EW's Horror Quintessentials: The 5 best alien movies
With Halloween fast approaching, EW is picking the five best films in a variety of different horror movie categories. Each day, we’ll post our top picks from one specific group—say, vampire movies or slasher flicks—and give you the chance to vote on which is your favorite. On Oct. 31, EW will reveal your top choices. Today, we’re ready to talk about some extraterrestrial horrors.
In space, no one can hear you scream. But on Earth, aliens have been making film audiences hoarse for decades. Sure, there are plenty of friendly, E.T.-esque extraterrestrials—but more often than not, these beings from another planet seem intent on destroying mankind.
Aliens make such ideal villains in horror films because of their inherent unfamiliarity. When they attack, it’s often with superior and unknown forces that humans have no idea how to defend against. So while we continue to wait for concrete signs of alien life outside the fences of Area 51, filmmakers have made sure to warn us that what lies out there likely has little intention of coming in peace.
EW‘s top picks for the best extraterrestrial movies span decades of film history, but have more in common than viewers may think. Whether the aliens have come to Earth or are attacking humans stuck in the far reaches of space, one element unites these movies—there’s a good chance humans don’t have a shot at surviving.
5. Slither (2006)
Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn may be the biggest director at the box office this year—but he made his debut back in 2006 with the indie horror flick Slither. As a calling card for the director’s style, it’s a hilarious, gruesome, and at times genuinely scary film. In a not-so-subtle nod to The Blob, a meteorite falls to Earth and unleashes an alien parasite on a South Carolina town. These otherworldly slugs infect an unsuspecting populous, amassing more poor souls into its hive mind. Gunn’s penchant for the bizarre and grotesquely humorous really takes shape as the fight for survival begins. Assembling a cast of solid comedic actors, Gunn’s debut is often as funny as it is gross. (Seriously, these space slugs make for some disgusting visuals.) Slither may wear some of its horror history openly on its mutilated sleeves, but Gunn adds his personal touch to ensure there’s some schlocky B-movie fun.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
In addition to producing one of the best GIFs around, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers has left an incredible legacy on the horror genre. The film’s resonance lies in how easily its extraterrestrial threat invade humanity: Aliens are replacing your friends and family with copies while they sleep. The pod people are a brilliant threat because they look exactly like we do. Combined with an incredible cast including Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Veronica Cartwright, Snatchers‘ pod people concept can still make viewers suspicious of any friends who may be acting just a little off. Maybe even scarier is that moviegoers may also have Snatchers to blame for horror’s penchant for remakes, as the critically and commercially successful 1978 film was actually a remake of the 1956 original.
3. The Blob (1958)
Speaking of Slither‘s DNA, The Blob established a model that’s been repeated for decades. Crash landing near a rural Pennsylvania town, the gelatinous extraterrestrial begins absorbing the poor, unsuspecting townfolk into itself. As it becomes a larger and ever-more disturbing threat, the Blob seemingly has no weakness—until Steve McQueen’s character notices the gross foe reacts badly to the cold. (Good thing the alien didn’t invade during the winter.) 50 years of special and practical effects later, The Blob may not seem as terrifying as it once did. But there’s no denying the inherent horror in an unstoppable, murderous mass of extraterrestrial goo.
2. The Thing (1982)
It’s difficult to deny the similarities many extraterrestrial horror films share. Cast in point: The Thing, another loose remake that hides its threat in plain sight—disguised as a human (or dog), the titular villain could take on the appearance of any crewmember present at the film’s antarctic space station. The film’s characters, who can’t know for certain who presents a clear and present danger, have no choice but to be suspicious of each other. The success of John Carpenter’s film lies in that uncertainty. Yes, it’s a little obvious that a character played by Kurt Russell will survive until the end—but Carpenter keeps the Thing’s identity ambiguous enough to create an experience as terrifying today as it was in 1982.
1. Alien (1979)
No one does it quite like Ridley Scott in his 1979 masterpiece Alien, not just a great horror film but a spectacular film in general. Set on the spaceship Nostromo in the far future—even though all the technology looks like it has been preserved since the ’70s—Alien takes its time before revealing its big bad. Scott allows viewers to get to know the Nostromo’s crew even as we know that at any moment, danger could strike. Alien is a masterclass in “less is more” filmmaking—the alien’s initial absence instills an ever-present sense of dread. Whether it’s a chestburster or a facehugger, the xenomorph toys with its prey until the seven-foot tall and seemingly indestructible monstrosity begins its hunt. As terrifying (and brilliantly designed) as the alien itself may be, the film is still so unnerving—and frequently spun-off and adapted—because of Scott’s measured and impressive direction.