The 40 best alien movies of all time

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978)

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If you favor the later renditions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we don’t blame you. And it may be cheating to double up on our list’s first entry, but the 1978 version (featuring Brooke Adams, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright) is one of the rare examples of a remake living up to the legacy of its predecessor, which is all the more impressive when you consider the magnitude of industry legend Robert Wise‘s original. As an EW staffer previously wrote, the 1956 film is meant to be “a timely Cold War parable of takeover from within.” It ultimately “hit upon even deeper mass-marketing-age fears,” which helped it stand the test of time. Meanwhile, the follow-up flick harnesses that same dread and translates it to a new age without losing any punch.

At the center of these effective alien features is our fear of the Other. Most people don’t worry about little green men taking over their cities and suburbs, but most of us have watched some of our friends and family become bizarre shadows of their former selves practically overnight — which is exactly what transpires in Body Snatchers as the citizens of Earth are infiltrated by alien doppelgängers. In an age where paranoia and misinformation reign supreme, this tale of science failing to explain the chaos around us seems more timely (and more frightening) than ever before.

Where to watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Max

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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The Day the Earth Stood Still is another alien movie that endures the test of time because it consistently reflects the fractured world around us. EW once regarded the film as “an old black-and-white gem that has the here and now written all over it” because, among other things, its plot focuses on powerful aliens telling humanity to join together or die. That concern is prescient throughout our history, being just as applicable to Cold War anxieties as it is to America’s intervention in Iraq.

While the movie has some inspirational moments from our heroes, it does leave us with the disquieting notion that the chaos of our warring world may never make sense until someone forces an end. It may take something as powerful as a cosmic intervention to save humanity from itself and keep man from killing in the name of greed. It’s a sobering notion— one that will linger in your living room long after the movie stops playing.

Where to watch The Day the Earth Stood Still: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

The Blob (1958)

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Cinema painted small town America in the 1950s as pristine and well-ordered, making suburbia an obvious target for an alien blitz. Irvin Yeaworth’s sci-fi horror film The Blob, which attacked theaters in 1958, was happy to upend the neat organization of the post-war era with an amorphous villain who rode in on a meteorite and proceeded to consume anyone and anything unlucky enough to cross its path. Steve McQueen takes on his first leading role as one of the two teenagers attempting to warn the town of this new danger, and while the script didn’t win the movie any praise, the production’s special effects were enough to keep viewers gripping their armrests.

The Blob’s ending — which grimly acknowledges the existence of climate change — is only one way this sci-fi classic was ahead of its time: The movie has since influenced countless contemporary directors while inspiring a 1972 sequel and a 1988 remake. In 2013, The Blob was restored for Blu-ray, with EW’s critic remarking that the remastering gives the film “a haunting new glow.”

Where to watch The Blob: Max

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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While it baffled many critics at the time, Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey is an undisputed classic of not just science-fiction but pop culture as a whole. EW’s writer perhaps said it best, declaring that this is a movie “that will forever define its historical period” in part because “it changed how we think about ourselves.” Frankly, the greatest alien movies are the ones that make us examine our humanity through a brand new lens, and that’s exactly what Kubrick helps us to do here.

By the time this film is over, you’ll feel like you’re back in a Philosophy 101 class. What is the messy relationship between human evolution and technological development? What is the even messier connection between extraterrestrial life and what we think of as divine beings? Rather than provide definitive answers, the movie, like the Arthur C. Clarke book that it adapts, is content to leave you with questions that may take a lifetime to ponder.

Where to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey: Max

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

British Lion Films

If you’ve never seen it, you should be aware that the name of The Man Who Fell to Earth has a double meaning. As EW’s writer notes, this is “the story of a man falling — which is to say, succumbing — to Earth,” where his noble mission to save his homeworld “is derailed by the temptations and trappings of humanity, namely alcohol and television.” And in the truest tradition of science-fiction, the alien, played by David Bowie, ends up being the most human of us all.

