Alien: Covenant comes out tonight, and while it is part of the famed but flawed Alien franchise, alien movies these days tend to be a dime a dozen. This isn’t anything new; the 1950s produced a slew of altogether great, mediocre and bad alien movies. This is why the few really great alien films like Alien and E.T. stand out and are well known. Both of these films represent both sides of the spectrum in terms of alien movies; you’re either dealing with malevolent or benevolent aliens.
Instead of preparing yourself for Alien: Covenant by watching the four previous films in the series (ONLY watch Alien and Aliens if you intend to do so), check out some of these great alien movies instead! I would highly recommend watching E.T. as well, though I don’t think you need a list to tell you that that’s a great alien movie.
Why 9? Because I know you don’t care enough to read 10.
1. Starman (1984)
Essentially an adults version of E.T., Jeff Bridges gives a heartwarming Oscar nominated performance as an alien who finds himself trapped in the body of a recently deceased man. He eventually comes into contact with the man’s widow, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), before they find themselves on the run from the government. Despite its action filled premise, it’s a touching love story that must have been torturous for Jenny; you’re with your husband, but you know it’s not actually him. The movie reaches its peak in a scene in which Jenny defines love to the alien. If you don’t choke up at least a little in that scene, just know that the movie will get you somehow.
2. The Thing (1982)
Okay, I know it’s another John Carpenter film, but not even Spielberg could do a proper malevolent alien film (don’t you dare bring up that remake of The War Of The Worlds). Although the story is about an alien invasion affecting a group of military personnel on a base in Antartica, Carpenter focuses more on the men’s paranoia and the bleak nature of the situation. The reason I’m showing you the picture from the poster is because if you don’t know what the aliens look like (Drew Struzan didn’t even known what they looked like when he drew the poster), you should keep it that way. However, if you’re squeamish around blood, I’d caution you, but plenty of blood is present in the movie’s best scene.
3. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Coming out in 1951, The Day The Earth Stood Still came out early on in the 1950s science fiction boom. It’s unfortunate not more of them took a hint from this masterful film; most alien films that came out in the 1950s were about aliens coming from outer space seeking to destroy Earth, such as Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. Malevolent beings aren’t absent from this film, however; the robotic alien Gort is quite threatening. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is his counterpoint; a humanoid alien who has come to Earth to warn them that if they don’t change their ways, they will destroy themselves. This is summarized in a powerful speech he gives them at the end. In retrospect, he should have warned them about all the other aliens coming to destroy them over the next few years.
4. It Came From Outer Space (1953)
The Day The Earth Stood Still wasn’t the only movie to show us benevolent beings from outer space, but It Came From Outer Space doesn’t spell it out till the end. Based on a story treatment by Ray Bradbury, astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his fiancee Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) witness a “meteor” fall from space. It turns out to be a spaceship, and is initially though to be of a threatening nature; keeping you on the edge of your seat. The alien’s mission isn’t as grand as Klaatu’s; they’re just staying around until they repair their spaceship. The movie proved to be quite influential; Steven Spielberg once told Bradbury that Close Encounters Of The Third Kind would’ve not been possible if he hadn’t seen It Came From Outer Space. In addition, upon seeing the meteor crash landing on screen (the movie was in 3D), a young John Carpenter ran away from the screen in terror before safely returning to his seat.
5. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
A remake of the 1956 classic, I actually prefer this version to the original. Starring Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy, it has a similar premise to The Thing (or should I say The Thing has a similar premise to this); it’s about an alien invasion, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. That, and it contains my favorite title sequence. With its acute sense of paranoia and distrust, Invasion Of the Body Snatchers fit in well with the anti-establishment mood of the 1970s; just as the original had fit in well with the paranoia of communism in the 1950s. As for today’s audience, its a chance to see the Jeff Goldblum in his youth.
6. Stardust Memories (1980)
Despite his reputation, Woody Allen is not a stranger to science fiction; one of his best films is Sleeper, which is about a man who finds himself 200 years in the future in a dystopian government. Nonetheless, it is certainly not an alien movie, and neither is Stardust Memories. The film is about Sandy Bates (Woody Allen), a filmmaker attending a retrospective of his work. Dissatisfied with where he is in life, Bates has a desire to make serious films. The reason it’s on this list is for a single scene; aliens have come down from outer space, and help Sandy decide which direction to go in life. So I don’t think you need to watch this whole movie to get in the proper alien mood, but definitely watch this scene.
7. Critters (1986)
Critters is a movie that makes Gremlins look like E.T. Gremlins definitely has its horror elements, but it’s balanced out with an absurdist sense of humor; the gremlins take delight in the destruction they cause. More horror than science fiction, the critters take delight in what they cause, but it has much more of a malicious streak behind it; imagine if Stripe from Gremlins had multiplied many times over. Critters is essentially a B-movie made in the 1980s. It has all the elements of an old-fashioned science fiction film, but charged up with violence and destruction.
8. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
An epic story about following your intuition no matter if you can explain it or not, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is a return to form of benevolent beings coming from outer space. One half It Came From Outer Space, one half The Day The Earth Stood Still, CE3K isn’t so much of an alien movie as much as it is a meditation on an alien visitation; no movie before this had taken the possibility of alien life so seriously. You can tell there’s no pulp here; the sincerity Spielberg felt about the material is present throughout. The film may not be the most well known Spielberg film, but it gave us memorable images of the boy opening the door (shown above) and the mothership landing. You’ll never eat mashed potatoes the same way again after you watch this movie.
9. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m not really a fan of this movie at all, and I’m not even a fan of David Bowie. That being said, I can’t deny this movie is interesting (if long) and has really exciting visuals. David Bowie gives a solid performance as an alien coming to earth in search of water because his planet is in a drought. I can’t tell you much about it after that because it becomes quite convoluted, but this movie is definitely a curiosity as far as alien movies go. It’s a curiosity in general, and even if it doesn’t quite pull of its grand ambitions, to see it try is interesting enough.