Humans spend so much time wondering about other life forms that might exist in outer space. What are they like? How should we treat them? And perhaps the most pertinent question: How will they treat us? Maybe aliens will help humankind achieve new heights of technology and wonder… or maybe they’ll eat us alive.
Pop culture offers a variety of answers to this question, so in honor of the 40th anniversary of Close Encounters of the Third Kind this weekend, EW has ranked some of the most famous movie aliens from “most helpful” to “least helpful.”
Happy to help us: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
For most of Close Encounters, the aliens are a mystery. What are those lights in the sky? Why did so many people go missing? But after much theorizing and translating human language into light arrays, the humans and aliens come to an understanding. All the kidnapped people are released, and in turn, humans get to visit the alien mothership in what looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Trying to help us: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Despite our sole stewardship of the planet Earth, humans often seem to screw things up for ourselves. At two different points over the past century when we threatened to screw up particularly badly (once at the height of Cold War nuclear tensions, and again more recently in the face of man-made environmental devastation) a version of The Day the Earth Stood Still has come out, featuring the alien Klaatu (first Michael Rennie, then Keanu Reeves) coming to warn humans to change our ways. Although Klaatu wants us to change our behavior, it’s a warning for our own sakes; if we refuse, he’ll just have his giant robot incinerate us.
Will help us taste better: “To Serve Man”
The aliens from this iconic episode of The Twilight Zone are certainly tricky. These Kanamits sure seem like they want to help humans, even giving them a special book titled “To Serve Man.” Of course, what the humans realize too late is that these aliens are well aware of the double meaning of the word “serve,” leading to that famous shout from Susan Cummings’ codebreaker: “It’s a cookbook!”
Just want to kill us: Alien
The other aliens on this list are mostly humanoid; they may be more evolved than humans, but at least they think, act, and move in similar ways. Not the Xenomorphs. What gives the Alien franchise its power is that the titular creatures are truly foreign from humanity. They don’t just have big foreheads; they have rows of teeth, slithering tails, and an obvious desire to kill us in the most gruesome way possible. Considering how few humans have survived encounters with these aliens, it’s safe to rank them as one of the least helpful species humans have ever encountered in any medium.