This film is a prime example of how the sci-fi genre helps creators to pass along (often very preachy) messages to otherwise unreceptive audiences. The traditional thrill of an alien movie comes from our fear that visitors from outer space might threaten our existence and try to kill us. But instead, Bowie’s extraterrestrial flips that blame on its head, showing us that our human way of life — of jumping from one distraction to another — is the real fatal threat.

Where to watch The Man Who Fell to Earth: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

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It’s not like the iconic director has much left to prove these days, but Close Encounters of the Third Kind serves as a reminder of just how talented Steven Spielberg really is. As EW’s critic noted, the film’s script is “one of the few that Spielberg actually wrote from scratch, and it doesn’t take a single wrong turn,” while leaning into the potential wonder of an alien encounter rather than the potential terror.

Instead of focusing on little green men, the movie opts to explore how humanity might react at the chance to make first contact with a genuine alien race. In another director’s hands, this would simply be the prelude to a film about humanity fighting against an other worldly menace. In the emotionally deft hands of Spielberg, though, the film showcases what we can achieve when we work together and choose hope over fear.

Where to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

We may be overwhelmed with Star Wars content today, but that’s just because studios and audiences keep chasing the high of the monumental first film. As EW’s critic put it upon rewatching, the “franchise’s first great hero moment” revolves around Luke Skywalker successfully blowing up the Death Star, “and all he has to do is turn off his damn computer,” (which is something we wish Disney had done ahead of those pitiful sequel films).

Nevertheless, while audiences rooted for Luke as a warrior and prospective Jedi, he was much more relatable as the Good Kid reluctantly taken to the wrong side of town by Obi-Wan Kenobi. The jazzy music instantly shows us what delights aliens have to offer us, but it doesn’t take long before a couple of randos at the bar threaten Luke’s life. Extraterrestrials took center stage in this scene, and unlike Star Trek‘s happy message of unity, Star Wars reminded us that the aliens in a galaxy far, far away are just as likely to kill you as they are to buy you a drink or help you escape a closing trash compactor.

Where to watch Star Wars: A New Hope: Disney+

Superman: The Movie (1978)

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It’s tough to sum up the cultural impact of Superman: The Movie, but Christopher Nolan did a fine job decoding it. As Nolan told EW, “What Richard Donner had done in 1978 was a seminal take” that focused primarily on “this Norman Rockwell ideal of America.” In other words, it’s difficult to separate our ongoing love for this alien superhero from our somewhat problematic longing to return to the past.

Still, it’s impossible to deny the sheer charm on display in this perfectly cast film. Gene Hackman was captivating as a brilliant baddie and Margot Kidder had heart and passion as the woman who fell in love with an alien. As for Christopher Reeve, he made the transformation between Clark Kent and Superman realistic in an age before CGI, and the tagline for the film remains true: We did, indeed, believe a man could fly after watching this blockbuster.

Where to watch Superman: The Movie: Max

Alien (1979)

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While we like to think nearly every frame of Ridley Scott‘s Alien is perfect, the film is best remembered for the infamous scene where an extraterrestrial bursts out of John Hurt‘s chest. In addition to being fascinatingly gross, this sequence basically sums up the subconscious side of this horror classic. EW’s writer pointed out that, “there was something Freudian about it, a psycho-sexual nightmare bathed in imagery of death that also mimicked birth.”

This film paved the way for numerous sequels that varied in quality. But it’s clear that Hollywood keeps coming back to this particular well because the primal terror of the xenomorph — and its perversion of birth as death — is timelessly captivating. The franchise is ultimately chasing the dragon of Hurt’s potent onscreen death and how it forever changed the horror landscape, just as Sigourney Weaver altered our perception of horror heroines.

