It’s World UFO Day and to celebrate we’ve collated a list of the best alien movies of all time.
Unidentified flying objects have intrigued and fascinated human beings for decades and have been the subject of some brilliant (and terrible) films. Here’s a list of our favourites in no particular order – because it was too hard to pick a number one.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), dir. Steven Spielberg.
Close Encounters was a long-cherished project for Spielberg. The title is derived from Ufologist J. Allen Hynek’s classification of close encounters with extraterrestrials, in which the third kind denotes human observations of extraterrestrials or “animate beings”.
The film is about a group of people who attempt to contact alien intelligence. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) witnesses an unidentified flying object and even has a sunburn from its bright lights to prove it. Roy refuses to accept an explanation for what he saw and is prepared to give up his life to pursue the truth about UFOs.
The Blob (1958), dir. Irvin Yeaworth
So eager are we to place metaphors onto alien movies that The Blob has been referred to as everything from an analogy for the Cold War to a grim warning against the perils of capitalism.
But it’s also very much about a giant blob of goo that consumes everything in its wake. A pre-fame Steve McQueen in his feature film debut is the preppie high-schooler facing off against the aggressive alien entity. Burt Bacharach sings the film’s theme song, driving home The Blob’s kitsch, drive-in-movie charm.
Coneheads (1993), dir. Steve Barron
A personal fave, Coneheads stars real-life UFO enthusiast, Dan Aykroyd.
The film is based on the NBC Saturday Night Live comedy sketches about aliens stranded on Earth, who have Anglicized their Remulakian surname to “Conehead”. Michelle Burke took over the role played by Laraine Newman on SNL. The film also features roles and cameos by actors and comedians from television series of the time.
This is a super sweet, light-hearted take on the alien genre with all the 90’s charm we “geriatric” millennials miss so much.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) dir. Don Siegel, (1978) dir. Philip Kaufman
We’re long overdue a new remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The pod-people premise is effortlessly translated into new decades and spun into powerful new metaphors for modern threats.
But of the many incarnations of Jack Finney’s novel, it’s Philip Kaufman’s 1978 adaptation that remains its most terrifying and daring, exploiting the Cold War paranoia of the era and building to a devastatingly brutal final twist. Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy and a young Jeff Goldblum are among the stars confronted with an alien invasion that replaces the world’s populace with mindless doppelgängers.
Personally, however, there’s something I love about the black and white innocence of Siegel’s 1956 adaptation, why not give both a go!
The Faculty (1998), dir. Robert Rodriguez
Ahh, here’s my millennial taste being revealed again, my friends and I adored this movie when it first came out – a group of misfit, gorgeous teenagers (including young Elijah Wood, Joshua Hartnett, and Clea DuVall) battling aliens at a high school? What’s not to love?!
This genre-splicing teen thriller could only have been birthed in the era of Scream and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and only by the creator of other 90’s gems, From Dusk til Dawn and El Mariachi. Sweet, pulpy and dripping in Gen-X cool, The Faculty is Body Snatchers by way of The Breakfast Club, with the cheery spookiness of an RL Stine book.
Under the Skin (2013), dir. Jonathan Glazer
Alien movies are unusual in that they’re always driven by outsiders and extra-terrestrials, yet almost always anchored by us, the humans.
Under the Skin, a characteristically trippy experiment from visionary filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Birth, Sexy Beast), is us as seen through the eyes of a beguiling and curious alien played by Scarlett Johansson. She marvels at human idiosyncrasies and our faces, or else delights in our chocolate cake. And in a further twist, she finds that she likes us.
Under the Skin is uncomfortable and horrifying yet also unusually tender, and proof that we haven’t yet run out of new ways to depict alien visitors.
E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), dir. Steven Spielberg
Well of course E.T had to be on this list, how could it not? A film that taught a generation of children (and, if we’re being honest, their parents) the importance of friendship, whether shared with an intergalactic gremlin or not.
E.T is magical cinema and the finest distillation of Steven Spielberg’s power as a filmmaker – emotional but never cloying, otherworldly but always resolutely human, and with a deep understanding and respect for child-like wonder.
Alien (1979), dir. Ridley Scott and Aliens (1986), dir. James Cameron
There was no way to not have both of these seminal films on the list.
The original (and still the best – not just in terms of the long-running Alien franchise, but the alien genre as a whole) is chilly and sparse, with moments of languid contemplation interrupted by bloody carnage, Alien is both a haunted house movie and delicate meditation on life, power and authority. HR Giger’s ubiquitous design work remains terrifying, and Sigourney Weaver is an instant star as the compassionate and smart Ellen Ripley.
If you’re into the girl-power factor of Weaver’s Ripley character – which as a girl of the 90s of course I was – then Aliens, Cameron’s sequel is for you, delving into the subject matter of feminity and motherhood and with one of the greatest lines ever uttered: “Get away from her, you bitch!”
There are so many more great alien films we haven’t had time to mention: The Thing (1982 – NOT the remake!), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Contact (1997), plus some great alien inspired TV including, The X-Files, Third Rock From the Sun, Mork and Mindy, Alf, Aliens in the Family… So, get your freak on and celebrate World UFO Day with some galactic viewing.