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The Movie/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Alien Invasion Films

June 21, 2016 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Top 8 Alien Invasion Films

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

This weekend a long-anticipated return of alien invaders hits. Independence Day: Resurgence, the sequel to the 1996 blockbuster, makes its way into theaters after a labored path to get to the big screen. The film is the latest in a tradition of alien invasion films that stretches all the way back to the sci-fi boom of the 1950s. The idea of creatures from another world invading our own has often been used for greater themes, whether they represented the Communist threat or more insidious threats. This week we’re going to delve into the science fiction subgenre to count down the best films that saw invaders from another world threaten our way of life.

Caveat: When compiling the list of potentials for this week, I was looking for films in which aliens came to Earth with hostile intent, which had to be the primary focus of the plot. Thus, a film like Starship Troopers doesn’t qualify because while it has some invasion moments (e.g. Buenos Aires), those are basically to set up the main plot which was humanity heading out to Klendathu to take the war to the bugs. I really went back and forth on The Avengers, but ultimately Loki is the main villain and the Chitauri invasion is almost secondary to the team’s battle with him. Also, an invasion implies a sizable force. One person does not an invasion make, which left films like Predator (where he wasn’t even invading anyway, he was hunting) out. After some deliberation, I left The Thing off as well for this reason. It doesn’t have to be full armies, but it does have to be more than just one advance scout/spy/crash-land.

Just Missing The Cut

War of the Worlds (1953)
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Critters (1986)

#8: Mars Attacks! (1996)

First on our list is an underrated effort from Tim Burton. While Burton has been in a bit of a low point creatively over the last few years, there was a time when he was the king of quirky genre films. Among them was his throwback to the 1950s invasion classics Mars Attacks!, which blended black comedy and political satire for a goofy little thrill-ride. Based on a science fiction trading card series that was first released in 1962, the movie earned mixed reviews at the time but has gotten better with age. The plot is pure cheeseball silliness, where basically every character has serious moral failings of some kind in order to make the planet ripe for assault and near-extermination from the maniacal brain-headed Martians who come to wipe everyone all out. Unfortunately for them, Slim Whitman’s “Indian Love Call” is apparently to a Martian what a headshot is to a zombie and we live to fight another day. The star-laden cast (which includes Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan and Danny DeVito) get into the groove of Burton’s wacky sensibilities and the plot developments are goofy fun throughout. It’s a film that most will love or hate without much in between, but either way you have to give it some appreciation for showing that not all alien assaults have to be serious drama or horror-ridden affairs.

#7: Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block was the film nerd-cred movie to see in 2011 and is one of the best recent examples of a cult film-to-be. Joe Cornish was best known as a TV comedian before he took on this 2011 invasion flick, his first directorial effort. Attack the Block is set at a council estate in South London on Guy Fawkes Night, where a street gang finds themselves in the midst of an alien invasion. The group of hoodlums has to band together and fight off the beasties with whatever they have handy, which luckily includes a lot of fire. Cornish’s designs for the aliens are quite creepy, with fur that is black to the point it absorbs light and multiple rows of glowing neon fangs. This creates an incredible visual image that really pops on the screen. The story of the film takes the time to develop its characters, which allows you to empathize with them more so that you care what’s going to happen to them. The humor works and the worst complaint I’ve heard from people are problems with understanding the accents, which isn’t a big deal in the era of subtitles should you need them. Attack the Block isn’t a perfect film but it’s a damned fun ride that touches on some solid coming of age themes while delivering everything a genre fan could want.

#6: The Faculty (1998)

Another vastly underrated film hits the list here. In 1998 Robert Rodriguez was one of the bigger up-and-coming names in Hollywood with films like El Mariachi, Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn to his credit. These films, along with his association with Quentin Tarantino, made him incredibly popular among the 18-35 filmgoing crowd. So when he was announced as making an alien invasion film, a lot of people were excited and I was one of them. While not everyone loved The Faculty, I found a lot to appreciate here. The young cast of Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Jordana Brewster and Shawn Hatosy are all up to their roles as their respective archetypes at the school while the adults at the school (including Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Patrick) match up well. The film has some very 1990s-esque elements but they don’t seem too tacky even now, and the dialogue is largely whip-smart. This is one that matches cheese and weightier moments well; the action is well-directed, the suspense works out nicely, there’s a lot of good humor and Rodriguez showed that he was able tackle a mainstream project without losing his indy sensibility. It may not be a critical darling, but The Faculty is one that I enjoy watching whenever it comes on TV.

