Are we alone in the universe? Hollywood doesn’t seem to think so. Through the years, hundreds of movies have been made about aliens that speculate about our possible galactic neighbors. The existence of extraterrestrial life is a curiosity and fascination that nearly all humans share. So why, then, does it seem like the best time of day to catch a movie about aliens is 2am? Simply put, many of them just aren’t good.
However, there are a number of diamonds in the rough when it comes to alien movies, and over the years pop culture has been shaped by these films. Whether mainstream treasures or cult classics, there are those proud few that possess the type of vision and storytelling that inspire a sense of wonder about the universe, and there are those with scary monsters and awesome explosions that we all love.
Based on this, I’ve put together a list of the top 25 #alien movies. Whether you’re a geek that loves trashy sci-fi or a connoisseur of only the finest cinema, this list has something for everyone. It mostly focuses on movies with strict definitions of who the aliens are, so you won't find films like Star Wars or Star Trek on there. Sit back and relax because this list is coming at you.
Director: Colin Minihan
Stars: Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Jesse Moss
Typically, when a group of friends go for a weekend vacation to a cabin in the woods, they find themselves being chased by a machete-wielding maniac. Well, this found footage film features said friends being pursued by — you guessed it — extraterrestrials. I’ll be the first to admit that found footage films have been done to death, but this twist on the storytelling method featured some genuine scares, creepy aliens and some pretty intense effects made it a very effective horror film. Definitely a great movie for fans of alien abduction conspiracies, just don’t expect these grey men to be little.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson
I’ll go ahead and just say it: Stargate is not that great of a movie. However, it’s a unique idea that inspired several television spin-offs and a rabid fan base. The original film featured aliens based on Egyptian mythology, enforcing the age-old rumor that aliens were behind the pyramids. Though the film didn’t receive universal praise from critics, audiences seemed to love it and it was a box office success. While the aliens might not be the most jaw dropping, the concept behind them earns them a solid place on this list.
23. 'Starship Troopers'
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer
Starship Troopers is an absolutely absurd film that features humans going to war with giant bugs on another planet after they attack Earth. However, it’s a movie that knows exactly what it is and embraces the fact that it’s a B-movie (at best) with open arms. Filled with news reels reminiscent of the shorts shown during World War II, Starship Troopers focuses on the propaganda of war as much as the war itself. The aliens themselves are insect-based and tear through plenty of grunts over the course of the war. This is not a movie for those with weak stomachs.
22. 'Independence Day'
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman
Roland Emmerich makes a second appearance on this list with a movie '90s kids still hold dear in their hearts. Though I can’t say the same for the sequel, the first Independence Day was a full-blown blockbuster. It featured a thoughtful approach to alien invasion, with the aliens launching a coordinated attack without warning that devastated major cities across the globe. Of course, mankind rallies and is able to defeat the terrible threat facing the planet. The aliens themselves are interesting in that what appears to be their bodies are actually a kind of bio armor and the real aliens are the pathetic little creatures inside.
21. 'The World’s End'
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
The last of the famed Cornetto Trilogy is a science fiction comedy that proves alien movies don’t have to be straightfaced. The film features a group of friends on a pub crawl that discover an alien invasion in the sleepy British town of Newton Haven. It falls on them to not only complete an absurd amount of drinking, but also to fend off the members of the town that have been replaced by androids and prevent the invasion. Edgar Wright manages to create a perfect blend of comedy and action in this film, and as always, the cast is absolutely perfect.
20. 'Under The Skin'
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
Of course any alien that looks like Scarlett Johansson has to be featured on this list, right? Well, in this sci-fi flick she turns the table by playing sexual predator that preys on men in Scotland. She’s a sort of siren that lures men into a dark abyss, causing them to literally disappear off the face of the planet. It’s a subtle movie with stunning visuals that offers up a haunting viewing experience. Not only that, but it gives Johansson a chance to showcase one of the best performances of her career. Definitely for those who aren’t looking for your typical alien flick
19. 'Pitch Black'
Director: David Towhy
Stars: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser
Before Vin Diesel was drag racing muscle cars in sleeveless shirts, he was Riddick, a cold-blooded killer that kicked some serious alien butt. The film is about a starship that crashes on a seemingly deserted planet. That is, until the sun sets and nocturnal aliens emerge to feast on the survivors. Their only hope is a man more dangerous than those creatures that lurks in the darkness. It’s a great film with a simple concept that is supplemented by complex characters and truly terrifying creatures that use echolocation to hunt. I still get chills whenever I hear their “call.”
