When I put this list together I tried to put as much variety as possible on here. I tried to cover all the different kinds of alien invasion movies there are. I then thought about my favorite of each type of the genre.
I didn’t want this to be a list of five of the same movie on repeat, I wanted to give a representation of different generations, different styles, and influences. In doing this I admittedly left some excellent movies out of this list but I think the list I compiled shows how one genre can have many facets.
So read on and bunker down because the hordes are coming.
Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day is brought to us by the master of mayhem himself Roland Emmerich. The seminal alien invasion movie stars Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Randy Quaid. It has been nearly a quarter of a century since Independence Day hit the big screen and it still holds up really well.
The special effects were state of the art for its time—everything about this movie is of mammoth proportions. The amount of effort that went into constructing the set pieces for Independence Day is so impressive. The work that the creators put into making all of these models of the cityscapes is next level.
One of my favorite aspects of pre-CGI reliant special effects was the use of models. Nowadays we have entire cities made digitally and we have lost some of that textile feel of the older blockbuster movies. I know that CGI is used a lot during Independence Day but it is paired well with the use of miniatures. With that use of models and pyrotechnics the movie never becomes over-reliant on the use of computer-generated special effects.
Emmerich goes about his business, as usual, hitting every beat with the subtly of a sledgehammer. Each and every scene is dripping with so much cheese that it is dangerous to the health of any lactose intolerant viewer. I just love how Emmerich leaves nothing on the floor, it always feels like at the end of every brainstorming session he just says yes please and walks out of the room.
No matter the cheesiness of Independence Day it truly is an iconic powerhouse. It will be forever known as the movie that turned Will Smith into a bona fide action star. The effect it had on his career is undeniable. His turn as Captian Steve Hiller is a legendary action performance. It gave Smith the chance to show to the world that he can play tough, cool, charismatic and funny, the personification of an A-list movie star.
I was 10 years old when I first saw Independence Day and every time I watch it I’m right back there. Everything about this movie is iconic, from the cast to the cheeseball script to the legendary alien ships. Back in 1996, the summer action blockbuster was a mainstay of the cinematic experience and few can bust a block like Roland Emmerich. His love for landmark explosion-filled destruction is only matched by my continuing need to watch said destruction.
To paraphrase President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), Independence Day will not go quietly into the night, it will not vanish without a fight. It will and has proven that it has the staying power that will see it live on for generations to come.
James Gunn writes and directs Slither, a body horror/alien invasion movie from 2006. It stars Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Gunn’s long time collaborator Michael Rooker. Slither, just like many others before and since focuses on grand events that occur in a small-town setting.
Slither goes less for the explodey fleet of invading alien hordes and more leans on the subversive. In place of the hordes, it centers around an alien parasite that begins to consume a town from within. In what could have so easily been such a dark piece, what we get instead is a brilliant comedy with more than a hint of horror.
Gunn has such a talent for setting up slapstick humor and following it with scenes that are so grotesque in nature. Very few directors can make you laugh at the same time as they are turning your stomach. This is something Gunn does to perfection here.
I always admire how Gunn uses his cast to their full potential. Nathan Fillion excels as the local town Chief Bill Pardy. His reactions to what he is seeing are just how most of us would react, his fear is nearly outweighed by his sense of confusion. Fillon’s facial expressions are comedy gold.
I have been watching Nathan Fillion for a long time and he always looks like he is having so much fun. I think it might be why he is so watchable. When an actor is enjoying their job it permeates through our screens.
Fillion was not the only one that was at his best in Slither. Elizabeth Banks partners Fillion’s Chief Pardy in trying to escape the besieged South Carolina town. Banks once again put in an incredibly energetic performance. Banks never seems to take herself too seriously and revels in comedic roles.
Although I enjoyed the comedic elements of Slither, my favorite part of this excellent sc-fi/comedy horror is the use of practical effects like the design of the parasitic alien and how it contorts its host’s body. Micheal Rooker brings this monstrosity to life with a poignancy, you pity him as much as you are revolted by him.
Rooker proves (just like in his turn as Meryl Dixon in The Walking Dead) that he can transform what should be simple bad guys/tough guys into complex and sympathetic characters. It is clear to see with all his talents why Gunn continues to work with him over multiple projects.
Once again James Gunn zigs when many others would have zagged. In his zigging, he crafted a very clever, funny movie that winks to the B-movies of old whilst adding his tone of fresh and imaginative sense of dark humor. All of these ingredients have turned Slither into a cult classic with an ever-expanding life span.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Doug Liman directs the adaptation of the 2004 Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt co-star in this epic thrill ride that is something akin too Groundhog Day meets Gears of War.
