There are those of us who look up at the stars in the night sky, believing we are not alone in the universe. Some wonder with awe what might be out there. Others worry with dread about what might one day come after us.
This deep fear of the unknown, and the real concern that any space-faring species would outmatch our civilization has spawned a full spectrum of innovative movies about aliens. Some rely on classic horror movie mechanics to have you jumping out of your skin when a monstrous alien drags an innocent victim to their death. Yet other movies fill you with spine-tingling curiosity and suspense.
Some of the following movies about aliens are classic films, a few are franchises, and a few are standalone films that leave you wondering more about your place in the universe.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
While there are alien movies from before 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind sort of marks a turning point in what alien movies could be. It upped the bar and told us that alien movies could be more than just low-budget B-rated horror films with an extraterrestrial theme.
It had stunning visual effects, which helped it become a blockbuster and instant classic science fiction film. The story largely focuses on the experience of Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who is a blue-collar worker from Indiana. His life is thrown into turmoil after an encounter with a UFO which leaves burns on his face.
Roy is then haunted by visions of a mountain, and he attempts to draw it in detail. His experience draws the interest of scientists and United Nations experts who’ve been investigating UFOs and the plot eventually draws him to Wyoming’s Devils Tower. The government is trying to communicate with alien spacecraft through hand signals and tonal sequences. Eventually, the aliens make peace with the people of earth and agree to let Roy take a ride with them on some interstellar grand adventure.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Released in theaters back in 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake of a 1956 sci-fi horror film. It’s set in the city of San Francisco where a health inspector, played by Donald Sutherland, and his partner discover strange seeds have been landing from outer space. They start developing into mysterious pods that grow throughout San Francisco. It’s discovered that the pods systematically replace the humans with which they’re modeled. However, these replicas are unable to experience human emotion.
The Aliens Franchise
Alien originally debuted in 1979 and portrayed a strong woman Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver who takes on a single alien with acidic blood and a parasitic reproductive system. It was a shocking space drama horror film that captivated audiences and led to record box office sales. Not to mention an Oscar win for Best Visual Effects, as well as induction into the esteemed US National Film Registry. Weaver also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
It’s also important to note that this is right at the time when Cable TV started spreading rapidly throughout the United States. This led to millions of viewers being able to watch Alien and other science fiction films over and over again on HBO and other premium channels.
This pumped up demand for an Alien Sequel, which would eventually result in one of the most popular science fiction horror movie franchises of all time. Alien 2, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection are still binged to this day. The Alien franchise has recently spun off into backstory movies like Prometheus and Alien Covenant.
The Predator Franchise
When the movie Predator first appeared on screens, everyone was happy to see Carl Weathers in a role other than Apollo Creed, and everyone really wanted to get to the Choppa. The explosive ending and the teases about what the Predator species backstory didn’t just spawn a sequel, it gave birth to an entire franchise that would continue to evolve.
In time the Predator franchise even found a way to become blood brothers with the Aliens franchise, sans Sigourney Weaver. It was a way for both alien cultures to get an infusion of some fresh blood for a new generation of moviegoers. Over time it’s opened the door to a lot of other interesting extraterrestrial storylines that are just begging on their knees to be explored.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. takes a lighter tone on alien intentions. Portraying E.T. and his species as benevolent in nature helped make it one of the most famous alien movies ever made and is an instant classic. In 1982, it managed to finally knock Star Wars off the throne of being the highest-grossing film of all time!
The plot of E.T. involves alien botanists who visit earth to acquire some of our unique plant specimens from a California forest. Unfortunately, they are forced to flee by government agents, except one alien is accidentally left behind.
E.T is eventually befriended by a troubled child named Elliott, who teaches E.T. how to speak English and help him cobble together a device that lets him “Phone Home.” Eventually, the aliens return from outer space to rescue E.T. and the day is saved.
