Before ‘Arrival’: 5 Best Movies About Aliens on Earth

Amy Adams in Arrival - Paramount

Amy Adams in Arrival | Paramount

One of the most entertaining types of film are the ones that imagine answers to questions that mankind has been asking for ages. Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, for example, are among the most popular genres out there for the very reason that they explore the unknown or unimaginable. After all, moviegoers head to the theater to be transported and challenged to ponder what may be possible or to see the impossible brought to life before their very eyes. Few subjects leverage these two arenas as well as films that explore the mystery of alien life (it’s why the Alien film franchise is so iconic).

Arrival — a film from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) — is the latest big-screen attempt to explore the truth behind alien life and, more specifically, what happens when beings from another world land on Earth. Of course, this terrain has been tread over countless times by other filmmakers who have brought their own distinct vision to imagine the first meeting between man and alien.

Here are our picks for some of the best movies about aliens on Earth.

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

We could have easily gone with the equally iconic 1978 version, but we’re giving this first slot to the film that started it all. Depending on how you view it, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for the fear that some pervasive social trend will conquer all of humanity. Social commentary aside, director Don Siegel’s film is a brilliant exercise in terror and continues to chill audiences generations after its initial release. Just try and shake it from your nightmares … if you can get to sleep at all, that is. You never know when the invaders may strike our planet.

2. Superman (1978)

Richard Donner’s classic could easily be branded as the granddaddy of the modern superhero film (which it is) and dismissed from our list. However, it’s worth pointing out that Christopher Reeve’s take on the DC Comics character represents a far more benevolent alien’s arrival on Earth. Rather than coming here to wreak havoc on humanity, Superman emerges as its champion, defending his new home while balancing his secret identity as a mild-mannered reporter named Clark Kent.

This film’s a charmer, through and through, and a rite of passage for anyone enraptured by the current crop of superhero films. The sequel is worth checking out as well, especially the 2006 “Donner cut,” but don’t bother with the rest of this series.

3. The Thing (1982)

An undisputed masterclass in both sci-fi and horror, John Carpenter’s film touches on a lot of similar themes to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but unlike the earlier film, this one — itself a remake of 1951’s classic, The Thing from Another World — brings the scale way down. What it lacks in scope, The Thing makes up for with its intimate setting, unbearable tension, and ground-breaking effects that largely hold up more than 30 years after it first hit theaters. A stellar ensemble cast led by Kurt Russell elevates the material even more so, creating a film that rivals Halloween as Carpenter’s most culturally impactful cinematic achievement.

4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Less than a decade after directing Jaws, Steven Spielberg created another one of the most celebrated films of all time with this heartwarming story about a young boy (Henry Thomas) who befriends a lost alien.

The epic journey was so indicative of the heart and spirit of adventure behind Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment banner, that E.T.‘s emblematic moon silhouette image was used as the production house’s logo. John Williams’s indelible score and some truly winsome performances — including one by a very young Drew Barrymore — made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial one of the most acclaimed family films ever made and a pinnacle of sci-fi cinema.

5. District 9 (2009)

In the years since this film hit theaters, director Neill Blomkamp has yet to match the storytelling prowess demonstrated here. Perhaps that’s because follow-ups Elysium and Chappie didn’t illustrate as effective a central metaphor as the one inherent in this pseudo documentary style vision of the world. In District 9, extra-terrestrials (as a not-so-thinly veiled stand-in for illegal aliens from other nations) are treated as second-rate citizens by humanity.

An Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, District 9 is, quite simply, everything one could want out of a sci-fi action thriller. As brimming with thought-provoking ideas as it is eye-popping visuals, the film stands as Blomkamp’s masterwork to date. Can we get the long hoped for sequel already?

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

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