I have come here to chew bubblegum and make lists, and I’m all out of bubblegum. It’s Space Month here on Nightmare on Film Street, and I’m counting down the top 10 alien invasion flicks to conquer your television screens! While there’s plenty of horror to be found, humor also finds a place on this list.
Also, please note that my foray into extraterrestrial occupation must involve, you know, invasion, or at least a valiant effort at it. Films focusing mainly on abductions like Dark Skies and Fire in the Sky will not be included, so please set your phasers to stun, not kill.
10. The Faculty (1998)
The Thing meets Dawson’s Creek. Written by 90’s meta horror mastermind Kevin Williamson, The Faculty proves once and for all that teachers are not like us and are not to be trusted under any circumstance. High school IS hard, dammit, but it gets harder when you suddenly need to foil an alien invasion. Williamson and director Robert Rodriguez mix that 90’s teen angst that we all know and love with plenty of gross body horror to create one of the best teen horror flicks this side of Scream. Oh, and that soundtrack will have you playing with your Bop It as you hop on your Pogo stick while wearing acid wash jeans (and a bunch of other 90’s cliche’s).
9. Signs (2002)
Signs is a fascinating alien invasion film. Instead of toppling major cities and worldwide destruction, we see the events unfold through the lens of small-town America. As someone who occupies this territory, I can say it’s eerily accurate, which makes the experience all the more frightening for me. Sure, this isn’t M. Night Shyamalan’s best work, and there are certainly some contrived plot points you have to overlook, but there are some genuine scares to be found. Isolation and the feeling of truly being “on your own” while aliens descend upon the planet make this film what it is. Forget all of the premonition stuff and the idea that a species “allergic” to water would invade a planet that’s surface is 71% of just that. Aliens in cornfields make it worth the blind eye!
8. Night of the Creeps (1986)
What’s better than an aliens invasion flick? Well, what if those aliens were parasitic slugs that turned their hosts into ZOMBIES! If that’s not enough, drop in horror favorite Tom Atkins! Then set it smack dab in the 80’s! I give you Night of the Creeps. The film is every bit of 80’s comedy/horror you’d ever desire, while not venturing too far into spoof territory. Though it wasn’t a box office hit by any stretch of the imagination, the movie has garnered the wonderful “cult classic” status over the years. In fact, Night of the Creeps holds a strong enough following that fans raised serious copyright issues with the next film on this list for sharing…similar…characteristics.
7. Slither (2006)
I’m not going to weigh in deeply with the similarities to Night of the Creeps. Despite them, I will say each film on this list carries a unique identity that separates itself from the others. In the instance of Slither, it is dark, humorous, and extremely gross. James Gunn’s directorial debut follows parasitic alien slugs that invade a small southern town, infecting a rough-edged Michael Rooker who then chooses a host to multiply. Chaos ensues as the slimy space slugs unleash hell upon the community as they try to stop it. I can’t emphasis the grossness enough. Elizabeth Banks headlines a cast that brings plenty of humor to the flick that is simply made for a Friday night viewing. Maybe eat a few hours beforehand though. Seriously, ick.
6. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day really is the summer blockbuster hit that so many films aspire to be. Using every dollar of it’s $75 million dollar budget, audiences are treated to the full-fledged destruction of an alien invasion many would envision in their own minds. Major cities turned to rubble, the White House exploding in a ball of fire, and massive spaceships the size of whole states. We even get glimpses of the long-mysterious Area 51! Not to mention, the aliens are straight out of a nightmare, and negotiations are not atop their “to do” list. While still peppered with horror, Independence Day thrives on it’s action sequences and it’s star-studded cast.
5. War of the Worlds (2005)
Steven Spielberg’s foray back into the world of extraterrestrials does not involve cute cuddly aliens in closets. It does, however, involve giant tripod alien ships literally turning humans into dust. Taken somewhat from the H. G. Wells novel of the same name, Tom Cruise and his family evade alien invaders who arrive via a lightning storm to their deadly ships that were buried long ago in the Earth. It’s really as awesome as it sounds. There’s no experts to help either Tom Cruise or the audience understand what’s happening, as everyone is forced into the chaos without warning. Spielberg’s inspiration for the film came from the response to the September 11th attacks and how our way of life can be drastically changed in a moment’s notice. While the alien invaders cause plenty of fright themselves, it’s this notion that leaves a lasting impression.
4. They Live (1988)
Aliens and economics. Not exactly a match made in horror heaven, right? Well, actually, it is! Tired of the mass marketing plaguing the 1980’s culture, Carpenter wove what he was witnessing into a story of the corporate manipulation of the ruling class. Side note- the ruling class are aliens. Most alien invasion films involve extraterrestrials invading Earth to “harvest it’s resources” before moving on. They Live is no exception to this, but instead uses social commentary rather than the violent, visual attacks we’re used to. That’s not to say the aliens aren’t freaky as all hell. But, the aliens are us. Or, we are the aliens? Either way, wrestler-turned-actor Roddy Piper is an absolute blast to watch.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Directed by Philip Kaufman, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is recognized as one of the best remakes to grace the screen. A contemporary take on the 1956 film of the same name, the film capitalizes on the feeling of self-importance that permeated the time of it’s creation. The alien “pods” duplicate human beings as biological creatures to a “T”, with the lone missing characteristic being what actually makes us “human” – emotion. The tension and paranoia is palpable (and justified!) as, spoiler alert- there is no happy ending here. A cast featuring the likes of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy carry Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the heights of extraterrestrial terror it reaches.
2. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Ack Ack! There may be no cinematic aliens more recognizable than the Martians from Tim Burton’s film. Based upon the 1960’s Topps trading card series of the same name, Burton blended comedy, science fiction, and a dash of horror to create an alien invasion movie you’ll soon not forget. Mars Attacks! parodies the alien disaster flicks that came before it using a cast featuring every 90’s Hollywood star you’ve ever head of, and a cringe worthy-yet-laugh out loud creature design. If you don’t have at least one Slim Whitman tune in your library after watching this, you know, just in case, then you deserve to be vaporized.
1. The Thing (1982)
It’s absolutely out of this world that critics and audiences despised The Thing when it was released. Most likely due to Steven Spielberg’s family friendly, lovable hit E.T. being released a mere two weeks earlier, the public was not ready for the terrifying visceral horror masterpiece that John Carpenter unleashed. The film features some of the finest practical effects ever created to this day, in addition to a masterful tension-filled plot Carpenter is well-known for. The true horror of The Thing‘s alien premise is that it doesn’t involve ray guns or flying saucers emerging from outer space. Instead, the terror is an organism that harvests every living creature on earth by imitating it’s likeness, until the entire planet is consumed (as told by Wilford Brimley’s computer). The film, once considered a crime against cinema, is now righteously recognized as one of the greatest horror films of our time.
What are some of your favorite alien invasion movies that didn’t make the list? Did MacReady trick an alien-Childs into drinking gasoline at the end of The Thing? Have you yodeled along to any Slim Whitman tunes yet? Let us know over on Nightmare on Film Street’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages, where you can check out our other space-themed pieces!