Explorers is one of Ethan Hawke’s earliest movies and it also stars River Phoenix. The storyline follows a teenage boy from San Francisco with an obsession for science fiction movies. He keeps having dreams about flying through clouds and over a vast circuit board after falling asleep watching his favorite flicks. He draws a blueprint from his recurring dreams for his inventor friend. Like industrious teenagers, they manage to cobble together a spaceship that lets them explore outer space.
Debuting in 1985 Cocoon taps into the promise of Ponce De Leon’s “Fountain of Youth” which is ironically found in a Florida swimming pool. In truth, it’s a group of aliens who have left “Cocoons” in the swimming pool which rejuvenates people.
Eventually, a trio of elderly people trespasses and swim in the pool, causing them to suddenly feel younger and stronger. When word gets out people attempt to exploit the pool, draining it, and accidentally robbing it of its life-giving energy.
The film is one of Ron Howard’s early forays into directing, and it won two Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects and Best Supporting Actor for Don Ameche. The 1988 sequel, Cocoon: The Return, featured a lot of the original cast members but fell a little short in plot and box office success. It stood as a little bit of a cautionary tale about trying to force a sequel to an alien movie at a time when people were starting to get skeptical about the quality of sequels.
They Live is an alien movie from the late 1980s. It was a time when Hollywood executives were willing to toss random fistfuls of cash at science fiction scripts, hoping a good one would stick like spaghetti on the wall.
The storyline focuses on a drifter who finds a pair of special sunglasses which allows him to see the true guise of aliens who are gradually taking over the planet Earth. They are actively working to manipulate people to breed and confirm by sending subliminal messages through mass media.
Luckily a hacker is able to take over television broadcasts and warn the populace of what’s happening. A lot of the movie relies on special effects and simulated sex scenes to carry the plot. Though what really made it popular was the famous line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.”
James Cameron wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Abyss, which was originally meant to be a horror film but went on to be more of a science fiction movie. The story starts with a search for a lost nuclear submarine. Then a diving team realizes it is at the bottom of the ocean and has been taken by an aquatic alien species.
As the tensions rise, they end up using an experimental diving suit that enables the male protagonist “Bud” to reach the ocean floor. That’s when he realizes that once he reaches the bottom and disables the nuclear bomb, he will suffocate. It’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make for the greater good. Though to his surprise, the aquatic alien species takes him into their alien city in a deep ocean trench and creates a safe pocket of air that enables him to breathe. They then rise up rescuing everyone and revealing themselves to human beings.
The Abyss was Nominated for four Oscars and was awarded the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. One wonders if all that time filming in the deep and around the ocean was a later inspiration for Titanic.
Species appeared in theaters in 1995 and used the powerful sex appeal of Natasha Henstridge to draw people into a tense plot line. The movie is set in LA and involves a female alien who is dead-set on mating with a human and spreading her alien DNA into our population. In the nick of time, a group of scientists manages to track down her character and kill her before she can pull off her mating scheme. Species spawned a sequel in Species II and two direct-to-TV sequels, Species III and Species—The Awakening. None of which had the success of the original film.
Coneheads is technically an Alien movie. Though it’s really more of an extended sketch comedy bit ripped directly from a popular Saturday Night Live sketch from Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd. It’s one last chance for them to drop some funny one-liners before putting the sketch to bed. Fans of SNL will watch over and over again to feel the lingering embers from the golden days of SNL.
Mars Attacks was one of those alien movies that attempted to poke a little fun at the genre. There is arguably more comedy than there is science fiction in this film. Though what really carries it is the all-star ensemble cast starring Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Martin Short, and Danny DeVito.
The movie adaptation of Starship Troopers depicts human civilization in the future with a totalitarian, dystopian regime. The earth is at war with an alien species of insects who are thought to be directed by a “Brain Bug.” It apparently gleans knowledge about humans by piercing their skulls with his proboscis and eating their brains.
The first movie came out in 1997 and helped add to Denise Richard’s popularity. In time, it grew into a franchise with the live-action sequels Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. It lives on in a pair of computer-animated films, Starship Troopers Invasion and Starship Troopers the Traitor of Mars..