Where to watch Alien: Hulu

The Thing (1982)


John Carpenter‘s The Thing serves as powerful evidence that remakes can sometimes be better than the originals. In this case, the veteran horror director turned a liminal but limited movie (1951’s The Thing From Another World) into a haunting effects extravaganza. EW’s critic described how audiences were treated to seeing bodies “splitting wide open, like overcooked tomatoes that had finally burst, sprouting tentacles that whipped around like angry spaghetti or shooting out spider legs that carried body parts along with a kind of kinky speed, plus disembodied heads looming up out of those carcasses.” Quite frankly, aliens have never been so terrifying.

Carpenter understood that the only thing scarier than all those gooey space creature effects is the idea that we can’t trust each other. As the isolated scientists contend with the fact any one of them could be an infected imposter, audiences witness how our inability to work with others may ultimately spell doom for the entire human race.

Where to watch The Thing: Peacock

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Henry Thomas as Elliott in ‘E.T.’.
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In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg proves that science-fiction is a handy vehicle for telling old stories in a brand new way, serving as “a sublime modern fairy tale” built around “an otherworldly creature more profound and expressive in feeling than most actors,” says EW’s critic.

In a way, the film serves as a preview of our present CGI-filled blockbusters that rely more on artificial elements than human actors. On the other hand, Spielberg was wise enough to imbue so much humanity in this alien that stands head and gray shoulders above today’s awesome-but-empty visuals. And the brilliant use of practical effects helped ensure that multiple generations would keep falling in love with a little guy who just wants to phone home.

Where to watch E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Starman (1984)

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Instead of embracing horror in Starman, John Carpenter dabbles in romance through the story of an alien (Jeff Bridges) coming to Earth and shapeshifting into a widow’s (Karen Allen) lost love. As EW’s critic said, “The visitor… slowly learns what it means to be human, while Jenny embraces a second chance to say goodbye to her dead husband. Needless to say, none of this should work. But somehow, it does.” It’s an unexpected entry in the director’s catalog, seeing him embrace more philosophical questions about love, fear, and finding your place in the world. But he pulls it off, crafting an unexpectedly touching story anchored by powerful performances.

Where to watch Starman: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Enemy Mine (1985)

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Good sci-fi is often brilliant in its simplicity. Exhibit A: Enemy Mine, the classic story of two adversaries (a human and an alien played respectively by Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr.) who are forced to work together. EW’s critic rightly points out that this is basically a “1985 sci-fi variant of The Defiant Ones,” but that doesn’t keep it from being effective.

The film notably channels both the philosophical ideas and action tropes of the original Star Trek series. We famously saw Kirk battle the Gorn before realizing they had a kind of kinship, prompting the captain to change his mind and spare the alien, even if he was different and dangerous. Enemy Mine carries a similar tune, showing us two warriors who, only by working together, discover they have more similarities than differences.

Where to watch Enemy Mine: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Aliens (1986)

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It’s become something of a sci-fi personality test to ask someone whether they prefer the creeping claustrophobia of Ridley Scott’s Alien or the bombastic action of James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens. We honestly think it’s a bit of a false equivalency, since Cameron is obviously a master of creepily claustrophobic scenes as well. To quote EW’s writer, the second film is effective even when the combat is at bay, especially in the “75-second elevator ride to hell as Ripley prepares, physically and psychologically, to do battle.”

As talented as Cameron is, though, the real triumph of this movie comes from the powerhouse, Oscar-nominated performance by Sigourney Weaver (a rare nod for the genre). Her Ripley is a survivor and reluctant hero who must lead a battle-hardened squad of Colonial Marines into an alien-infested moon. We watch her become more formidable with each passing scene, and by the time that elevator reaches its destination, we know that she’s more than a match for the fang-toothed Queen (and anything else that stands in her way).

Where to watch Aliens: Hulu

Predator (1987)

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Perhaps nobody is more fond of the first Predator movie than Arnold Schwarzenegger, a beefy action star who was then at the height of his Hollywood power. As EW’s Devan Coggan reports, the actor sang praises for director John McTiernan and declared it to be “one of my favorite movies I’ve done.”

