The 8 Ball 08.20.13: The Top 8 Alien Invasion Films
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 08.20.2013
From Independence Day and They Live to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Mars Attacks! and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 alien invasion films of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Alien Invasion Films
This weekend The World's End hits theaters here in the United States this week. The final film in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's "Blood & Cornettos" unofficial trilogy involves a massive pub crawl during which the crawlers uncover an alien invasion. With that in mind, I thought this week would be a good one to count down the top 8 alien invasion films, a subgenre of sci-fi that has resulted in no small shortage of entries over the years.
Caveat: Okay, so I predict a lot of debate on what constitutes an "alien invasion film" this week, so I'm going to lay it out as clearly as I can with a few rules:
1) The aliens have to be coming to our planet with hostile intentions, and that must be the focus of the plot. The Day the Earth Stood Still was about a mission of peace, not an invasion. Similarly, Starship Troopers had some invasion aspects to set up the plot and cause a few tragic moments in the film (Buenos Aires), but the focus was on humanity heading out to Klendathu to take the war to them.
2) An invasion implies a sizable (or at least multiple-person) force. One person isn't an invasion; this leaves films like Predator (where he wasn't even invading anyway, he was hunting) out. After some deliberation, I left The Thing off as well for this reason. It doesn't have to be full armies, but it does have to be more than just one advance scout/spy/crash-land.
Just Missing The Cut
• War of the Worlds (1953)
• Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
• Transformers (2007)
• It Came From Outer Space (1953)
• Critters (1986)
#8: Mars Attacks! (1996)
First on our list is a seriously-underrated film. Tim Burton may be stuck in a mire as of late (I did enjoy Frankenweenie), but there was a time when he was the king of quirky genre films. One of those was his alien invasion throwback from 1996, which blended black comedy and political satire for a goofy little thrill-ride. The film, which was based on a science fiction trading card series that was first released in 1962, earned mixed reviews at the time. The plot is pure cheeseball goofiness, with pretty much every character having serious moral failings in some kind that makes the planet ripe for assault and near-extermination from the maniacally-laughing brain-headed Martians who are here to wipe us all out. Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for us), Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call" is apparently to a Martian what a headshot is to a zombie and we live to fight another day. The star-laden cast that included Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan and Danny DeVito play things up to the hilt and the plot developments are goofy fun throughout. It's definitely a love-it-or-hate-it film, but either way you have to give it some appreciation for showing that not all alien assaults have to be serious drama or horror-ridden affairs.
#7: Village of the Damned (1960)
So first off, let's forget about the well-meaning but very problematic John Carpenter remake. Okay, so with that out of the way we can turn our attention to the original, which is a great little adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos. Village of the Damned is fairly subtle in being an alien invasion film; it doesn't directly reference the unidentified space object that kicks things off but it isn't difficult to see it within the context of the film. The Wolf Rilla-directed flick starts with a "time-out" in which people all over the world suddenly fall unconscious and all women who in the affected areas are discovered to be pregnant with children who turn out to be telepathic monsters intent on taking over the world. Rilla does a fantastic job with making the children creepy, the acting is quite good for genre films of the era and the small-town setting is very well-utilized. A sequel was released in 1963 that, while good in itself, doesn't quite hold up to the classic status of the original.
#6: The Faculty (1998)
From a small-town story about evil children threatening the adults, we move onto a small-town story about evil adults threatening children. In 1998 Robert Rodriguez was one of the big up-and-coming names in Hollywood with films like El Mariachi, Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn to his credit. These films--and his association with Quentin Tarantino--also made him incredibly popular among the 18-35 filmgoing crowd. So when he was announced as making an alien invasion film, a lot of people were excited and I was one of them. Not everyone loved The Faculty but I found a lot to appreciate in it (and I'm not just talking about Laura Harris walking around naked toward the end). The young cast of Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Jordana Brewster and Shawn Hatosy are all up to their roles as their respective archetypes at the school; meanwhile the adults at the school (including Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Patrick) match up well. The film has some goofy elements but they help the film from playing out too seriously and the dialogue is largely whip-smart. This is one that matches cheese and weightier moments well; the action is well-directed, the suspense works out nicely, there's a lot of good humor and Rodriguez showed that he was able tackle a mainstream project without losing some of his indy touches. This is another underrated film that may not be a critical darling but that I enjoy watching whenever it's on.
#5: Attack the Block (2011)
Joe Cornish's 2011 invasion flick was the film nerd-cred movie to see in 2011 and is one of the best recent examples of a cult film-to-be. Cornish was best known as a TV comedian before he took on this, his first directorial effort. Cornish's film may in fact have the closest direct association to The World's End as he's a good friend of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; Frost even has a role in this film and Cornish has a cameo as a zombie in Shaun of the Dead. Attack the Block is set a council estate in South London on Guy Fawkes Night, where a street gang finds themselves in the midst of an alien invasion. The group of hoodlums has to band together and fight off the beasties with whatever they have handy, which fortunately includes a lot of fire. Cornish's designs for the aliens are quite creepy, with fur black to the point it absorbs light and multiple rows of glowing neon fangs. This creates an incredible visual image that really pops on the screen. Meanwhile the film takes time to develop its characters, which allows you to empathize with them more so that you care what's going to happen to them. The humor works and the worst complaint I've heard from people are problems with understanding the accents, which isn't a big deal in the era of subtitled DVD and streaming services if you need it. Attack the Block isn't a perfect film but it's a damned fun ride that touches on some solid coming of age themes while delivering everything a genre fan could want.
