With Jordan Peele’s sci-fi horror extravaganza Nope opening this weekend, we thought it’d be fun to look back at some of our favorite alien invasion movies. In particular, the ones that scared the bejesus out of us or induced laughs with their complete disregard for humanity. Keep in mind, this list isn’t just movies with aliens – otherwise, we would have included classics such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Thing — but, rather, movies with plots specifically revolving around an actual invasion from evil extraterrestrials.
Let us know what you think of this list and feel free to add your own favorites in the comments!
A Quiet Place (2018)
John Krasinski made a splash as a director in this thrilling tale of an alien invasion featuring creatures that rely almost exclusively on sound to make their kills. Starring Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place uses brilliant sound design for scares and packs quite the visceral punch in terms of violent alien encounters. Not only that, it also does a terrific job of spinning its tale around a tight-knit family who are doing their best to survive the apocalypse. It would later be followed by an equally exciting 2021 sequel.
The found footage gimmick was all the rage in the early 2000s, but none utilized the technique as well as Matt Reeves’ action-packed Cloverfield. The plot concerns a group of partygoers who suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives when a giant alien appears and begins laying siege to New York. There’s a lot to admire here, even if the final act lacks the punch of the opening hour.
If you want a more intimate character study set in the same universe, check out 10 Cloverfield Lane which serves as a quasi-sequel — even if its own alien invasion story is much different than one featured in Reeves’ film.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in this Groundhog Day-esque thriller/comedy centered around Earth’s last gasp effort to stop an alien invasion from wiping out humanity. Cruise plays a stuck-up (even cowardly) Public Relations officer who is thrust into combat where he unexpectedly gains the power to relive the same day over and over again. Using his newfound skills, he teams up with Emily Blunt’s tough sergeant to figure out how to combat their seemingly unstoppable foes. It’s as funny as it is thrilling.
War of the Worlds (2005)
So much of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds works that it’s a shame when the sci-fi epic falls completely off the rails in the last act. Starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, and Tim Robbins, War of the Worlds boasts a number of astonishing set pieces (notably the bit where a tri pod rises from beneath a city street and evaporates a crowd of onlookers with its lasers) and a simplistic story centered around one family’s quest for survival. Cruise is in top form, while Spielberg leans on 9/11 imagery to really sell the horror of the event. A near-perfect film that falters due to a weak ending.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who get the joke will enjoy the madcap comedy for what it is — a send-up of those old 1950s alien invasion movies that featured big-name stars, cheesy effects, and plenty of ham-fisted spectacle. Starring Jack Nicholson (in multiple roles), Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, and a very young Jack Black, Mars Attacks! is perhaps the most star-studded picture on our list. And while Burton does occasionally lose his grip on the massive production, there’s still enough dark humor, silly effects, and homages to previous sci-fi blockbusters to hold your attention for a few hours.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is such a novel concept that it’s been adapted on multiple occasions, including a 2007 flop titled The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Even now, the best of the bunch remains Philip Kaufman’s eerie 1978 classic starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, and Veronica Cartwright. Where other entries on this list manage to balance horror with thrilling adventure, Body Snatchers is a rather bleak affair with one of the more shocking endings in film history. Watch it with the lights on.
M. Night Shyamalan’s modern sci-fi classic continues to divide audiences all these years later, but remains an ambitious alien invasion story. Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Cherry Jones, and Abigail Breslin, Signs takes extra steps to give more weight and meaning to its fairly straightforward premise without mincing on scares or tension. All-in-all, it’s a decently well-crafted thriller.
Independence Day (1997)
Despite a silly third act that all but crumbles under the gargantuan weight of its massive production, Roland Emmerich’s patriotic tour de force Independence Day mostly delivers the goods. It helps to have an extremely charismatic Will Smith on hand supplying quippy one liners, and a batch of Oscar-winning visual effects that (mostly) hold up today. There’s plenty of cheese to go with this 90s blockbuster, but also plenty of rip-roaring fun.
Men in Black (1997)
Men in Black isn’t a great movie, per se, but the interplay between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones is so infectious you spend more time laughing than pining over the lazy script and by-the-numbers plotting. The idea here is novel: a government agency designed to seek out and eliminate extraterrestrials hires the new kid on the block (Smith) to help an aging agent (Jones) stop an impending invasion. Barry Sonnenfeld channels everything from Ghostbusters to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and while the resulting film itself offers a mixed bag of delights, the wicked pairing of Smith and Jones never fails to entertain. Just steer clear of the two unwatchable sequels.
The most challenging and artsy flick on this list, Annihilation doesn’t exactly entertain so much as it fills its audience with dread. A solid cast consisting of Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Oscar Isaac does wonders with Alex Garland’s eerie, puzzling script, while the unique visuals capture the weirdness and mood of the strange extraterrestrials at the heart of the story. Here we have a film that will leave many (including me) scratching their heads, but also an ambitious sci-fi project that deserves a lot more recognition.
The World’s End (2013)
The World’s End isn’t the best of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (that honor goes to Hot Fuzz), but it’s still a rollicking comedy with a novel premise, creative action and plenty of heart. When Gary King (Simon Pegg) gathers his friends for a trip through the “Golden Mile” (i.e., a collection of pubs in Newton Haven), they get more than they bargained for, as the city becomes overrun with aliens. The sharp script and always wicked directing by Wright make this one of the better alien invasion stores to hit the big screen, to say nothing of its stellar cast consisting of Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Rosamund Pike.
They Live (1988)
Strange, bizarre, and often hilarious in a manner only the great John Carpenter could conjure, They Live is more cult classic than out-and-out must see. Still, if you get a kick out of schlocky special effects, cheesy acting, and not-so-subtle political commentary, this might just be the movie for you. It’s certainly a product of the 80s, but its biting themes make it a deeper-than-expected horror gem.
Attack the Block (2011)
John Boyega headlines this entertaining (and funny) alien invasion story that mixes social commentary with well-staged action and a heavy dose of humor. Joe Cornish’s assured direction keeps the flick moving at a nice pace, but it’s the banter between our cast of young heroes that elevates this early-2010s picture to extraordinary heights.