Schwarzenegger’s big guns and even bigger muscles are usually enough to ensure his characters’ survival, but those are no match for such a technologically advanced alien predator — meaning the only way to defeat it is to adapt. Every scene where these foes clash is hypnotically exciting, leaving audiences hungry for more. But studio execs seemed to learn the wrong lesson, reasoning that if the franchise can bleed, they can kill it through endless sequels and recycled ideas.

Where to watch Predator: Max

Spaceballs (1987)

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When you set out to lampoon something as monumental as Star Wars, you either go big or you go home. Fortunately, this sci-fi spoof opted for the latter. To quote EW’s writer, “Shameless and relentless, Mel Brooks’ space-opera parody, Spaceballs, makes up for in persistence what it lacks in precision.”

Indeed, everything from the action to the punchlines vary wildly in quality, but they come at you so fast that you can never fully take a breath (maybe that’s why they sell oxygen in cans in this universe). We particularly loved the dynamic between straight-man Bill Pullman and funnyman John Candy, whose half-human/half-dog character manages to steal every scene he’s in. And let’s face it: In a world saturated by so much Star Wars content, it’s more tempting than ever to hop into the flying Winnebago and deploy some raspberry jam in Disney’s direction.

Where to watch Spaceballs: Max

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

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Killer Klowns From Outer Space is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste. In the words of EW’s writer, viewers are in for “a low-budget grotesque of fanged clowns, deadly shadow puppets, and bloody greasepaint that recalls Dr. Seuss by way of The Evil Dead.” Whether that description has you smiling or shaking your head will likely determine how much you’d enjoy this alien movie.

That said, we can’t resist these creepy character designs and the creative ways the villains dispatch human victims (you may never look at cotton candy the same way again). By far, though, the standout performance comes from John Vernon, who plays a curmudgeonly cop. If you only know him as the nefarious Dean Wormer in Animal House, then you’re in for a treat once you see him bring that same reckless energy to a campy horror flick.

Where to watch Killer Klowns From Outer Space: Tubi

Independence Day (1996)

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Thanks to its young president, hopeful message, and beats like the adorable dog dramatically escaping death, Independence Day was “…the first futuristic disaster movie that’s as cute as a button. Which, when all the special effects blow over, is what we Americans like in a monster hit,” says EW’s critic.

That particular blend of lightning in a bottle all but ensured director Roland Emmerich‘s film would be a blockbuster success, and the stellar performances from Bill Pullman, Will Smith, and Jeff Goldblum didn’t hurt, either. That “cute” message still holds up, too, where in the face of an existential alien threat, humanity ultimately came together as one to say “welcome to Earth” in our own special way. And we hate to break it to you, but if Pullman’s speech doesn’t make your skin tingle, you might be dead inside.

Where to watch Independence Day: Starz

Mars Attacks (1996)

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While many alien movies are carried by plot, others eschew that element in favor of aesthetics, and Tim Burton‘s strange venture Mars Attacks certainly falls in the second category. EW’s critic helped contextualize it as “based on a series of Topps bubble-gum cards from the 1960s, and it’s a true bubble-gum movie — it has no agenda but to delight you with one eye-popping malicious jape after another.”

Unsurprisingly, the work is a bit divisive. Harsh critics see it (rightly so, perhaps) as having little to no story, while fans love to exult in the silly CGI spectacles. Your own enjoyment will likely hinge on whether the idea of turning a pack of crazy sci-fi trading cards into a movie piques your interest. If you close your eyes, you might just smell the bubblegum… and if you open them, you’ll see Burton just having way too much fun with the whole thing.

Where to watch Mars Attacks: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Men in Black (1997)

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It’s difficult to determine our favorite player in the original Men in Black. Sure, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones give excellent performances as the titular agents, but we’re more interested in Vincent D’Onofrio, whose herky-jerky alien always looks… well… alien on screen. To this day, many don’t realize that was D’Onofrio as Edgar because, as EW’s writer asserts, the actor “has such a chameleonic streak, you feel like you’ve been flashed with a neuralyzer every time you see him in a new role. Zap.”

