The new adventure Earth to Echo, now in theaters, follows three boys who discover an alien has crash-landed in their backyard. (Well, actually, in the desert miles away, but close enough so they can ride their bicycles there.) The creature proves to be friendly to the boys, and a girl who joins up with them, so they decide to help the cute little alien phone home. (Oops, we mean repair its spacecraft.)
Comparisons to Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and other kid-centered sci-fi thrillers from the 1980s are inevitable and probably intentional, yet the filmmakers deserve credit for a PG-rated movie that serves its intended audience of young people without condescending to them.
But what if you're older and in the mood for a science fiction thriller mixed with horror, and set in outer space rather than a suburban neighborhood on Earth? Don't worry, we've got you covered with these seven picks, counting down in order of frightfulness.
7. Jason X (2002)
Popularly known as "Jason Goes to Space," the hockey-masked icon from the Friday the 13th series gets reinvented on a spaceship in the 25th century in this relatively fresh and funny entry. Filmmaker David Cronenberg costars.
6. Galaxy of Terror (1981)
A distant planet is visited by a spaceship on a rescue mission, whose crew members encounter ferocious aliens with disastrous results. Robert Englund costars; James Cameron served as second-unit director and supervised the art direction.
5. Pandorum (2009)
Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid wake up on a deserted spaceship, not knowing why they are there. Then they discover humanoid creatures on board, creatures who are very, very hungry.
4. Screamers (1995)
Peter Weller brings welcome gravity to his role as a military commander who must help his soldiers survive a scientific experiment gone wrong, for which he is, in part, responsible.
3. Gravity (2013)
This is a horror movie, par excellence, even though it eschews explicit violence. Instead, it relies on the psychological terror of being stranded in space, alone, with only your own wits -- and maybe a bit of luck -- to help you survive and return to Earth.
2. Event Horizon (1997)
An excellent cast, led by Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, anchors what becomes an increasingly prepostrous story that is delivered with such a straight face that you can't help but be drawn into the story to see how it turns out. Bonus for hard-core horror fans: explicit scenes of bloodshed and gore.
1. Alien (1979)
No matter how many times you've seen the movie, the atmospheric, intriguing opening sequences are guaranteed to sucker you into watching it again, and once you've involved with the characters, director Ridley Scott ratchets up the tension, and you can't stop watching, even if it's through your fingers.