18. 'Lilo & Stitch'
Director: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Stars: Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere
This is easily one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. While it does feature multiple aliens in it, the real star is Experiment 626, otherwise known as Stitch. A lot of the aliens on this list are terrifying or inspiring. Stitch is, well, he’s just adorable. If you haven’t seen this movie, it really is Disney at its best. I find it incredibly heart warming and am man enough to admit that something gets in my eye every time I watch it. Lilo & Stitch is a movie about family and standing by those you love. This is one of the more family friendly entries on this list.
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Avatar was a revolutionary film when it first came out. The visuals were absolutely astounding and rumors swirled about people becoming depressed that they had to go back to the real world. It was a not quite so subtle metaphor for colonialism and white imperialism; however, it’s also a movie about giant cat people that use questionable methods in order to commune with nature and “break” animal’s spirits. Despite all this, it presented a look at aliens as an indigenous people, not a race that was more technologically advanced than humans. In fact, humans were really the invading aliens in this one.
16. 'Galaxy Quest'
Director: Dean Parisot
Stars: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
There’s always been that theory that television signals from Earth would one day be discovered by aliens. Ever wonder what they might think of our TV sitcoms? Well, Galaxy Quest answers that question in the most amazing way possible. Aliens abduct the equivalent of the cast of Star Trek to help them win an intergalactic war. The problem is that they believe the cast is actually the characters they played on television decades earlier. Needless to say, this misunderstanding leads to hilarious consequences. It’s a great film for those who are Star Trek fans looking for some tongue-in-cheek humor.
15. 'They Live'
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
This John Carpenter film is about a race of aliens quietly invading the world through consumerism. Subliminal messages are poured through the media prompting people to “stay asleep” and “consume.” Luckily, Roddy Piper manages to get himself a fancy pair of Ray Ban sunglasses that reveal the aliens and their messages. The film is best known for a epic fight scene between Keith David and Piper that is about three times longer than necessary. The invasion, based on subliminal messaging turning the populace into “sheeple,” was ahead of its time and the aliens themselves are pretty dang creepy too. It’s a great '80s classic.
14. 'Edge Of Tomorrow'
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2014 was Edge Of Tomorrow. The premise sounds ridiculous, but Tom Cruise stars as a soldier who gains the ability to relive the same day every time he dies, and uses his knowledge to do a little better each time. The aliens in the film are absolutely fascinating as these amorphous creatures that roll through the battlefield almost as though they are made of solid energy. It was one of the better action movies of 2014 and definitely a high concept science fiction film that offers enough to keep the audience deeply entrenched in the story.
13. 'Super 8'
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Elle Fanning, AJ Michalka, Kyle Chandler
Nostalgia is the name of the game when it comes to Super 8. It’s a film that utilizes a lot of the same themes as the recently released Stranger Things and manages to use them just as well. Set in 1979, a group of kids investigate strange happenings and discover that an alien has come to their small town. Of course the military can’t let this stand and it becomes a race against time as the kids do their best to help the peaceful alien survive. It’s a terrifically done film that pays homage to the classics coming-of-age movies of the '70s and '80s.
12. 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers'
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum
This is one of those rare cases where the remake is better than the original. The film revolves around a man that discovers that humans are being replaced by alien duplicates void of emotions. As the pod people spread, the humans quickly find themselves outnumbered and fighting for survival. It’s an incredibly gritty thriller that quickly raises the question of who the survivors can trust and who has been replaced. This is one film that justifies the entire idea of remakes, it’s too bad so few manage to live up the the high bar this has set.
11. 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'
Director: Robert Wise
Stars: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
One of the first great alien movies ever made, The Day the Earth Stood Still is essentially the story of aliens coming to Earth to tell mankind that they need to play nice — or else. It’s a film with a message that is still as relevant today as it was back then. As man continues to commit atrocities towards his fellow man, one can only wonder what higher beings would think of our behavior. Of course, it’s also awesome that there’s a giant robot called Gort in it. I mean, you can’t get much more classic sci-fi than the name Gort. This is a classic in every sense of the word.
10. 'The Abyss'
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
James Cameron makes another appearance on this list with the deep sea science fiction film, The Abyss. Set deep beneath the ocean, the film features petroleum engineers drafted into helping the Navy find a lost submarine. However, in their search they discover an alien species that seems to almost be made of water itself. The film is a tightly wound thriller that slowly closes in on the audience as the people desperately try to find the secret behind the missing submarine and keep their sanity under hundreds of feet of water. The film really shines when it comes to its visual effects. Definitely a must see.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
#Arrival is getting tremendous critical reception this year and there is little doubt that it will be making an appearance come award season. The film utilizes fascinating applications of theoretical physics.. Aliens appear on Earth and a linguist is brought in to decipher their language. It turns out there there is much more to their visit than meets the eye. I don’t want to give too much away, since the movie is still in theaters, but it’s one of the great alien movies of this year and one every sci-fi fan should see on the big screen.
