Because I’m a bit of a purest, this list doesn’t include Superman, Star Wars, or even Stargate, because frankly the aliens in those films aren’t very funny, or terrifying. Instead, here’s a look at a few great films that introduce us to some of the most frightening, funny, and freakish creatures humanity has ever met.
There are aliens, and then there are Aliens, and between directors Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and David Fincher, this intelligent, frightening series of films introduced us to some of the most unstoppable, vile creatures in the universe. Although the creature effects, sets, and the gritty mood of each film makes the series is a gem, it is certainly Sigourney Weaver and her resolute character who helped carry this franchise forward.
Admittedly, there is one film in this collection worth skipping – namely, 1997’s Alien Resurrection – but, this is a brilliant boxed set featuring fantastic extras, like the director’s cuts of the first two films, and making-of featurettes. One word of warning though, a Blu-ray re-release is rumoured for some time later this year.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
As far as smart, dramatic sci-fi goes, director Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a benchmark for the genre. With Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary, the film is poignant and moving, and the closing scenes are mind-blowing in every way. A 30th anniversary edition package of the movies was also released on DVD and Blu-ray, and includes three different cuts of the film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Forget about the recent remake of this classic film and go right back to the source that stars Michael Rennie as the alien Klaatu. Sent to Earth to discover the truth about humanity, Klaatu encounters the best and the worst of the world, and has a message that must be heard by the world.
Simply put, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the best science fiction films ever made, and Rennie’s performance as the calm, yet sad alien is powerfully moving.
E.T. The Extraterrestrial
Once again, I can’t help but point to director Steven Spielberg’s genius with the 1980s classic film, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, about a boy and his alien trying to escape the authorities. Sweet and endearing, this is a wonderful film made for both kids and adults, and there is no missing the movie’s modern-day fairy-tale appeal.
Multiple DVD editions exist, with a pile of extras, but the film is long overdue for Blu-ray release if you ask me.
The Fifth Element
Coming in on the action-side of the alien chart, The Fifth Element is a fun and brilliantly bizarre take on the modern space adventure starring Bruce Willis as a taxi driver who is going to have to save the world, whether he wants to or not. Directed by the great Luc Besson, the film co-stars Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, and Gary Oldman as the twisted Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg.
Mixing laughs with decent action sequences, the film is mostly a treat because it ignores the genre mould and uses the rubber-faced aliens, known as Mangalores, as comic relief.
This film makes the list for two reasons. Not only is it one of my all-time favorite action movies, it’s also one of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s best films from the 80s, with the muscle-bound star playing a major in the Special Forces sent to Guatemala to rescue a downed helicopter. Instead of a simple rescue mission though, they find themselves prey for an alien hunter with superior technology. My only warning is to avoid the sequels. Alien Vs. Predator is amusing, and fights to make the two creatures worthwhile, but it never lives up to the action of Predator, or the horror or Alien.
Newly released on Blu-ray last week, John Carpenter‘s Starman has a young Jeff Bridges as a crash-landed alien in the guise of a widower’s dead husband. Karen Allen co-stars as his captive guide as he tries to reach Arizona, where he can hopefully leave the planet.
In stark contrast to the other films on this list, the unique thing about Starman is that it’s actually more of a romantic drama. Perhaps more akin to Coccoon, the film is also a big departure for Carpenter, who is otherwise known for his action and horror films.
Although director Tim Burton is hardly known for his science fiction films, there is no missing the inherent genius of his work in the campy action film, Mars Attacks! With a who’s-who cast of celebrities, including Jack Nicholson as the President of the United States, the film is showing its age a little in terms of effects, but it’s still the most fun you can have watching aliens destroy the planet.
Other notable films…
Men in Black – Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as agents working for a government group that polices the planet’s alien population.
Transformers – Michael Bay‘s action extravaganza about alien robots fighting to find the source of their existence.
Titan A.E. – An animated adventure about humanity’s last chance to rebuild the Earth after it was destroyed by aliens.
Independence Day – The alien/disaster movie by director Roland Emmerich about humanity’ fight to save themselves from destruction.
The War of the Worlds (1953) – Lastly, while I enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake of this classic film, Byron Haskin‘s original is still the superior film, and easily the most iconic alien invasion movie ever made.
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