On paper, it’s easy to describe Men in Black: It’s what happens when you put Independence Day and Ghostbusters in a blender. But if that’s all it takes, then the various sequels wouldn’t be so disappointing. Rather, the real magic comes from Smith’s turn as an audience surrogate who is brought into a world much larger and stranger than anything he could have imagined. We share his amazement and contempt for its bureaucracy, both of which seem lost in future movies that settle for odd spectacle (stunt casting Michael Jackson as an alien, for example) rather than substance.

Where to watch Men in Black: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Event Horizon (1997)

(Left to right) Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, and Jeremy Isaacs in Event Horizon.
Paramount Pictures

Speaking of movies that are easy to describe on paper, Event Horizon has often been summarized (or rather dismissed) as “Alien meets Hellraiser.” There’s admittedly some merit to that generalization: We get the claustrophobic horror of Ridley Scott’s spaceship mixed with the religious terror of Clive Barker‘s masterwork. But the tag also undersells how visceral this film is. As EW’s critic remarked, we eventually see actors like Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill “staring into the face of hell — a De Sadeian theater of violated flesh, served up in razory shock cuts that dig into your subconscious.”

Paul Anderson‘s movie is far from flawless: Characters are underwritten, the sound design is weird, and it’s likely that the unreleased (and unrated) version is far better. Still, Neill turns in an even better performance here than he did in Carpenter’s excellent The Mouth of Madness, while the central conceit of humanity pushing technology until we discover hell itself remains provocative and fascinating. What if demons and aliens are one and the same? This film exists to show you the answer.

Where to watch Event Horizon: Showtime

Contact (1997)

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As an adaptation of a Carl Sagan novel, Robert ZemeckisContact is much more introspective than it is terrifying. According to EW’s critic, those who willingly go along for the ride will “be rewarded with a rare thing that may in itself prove the existence of a Higher Power: a Hollywood entertainment that makes you consider deep thoughts.”

Those big ideas mostly revolve around whether the existence of alien life is something that may discredit human notions of divine power or, in fact, reinforce them. And while the movie may spend more time than necessary on terrestrial drama, it’s still fueled by the thrill of discovery and an affirmative answer to “Is there anybody out there?” — a question that still plagues us decades later.

Where to watch Contact: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

The Faculty (1998)

Dimension Films

The Faculty is the weird union of director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn) and writer Kevin Williamson (Scream) creating a kind of bizarro combination of Dawson’s Creek and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As for what makes it work, EW’s critic insists that “there’s a playful contradiction at the heart of Williamson’s characters, who speak in an exhibitionistic flurry of pop references in order to assert their rebel identity and soul.”

In classic horror fashion, the players are just interesting enough for you to remember them after they get killed. But we’ve always loved how The Faculty makes perfect use of its settings to put us in the mindset of our teenage protagonists. Who hasn’t thought their teacher might be an alien from outer space? And who hasn’t looked around the room idly wondering how they might dispatch an alien intruder? Watching these kids creatively fight back against their mentors only to discover the wormy monsters within is dumb fun, plain and simple.

Where to watch The Faculty: YouTube

Dark City (1998)

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If video rental stores were still a thing today, they might very well have a section labeled “vibes.” And that’s exactly where we’d put Dark City, a movie that succeeds or fails based on the strength of how captivating its imagery is to the viewer, offering “proof of what an eye-popping cornucopia of druggy science-fiction imagery can now be jammed into a single fantasy film,” says EW’s critic. The story of aliens trying to discover the nature of humanity is simultaneously a little too on the nose and a bit more abstract than we would have liked. But the creatures are just as memorable as the strange, nightmarish visuals surrounding them.