#4: Slither (2006)
Like many films on this list, Slither is a movie that deserved far, far better then it got. The invasion horror-sci-fi comedy by writer/director James Gunn, was largely ignored by moviegoers upon its release in 2006 despite glowing reviews. The film stars the always-great Nathan Fillion as the sheriff of a small town that gets infected by slimy, gross aliens, Elizabeth Banks looking ultra-hot as the wife of patient zero and Michael Rooker delivering some of his always-fine work as the patient zero himself. The film is an homage to the great lower-budget horror films of the seventies and eighties such as Videodrome, They Came From Within, From Beyond, The Thing and the old Troma films. You've got a great cast and Gunn delivering all the gore and laughs you could ask for. The problem was that the throwback horror-comedy style didn't play well in 2006, the year of J-Horror and torture porn, and Universal Pictures had no idea how to market it. Luckily, as is with the case of many films that are unfairly ignored in theaters it has found its audience in the home video market. If you haven't checked it out then you should; it's well worth watching.
#3: Independence Day (1996)
If there's anything you can say positive about Roland Emmerich (and there is), first and foremost is the fact that he can blow stuff up like no one else. Sure, Michael Bay is great at it too, but Emmerich is the undisputed master. And his 1996 star-studded blockbuster is, without a doubt, his masterpiece of destruction cinema. Now, let me be clear; Independence Day is in no way a subtle film. If you're looking for sci-fi that explores deeper themes and turns its content into a metaphor for serious societal issues, there are many great options but ID4 is not one of them. It's bold, broad stroke flag-waving "rah rah" action du jour and there's no way of getting around that. But it does all of that beautifully. The special effects hold up to this day incredibly well, the plot is effective despite a few loopy moments (the aliens use Macs?), the action is great and Emmerich paces the movie perfectly. Will Smith launched his film career into stardom with his role here and Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia all take what are essentially stock characters and invest them with more life than perhaps they even deserved. This is pure style over substance but there is nothing wrong with that in a film if done well, and ID4 does it extremely well.
#2: They Live (1988)
"I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum." With those words, Roddy Piper walked into cinematic history in John Carpenter's fantastic sci-fi paranoid thriller. They Live is almost the exact opposite of Independence Day. Where ID4 is in-your-face, no-subtly action/sci-fi, John Carpenter's tale of mankind lulled into domination by an alien race is subversive, full of social commentary and a lot more sly than you might expect. Carpenter revels in the B-movie attitudes here (magic sunglasses, anyone?) and he uses that schlocky fun to tell a very smart story, and one that is just as relevant today as it was in the late 1980s. It's a great example of one of those films where invaders from another world don't just muscle their way in; they outthink us. And we go right along like sheep. But if social commentary isn't your thing there is still a lot to enjoy; Piper's performance stands on par with some of the best action heroes of the 1980s while his fight with Keith David is no less than B-movie legend. This is the best films of Carpenter's impressive career and one of the smartest and most well-done alien invasion films to date.
#1: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Notching the #1 spot is a 1970s remake of a classic film of the sci-fi films of the '50s where paranoia was the thing. The idea of alien invasion largely has its roots in the paranoid Cold War era, when there were others who were out there and they wanted to make us their slaves, or to brainwash us, or any number of other nefarious goals. That brought along Jack Finney's 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, which has been turned into four films to date. We're ignoring The Invasion and Body Snatchers for the moment and instead setting our sites on the first two; of them, the 1978 remake is my favorite. While the original film was interpreted as an allegory on the dangers of McCarthyism, Philip Kaufman's version is more about the way that people were becoming increasingly alienated from each other in the post-Vietnam era. The point is the same in each of them: individuality is something that humanity must aspire to but often fails to achieve, which is contributing to the death of society. Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams deliver great performances and Kaufman keeps things incredibly creepy throughout, building tension quite expertly. Kaufman hits all the notes to be faithful to the original but doesn't merely ape what's there; he made it relevant to a new era of movie-goers and ultimately made a better film in the process that stands as the pinnacle of alien invasions on celluloid.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Thirteen (1975) Episodes Watched: 621 Last Serial Completed:The Android Invasion - The Doctor and Sarah find themselves in the English village of Devesham near a Space Defence Station. The village seems deserted, the telephones don't work, calendars are stuck on the same date and white-suited figures are wandering about aimlessly. Who are the Kraals and what are their plans for Earth? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 20
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.