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Space Invaders: 14 Aliens Attack Movies

by The Playlist Staff
March 10, 2011 5:39 AM
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They Live" (1988)
John Carpenter's loopy "They Live" is less an alien invasion movie as much as it is an aliens-are-already-here, thank-you-very-much movie. Former pro-wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper plays Nada, a drifter who falls in with a band of resistance fighters who combat the alien menace with the aid of magical sunglasses. (Just go with it.) The movie's centerpiece, a seemingly endless fight sequence between Piper and the irrepressible Keith David, has nothing to do with intergalactic ghouls, but it's still great fun. Much has been made of the movie's Reagan-era subtext (novelist Jonathan Lethem wrote a wonderful textual analysis of the film last year -- again, just go with it), but what really makes an impression is its goofy go-for-broke-ness. It might be part of Carpenter's broody "apocalypse" trilogy, but it has a lightness that makes it play more like a Saturday afternoon serial. [A-]

The Thing From Another World" (1951)
Based on the 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., “The Thing From Another World” is probably best remembered today as the basis for John Carpenter’s 1982 remake “The Thing.” Directed by Howard Hawks’ protegee and former editor Christian Nyby (and some say ghost directed by Hawks himself), this 1951 chiller also centers on a group of scientists working on an arctic base near the North Pole who discover an unknown craft crashed nearby. And that’s where the similarities end. In the original, The Thing is portrayed by James Arness as a hulking alien intruder closer to a 1950s Jason Voorhees, stalking members of the crew, rather than as an organism that can imitate living things like in the Carpenter version and original story. Carpenter himself was a huge fan of the original film (placing it all over the televisions in “Halloween”) and despite its '50s genre trappings, the film has quite a bit of suspense. There is a particularly thrilling sequence where The Thing bursts in on the crew only to be doused with kerosene and lit on fire (seriously, it’s great). Though Carpenter’s version of the story is rightfully considered one of the best remakes of all time, the original deserves to stand on its own. [B-]

The Thing" (1982)
It takes a set of brass balls to take on hall-of-famer Howard Hawks and come out on top, but to do it twice is something truly impressive. Five years after "Assault on Precinct 13" reworked "Rio Bravo," John Carpenter took on "The Thing From Another World," the sci-fi ghost-directed by Hawks, and turned it into a stone-cold classic -- to this writer's mind one of the greatest horror flicks of all time. It's rare for an alien creature to be truly, well, alien, but the astonishing practical effects in "The Thing" are a marvel, turning up something truly otherworldly and thoroughly nausea-inducing. But they'd be nothing without the impossibly taut thriller that Carpenter creates around him. The conceit that any of the film's cast, led by Carpenter's beloved Kurt Russell and stuffed with character actor greats like Donald Moffat, Keith David and Wilford Brimley, could at any moment turn into a horrifying creature, is a great one, and Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster (the son of Burt Lancaster, fact fans) take them through every twist and turn possible. The original wasn't well-regarded at the time, but it's established itself as a firm classic today, to the extent that the prequel that hits later this year can only feel like a fool's errand. [A+]

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  • Karnie | March 22, 2011 3:13 AMReply

    Meant Chuck Russell version. Havent seen the other.

  • Karnie | March 22, 2011 3:11 AMReply

    The Blob by far is the best alien/blob invasion movie ever! I just saw it and man what can I say this movie doesnt lack brilliancy! It is insanely incredible! If you havent seen it yet -watch it! It will blow your mind. Special effects-amazing, acting -amazing, directing -beyond!

  • Commander Adams | March 18, 2011 1:15 AMReply


    Maybe if you actually argued with evidence instead of the simplistic "I'm right-you're wrong!" form of reasoning that passes for film criticism and popular film writing nowadays, it would be possible to take your opinions more seriously.

  • Christopher Bell | March 17, 2011 12:10 PMReply

    With all due respect, Commander (I appreciate your work on the field)...

    you're wrong.

  • Commander Adams | March 17, 2011 9:55 AMReply

    The Thing from Another World a B-? Hello, this was acknowledged for years as a masterpiece by every esteemed critic, has what is probably the best script of any SF film of the era, and is far more deserving of an A+ than Carpenter's ridiculously overrated gorefest, whose popularity says more about the obsessive cult of Carpenter (which is also why people think a movie as moronic and simple-minded as They Live is worth anything) and the uncritical nature of today's sci-fi fanboys.

    This Island Earth a D-? The only reason people think this is bad is that it was on MST3K. It's imaginative, intelligent, and even manages to be poignant at times. It has the same nuanced approach that made the contemporary Battlestar Galactica so interesting.

  • Matt Greene | March 12, 2011 5:35 AMReply

    Saw Battle LA today, I liked it better than most seem to. As for the list, Monsters is a great idea ruined by some terrible acting and Signs is supremely stupid for the reason simon wrote above. A lot of the 50's stuff is an acquired taste and gets seen with rose colored glasses because "it was the 50's" but I'll take this over a lot of that. War if the Worlds has too many flaws to be held up as an example of much of anything.

  • Bryan | March 11, 2011 10:06 AMReply

    The Hidden is a nice little underrated gem from 1987. I haven't seen it in years, but remember really enjoying it.

  • simon | March 10, 2011 6:41 AMReply

    "Signs" if I remember correctly, the aliens are allergic to water, so they come to a planet where most of the surface is covered in water.

    yeah, really good stuff there. As if the writing wasn't on the wall as to what was to follow.

  • Rashad | March 10, 2011 6:10 AMReply

    I should say, I would rather the son be dead.

  • BuntyHoven | March 10, 2011 6:09 AMReply

    Nice to see Signs recognized for the top blockbuster that it is. It's easy to mock Shyamalan but that movie really was a great time. It's a genuine shame that he's gone to shit.

  • Rashad | March 10, 2011 6:06 AMReply

    The only problem with Spielberg's third act is its fidelity to the book. It switched the wife being randomly found, to the son being randomly found.

    The Tim Robbins scenes are very effective, and Cruise is fantastic in them

  • rotch | March 10, 2011 5:52 AMReply

    How nice is to see that time has given Mars Attacks! the love it deserved upon release. It is Burton's last good movie (although a case can be made about Sweeney Todd)

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