In honor of the new Amy Adams alien flick “Arrival,” well, arriving, here are 10 essential aliens-invade Earth movies (it should be noted that not included on my list are movies where there was no actual invasion, like “E.T.” or “Starman,” who did more hanging out than invading).
▪ “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) – Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic follows a group of people who are psychically connected to aliens who pay Earth a friendly, colorful, tuneful visit. It’s novel, grand in scope and simply breathtaking. And I’ve never looked at mashed potatoes quite the same way after seeing Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed potato sculpture scene.
▪ “The War of the Worlds” (2005) – Speaking of Spielberg, the director’s take on H.G. Wells’ classic tale is a visceral, scary rush, led by a hearty performance from Tom Cruise as a less-than-perfect father tasked with trying to get his kids to safety when aliens attack. The scene with Tim Robbins where we don’t see anything but know exactly what’s going on is indelible – and genius.
▪ “Signs” (2002) – Mel Gibson stars as the father of a family that finds mysterious crop circles in farm fields that could signal an alien invasion. Director M. Night Shyamalan was at the top of his game here, including nods to Alfred Hitchcock and even Spielberg himself. Everything kind of goes haywire with a ludicrous ending (as Shyamalan’s films tend to do), but up until then it’s an eerily tense mystery.
▪ “District 9” (2009) – While most alien invasion films tend to treat the world as U.S. territory, co-writer/director Neill Blomkamp set his tale in South Africa (where he’s from), where an extraterrestrial race has arrived seeking solace and is forced to live in slum-like conditions. The film’s parallels to apartheid and immigration are none too subtle, but it makes for topical commentary.
▪ “Independence Day” (1996) – OK, OK, it’s not actually a good film, but it’s a great bad one and more than a guilty pleasure. Sure, there are logic and plot holes big enough to drive a spaceship through, but who can resist Bill Pullman’s president speech? “We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” I shed a little tear just now.
▪ “They Live” (1988) – Wrestler-turned-“actor” “Rowdy” Roddy Piper gives a monotone, wooden performance in John Carpenter’s cult classic, but that actually makes it even better. He plays a man who stumbles across a pair of sunglasses that reveal aliens in our midst and expose evil subliminal forces at work in our everyday surroundings. The film’s Big Brother-like predictions are a bit too close for comfort.
▪ “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014) – Tom Cruise plays a soldier, but the real star is the film’s “Groundhog Day”-like premise, in which Cruise slowly figures out how to fight off aliens by having to live the same day over and over again. It’s dazzling, gripping and a lot of fun.
▪ “Starship Troopers” (1997) – Campy as all get-out but wearing it like a badge of honor is Paul Verhoeven’s giddily violent sci-fi mash-up where aliens that look like giant bugs have invaded Earth. It’s completely ridiculous but pure adrenaline-fueled fun.
▪ “Attack the Block” (2011) – This British import is director Joe Cornish’s under-the-radar gem, about a teen gang in South London defending their block from an alien invasion. It’s funny, creative and exciting with some sly social commentary. It also stars a newcomer who would go on to stardom in a galaxy far, far away: John Boyega, who plays Finn in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
▪ “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) – No, not that painfully boring 2008 Keanu Reeves remake, but the original black-and-white classic about an alien that arrives and tells the people of Earth they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets. Its environmental message was light years ahead of its time. But will we ever listen?