10 ALIEN INVASION FILMS
Martians, UFOs and extra-terrestrials these are just some of words that we use when discussing those otherworldly beings known as aliens. In the 1950s, movie audiences were looking for new outlandish thrills from Hollywood and that’s when the science fiction genre really took off. What followed was the first wave of pop cinema that focused on the unknown elements outside our planet. These films asked the questions: What if there are people besides us in the universe? What are they like? Are they friendly or do they want to take us over? Do they look like us or are they ugly mutants? The imaginative genre filmmakers then answered those questions and used the modest SFX such as miniatures and stop motion animation to create the worlds they envisioned in which the alien beings had visited us either to politely introduce themselves or to cause mass havoc and destroy our way of life.
In the modern age, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has made creating highly realistic visuals easier for filmmakers so they can now bring their amazing visions to life in a more believable way. Although we at FC aren’t fans of the misuse and overabundancy of CGI, in these kinds of films we know the medium calls for these kinds of cinematic tools to be utilized.
We love all the many kinds of genre films based in reality here at FC but we also enjoy the cinema of the fantastic, that’s precisely why we’ve put together this list of 10 classic films from one of our favorite sci-fi subgenres: The Alien Invasion Film!
War of The Worlds
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: Based on the H.G. Wells novel, Alien beings invade Earth destroying anything that comes into their path.
1953 Film: In the book this film is based on, Martians invade London but producers decided to Americanize the story for audiences and the setting was was moved to Southern California. The tale revolves around UFOs that arrive inside asteroids and slowly begin to take over the planet causing worldwide hysteria. To make matters worse, the evil Martians’ only form of communication comes through furious, shocking disintegrator blasts they unleash on any humans who dare to attempt to interact with them. War of the Worlds was groundbreaking for its use of Special FX and went on to earn an Academy Award. Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson. Directed by Byron Haskell. WATCH TRAILER
2005 Film: Steven Spielberg’s first forays into the alien invasion subgenre came with two classics that dealt with friendly outer space visitors: Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977) and E.T. (1982). With his reimagining of War of The Worlds he went to the opposite end of the spectrum and created a chilling sci-fi-action thriller with Tom Cruise as the main character that has a journey with his kids as the alien invaders try to take over. It features some amazing Special FX that really took the 1950s concept to a whole new exhillerating level. Spielberg also opted to use the original stories’ visually imposing, gigantic insect like tripods instead of the traditional flying manta ray aircrafts that were in the earlier adaptation. WATCH A CLIP
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: A gelatinous purple ooze emerges from an asteroid that crash lands on Earth and attacks anyone it comes in contact with, enveloping and killing them.
1958 Film: With its hokey acting and primitive SFX, this film is now considered a camp cult classic, albeit a light hearted, charming one that always entertains audiences young or old. This movie is also famous for featuring a young Steve McQueen in his first starring role. WATCH TRAILER
1988 Film: In this updated version the story was retold with a more flashy Hollywood action edge. It starred Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith. Unlike alot of remakes it was was actually a well made, entertaining movie that retained alot of the first films charm and ‘small town adventure’ aspect. WATCH A CLIP
Invasion of The Body Snatchers
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: Those aren’t pea pods in the garden house.
1956 Film: In the fictional town of Santa Mira, California, Dr. Miles Bennett (Kevin McCarthy) finds himself caught in a paranoia induced frenzy when several of his patients are accused of being clones by their spouses. Bennett soon finds out that these suspicions are true and the citizens of his town are being cloned by aliens through the use of strange vegetable like pods. It’s a race against time as he tries to evade the pod people and warn others outside of what’s happening. It’s a classic suspense filled sci-fi potboiler. Look for a cameo by Sam Peckinpah. Directed by Don Siegel. WATCH TRAILER
1978 Film: Where the earlier films theme was based around the paranoia of the Cold War this film uses the alien storyline to comment on the self obsessed 70’s “Me generation” and uses more graphic violence and SFX. Interestingly, this film shows the alien race before they come to Earth to invade. It’s definitely one of the better updates of the classic films in this category. Look for cameos by Don Siegel (director of the first film), Kevin McCarthy (also from the 1950s version) and Robert Duvall. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Leonard Nimoy. Directed by Philip Kaufman. WATCH A CLIP
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Alien type: Friendly.
Synopsis: Klaatu, an alien who looks human, warns Earth about impending doom.
1951 Film: Klaatu (Michael Rennie) a friendly alien from a distant planet travels to Earth to warn the citizens that their warlike ways are becoming not only a danger to themselves but to other nearby residents of the solar system. His mission is to try to change the worlds attitude and get them to live in peace. A direct comment on the real impending atomic/nuclear threats of the time. One of the films most iconic characters is Klaatu’s personal bodyguard/assistant Gort, a huge silver robot. This version remains a celebrated sci-fi classic of its time. Co-starring Patricia Neal. Directed by Robert Wise. WATCH TRAILER
2008 Film: The remake starred Keanu Reeves in the role of Klaatu. The Cold War/atomic/nuclear theme was replaced with a modern environmental dangers related storyline. The movie was a modest success but still pales in comparison to the original even with its multimillion dollar budget and flashy CGI FX. Directed by Scott Derrickson. WATCH TRAILER
Invaders From Mars
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: Martians try to invade Earth by using human mind control.
