sense of their flight through panic and destruction, the sense of concussion, collapse, rubble and ruin. "
--Stephen Hunter, Washington Post
H.G. Wells' classic story of an invasion of Earth by malevolent lifeforms from Mars is brought into modern times by Steven Spielberg, who deftly illustrates America's fears and paranoia in a post 9/11 world. Ditching his usual suave hero roles, Tom Cruise is a flawed father trying to keep his family alive against all odds. While not as timeless as the 1953 original, the 2005 version takes full advantage of modern-day special effects, at times delivering an all too real vision of human versus alien warfare.
4. Men in Black 71 (1997) Add to Netflix Queue
"The movie that 'Mars Attacks!' wanted to be, but wasn't. This is a snappy, clever, often-funny motion picture that provides the perfect blend of science fiction-style action with comic dialogue. "
--James Berardinelli, ReelViews
Who says fighting aliens can't be fun? When a giant cockroach from another world arrives on Earth and threatens the entire planet, it's up to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and new recruit Agent J (Will Smith) to stop him. With great chemistry between the two leads along with a hilarious and bizarre performance from Vincent D'Onofrio, Men in Black was a huge hit, spawning a cartoon TV show, a sequel in 2002, and a third film arriving in 2012.
5. Star Trek: First Contact 70 (1996) Add to Netflix Queue
"First Contact does everything you'd want a 'Star Trek' film to do, and it does it with cheerfulness and style."
--Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
The crew of the Enterprise travels back to 21st century Earth to prevent the Borg from assimilating all of humanity in the eighth Star Trek film (and first to feature the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast exclusively). Blending the best elements of the Next Generation series along with the threat of alien invasion, First Contact is that rare Trek movie that can appeal to hardcore fans as well as people who have never watched a single episode.
6. Slither 69 (2006) Add to Netflix Queue
"Slither is old-school gooey, slimy, silly B-movie fun."
--Claudia Puig, USA Today
Alien parasites begin turning small-town inhabitants into zombies in Slither, James Gunn's smart homage to The Thing and Night of the Creeps. Loaded with laughs, slimy monsters and solid performances, Slither maintains a strong balance between horror and comedy. While Slither received plenty of critical praise, it failed to find an audience at the box office, but has since found new appreciation on DVD.
7. Cloverfield 64 (2008) Add to Netflix Queue
"Now that the fanboy hype has cleared, we can see Cloverfield for what it is: borrowed inspiration, trite screenwriting and amateurish acting all in the service of a ballsy idea -- that a horror movie could maybe, just maybe, have a soul."
--Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
As a group of young New Yorkers hold a going-away party, a massive alien monster attacks the city, and six people try to make their way across Manhattan to find their friend. Told through "found" footage, Cloverfield cleverly switches back and forth from the mayhem of the present and the events of the past that drive the main character's actions. While sometimes a little melodramatic, Cloverfield delivers big chills, awesome giant monster destruction, and creepy, not-so-giant monster suspense.
8. Monsters 63 (2010) Add to Netflix Queue
"Monsters is a tiny sci-fi thriller that makes up what it lacks in big effects with a fine photographic eye, a low-key sense of scale, and a genuine (if not always well-performed) human drama. "
--Shawn Levy, Portland Oregonian
When a probe bearing lifeforms from Europa crashes in Mexico, the government creates a wall to keep the aliens from moving into America in this low-budget character piece that shows you don't need millions of dollars to create a compelling story. Freelance photographer Andrew is recruited to get his boss' daughter Samantha out of Mexico, but soon they find themselves in the "infected zone," where they learn a lot more about themselves than they expected. Monsters smartly uses alien invasion to explore borders issues and how people react when they have to face the enemy they've been taught to fear.
9. The Faculty 61 (1998) Add to Netflix Queue
"A fast, funny pastiche of science-fiction, horror, and teen-movie archetypes that is, aside from the original Scream, perhaps the most entertaining, fully realized film of the current postmodern horror/sci-fi cycle. "
--Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club
An otherworldly parasite takes over the faculty at a high school, forcing students from different cliques to come together and save the day. Borrowing from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Kevin Williamson-scripted The Faculty makes teachers the bad guys and plays on the themes of teenage angst, rebellion and the awkwardness of puberty. At the same time, director Robert Rodriguez doesn't skimp on the scares or the special effects, keeping The Faculty fun and fast-paced.
