The alien invasion storyline predates film and goes back to the 19th century when HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds popularized the subgenre in 1897. It wasn’t until the 1950s that alien invasion films became prevalent: The Man from Planet X (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and It Came from Outer Space (1953). Then in 1953, Wells’ novel was adapted to film, officially giving rise to the alien invasion subgenre in science fiction. Though these types of movies fall into sci-fi, many of them can also be classified as disaster films.
Personally, I’m a fan of all sci-fi/fantasy disaster movies ranging from the big budget tentpoles of the summer blockbuster season to the b-movie, bad CGI, bad acting, bad science sci-fi films that premiere on the Syfy network or go straight to DVD. Although I love natural disaster films like the upcoming Into the Storm, I’m breaking down disaster movies into a specific category this time around: alien invasion — for the sake of keeping this list relatively short, though, any films that also fall into the superhero/comic book genre have been left out. (Sorry, Marvel’s The Avengers!)
Based on Jack Finney’s 1955 science fiction novel, The Body Snatchers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers follows the citizens of a small California town who notice some of their neighbors acting strangely. Extraterrestrials are invading Earth and replacing human beings with identical duplicates that lack emotion and individuality. A local doctor discovers what is happening and attempts to put a stop to the invaders.
Although there isn’t necessarily catastrophe within Invasion of the Body Snatchers — aside from the mental and emotional toll of the main characters watching their neighbors change overnight — there is implied disaster should the invaders take over the world. It’s one of the best alien invasion stories of all time and has since been adapted into three other movies in 1978, 1993, and 2007 as well as been the inspiration for other films within the genre (for instance, another movie on this list).
Mars Attacks! (1996)
On the comedy end of the sci-fi spectrum is Mars Attacks! from director Tim Burton, who brings his dark sense of humor to this alien invasion flick. When Martians come to Earth, humans try to peacefully make contact, however the aliens’ intentions are not at all friendly. What follows is a brutal massacre, until one teenager discovers the Martians’ weakness: “Indian Love Call” by Slim Whitman. Finally, Earth has the upper hand and manages to defeat the alien invaders.
The sheer level of camp paired with science fiction in Mars Attacks! has made it one the best — and most unique — alien invasion movies as well as one of my favorite films from the mind of Burton. Sure, the humor in this flick isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fantastic spoof on the alien invasion subgenre and sci-fi in general. Since I love parodies and sci-fi, Mars Attacks! makes the list.
Attack the Block (2011)
A gang of teenage hoodlums in South London, who spend their time mugging strangers on the street and defacing property, must step up and defend their home — “the block” — when predatory, animalistic aliens attack. The film has garnered a lot of critical praise as well as a cult following and did incredibly well at the box office.
Friends of mine had recommended I check out Attack the Block for a long time before I finally sat down and watched it. Once I did, I finally understood all the praise it has received and knew it was one of the best alien invasion films in a long time. Attack the Block should also receive credit for being one of the most accurate depictions of an alien invasion if only because it follows how real teenagers would react in that kind of a situation. Sci-fi fans looking for a more gritty, realistic alien invasion flick — with more character and less big-budget effects — Attack the Block is fantastic.
The Faculty (1998)
Based on (but not a direct adaptation of) Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty combines elements of the 1956 film with aspects of teen movies of the 80s and 90s — The Faculty has been called a mix between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Breakfast Club — to create an incredibly entertaining alien invasion story. Following a similar storyline, a group of teenagers in a small Ohio town begin to realize something strange going on; soon, they’re the only ones left to defend their town and the world from an alien invasion.
Although The Faculty is a blatant adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Rodriguez makes a point of referencing other movies and books that depict alien invasion stories and creates characters who are completely self-aware that the media has fictionalized alien invaders. The Faculty references Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Finney’s novel as well as a contentious science fiction debate in which some consider Finney’s The Body Snatchers a ripoff of The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein. Additionally, the main character even references a more recent alien invasion movie:
“If you were going to take over the world, would you blow up the White House ‘Independence Day’ style, or sneak in through the back door?”
The Faculty was one of my favorite movies growing up — it was certainly my favorite teen movie for a long time — and acted as a jumping off point for my foray into science fiction; The Faculty was the reason I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers to begin with. It’s a fun and entertaining 90s sci-fi movie, plus, with Rodriguez behind the camera, fans of his are sure to enjoy it as well.
Independence Day (1996)
A few days before the Fourth of July, large saucer-shaped alien ships begin hovering above major cities around the world. A scientist devises that a strange signal emanating from the alien crafts is counting down; when the countdown ends, the ships begin destroying the Earth. Those left in the wake of the alien’s first attack must fight for their lives and the safety of the entire planet.
The inspiration for this list was, of course, Independence Day. Named for the holiday around which the events of the film take place, Roland Emmerich’s alien invasion blockbuster may be one of the most famous movies within the subgenre. Independence Day has everything: a relatively well-developed alien species, destruction of many of Earth’s major metropolitan areas, and fun humor (largely provided by Will Smith). The team up of Smith with Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman also works in the film as a cool and exciting first line of defense against the alien invaders. Plus Independence Day contains the best movie speech ever given on film:
Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
Although I only included 5 alien invasion films on my list there are plenty more out there — and plenty that I haven’t seen. What are your favorites that you think I should have included? Let me know in the comments!