1953 Film: A young boy named David (Jimmy Hunt) sees a UFO land near his home after which he tells his father who goes to investigate. When his father returns David notices a small cut on his father’s head. From then on his father, mother and other people he knows become oddly cruel. David tries to get help after learning that in fact Martians have come to Earth and are using humans as their slaves with mind control devices implanted in their heads. With its bleak, cold, nightmarish atmosphere, the film taps into the viewers mind in a very unique way. Directed by William Cameron Menzies. WATCH TRAILER
1986 Film: This remake follows the first films storyline pretty closely. Although it featured some outstanding SFX work by Stan Winston and John Dykstra the film never gained an audience and failed at the box office. Starring Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Karen Black, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher. Directed by Tobe Hooper. WATCH TRAILER
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: The first film adaptation was the 1951 B-movie “The Thing From Another World” directed by Christian Nyby and an uncredited Howard Hawks. In that film, a large humanoid plant creature (James Arness) wreaks havoc on an Arctic outpost. Several decades later Director John Carpenter inspired by the original story the films were based on, made a highly inventive suspenseful sci-fi/horror film that has become one of the most revered of all remakes. WATCH 1951 TRAILER
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: When a special forces guerilla unit is deployed into the jungles of South America to perform a secret mission they discover the skinned remains of several of their fellow officers which leads them into an encounter with an alien being who hunts humans for sport during the hottest months of the year. The soldiers must fight for for their lives as they come under attack from the creature who uses special chameleon like weaponry to evade being seen. This film remains one of the best sci-fi-action thrillers to come out of the 1980s. Starring Arnold Shwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke. Directed by John McTiernan. WATCH TRAILER – You may also like: Without Warning
Independence Day (1996)
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: When aliens invade Earth, the President calls on the best of the best in the U.S. Air Force to protect the people. Meanwhile a small group of scientists and average joes try to pitch in to help stop them as well. Out of all the modern day alien invasion films, this movie stands as one of the very best. With its all star cast, humor, thrilling action sequences and highly conceptualized, sleek special FX laden atmosphere, it takes all those 50s UFO invasion films to their zenith and does it with big budget Hollywood style. Starring Will Smith, Harry Connick Jr, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum and Randy Quaid. Directed by Roland Emmerich. WATCH TRAILER
Alien type: Foe.
Synopsis: In this suspense filled, Hitchcockian tale Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, a former preacher who discovers strange formations known as Crop circles on his property. Along with his kids (Abigail Breslin, Rory Culkin) and his younger brother Merill (Jaoquin Phoenix) Hess finds that the circles are in fact evidence that aliens are secretly visiting his home and surveying human life. M. Night Shymalan goes old school and uses the mystery surrounding the unseen beings to crank up the thrills. WATCH TRAILER
Men In Black (1997)
Alien type: Mostly friendly.
Synopsis: Taking the Alien invasion concept down different path, MIB features a world where the aliens live among us secretly. Only an elite undercover alien police force known as the Men In Black know about them. They use all types of incredible weaponry and other gadgets to keep the peace when these “foreigners” get out of control. The film combines the alien invasion theme with comedy and outrageous special FX. It’s quite a fun ride. Starring Will Smith as a young urban rookie and Tommy Lee Jones as his older mentor who knows all the ways to deal with the wily and often comical aliens. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. WATCH TRAILER
Since we already have The Thing on our list, we wanted to give some other directors their due, but how could we not mention our other all time favorite Carpenter alien invasion film:
They Live (1988): Rowdy Roddy Piper plays Nada, a drifter who arrives in L.A. where he finds a job on a construction site, there he befriends a co-worker Frank (Keith David) and gets to know a community of homeless people who live on the outskirts of the city. After discovering some sunglasses, Nada finds he has the ability to see that many of his fellow human beings are actually aliens in disguise and that the advertising in magazines and on billboards have hidden subliminal messages like OBEY and CONSUME. Although this is an alien invasion film, the films most famous sequence is the epic alleyway fistfight between Piper and David. Carpenter delivers another twist on this subgenre loaded with wit, humor and action. Roddy Piper is truly excellent in this playing Nada as part naive All American do gooder and tough as nails rebel. My favorite performance by him in a film. WATCH A CLIP
Next as a bonus, we’d like to give a heads up to readers on recent films we think are excellent recent additions to the alien invasion subgenre but are really too new for us to rate where they’d place in our list. We hope you’ll check them out!
Super 8 (2011) – Director J.J. Abrams used his own childhood as a Super 8 filmmaker as well as his love of Steven Spielberg’s movies such as Close Encounters and E.T. as inspiration for this thrilling tale about an alien (played by Bruce Greenwood) who is imprisoned by the U.S. government after crashing on Earth in 1958. Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler. WATCH TRAILER
Attack The Block (2011): Although it hasn’t been released officially in the U.S. yet, word is, this is one very entertaining British spin on the alien invasion subgenre. Directed by Joe Cornish and Produced by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead). WATCH TRAILER
Cowboys & Aliens (2011) Based on the 2006 graphic novel, the alien invasion genre is mashed up with the Wild West in this exciting tale about an outlaw (Craig) who has no memory and arrives in a small town and must figure out the mysterious circumstances that shroud his past while dealing with a dangerous Colonel (Ford) who is out to get him. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell. Directed by Jon Favreau. WATCH TRAILER