10. The Arrival n/a (1996) Add to Netflix Queue
"'The Arrival' fulfills one of the classic functions of science fiction, which is to take a current trend and extend it to a possible (and preferably alarming) future. Unlike 'Species,' which assumed that alien invaders would be monsters (or, if you read the film differently, would send monsters ahead to clear the way for them), 'The Arrival' gives its aliens credit for reasoning that we might almost be tempted to agree with."
--Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Radio astronomer Zane Zaminski (Charlie Sheen, before he started winning) discovers an extraterrestrial signal and soon realizes that aliens are already among us and have begun terraforming Earth. Similar in many ways to the 1960's TV show The Invaders, The Arrival presents invasion as a slow burn, with the aliens quietly and effectively phasing humanity out of existence. Writer/director David Twohy (Pitch Black) injects plenty of science fact along with fiction, making The Arrival an effective enough thriller that a sequel followed in 1998.
... and 5 More to Avoid
1. Battlefield Earth 9 (2000) Add to Netflix Queue
"A picture that will be hailed without controversy as the worst of its kind ever made. "
--David Edelstein, Slate
After reaching the height of his second comeback, John Travolta threw it all away again with Battlefield Earth, an embarrassing, third-rate sci-fi story based on L. Ron Hubbard's novel. Set in the year 3000, well after Earth has been conquered by the Psychlos, Battlefield Earth recounts the preposterous story of how after 1,000 years of slavery, humanity is able to use ancient 20th century technology against the aliens that conquered them. Winner of seven Razzie awards, Battlefield Earth doesn't even qualify as so bad it's good.
2. Skyline 26 (2010) Add to Netflix Queue
"It's finally here: The most boring alien-invasion movie ever."
--Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
When aliens invade Los Angeles, a group of friends find that their personal problems continue to get in the way as they try to survive the onslaught. Clearly trying to recreate the drama and suspense of Cloverfield, Skyline instead delivers annoying characters, silly set pieces and a ludicrous ending that unfortunately suggests a sequel is on the way.
3. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem 29 (2007) Add to Netflix Queue
"An orgy of mindless violence, a random collection of bloody bodies, alien misanthropy, and slobbering carnage designed to bore straight into the pleasure centers of 13-year-old boys and leave the rest of us wondering when the movies got so damn loud."
--Josh Rosenblatt, Austin Chronicle
Picking up right where the critically panned Alien vs. Predator ended, Requiem somehow manages to be worse than its predecessor in every way. The action moves from the Arctic to small-town USA, where the Predators try to clean up the mess of Aliens that have gotten lose. Bad acting, boring characters and inconsistent plot elements (sometimes the alien blood is acidic, and other times not so much) helped, hopefully, to bring this franchise to a close and put the aliens and predators back into a separate films.
4. Impostor 33 (2002) Add to Netflix Queue
"The kind of schlocky, disposable time-killer that once might have starred Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Impostor is a relentlessly dull chase flick with an inexplicably high-toned cast."
--Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
In 2079, a weapons scientist (Gary Sinise) is arrested on suspicion of being a replicant sent by aliens that attacked Earth years before. Certain he isn't a replicant, Sinise breaks free and tries to find out the truth. Originally created to be a short, Imposter was expanded to a feature-length film, but, sadly, there wasn't enough story to keep audiences interested. Yet another adaptation of Philip K. Dick's complex work, Imposter pales next to Minority Report and Total Recall.
5. Dreamcatcher 35 (2003) Add to Netflix Queue
"As five or six bad movies squished together, it almost seems like a bargain."
--A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Based on a Stephen King novel, directed by Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) and featuring Morgan Freeman and Timothy Olyphant, Dreamcatcher sounds like it should be a slam dunk. Instead, the movie offers the standard evil military industrial complex clichés alongside gross-out special effects and over-the-top melodrama about painful childhood memories. Leaving the better elements of the book on the cutting room floor while also trying to cram in as much detail as possible, Dreamcatcher is a misfire on every level.
What do you think?
What are your favorite and least favorite alien invasion movies? Let us know in the discussion section below.