With the upcoming release of A Quiet Place II, we take a look at the ten best alien invasion films released so far.
The premise of an alien invasion film is quite simple. Aliens invade Earth, or are attempting to do so and the protagonists of the film are either trying to stop them or just survive. Generally these aliens will have vastly superior technology and so our Earthly weapons stand no chance. Sometimes these aliens will invade in secret, disguising their intentions in plain sight in order to take over our planet without conflict. Other times, the films are heavy in destruction because the aliens are a bit trigger happy and we’re standing in the way of the precious natural resources they want to extract out of our planet.
To be considered for this list, the aliens featured in the film had to be actively trying to take over the planet by hostile means. Some people may consider films like Predator or District 9 to be alien invasion films, but it isn’t enough for just one alien or a group of aliens to land on Earth and cause some trouble. The films can depict either the beginning of the invasion or the end result of it. The invasion can be in secret, or in the open.
#10 – 10 Cloverfield Lane
The sequel to 2008’s seminal Cloverfield didn’t really start as a sequel. But because it is created as an alternative to “typical” alien invasion films, with a unique perspective, the producers adapted it into a sequel. Indeed, 10 Cloverfield Lane sets itself apart because the main conflict is not humans vs. aliens, its humans vs. humans. The alien invasion situation completely changes life for humanity, and people are desperate as a result. This makes the film very unique in the realm of alien invasion films. It is also very well made and well acted, which is why it earns a spot on my list.
Who Wins? The Aliens
#9 – Signs (2002)
Another alien invasion film which evades the typical perspective of the genre is Signs. This one doesn’t focus on the action or destruction, but is instead a horror-thriller. Again it is more interested in the human element than the alien element. The core of the film is the family and the problems they have to face and overcome together, the alien invasion is just another problem they have to overcome. But unlike most of the films on this list, this one shows all of the stages of an alien invasion. The “signs” of their arrival, the panic and struggle to survive once they are here, and the aftermath and relief once they are gone.
Who Wins? Humanity
#8 – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
This at first seems like your typical alien invasion film. The extraterrestrials are waging an all-out war with humanity and our weapons and technology are inferior to theirs. Our only hope for salvation is a fluke occurrence which grants two soldiers the opportunity to get a second chance when they die. The film plays out like Groundhog Day, but the impending doom caused by the alien invasion gives the premise more urgency. Add in the shock of reliving days and battle deaths over and over again, and you have an innovative, exciting, and smart action thriller.
Who Wins? Humanity
#7 – Marvels’ The Avengers (2012)
Maybe you don’t think of The Avengers when you think of alien invasion movies, but technically it is one, and that is why it is on this list. And since this film is the hallmark of what all later superhero crossover movies would be judged against, I had to include it. (Endgame is a better film, but less of an “alien invasion” movie, so I did not include it). S.H.I.E.L.D. is essentially an organization trying to protect Earth from aliens and their superior technology. To do so, they have to um…borrow some of that technology, and in doing so it puts Earth in danger from the aliens who want it back. But besides all that, it is a fun, and entertaining film. It really elevated the MCU to the next level and is probably one of the most important blockbusters of the 2010’s.
Who Wins? Humanity (for now)
#6 – The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still doesn’t have a traditional alien invasion. Instead it has a single alien who arrives with a warning. Humanity better behave or else the powerful aliens will come and destroy it. Of course, in our hubris we don’t believe the alien. Our fears get the better of us and cause us more harm than if we just listened and trusted. The film is a nod to the cold war and our cruel indifference to others who are not like us. It is a very poignant film which has an important message that is delivered firmly and in an interesting manner. It is also a classic because of the way it uses science fiction not just for mindless entertainment, but to provide helpful insight into our lives.
Who Wins? Neither
#5 – They Live (1988)
The first John Carpenter movie on this list is an underrated classic. This one features the “secret” type of alien invasion, where they have infiltrated society without us normal folks knowing about it. The reason these aliens have invaded earth is because they want to control us, and they do this by feeding us subliminal messages infiltrated into our consumerism! It’s a campy poke at 80’s Reaganomics, but it works today just as well as it did back then. Luckily, we get saved by a drifter who isn’t really a part of society. He becomes this underground hero chewing bubblegum and kicking ass. Yeah, it’s silly, but the message resonates.
Who Wins? Humanity
#4 – War of the Worlds (1953)
While Spielberg’s 2005 film may be the most entertaining version of H.G. Wells’ story that started it all, I have to acknowledge the original feature film version. First because it has stood the test of time and established so much of the foundation we take for granted in both “alien invasion films” as well as science fiction in general. That harrowing unnerve of extraterrestrial invaders, a focus on special effects as an element of entertainment, widespread destruction but also focused narrative. There’s a reason we saw an explosion of alien-invasion B-movies in the 50’s. They all wanted to capitalize on what this film accomplished. In many ways, this was as much of a turning point for science fiction films in the 1950’s as Star Wars was to cinema in the 1970’s.
Who Wins? Humanity
#3 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The reputation of remakes is that they aren’t very good, and yet this is the second remake on this list that is considered to be better than the beloved original film and a hallmark of the genre. This film has the horror and shock of a zombie movie, but positioned as a sort of glimpse into American uncertainty after the collapse of public trust into the government following Vietnam and Watergate. It is the shock that even those people who you think you can trust are not who you thought they were. As an alien invasion movie it is one of the most frightening. It gets close to camp, but the excellent direction and choice to mimic the noir tendencies of its predecessor make it an indomitable experience, and one of the greatest alien invasion movies ever made.
Who wins? The Aliens
#2 – The Thing (1982)
The Thing is a remake of a remake, something that usually has quality like a copy of a copy. Yet, The Thing has transcended its origins to become one of the most appreciated science fiction films ever made. Everything about the film works – from a stellar star performance by a grizzled young Kurt Russel, to an array of very impressive and surprising special effects, to a setting which is a perfect place for this type of film. Director John Carpenter is at the top of his game, and the usual limitations of his campy style don’t seem to apply here. The dingy, constricted spaces his films usually inhabit don’t work against the narrative, but instead enhance it with a sense of panic and desperation. It isn’t the most overtly “alien invasion” movie out there, which is why it doesn’t rank higher, but it is certainly a spectacular example of a science fiction film about hostile aliens landing on Earth.
Who Wins? The Aliens
#1 – Independence Day (1996)
It’s hard to believe this film is 25 years old, but I feel like it broke the mold for the blockbuster science fiction experience. It took the disaster-film approach popular in the 70’s and blended it with Star Wars. Everything about this film is designed to thrill its audience; a diverse and interesting cast, some of the best special effects of any film in the 90’s, and those iconic scenes of destruction that represent the excitement of modern moviemaking. When I think of modern alien invasion films, this one comes to mind first. It has a straightforward approach, but the adventure and journey it takes you on through the intersecting stories makes it endlessly rewatchable.
Who Wins? Humanity (…until the aliens come back in the sequel!)