Iconic Alien Invasion Movies

6 minute read

By Jack Sackman

Alien invasion movies are films where a mysterious alien lifeform comes to Earth with nefarious intentions. The lifeform is discovered by a ragtag group of heroes, who then take it upon themselves to save mankind from certain destruction.

Hollywood has churned out a lot of these movies over the years, some better than others. In fact, aliens threatening Earth has been a constant theme in Tinseltown since the early days of film. So, here are some of the most iconic in the genre.

The X-Files (1998)

The first X-Files movie, released in 1998 at the height of the TV show’s popularity, is a very good movie. Namely, it answers a lot of the questions raised by the show and advances the central storyline around the presence of aliens and the government conspiracy to cover up their existence.

The movie has the same paranoid energy and Agent Mulder’s drive to find the truth as the long-running series. Moreover, the thrilling action sequences and great special effects make it a fun ride from start-to-finish.

Source: Picture via 20th Century Studios

Species (1995)

Species adds some serious sex appeal to the alien invasion genre. Simply because the invader in this 1995 sci-fi film is model-turned-actress Natasha Henstridge.

Species sees a team of human scientists and government agents race against the clock to stop the evil but seductive alien known as “Sil” from mating with human men en route to a much more sinister plot that threatens all of humanity. While not the greatest sci-fi movie ever made, the alien as a femme fatale angle is unique. Plus, it has an impressive cast that includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, and Forest Whitaker.

Source: Picture via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

They Live (1988)

Professional wrestler turned actor Rowdy Roddy Piper knocked it out of the park in They Live. This 1988 sci-fi movie is both cheesy and pretty great at the same time.

About a drifter (Piper) who discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the fact that aliens have taken over Earth, They Live is a no-holds-barred action movie full of flying suplexes, shotgun blasts, and car chases. While some critics viewed They Live as a low rent sci-fi film, we appreciate its eccentric charms – right down to the bad alien special effects.

It’s hard not to love seeing Piper lay waste to alien hordes. There’s something comforting in knowing that mankind’s survival rests with the Hot Rod. Somehow it just feels right.

In all seriousness, They Live is one of the better movies to have starred a former pro wrestler.

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

Signs (2002)

Signs captures people’s imagination by delving into the question of what creates those mysterious crop circles seen on farms around the world. Starring Mel Gibson as a reverend who has lost his faith and Joaquin Phoenix as his paranoid brother, Signs jumps right into alien invasion territory.

Suspenseful, creepy, and full of atmosphere, the movie is great for the first two-thirds. While it falls apart a bit during the climax, Signs mostly holds up to scrutiny. It is still one of the better movies M. Night Shyamalan has made. Plus, it was a critical and financial success for the director, earning more than $400 million at the global box office.

Source: Screenshot via Buena Vista Pictures

The Blob (1958)

1958’s The Blob is notable for being the first film to star actor and legend Steve McQueen. The film has a pretty simple premise: an alien lifeform consumes everything in its path and grows bigger and bigger as it does – eventually threatening humanity along the way. Of course, it is up to a ragtag group of high school kids led by McQueen to save the day.

While the special effects are pretty rudimentary – the blob is basically a Jell-O mould – this is a fun sci-fi horror flick that succeeds in creating a memorable alien character. McQueen launched his career with this movie, which is now regarded as a classic of the 1950s.

Source: Screenshot via Sony Pictures

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1989)

Probably the greatest cult movie involving killer clowns is 1989’s Killer Klowns from Outer Space. You gotta admit, it’s pretty hard to ignore a title like that. Although it might sound a little weird and cheesy, this movie currently actually has a 77 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is about a group of aliens that look like circus clowns. When they arrive on Earth, these killer clowns are set on capturing, killing, and eating humans. Leaving a trail of cotton candy behind them wherever they go, the clowns are eventually hunted down by a ragtag group of teenagers.

Strange, silly, and scary, Killer Klowns from Outer Space has garnered a sizable cult following. So much so, that a line of toys was produced. There were plans for a sequel. Unfortunately, the project was abandoned when 20th Century Fox was sold to Disney.

Source: Screenshot via Trans World Entertainment

The Watch (2012)

You can see a lot of things as a member of a neighborhood watch group: neighbors behaving badly, teens stealing from cars, and aliens taking over the world. This is the premise of The Watch. Four men form a neighborhood watch group as a way to get out of their day-to-day family routines. However, they find themselves defending the neighborhood and the rest of Earth from a full-blown alien invasion.

A comedy starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade, The Watch is silly fun. It takes what appears to be a simple plot point and stretches it to maximum comedic effect. While the aliens in the movie are not that impressive, the humor and situations are great. Plus, the comedy timing and banter among the cast is first-rate.

The Watch is one of the greatest alien invasion comedies you’ll see.

Source: Screenshot via 20th Century Studios

Mars Attacks! (1996)

Speaking of alien invasion comedies, there’s 1996’s Mars Attacks! For pure goofy fun, you can’t do much better.

Directed by Tim Burton and starring Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, and Annette Bening, Mars Attacks! is a spoof on the invasion movies of the 1950s. As such, it’s played for campy laughs from start-to-finish.

Featuring retro hairdos and ridiculous looking Martians, Mars Attacks! has Burton’s trademarks all over it. As one of Burton’s bests, it is fun to see the cast having as much fun as they do in this genre send-up.

People who like other signature Burton movies like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands will love Mars Attacks! It’s one of the only good comedies that Jack Nicholson has ever appeared in.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney has been made into a movie multiple times. Most recently with the awful 2007 movie The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Despite recent failures, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the best of the lot.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers tells the story of an alien invasion in which humans are replaced by perfect duplicates that are devoid of any and all emotion. Frequently ranked among the great movie remakes of all-time, the remake adds a gritty layer of realism that the original film lacks. Plus, it benefits from strong performances by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and a young Jeff Goldblum.

Although the 1956 film remains a staple of the genre, it’s dated by today’s standards. However, the remake is just as scary as it was in 1978.

Source: Screenshot via United Artists

Jack Sackman


Jack Sackman has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2013.