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall
#Predator is easily one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. It created numerous sequels (including one in the works from Shane Black) and introduced an alien species that quickly became a pop culture phenomenon and one of the most recognizable of all time. Not only that, but it features Schwarzenegger in all his '80s glory trying to fight off the ultimate killing machine. The titular alien is one that hunts down worthy prey using a variety of advanced weapons and takes trophies from those he manages to defeat in battle. It’s no wonder this movie made it into the top 10 of this list.
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
There have been a lot of aliens on this list, but perhaps the most inspiring of all of them is Jeff Bridges in Starman. It’s the ultimate alien road trip movie as an alien lands on Earth and assumes the form of a woman’s dead husband. She reluctantly agrees to help him get across the country so that he can get picked up by his people, all while the government tries to close in on him. Bridges is the cornerstone of this film as his character watches with wonderment, learning about humanity with every encounter along the way. In the end he offers these inspiring words:
“You are a strange species. Not like any other. And you'd be surprised how many there are. Intelligent but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.”
6. 'The Thing'
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
A lot of names are making multiple appearances on this list, and I guess that just goes to show some people know what audiences want to see in their alien movies. #TheThing is another remake that manages to exceed every aspect of the original. It’s a taut thriller with nightmarish effects that could only come from one of the masters of horror, John Carpenter. A group in an arctic outpost find themselves trapped with a vicious alien that has the ability to shapeshift. The worst part is that its transformations are always, well, perfect. One of the scariest movies on this list, this is an alien movie for horror fans.
5. 'District 9'
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope
Neill Blomkamp made his feature-length directorial review with this poignant film. Set in South Africa, the film plays as a powerful metaphor for the intolerance and bigotry that still exists in the country. The aliens are treated as third-class citizens, forced to live in slums and harassed by a militarized police force on a daily basis. That is, until one man starts to learn what it feels like to be one of them and sets off on a path to try to liberate the captive aliens. Thought-provoking science fiction is always the best kind and this movie manages to do it with finesse and a delicate touch.
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn
There are very few series that have sequels that come close to living up to the original. #Aliens is one such movie because it doesn’t try to recreate everything the original did so well. Instead of trying to be a traditional horror film, it takes an action approach to horror themes, and because of that twist, it secures a solid place on this list. The film takes place in the near future and has Space Marines going to investigate a mining colony that suddenly went dark. Unfortunately for them, they end up going against one of the most prolific and terrifying alien species of all time — xenomorphs.
3. 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr
One of the most thought-provoking science fiction films of all time, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was a personal project of Steven Spielberg's that met with tremendous critical and box office success. The focus of the film is really about humanity's first contact with alien creatures that come to earth. Rather than the typical alien movie that has the military deciding to shoot first and ask questions later, this film takes an approach that mankind is ready to make contact and instead tries to greet their cosmic visitors. It’s a film filled with science fiction themes that are all masterfully used. Then again, what else would you expect from Spielberg?
2. 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote
Hey look, it’s Spielberg again! If anyone started down this list and didn’t expect to see this movie on it, then I’m a little disappointed in you. E.T. is a modern-day classic and one that almost serves as right of passage for children. Honestly, if your kid hasn’t seen this movie, you might have failed them a little bit. The film is essentially the story of first contact with an alien species, but the humans that find the extraterrestrial are children. Needless to say, the children are much more welcoming and supportive than the government that is also searching for the creature. As heartwarming as you can get, this is a must see movie.
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
The tagline for this film says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream.” Alien is probably the most masterfully done sci-fi horror film of all time. Besides, the title is literally Alien, that alone means it probably deserved a shot at No. 1 on this list. The reason it came in first is because not only is it a terrifying film that resonates with audiences even today, but also because it introduced the most feared alien species in all of cinema: the xenomorph. For those that haven’t seen this movie yet, you are in for a treat. Alien isn’t just a great alien movie, it’s probably one of the best films ever made.
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So there you have it. A little something for everyone when it comes to great alien movies. Of course, there are literally hundreds of other alien movies out there, so be sure to let me know what your favorite is in the comments below!