Aliens, as you’ve probably heard, are a big deal right now. The potential existence of extraterrestrial life has always fascinated scientist and mystic alike, but discussions of aliens have reached a fever pitch. That’s because of recent videos that came from Navy pilots of odd aerial objects that seem to be capable of flying in unusual ways. Take this New York Times headline — “U.S. Finds No Evidence of Alien Technology in Flying Objects, but Can’t Rule It Out, Either.” What the military calls these things is unexplained aerial phenomena. We know them better as unidentified flying objects — aka, UFOs.
Whether or not they’re aliens, they definitely are UFOs, at least in the literal, denotative sense. And while we’ll probably be waiting a while longer to make sense of this information, we can at least sate our curiosity with some fascinating sci-fi films about aliens. From kooky comedies to mysterious monster thrillers, filmmakers have long been fascinated with the idea of aliens, and what their potential existence reflects about us, here on terra firma.
When we’re not looking up at the stars, these are the alien movies that we’ll be watching.
What would a list about alien movies be without Alien? This old-school space horror film still has some of the most unsettling scenes committed to film. You won’t soon forget the face-huggers and chest-bursters, conceived of by the reliably disturbing artist H.R. Giger. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is still an all-time action film badass.
2. Men in Black
While primarily known as a goofy comedy, Men in Black is actually one of the most compelling meditations of our collective fascination with extraterrestrial life — specifically, the question of what’s out there and what it says about us. It also turns the traditional conception of aliens as unstoppably intelligent on its head, instead of envisioning them as ordinary creatures, most of whom are just trying to make their own way in the universe. And oh yeah, there’s a talking pug.
3. District 9
Alien films are often allegories for human problems, but few are as obvious as District 9. Set in South Africa, District 9 deals with an oppressive regime that subjugates, mocks and exploits a stranded alien race. But just because the allusion to Apartheid is blindingly obvious, that doesn’t make it less effective or compelling. The film also has a unique filmmaking style, presenting scenes in the style of newscasts and documentary footage.
4. A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place takes a familiar premise — mean aliens want to kill all humans, and it adds a unique layer. The aliens might not be able to see you, but they can hear any move you make. But the film isn’t just a premise in search of a plot. Instead, the throughline is a story about a family, held together by John Krasinski’s surprisingly assured direction, impressive child acting and Emily Blunt’s grippingly visceral performance. It plays with sound and silence in an interesting way, so you’ll want to see it on a big screen.
Annihilation is Alex Garland’s follow-up to his sci-fi opus Ex Machina. This film finds a group, led by Natalie Portman’s Lena, that is sent to explore the Shimmer, an expanding field that distorts and morphs anything within its boundaries. It’s a spare, mysterious alien film with incredible visuals and some really scary scenes — the mutant bear is as scary and terrifying as they come.
Explorers had a similar premise to E.T., which came out a few years before, and it was also competing with Back to the Future, which had been released just over a week before. So it’s probably not surprising that Explorers didn’t have as big of an impact as it could have, but this charming, family-friendly alien movie has since found a cult following. The film marked the debut of Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix, who play young teens who build a makeshift spaceship out of a carnival ride car and jet off to meet some aliens.
7. Under The Skin
Scarlett Johansson was already a Marvel superhero by the time Under The Skin came around in 2013, which is why it might be a surprise to see her in this low-key, low-budget art-film horror thriller. The alien movie follows Johansson, playing a menacing alien in human skin, who drives around a van in Scotland preying on men until she herself becomes hunted. Remarkably, most of the people who appear on screen aren’t actors, and many scenes were shot with hidden cameras. It’s a bizarre, experimental film that’s a must-watch for die-hard sci-fi fans and film fans in general.
8. Independence Day
Independence Day marked a major comeback for the sci-fi genre upon its release in 1996, and the film has a stacked cast including Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, who gives a now-iconic motivational speech as the troops prepare to make their final stand against the invading aliens. Despite director Roland Emmerich’s criticism of them, Marvel movies — and the modern blockbuster — owe a large debt to Independence Day.
9. A Trip to The Moon
A Trip to The Moon is one of the earliest films ever produced, which goes to show how long filmmakers have been fascinated with cinema’s potential to explore outer space and extraterrestrial life. It feels more like a whimsical fantasy film than alien movies as we know them today — there’s the iconic scene in which the rocket lands on the face of the moon, represented by an actual human face. The explorers are greeted by a force of small moon-dwellers. If you don’t have time to watch a full-length feature film, then watch A Trip to The Moon — it’s a lean twelve minutes long.
Evolution is an absurd alien comedy by the guy behind Ghostbusters and Space Jam. In it, a scrappy band of idiots has to fight against a horde of aliens that emerges from the Arizona desert. Their secret weapon? (Spoiler alert) selenium sulfide, the active ingredient in Head and Shoulders shampoo. It’s about as dumb as it sounds, but it’s a good time. Academy Award winner Julianne Moore stars (though, surprisingly, this isn’t the movie that won her that award).