Aliens have been a major part of pop culture since the beginning of the 20th century, quickly taking over the science fiction genre and maintaining popularity due to the unlimited possibilities that the concept of extraterrestrials offered. Some stories about aliens revolve around the foreign civilizations and futuristic advances on far-away planets.
While these tales can be interesting, this list focuses instead on films about the clashing of alien culture with human civilization on Earth. Usually these kind of stories don’t allow for quite as much detail and background. They make up for it, however, with mystery and intrigue of unknown forces as well as differences in the cultures, bringing up important themes of human civilization.
The movies of this sub-genre manifest themselves in many different genres, applying the mystery surrounding the aliens to everything from comedic misunderstandings to terrifying danger. Settings in these films also differ, with some taking place in current, real world environments with others taking place in the future, featuring advanced technology.
As different as the film’s plots may be, they all offer similar themes through the comparison of cultures, some highlighting the extraterrestrials throughout and others that don’t even show them, utilizing them only as an idea. The list that follows includes many different types of movies, creating a thorough and varied semblance of the popular genre.
15. Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011)
Joe Cornish’s debut film has already gathered somewhat of a cult following around it. It follows a group of young delinquents in a South London housing project who try to mug a woman when a meteor crashes near them. A small creature emerges and scratches the gang’s leader Moses, played by John Boyega, but is killed by the kids. They bring the alien to their drug dealer to see if it worth money, but they soon realize that the alien had friends that are much larger and more dangerous, who want the body back. The gang arms themselves and prepares for an epic fight to protect their “block.”
Despite a relatively low budget and a no-name cast, Attack the Block was one of the funnest and positively received action films of its year. It’s success also led to popularity for the film’s actors like Boyega, who stars in Star Wars: Episode VII, and showed the possibilities for independent action and science fiction movies.
The setting of the film inside lower class London is also significant, acting as a social commentary on the conditions of living that causes otherwise good kids into a life of crime and the way that the rest of London, especially the police, control the area. Stylish, exciting and with spunky British energy, Attack the Block is an entertaining addition to the alien action genre.
14. Mars Attacks (Tim Burton, 1996)
This wacky cult film from Tim Burton satires both the science fiction B movies of the past and the big budget alien blockbusters of the present. The plot is nothing new, simply focusing on several different characters as martians arrive on Earth and start terrorizing all humans. Some of the characters include boxing champions, news reporters, soldiers, the President of the United States and sleazy Las Vegas developers, the latter two being both played by Jack Nicholson. As the human population is quickly being decimated by the martians, the heroes must act quickly to find a way to save their planet.
Clearly not a perfect film, Mars Attacks still features a lot of funny gags and a lot of enjoyable plot points. The over the top appearance of the aliens, taken from the trading card game on which the film is based, destroys any hope of scariness for the film but adds a lot to the wacky comic atmosphere.
The talented ensemble cast is also highly entertaining, with in addition to Nicholson includes Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Danny DeVito, Glenn Close and many more. Mars Attacks is an outrageous and absurd adventure and worth a watch for fans of B movies.
13. Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, 2011)
A throwback film to the classic alien films of the 1970s by filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, who produced this film, Abrams’s movie doubles as both a thrilling alien encounter story, as well as a touching coming of age tale. 14-year old Joe Lamb is making a zombie film with his friends when they capture a violent train crash on their Super 8 camera. Their town quickly becomes quarantined by a secret branch of the government due to the mysterious contents of the train, but no one will give them concrete answers.
The boys escape confinement to discover that the secret cause of the commotion is actually an alien that crash landed years before and has recently escaped. It is then up to Joe and his friends to stop the alien peacefully before more violence is caused.
Delightfully packed with nostalgia from the 1970s and featuring a charming cast of young actors, Abram’s alien picture is a very heartwarming tale mixed in with many thrilling action sequences. The close bonding between both the group of friends and Joe and his father, played by Kyle Chandler, create a very family friendly atmosphere that is challenged and ultimately strengthened by the alien menace. The film is also notable for its dazzling yet realistic special effects, which won many awards in their own right.
12. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
Philip Kaufman’s creepy thriller was adapted Don Siegel’s 1956 cult classic and is one of the earliest examples of how a remake can surpass the quality of the original. Set in San Francisco, the peaceful lives of the citizens are interrupted when alien life forms fall from the sky. Donald Sutherland and his friends discover that these life forms are making doubles of all the people in the city and replacing them when they sleep, leaving emotionless copies in their place. When more and more people are replaced, nobody remains trustworthy.
This peculiar blend of mystery and science fiction is a goofy, bizarre and terrifying film that outdoes the original film both technically and in creating a tense atmosphere. The film’s slow build that quickly grows out of hand results in one of the most unsettling and thought provoking horror endings ever. Disguising the alien beings as human bodies creates a less startling but in the long run much more terrifying effect. With an excellent cast including Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a highly intriguing remake of a unique sci-fi story.
11. Predator (John McTiernan ,1987)
This classic alien action film follows a group of tough soldiers sent into a South American jungle to rescue a hostage. When they arrive, however, they stumble upon another team of soldiers, all killed and skinned. After experiencing other ominous events, they are attacked by an alien enemy with a cloaking agent, the predator, who slowly dismembers the team. In the end, only Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is left to defend himself against the alien. He must use both cunning and fighting skill in order to kill the dangerous, powerful creature.
The rest of the soldiers are played by an ensemble of strong, tough guys, notably Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers. The machismo of this film is unequaled in any film as each actor plays a cliché, bloodthirsty fighter, unafraid of the beast. In addition to a memorable cast of characters, the dialogue is phenomenal creating many oft quoted lines such as “Get to the Choppa!” and “I ain’t got time to bleed.”
The predator became a cultural icon as well, spawning two other films as well as two joint features with the creatures from the Alien franchise. Featuring some of the coolest characters and a threatening atmosphere, Predator is a must see action classic that effectively utilizes the mystery surrounding aliens.
10. The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953)
The first film adaptation of H.G. Wells’s landmark alien novel, George Pal’s production, despite having many elements of a B-Movie, remains the most thrilling movie version of the story. The plot takes some dramatic liberties with the novel but retains the same general plot. It starts with a martian aircraft crash landing in Southern California. Initially nobody knows what to make of it, but after lasers from the ship start killing people, the army gets involved. Soon, the martians are destroying buildings and killing scores of people and our hero, nuclear scientist Clayton Forrester, must fight to try and save humanity.
Some might consider that the campiness and the now aged special effects of this classic make it lesser than some of the other adaptations, most notably Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake. While the new film certainly has more advanced effects, the slightly cheesy, Technicolor manta-ray ships of the original film give off an aura that is just as eerie.
Unlike many of Pal’s productions during that time, The War of the Worlds actually features some worthwhile thematic content, such as the clashing of religion and warfare, as well as many genuinely thrilling moments.
9. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)
A breath of fresh air to the state of the modern science fiction genre, visionary director Jonathan Glazer creates a stylish and dark portrait of an alien on Earth. Scarlett Johansson plays the central alien who uses her beauty and sexuality to seduce men in Glasgow into following her home where she lures them into a mysterious pool of liquid in which they perish. She is being followed by an equally mysterious motorcyclist who cleans up after her prey. Despite not having much plot, the eerie premise and masterful atmosphere keep the film engaging throughout.
In addition to the disturbing fates of the alien’s prey, the film also examines human culture through the unbiased eyes of an alien. Much of the footage for the film is shot through hidden cameras on the street, capturing actual people candidly, and much of the dialogue is improvised showing the perspective of the alien trying to fit into the human society. An entirely unconventional approach to the alien film, Under the Skin is a dark, intriguing and visually stunning science fiction film.