Where to watch Dark City: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

The Iron Giant (1999)

The Iron Giant and Hogarth Hughes in ‘The Iron Giant’.
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We debated including The Iron Giant because the exact nature of the titular robot is deliberately left unexplained. EW’s critic theorized that he might be “an alien” but could just as easily be a mysterious “Soviet weapon.” And it’s impossible to watch his growing relationship with a young boy without thinking of E.T. Still, we like to think that director Brad Bird really crafted the quintessential Alien Landing on Earth story, and he just happened to wrap it in a tale of Cold War anxieties and found family.

Where to watch The Iron Giant: Max

Galaxy Quest (1999)

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One of the funnier moments in pop culture history is when Galaxy Quest — the pitch-perfect parody starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman in which actors in a sci-fi series are abducted by aliens who believe their roles are real — was actually voted one of the best Star Trek movies by real Trekkies. Perhaps that’s because the movie accurately embodied the post-irony relationship between fans and their favored content. To quote EW’s writer, the work “assumes that general audiences are so steeped in Starfleet arcana by now that they can both laugh at the geeks chasing the stars of a faux-Trek series around the convention hall AND delight in the in-jokes that ping off the plot like so much space debris.”

The film still charms because most of its aliens (which the cast is surprised to discover are quite real) are so human in their obsession with pop culture. And the more fans have become like these aliens, the more Star Trek content has catered to an audience that is largely in on the joke. In other words, Galaxy Quest walked so Lower Decks could run, and the former forever changed our ideas about fandom.

Where to watch Galaxy Quest: Paramount+

Pitch Black (2000)

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Even though it spawned more ambitious (and more expensive) sequels, the original Pitch Black is enjoyable in its simplicity. EW’s critic thought as much in their review, writing that this David Twohy film is a “lean, mean interstellar thriller” that “trimmed away all the usual flab and turned a bare bones idea into a chilling example of storytelling economy.”

While the movie has many great performances (we see you, Keith David), the centerpiece star is clearly Vin Diesel. Despite becoming the franchise’s protagonist, he spends much of the runtime here as a spooky bad guy that keeps our heroes nervous. Before he became the flanderized apex of the Fast and the Furious, it was great seeing Diesel remind audiences they should, in fact, be very scared of the dark.

Where to watch Pitch Black: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Signs (2002)

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How much you enjoy Signs depends on your feelings towards director M. Night Shyamalan. It’s “a high-octane doomsday vision built almost entirely around our sense of anticipation, and that’s both its strength and its weakness,” says EW’s critic. So, if you’re fine spending most of the film on the edge of your seat waiting to see, say, a creepy alien pop up in news footage, you’ll love it. But if you’d rather get some kind of definitive payoff, well… that hasn’t really been Shyamalan’s strength since The Sixth Sense (1999).

Signs is as much a meditation on mass media as it is on humans and extraterrestrials, providing an honest and often surprising perspective on what it would be like to witness an alien invasion (we can’t all get a personal visit from E.T.). Of course, even the film’s biggest fans can’t look you in the eye and explain why creatures whose Kryptonite is water would come to a planet made mostly of… water (maybe the hidden twist is how this plot point makes no sense at all).

Where to watch Signs: Max

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

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While not top of mind when thinking of great sci-fi films, it’s worth rewatching Lilo & Stitch for the cute character designs alone, with EW’s critic likening the titular alien to “a demonic koala bear crossed with Pikachu from Pokémon.” Simultaneously adorable and ugly (think of him as a precursor to Grogu), it’s tough to look away from Stitch’s antics.

The story of an extraterrestrial befriending a young human may seem played out, but this Disney film (refreshingly and lovingly animated in two dimensions) delivers more heart than we ever expected. Stitch helps us learn more about our humanity, but more importantly, he reminds us that we should stop holding ourselves to the arbitrary standards of others. Trust us: When the tiny creature describes his new found family as “little” and “broken” but “still good,” you’re going to need some tissues on hand.