#5: Village of the Damned (1960)

Forget about the well-meaning but very problematic John Carpenter remake. The original Village of the Damned is a great adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. As an alien invasion film, the Wolf Rilla-directed Damned is fairly subtle; it doesn’t directly reference the unidentified space object that kicks things off but it isn’t difficult to read between the lines on this one. The movie starts with a “time-out” in which people all over the world suddenly fall unconscious and all women who in the affected areas are discovered to be pregnant with children — who of course turn out to be telepathic monsters intent on taking over the world. Rilla does a fantastic job with making the children creepy, the acting is quite good for genre films of the era and the small-town setting is very well-utilized. A sequel was released in 1963 that, while good in itself, doesn’t quite hold up to the classic status of the original.

#4: Slither (2006)

Like many films on this list, Slither is a movie that deserved far, far better then it got. The invasion horror-sci-fi comedy by writer/director James Gunn (now of Guardians of the Galaxy fame) was largely ignored by moviegoers upon its release in 2006 despite glowing reviews. It stars the always-great Nathan Fillion as the sheriff of a small town which gets infected by slimy, disgusting aliens. Elizabeth Banks plays the wife of patient zero Michael Rooker, who gets some great gross-out material to work with here. Slither is a ridiculously-entertaining homage to the great lower-budget horror films of the seventies and eighties like Videodrome, They Came From Within, From Beyond, The Thing and the old Troma films. You’ve got a great cast and Gunn delivering all the gore and laughs you could ask for. The film’s greatest problem was that a throwback horror-comedy didn’t play well in 2006, the year of J-Horror and torture porn, and Universal Pictures had no idea how to market it. Luckily, as is with the case of many films that are unfairly ignored in theaters it has found its audience in the home video market. If you haven’t checked it out, then you should; it’s well worth watching.

#3: Independence Day (1996)

There’s no way we can get around talking about this one, which is one of the iconic sci-fi action films of the 1990s (and whose sequel inspired this column). I’ll never profess to be the biggest Roland Emmerich fan, but you have to give him credit: he can blow stuff up like no one else. Michael Bay is great at it too, but Emmerich is the undisputed master. And Independence Day is without a doubt his masterpiece of destruction cinema. It is in no way a subtle film, of course; if you’re looking for sci-fi that explores deeper themes and turns its content into a metaphor for serious societal issues, there are many great options but ID4 is not one of them. It’s bold, broad stroke flag-waving “rah rah” action du jour and that’s about all that it is. But it does it all beautifully. The special effects hold up incredibly well to this day, the plot is effective despite more than a few loopholes (the aliens use Macs?), the action is great and Emmerich paces the movie perfectly. Will Smith launched his film career into stardom with his role here and Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia all take what are essentially stock characters and invest them with more life than perhaps they even deserved. This is pure style over substance but there is nothing wrong with that in a film if done well, and ID4 does it extremely well.

#2: They Live (1988)

“I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” With those words the late, great Roddy Piper walked into cinematic history in John Carpenter’s fantastic sci-fi paranoid thriller. They Live is almost the exact opposite of Independence Day. Where ID4 is in-your-face, over the top action/sci-fi, John Carpenter’s tale of mankind lulled into domination by an alien race is subversive, full of social commentary and a lot slyer than you might expect. Carpenter revels in the B-movie attitudes here (magic sunglasses!) and he uses the schlocky fun tone to tell a very smart story, one that is just as relevant today as it was in the late 1980s. It’s a great example of a film where invaders from another world don’t just muscle their way in; they outthink us. And we go right along like sheep. But if social commentary isn’t your thing there is still a lot to enjoy; Piper’s performance stands on par with some of the best action heroes of the 1980s while his fight with Keith David is no less than B-movie legend. This is the best films of Carpenter’s impressive career and one of the smartest and most well-done alien invasion films to date.

#1: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Notching the #1 spot is a 1970s remake of a classic film of the sci-fi films of the ’50s where paranoia was the thing. The idea of alien invasion largely has its roots in the paranoid Cold War era, when there were others who were out there and they wanted to make us their slaves, or to brainwash us, or any number of other nefarious goals. That brought along Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, which has been turned into four films to date. We’re ignoring The Invasion and Body Snatchers for the moment and instead setting our sites on the first two; of them, the 1978 remake is my favorite. While the original film was interpreted as an allegory on the dangers of McCarthyism, Philip Kaufman’s version is more about the way that people were becoming increasingly alienated from each other in the post-Vietnam era. The point is the same in each of them: individuality is something that humanity must aspire to but often fails to achieve, which is contributing to the death of society. Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams deliver great performances and Kaufman keeps things incredibly creepy throughout, building tension quite expertly. Kaufman hits all the notes to be faithful to the original but doesn’t merely ape what’s there; he made it relevant to a new era of movie-goers and ultimately made a better film in the process that stands as the pinnacle of alien invasions on celluloid.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.