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Space Invaders: 14 Aliens Attack Movies

by The Playlist Staff
March 10, 2011 5:39 AM
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This Island Earth" (1955)
It's honestly quite impossible to think of this rather dated '50s sci-fi with a mindset not tainted by "Mystery Science Theater 3000"'s various quips and witticisms, though maybe that's a good thing. Rex Reason, whose name alone is source of heated debate, stars as a scientist in this tale of aliens recruiting humans to help them in their intergalactic war. Of course there are more sinister plans at hand, such as a complete relocation of the alien community to planet Earth and the ultimate brain-reprogramming of the two main characters. However, it's not as exciting or dire as the plot description suggests, and instead we're mostly subjected to a derivative romance between two plain-pizza actors with a spaceship or two thrown in for good measure. The fact that their relationship helps convince Exeter, the lead alien, to sacrifice himself for their safe escape is almost as unbelievable as the pair not knowing that he and his buddies were extraterrestrials from the beginning, if only because they have foreheads that can only be measured in Ricci. It's certainly not as awful as most MST3K movies can be, but despite its nostalgia-fueled defenders, that doesn't mean it's good either. [D+]

War of the Worlds" (1953/2005)
The DNA of H.G. Wells' 1898 novel "The War of the Worlds" can be found in virtually every film on this list: the seminal, and arguably first, alien invasion tale is endlessly influential, and quite frankly a better story than most here. It was first adapted by Orson Welles in a legendary radio production that threw the country into terror (we'd have killed to have seen a film version from the master), and Ray Harryhausen planned an aborted version in the 1940s (watch his test footage here), but it was '50s sci-fi great George Pal who was the first to bring Wells' novel to the screen. His version, which shifts the setting to then-contemporary southern California, still impresses; it's head and shoulders above its B-movie contemporaries with effects that hold up today and a genuinely chilling Cold War-infused world view. The religious subtext unravels the film a bit at the end, but it's mostly terrific. Steven Spielberg's more recent version is less memorable, rife with the third-act problems that have troubled most of the director's work in the 21st century, but the first half remains strong -- Spielberg uses the imagery of the 9/11 attacks in a way that brings genuine horror to the invasion, a horror lacking in many of its contemporaries. [1953 - A-, 2005 - B-]

Honorable Mentions: We've barely scratched the surface, particularly of the '50s, when the flying saucer B-movie was at its most prevalent: "Invasion of the Saucer Men" and "It Came From Outer Space" being two of the best-known, along with "Kronos," although the special effects in the latter were hardly cutting edge even at the time. Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" became legendary as the so-called "worst film ever made," presumably by those who haven't seen "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

"Gremlins" knock-off "Critters" has been sullied by its umpteen sequels, but the original is fairly entertaining. Philip Kaufman's 1978 take on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" doesn't quite match the original, but comes very close, particularly in Donald Sutherland's excellent performance, and it's certainly far superior to Abel Ferrera's 1993 "Body Snatchers" or the troubled 2007 Nicole Kidman vehicle "The Invasion."

And then there were the extraterrestrial visitors who weren't quite mean enough to make our list. Perhaps the closest is the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (stay far away from the Keanu Reeves remake); a bona fide sci-fi classic, but probably not quite malevolent or large-scale enough to qualify as an invasion. Steven Spielberg's been the master of the kindly alien genre -- "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." both feature space invaders with more benevolent intentions. Both are worth rewatching before you head into "Paul," a conscious tribute to those films in particular.

Drew Taylor, Cory Everett, Kimber Myers, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Christopher Bell, Mark Zhuravsky

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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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