Edge of Tomorrow is the epitome of an action blockbuster. One has to appreciate how capable Doug Liman is at making absolutely terrifically kickass movies. Liman has proven himself more than once that he is a master of the action genre.
I know Paul Greengrass gets a lot of deserved praise for his influence on the Bourne franchise but it was Liman who built every inch of the foundation that the rest of the series rested upon. He has and always will be a safe pair of hands and he doesn’t disappoint here.
The battle scenes are 100mph explosion laden mayhem. From minute naught the fighting is ferocious. By the time you are getting settled in you are no sooner being dropped out of a drop-ship alongside the rest of J-squad. Where most movies allow you to ease in Edge of Tomorrow advises you to strap in because things are about to get really crazy, really fast.
Tom Cruise stars as military PR man William Cage, who is forced into joining the war against the alien forces known as Mimics. His journey from his meek beginnings to his heroic ending is possibly the best part of the entire movie.
Cruise’s relationship with Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, otherwise known as The Angel of Verdun, holds the center of this movie excellently. The pair share very natural chemistry. Blunt’s star-power is forever becoming more immense—she never looks out of place with any of her co-stars, even one so esteemed as Tom Cruise.
The training sequences are possibly my favorite part. Watching Cruise suffer as Blunt continuously puts him down on repeat is hilarious. They both sprinkle their fair share of humor over what could have been very repetitive scenes. The talent and charisma they both have make each scene brilliantly original each and every time.
What really impresses me about Edge of Tomorrow is its aesthetics. Everything is so loud but in the best way possible. The mech-suits the soldier’s wear are the definition of beast mode, as the suits are meant to turn anyone into a gun-toting soldier of fortune. The way the suit is designed is the perfect embodiment of the piece: it is brash, badass and filled with bad intentions.
Edge of Tomorrow is possibly Tom Cruise at his non-Mission-Impossible actiony best. He is the truest representation of an A-list movie star. He is every bit as legendary as his action performances are awe-inspiring. Even after all these years he never fails to surprise me. His level of innovation and dedication is unmatched.
What could have fallen flat on its face and just another run of the mill mid-year movie, instead Edge of Tomorrow is a high-level blockbuster that leaves everything out on the field. When you get done watching I advise you to do three things. Stop. Rewind. Rewatch.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The iconic remake of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers came over two decades later in the late ’70s. Director Philip Kaufman brings this legendary psychological science fiction masterpiece to life in such an unsettling way. Kaufman’s use of sound is so masterful. I love the way he uses the score to keep our nerves jangling throughout the piece.
We feel the unease in every moment of the characters’ journey. These people find themselves surrounded on all sides by friendly faces that no longer seem so friendly. They are in a world of strangers that wear the faces of the ones they hold most dear. I am always enthralled by stories like these, so it is no coincidence that Slither is also on this list.
Movies like Slither, Body Snatchers and The Thing focus on the known becoming the unknown—what was safe is now the harbinger of doom. These movies turn your sense of paranoia up to 9.5 on the psychological Richter scale, parting your sense of ease along those oh so very fragile mental fault lines.
Kaufman may be the conductor of this seismic psychological orchestra, but it is the players of the piece that bring this eerie world into reality. Donald Sutherland leads an excellent cast. He is absolutely in his prime here and carries the movie with the same assured confidence that has come to define his incredible career.
The supporting cast is also out of this world—pun intended—Jeff Goldblum, Lenard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright help carry the substantial weight of the narrative. To be as good as it is every role had to be filled with top-level talent. This otherworldy reality that seems so similar but also so very different feels so terrifying because the cast is so talented at making it so believable.
The way the world is subtlely taken over is what we all fear—that in an instant everything we thought we knew is just altered beyond reckoning. What Body Snatchers does so well is to allow you to feel a lingering touch of relative safety before being gripped tightly by the hand of danger—a danger that you never knew was there to begin with.
This is no better exemplified than in the climax, when you think that our heroes may have just got away only for Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) to turn to the camera and screech. Then just like that when we had just a little bit of hope in an ever-darkening world, Kaufman extinguishes that light in an instant.
This is what makes this movie so good. It never rests on laurels. It takes advantage of every quiet moment in the story to seize upon the sense of the false security that it just lulled you into. Movies that are so adept at doing this are so rare and have to be cherished.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a must-see legendary movie. It was inspired by the novel Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, and also the 1956 movie that I previously mentioned. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Well it was Kaufman’s need to flatter that brought us this masterpiece.