The Men In Black Franchise
The Men in Black were originally alien conspiracy theory lore, about government agents who tried to cover up alien abductions and incidents like Roswell or Area 51. Along the way the story concept was taken to script to become the action-packed sci-fi comedy franchise Men In Black.
The first MIB came out in 1997 when Will Smith’s fame as an actor was steeply on the rise Except it recasts the Men in Black as quasi-government agents who manage extraterrestrial affairs on Earth and beyond. This includes altering the memories of any UFO witnesses.
In time MIB evolved beyond the budget demands of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. This led to a light amount of retconning and passing the torch to a new generation of agents to keep the franchise and potential sequels alive for more than two decades after the first movie wrapped up principal photography.
Contact is a psychological movie that is just as much about the failure of the human species to learn how to come together as it is about first contact with an alien civilization. It’s based on Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel of the same name and came out shortly after his death.
Sagan was famous for saying the universe contained “Billions of Billions of Stars.” He speculated that life must exist all across the universe. The story of Contact features a female scientist named Ellie Arroway who seeks out alien communication after her father’s death by listening to radio transmissions from outer space.
She makes brief “Contact” but instantaneously returns to Earth with very little evidence to prove her claims. It plays on a central theme of the contrast between faith and science and how the inability of the two disciplines to recognize and respect each other prevents humanity from cooperatively reaching higher goals.
When it came out on the Fourth of July in 1996 Independence Day exploded at the box office and helped catapult Will Smith’s movie career to new heights. It features an all-star ensemble cast including Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid, and Harvey Fierstein.
The plot involves a group of scientists who gather in the Nevada desert to fight a giant “mothership” that has already wiped out major cities such as New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles with a seemingly invincible death ray. In dramatic fashion, everyone comes together to finally defeat the mothership and reassert the Fourth of July as a planetary Independence Day.
Independence Day became the second-highest-grossing film of all time falling just behind Jurassic Park. It sparked a 2016 sequel called Independence Day: Resurgence, which did well, but was still stuck in the shadow of the original film.
Lost in Space
Lost in Space was one of those original iconic science fiction TV shows that helped get the genre started in the 1960s. So, it only made sense that someone would eventually try to turn it into a blockbuster Hollywood movie at some point.
Just like the original TV show, it features the Robinson family, led by Major Don West, as well as a talking robot who warns of danger, and the highly neurotic villain in Dr. Zachary Smith. The film depicts the Robinson crew stranded in space as they are desperately trying to find their way back to Earth.
A lot of science fiction movie fans will point to Signs as being the movie that truly catapulted M. Night Shymalan’s filmmaking career to new heights. It features a family struggling to deal with the loss of their mother. Trapped in Iowa as strange happenings spread across the world.
The majority of the story focuses on an Episcopal priest named Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, who recently lost his wife in a traffic accident. He’s effectively lost his faith and to deal with the grief. As the plot progresses Graham starts to notice that his cornfield is covered in crop circles, which makes everyone wonder if they were made by extraterrestrials.
Eventually, they come to confront the aliens in their own home. Merril, who is Graham’s brother and a retired baseball player is told to “Swing Away” and defeats the alien being chasing them to complete their journey through doubt as they see the signs.
Avatar was the long-term brainchild of James Cameron. The movie is set in the year 2154, where a massive energy crisis is crippling the Earth. When his twin brother dies, a paraplegic Marine is sent to a moon named Pandora where he temporarily inhabits a golem-like body meant to mine a superconductive element called unobtanium.
It’s hoped that the mineral can solve Earth’s energy problems. However, Pandora is inhabited by a blue-skinned alien species known as the Na’Vi. In time the Marine develops an emotional bond with the aliens. Eventually developing a crisis of conscience where he must choose between saving the earth and saving the aliens of Pandora. He chooses to join the aliens and becomes one of them in an elaborate ceremony that leaves the human attempting to exploit the moon on the outs.