Let’s talk sci-fi, specifically the alien invasion sub-genre! Ever since the 1950s – the decade which saw the sci-fi genre really take off – audiences and mainstream filmmakers have been mad about the idea of aliens invading Earth. And I’m not surprised either: how can anyone resist the lure of escapist spectacle and the chance to reflect on the unknown?
I have restricted the following list to films about aliens on Earth. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I love bringing attention to old films. That’s exactly why I’ve put together this list of alien invasion films, most of which I watched at uni. It’s all a matter of opinion, but the below five films are recognised as classics.
The Thing From Another World (1951)
Christian Nyby and Howard Hawkes (uncredited) directed The Thing From Another World, a B-movie about a US Airforce crew and a team of scientists, who are terrorised by a humanoid, plant-based alien. When I watched it, I didn’t find it as cheesy as I thought it would be. It’s in fact very creepy.
It excellently builds suspense through the unknown. We don’t see the alien for a large chunk of the film, which keeps you in an unnerved state of mind. It’s also a clever study of Cold War fears, which was the driving force behind most of the 1950s sci-fi films. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake is just as effective and in that version, the ‘thing’ takes the form of other crew members.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
There are some aliens that really do come in peace! Klaatu, an alien that looks human travels to Earth from a faraway planet in The Day The Earth Stood Still. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he’s friendly and has come to give humanity an important message. It’s an intelligent film – a direct allegory for the real nuclear threats at the time – yet it still manages to be suspenseful and fun.
The War of the Worlds (1953)
In The War of the Worlds, Earth is invaded by Martians, but unlike the 2005 remake, they don’t rise out of the ground in tripods. The Martians in the original are old-school and attack from the sky. The protagonist Clayton Forrester searches for a way to stop them taking over the world. These aliens don’t take any prisoners, as any human that stands in their way is instantly disintegrated. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time and it has influenced a number of films through the decades.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the ultimate paranoid sci-fi thriller. Dr Miles Bennett is the protagonist and he recognises that the people in his small Californian town are being cloned by an alien species of emotionless human duplicates. It was a great directional achievement by Don Siegal and it was ahead of its time in many ways. The concept is ingenious and the film itself is very entertaining.
Phillip Kaufman’s 1978 version is also great. He updated the themes in the original for a 1970s audience, retelling the story in a more satirical way. It could also be read as a commentary on the paranoia and anxiety that coursed through America after the Vietnam war.
Want a slice of classic 80s? Watch Predator. In my opinion, it’s one of the best sci-fi action thrillers ever made. Arnie plays “Dutch”, a soldier sent into the jungle of South America with his team, to rescue hostages who have been captured by insurgents. But, it turns into a rescue mission from hell when they find themselves prey to a technologically advanced alien.
Predator is enormously entertaining. The claustrophobic atmosphere, timebomb suspense and thrilling action make up for a thin plot. The Predator alien is an unforgettable villain, so it’s not difficult to see why the film is one of the greats in the genre.
Given today’s standards of special effects, these movies are very dated, but of the dozens of alien invasion films, the above five stand out. I’ll admit that some films about aliens are pretty poor which is why many have disappeared into infamy.
Cinema has used the alien overthrow concept for decades. Sure, it’s not as scary for us as it was for past audiences, but it’s still an enduring sub-genre that taps into the basic human fear of attack. I’m looking forward to seeing what the genre can pull off next!
Do you agree with this list? What’s your favourite alien invasion film? Comment your thoughts below!