Then so fittingly, it would be his work that would go on to be imitated so often, inspiring so many that would follow in his footsteps. It is a work of unsettling artistry that has earned its place as one of the most recognizable movies of its type. Just remember whatever you do don’t go to sleep not out of fear of waking up to your duplicate but out of fear of missing out on a piece of cinematic history.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Paul Verhoeven directs the 1997 movie Starship Troopers based on the novel of the same name written by Robert A. Heinlein. Yet Verhoeven’s take is radically different than the source material. The novel was originally written as a reaction the U.S suspending nuclear tests and the ongoing cold war. It is a coming of age story from the ’50s filled with the social commentary of that time.
Verhoeven forgoes the cold war rhetoric and instead brings us this reversal on the alien invasion movie. This time it is the humans who are the invading species as they take on the bugs from Klendathu. Casper Van Dien leads the cast of citizens that are taking the plunge into enemy territory to wipe out those very same bugs. Denise Richards, Neil Patrick Harris, Dina Meyer, and Jake Busey take up the supporting roles in the fight against the monstrous foe.
What could have been a simple B-movie is instead turned into a glorious satire filled with hilarious over the top propaganda and rhetoric. The forces of the United Citizen Federation are so bombastic in their tone, the fascist state has more than a whiff of Nazism about them.
I love the way Verhoeven uses the news as his mouthpiece for his social commentary. He does this so excellently. He has always had a penchant for having cut away news segments in his movies, utilizing them to maximum effect. Just like in Robocop, Verhoeven fills in the gaps in the narrative by having these news reports tell us more about the worlds that these characters call home.
Don’t get me wrong this isn’t just a political satire, it is also an outlandish action movie in the best possible way. There is nothing better than watching a bunch of amped-up mobile infantrymen and women running full steam ahead into the waiting hordes of giant insects. The set pieces are crazy and even though the budget wasn’t the biggest the special effects are still pretty decent.
Even though Starship Troopers came out over two decades ago now a lot of its messages still ring true in today’s society. It shows us that propaganda is dangerous. It shows us how the government’s influence on the media is detrimental to the flow of free and honest information. Verhoeven takes a political satire and coats it in a varnish of a battle-filled action movie. He uses the exterior to disguise the real meaning of this movie.
He sugarcoats the commentary with gunfights and giant bugs, managing to make this movie so much more than it should have been. Starship Troopers has a way higher I.Q than it lets on. It is a smart movie filled with excellent observations on society as a whole—none more accurate than the only good bug is a dead bug, but that is just a case of personal preference.
Starship Troopers is a throwback to the smart action movie. It wears many masks—successfully so might I add. It is a simple but also layered movie that does not fail to entertain. It is escapism with a hint of reality.
Even though we are now living in uncertain times one truth still remains constant. That truth is that Johnny Rico and his Roughnecks are always going to be there if we need them, well at least until they die or we can find someone better.
Once more I leave you with the questions: which movies would make your list and which do you think would have been a better representation of the genre?
What are you fine folks’ favorite five alien invasion movies, and what movies are on the horizon that you are all looking forward to?
I look forward to reading your comments and hope that you all can help me find some movies I have never heard of. The problem with being a movie hound is your find yourself running out of things to watch.
So to paraphrase Elmo from I Love You Man, I want everything you got, everything you got.
2 CommentsLeave a Reply
Some alien movies can pass into the mind-fuck genre and get extra points, but just focussing on alien invasion movies, top five off the top of my head: Twin Peaks, it’s all there; Under the Skin, I love black goo movies; What Lies Below is vampiric; It, which is an invasion but by the lone alien archangel stuck here and is just trying to survive (like the alien in ANNIHILATION. See also VanderMeer’s Borne. That bubble can just keep growing!) Films with a different take on the alien invasion: Mysterious Skin, Indian Jones, KPAX, literal documentaries about people who get implants and shit. I am looking forward to Stuart Davis’s Mant1s, a project actually entangled in real paranormal phenomenon (see Weird Studies episode 37 on this). I’m looking forward to Dune, where humans are the aliens invading a new planet, and the sandworms are just trying to survive. What a symbiotic relationship! Sometimes alien invasions are co-evolution. I just learned about anting, where turkeys and crows are using invading ant secretions as natural insecticides! Batmn, someone in this story is a bird expert named Dr. David Bird. The invasion into our DNA in Alien is also an interesting take on this classic genre. So is mother!. Thanks for this fantastic essay! You might like Black Goo: The Stuff of Dreams.
One of the most interesting and unsettling alien invasion films is Alex Garland’s adaptation of novelist Jeff VanderMeer’s ANNIHILATION, volume one of this highly-praised Southern Reach Trilogy.