Where to watch Lilo & Stitch: Disney+

Slither (2006)

Chris Helcermanas-Benge/Universal

These days, James Gunn alternates between unleashing raucous Guardians of the Galaxy movies and building a brand new DCU from the ground up. Before all of that, though, he was the humble director of gross-out goodness films like Slither, an uneven movie that, according to EW’s critic, often “slops over from smart, affectionate homage into unmodulated frat goofiness as Gunn cannibalizes so many horror plots with such high spirits.”

Of course, this isn’t yet the superhero golden boy Gunn, but rather the Troma Entertainment veteran who long ago mastered the art of making audiences lose their lunch. But he wisely anchors this gooey drama around actors like Nathan Fillion, who added a necessary human component to a film about unleashed aliens running amok. The end result is a somewhat shopworn plot that’s redeemed by scenes and effects that will have horror buffs going gaga.

Where to watch Slither: Peacock

Avatar (2009)

Zoe Saldaña in ‘Avatar’.
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Given the success of James Cameron’s recent sequel, this growing franchise of blue alien adventures is going to live on for quite some time. It all started back in 2009 with the first film, Avatar, which EW’s critic called “the creation of a relentless ‘Oh, wow!’ acid-trip video game joyride.” It’s true that this film delights in sumptuous visuals that are sometimes a bit too much to take in (especially for those who watched it in 3-D), but it’s still well-balanced by a simple story about the inexplicable relationship between a human (Sam Worthington) and an alien (Zoe Saldaña). And we owe Cameron a lot of credit for making the otherwise overdone premise seem exciting and wondrous again.

Where to watch Avatar: Disney+

District 9 (2009)

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There is a certain irony to science-fiction cinema. The genre was originally the domain of intelligent social theorists, but the sheer success of its films eventually devolved into blockbusters that got dumber with each passing summer. That’s why District 9 stands out in such a stark way, with EW’s critic calling it “a thinking person’s sci-fi movie.”

In classic genre form, the film uses aliens as an allegory for humanity, showing how different people and nations deal with an extraterrestrial race that gets stuck on Earth. These creatures are instantly subjected to bigotry and exploitation, carrying a metaphor that becomes a kind of revolving door. As we recognize the “Prawns” as analogs for our own historical victims of prejudice, we begin to question why our species has a tendency to treat the Other so monstrously.

Where to watch District 9: Max

Super 8 (2011)

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Though The Rise of Skywalker later left a bad taste in our mouths, it’s important to remember that writer-director J.J. Abrams was at the top of his game when he helmed Super 8 (see: Cloverfield, Lost, Fringe, etc.). The movie crafts a genre-blending mashup of Spielbergian storytelling and found footage format that’s fresh and invigorating, with awe-struck characters that encourage us to “gather in wonder too, aloft with pleasure,” per EW’s A-rated review. The integration of high-tech and low-tech has never looked so good, while the period setting is purely charming (we still love the scene of the dude geeking out over a Walkman). While some snobs insist that true sci-fi should be left to literature, this movie soars by creating the kind of story that can only be told via film.

Where to watch Super 8: Paramount+

Attack the Block (2011)

The cast of ‘Attack the Block’.
Columbia Pictures

Attack the Block has great performances from actors like Jodie Whittaker, but it’s perhaps best known for introducing the world to the amazing John Boyega. Whereas the Star Wars sequels woefully misused the actor’s talents, this movie puts them center stage. As EW’s Clark Collis wrote in his review, this is “a geekgasmic fusion of monster and gang genres,” in which teen hoodlums and their victim join forces to fight off nasty, other worldly invaders. The characters are funny, the aliens are scary, and the story is intimately tied to its South London setting, which director Joe Cornish delighted in turning into an intergalactic battleground.

Where to watch Attack the Block: Amazon Prime Video

The World’s End (2013)

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The World’s End is yet another trip back to the well for director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whom EW’s critic described as “pint-swilling Peter Pans” who “also know how to work the heart and the brain for belly laughs.” Sure, the premise of a homecoming tainted by an alien invasion is thin, and the ending isn’t anything to write home about, but let’s be honest: You come to films like this and Shaun of the Dead for the quick wit and outlandish action. If that’s what you’re looking for, Wright is here to serve up a sci-fi movie with scene after scene of silly pub humor and hilariously quotable dialogue.

