Hollywood's been making movies about little green men from outer space for six decades, which means we must really, really love to see extra-terrestrial invasion on film. Serious, funny, campy or just plain out of this world, these movies will bring out your inner alien.
by Grant Thompson
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Keanu Reeves plays the extra-terrestrial Klaatu, who may or may not have come here to destroy the planet. The film, a remake of the 1951 classic of the same title, is just one in a long line of films that center on Earth-bound flying saucers chock full of aliens hell-bent on invasion. As we take a photographic trip through these flicks, we can see that both the aliens and their spaceships have had a wide array of looks through the years.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The original version of the movie centers on the alien, Klaatu, arriving in Washington, D.C., with his trusty robot, Gort. But their plan is not wanton destruction. Seemingly heavily influenced by the recent legacy of the Second World War, Klaatu’s aim is more of the galactic peacekeeping variety. His planet’s inhabitants will only destroy the Earth if the inherently violent humans provoke them into doing so. Of course, a nuanced notion of space diplomacy can be tough to convey to a bad-ass robot with an eye laser, and Gort embarks on his own agenda that can only be stopped by Klaatu and his American emissary, Helen.
Target Earth (1954)
Just three years after the first Day the Earth Stood Still came this invasion flick. The city has changed from D.C. to Chicago, and this time it’s not just Gort, but rather a whole flying saucer full of killer robots that, also like Gort, are equipped with the iconic single eye in the center of their metallic forehead that shoots out laser beams at the only inhabitants left in a deserted Windy City. Due to the constraints of a modest budget, only a single robot costume was used in the filming of the movie. The filmmakers then simply cut back and forth to simulate an actual robot army on the march.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Steven Spielberg has a secret. It involves aliens, we know that. But all other details are parsed out in only the tiniest of increments as we, with Richard Dreyfuss as our primary guide, try to figure out the clues that lead to eventual human contact with aliens, defined as a Close Encounter of the Third Kind. By the end, we find out that the extra-terrestrials are there on a diplomatic mission and have come only to return both artifacts and people abducted from both the distant and recent past. Spielberg considered the reveal of the alien mothership at the end of the film so vital that he spent nearly 20 percent of the movie’s budget on visual effects, a staggering amount at the time.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Every kid grows up wondering what would happen if their futuristic military society was suddenly attacked by killer insects from another planet. Thankfully, 1997’s Starship Troopers provided the answer. The Arachnids from Klendathu were not too psyched that Earth was getting a bit too aggressive in its colonization efforts. In retribution for humans coming to their planet, they came to our planet, 8 legs at a time. Pretty boy Casper Van Dien and various half-clothed supporting actresses manage to turn the tide of the war against the bug aliens from Klendathu. If you don’t believe me, turn on a cable movie channel – Starship Troopers seems to be on a constant loop.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
If you like my body, and you think I’m sexy…then kill me with an exact replica of myself hatched out of a pod. No alien spacecrafts in this adaptation of the novel, The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. Instead, seeds drifting through space find their way to Earth, where they grow into soul-grabbing plants. The replicas then spread through the populace, as true humans must determine who is still a real person and who is only an expressionless pod-person alien. Historians have called Snatchers a metaphor for the McCarthy-era Communist hunts occurring in the country at the same time. Pod person, Red person – to-may-to, to-mah-to. Neither remake of this movie (1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 2007’s Nicole Kidman bomb, The Invasion) matched the success of the original.
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)
The space race wasn’t all about JFK’s lunar promises and Sputnik. In this classic, Dr. Russell Marvin and his wife, Carol, find something way more dastardly in orbit then a few cell phone satellites. Working for the strangely named Operation Skyhook (was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar somehow involved?), the Marvins are abducted by the aliens, who have been collecting American rockets as quickly as they are fired into the atmosphere. Far from war hawks, these aliens are all about diplomacy – they initially claim to want to negotiate with the humans in order to later invade Earth with minimal panic. But the politeness is a ruse, and they soon make clear a plan to destroy us all. So learn your lesson, 1950s America, no negotiating with those duplicitous Soviets!
Independence Day (1996)
In disaster director’s Roland Emmerich’s 1996 alien movie, Independence Day, the flying saucers stretched far across the sky. The aliens’ attack blueprint consisted of aligning their ships at strategic locations around the globe, and then when their computer countdown reached zero, unleashing a laser-beam induced wave of destruction. Of course, these big-headed baddies underestimated the motley insurgency led by a cigar-chomping Will Smith, a booze-swilling Randy Quaid, and an Apple-laptop toting Jeff Goldblum. Apparently you can upload a virus from a mid-90s Powerbook that can destroy an alien spacecraft – who knew?
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
If bug-eyed aliens emerging from silver disc flying saucers are too cliché for you, then this is your kind of invasion movie. Typical ‘80s horny teens, Mike and Debbie, stumble upon the landing spot for a terrifying new kind of extra-terrestrial that travels in a circus-tent spacecraft: the alien clown, err, klown. If you think clowns are creepy anyway, wait until you get a load of these bozos shooting their popcorn ray-guns that embalm the victim in a deadly cotton candy cocoon. And what better way to enjoy a delightful human carcass than by sucking it through a crazy straw?! One of the film’s taglines parodied that of Ridley Scott’s Alien: “in space, no one can eat ice cream.”
Killers from Space (1954)
The rise of the atomic age famously gave birth to the Japanese monster Godzilla, who was awakened from his undersea lair by nuclear testing. American filmmakers produced their own paranoia-driven sci-fi parables, like this one. Lead character Dr. Doug Martin is not only a nuclear scientist but also a pilot (apparently in his spare time – what a guy). After crashing his plane exploring a nuclear test site, he is miraculously unharmed. But Cold War America is in big-time trouble, as Martin has actually been brainwashed by aliens to use our own atomic power against us to take over the Earth. Unintentional comedy is in high form here, both with the bug-eyed aliens and their atomic-affected giant insect soldier force.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
The aliens-attacking-Earth genre was clearly ripe to be spoofed. Enter Tim Burton. His 1996 Mars Attacks! imbues the 1950s B-movie sensibility onto the same contemporary setting as Independence Day. The movie is actually based on a trading card series of the same name, and the film borrows from the cards’ outlandish color scheme and comic violence. And how about that cast? Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, and Sarah Jessica Parker are just some of the hapless Earthlings targeted by the devious midget aliens with the ginormous brains.
War of the Worlds (1953)
When this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ famous novel hit the screen it wowed audiences with its visuals – the film took home an Academy Award for special effects that year. Director Byron Haskin changed the novel’s original location of London to Southern California but kept the idea of belligerent Martians emerging from meteorites that aren’t meteorites. Turns out it’s not might, but rather mites that triumph over the aliens – they have no defense for Earth’s viruses and bacteria. That, and perhaps the wrath of God – screenwriter Barré Lyndon added in a religious theme to the screenplay, as the Martians’ demise begins immediately after they destroy a church.