Bring on the Aliens

Earlier this summer I waited in anticipation for the government’s report on UFOs. I had high expectations: finally, after decades of rumors, fuzzy photos, and artists’ renditions, we were going to find out what was really out there. Up there. Somewhere.

You can imagine my disappointment when the intelligence community noted the existence of unidentified flying objects, as expected, but it didn’t acknowledge any signs of intelligent life. In other words, yup, there’s stuff flying around, but nope, we don’t think it’s alien beings from Mars…or Venus…or Pluto. Bummer. I don’t know about you, but I was really looking forward to aliens. After all, I’ve been preparing for them for decades.

My introduction to aliens was either the first film version of The War of the Worlds, based on H.G. Wells’ 1898 book of the same name, or it was The Twilight Zone’s 64th episode, “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” Back then it was all about Martians. Even as a kid I knew those aliens on the TV set were fake, but what about the ones on the covers of the tabloid newspapers and magazines? Could those be real? I wondered.

As I got older, I realized pretty much nothing in those publications was real, but I still wondered about non-human, interplanetary travelers. I kept looking for evidence (in more reliable publications) but there was little to satisfy my curiosity. Over the years, I’ve learned to settle for sci-fi novels and movies and there’s been plenty to keep me occupied. This summer, after getting the disappointing news from the intelligence community, I started binge-watching all my old favorites. Some have stood the test of time (The Thing) while others weren’t nearly as good as I remembered (Mars Attacks!). I also realized there are a lot that I haven’t seen (Super 8). With Friday the 13th approaching [note, this column first appeared in August 2021], I put together a list of my Top 13 Alien Films. So get out the tin foil hats and pour the bubbly drinks. Pop some popcorn, or if you want to get fancy, google “alien themed snacks” and whip something up. Then settle in for thirteen nights of extra-weird, extra-creepy, extraterrestrial movies that’ll satisfy your cosmogonal creature cravings.

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Based on Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, the 1978 film is the best of the three versions. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy. Rated PG and streaming on Prime Video, free on Pluto TV.
  • Independence Day: Will Smith stars in this patriotic family favorite, along with Bill Pullman and again, Jeff Goldblum. It gets a PG-13 rating and you can watch it on HBO and HBO Max or rent/buy on Prime Video.
  • War of the Worlds: No doubt you’ve seen the 2005 film starring Tom Cruise. This version’s entertaining enough for a second viewing. Rated PG-13, and you can rent or buy it on Prime Video and YouTube.
  • Signs: Ever since The Sixth Sense, movie-goers have looked forward to director M. Night Shyamalan’s twisted endings, and 2002’s Signs delivers. Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix star in this PG-13 film that you can rent or buy on Prime Video.
  • Pitch Black: It’s hard to believe this film came out 21 years ago, a year before Vin Diesel got famous for some car franchise. It ranks among my top alien films, and you can watch it on Showtime or rent/buy on Prime Video. Rated R.
  • District 9: This R-rated film is also one of my favorites, not only among alien-themed movies but all my favorite films. Wait until the kids are in bed then enjoy on STARZ or rent/buy on Prime Video.
  • Alien, Aliens, and the rest of the franchise. Rated R, but I’m pretty sure I let my kids watch all of them anyway. This is my favorite Sigourney Weaver role, and it makes me wonder why there aren’t more alien films with female leads. Watch the first two for free on Tubi TV, rent or buy Alien 3 on Prime Video.
  • E.T. The Extraterrestrial: The first adorable alien movie and still the best. Rated PG and you can stream it on Prime.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Another PG film – yay! Maybe not as endearing as E.T., but still a family-pleaser. Rent or buy on Prime Video.
  • Total Recall: Arnold Schwarzenegger made a lot of action films, and I probably took my kids to every one of them. This one’s directed by Paul Verhoeven of RoboCop fame. Rated R. See it on Netflix or free on Pluto TV.
  • Starship Troopers: Another Verhoeven classic. I don’t even know why I love this movie so much, but I’ve probably watched it a dozen times. It’s just…fun. The book by Robert A. Heinlein is much more serious, but also terrific and worth a read. For now, watch the R-rated film on Starz, or rent/buy on Prime Video.
  • Ghosts of Mars: OK, it’s a horror film, but it has Martians in it, so it fits here too. Rated R and with Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, and Pam Grier. Starz or Prime Video.
  • Cloverfield: Another horror film but again, there’s aliens. I remember hearing a lot about this film when it came out in 2008 – it only took me twelve years to watch it. Make the popcorn ahead of time because you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. PG-13 and OK for kids who don’t scare easily. Rent or buy on Prime Video.

What did I miss? Let me know and I’ll add it to my watch list.

Some alien movies have aged better than others, but they’re all still fun to watch, and rewatch. Mars Attacks! t-shirt by Cavity Colors.

This blog first appeared as a column in the August 10, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.

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