Where to watch The World’s End: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Under the Skin (2013)


A24 loves to get weird, and in 2013, they got very weird with a terrifying alien movie about an other worldly woman preying on men in Scotland. Scarlett Johansson takes a break from Marvel blockbusters to star in Under the Skin, an art-house film reminiscent of her indie beginnings. Under the Skin — which is too out there to explain without giving something crucial away — examines what it’s like to experience humanity from an outsider’s perspective.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer and cast using predominantly non-actors, the film features Johansson at her most dangerous and vulnerable, granting her space to navigate the roles of both predator and victim. The film may have bombed at the box office, but the gorgeous cinematography, coupled with Johansson’s mesmerizing performance and the abstract subject matter, resonated with critics and genre lovers alike. As EW’s critic writes, “the movie is an avant-garde experiment that throws narrative storytelling out the window in favor of mood, mystery, and monotony.”

Where to watch Under the Skin: Max

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

David James/Warner Bros.

Edge of Tomorrow is one of the more inventive alien movies in recent memory, imagining a future where war breaks out after Europe is occupied by extraterrestrial invaders. EW’s writer summarized the film through the lens of Tom Cruise‘s character, who “after crossing the wrong general and being sent on a suicide mission, he gets locked in a time loop — repeatedly dying and then returning just before combat, a wiser and increasingly dangerous soldier.” This premise could have easily landed in gimmick territory, but thanks to powerful performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, dazzling effects, and an expertly paced plot, the film stays engaging from beginning to end.

Where to watch Edge of Tomorrow: Max

Arrival (2016)

Paramount Pictures

Denis Villeneuve is rapidly becoming this generation’s greatest sci-fi director. Before churning out Blade Runner 2049 and the superior version of Dune, he directed Arrival, an Amy Adams-led sci-fi film that, as EW’s writer reports, “pulled in the second-most Oscar nominations” in 2017, a clear indicator of its critical standing. And it’s not hard to see why; this is one of the more cerebral takes on alien invasions, focusing on the difficulty of actually communicating with visitors from another planet and how doing so might (quite literally) change our minds and our culture.

Where to watch Arrival: Netflix

Dune (2021)

Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Even though we loved it, it can be difficult to evaluate Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune on its own merits because it was deliberately designed as the first in a two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s original novel. That means those who haven’t read the book may feel a bit lost while watching. EW’s critic perhaps said it best, writing, “minus the fuller context that Herbert’s extended universe and dense mythology provides, the meaning of it all feels both endlessly beguiling and just out of reach: a dazzling high-toned space opera written on sand.”

But just as you don’t need to be an opera buff to know a great tune when you hear it, you don’t have to be a Dune scholar to appreciate the amazing world the director creates. Stellar turns from Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, and many more elevate even the simplest scenes into something epic and ethereal. Take it from someone who never read the original work before seeing the film: This movie will make you a fan and leave you hungry to discover what’s next.

Where to watch Dune: Max

Nope (2022)

Daniel Kaluuya in ‘Nope’.
Universal Pictures

As much as we loved Everything Everywhere All At Once, Jordan Peele‘s third film deserved to at least get nods for Best Picture and perhaps a few other Oscars. As EW’s Christian Holub points out, “The simultaneously beautiful and horrifying design of the alien definitely should’ve snagged a visual-effects nomination, Hoyte van Hoytema should’ve been nominated for Best Cinematography for that near-final shot of Kaluuya on horseback alone, and Peele deserved a second Best Director nod for bringing it all together.” If that sounds like a lot, that’s because this film is stuffed to the brim in the best way. It’s as much a Western story as it is a tale of alien visitors, as much a love letter to Hollywood as it is a critique of our relationship with mass media.

Where to watch Nope: Amazon Prime Video

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