In light of Colin and Greg Strause's alien invasion flick SKYLINE being on the horizon, we thought it'd be fun to compile a litany of some of the best all time entries in the respective sub-genre. After all, the UFO, alien-invasion, alien-visitation paradigm has been in place for many decades, harkening back to the Red Scare pictures of the 50s that, through science fiction and intergalactic contact, often served as commentary on the Cold War communist threat. As time marched on, the subtext altered...the special F/X advanced greatly, the perceived threat of an extraterrestrial even softened...in some cases to far more intimate place. If not one of total unity, certainly to a more harmonious place...at least the willingness on both sides (human and non) to arrive at such a destination. So here, now, is my top ten Alien Invasion/Alien Visitation/Alien Abduction movies!
MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#5. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
In our oldest list entry, Robert Wise's seminal sci-fi outing THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remains as iconic today as it was when it released in the early 50s. The iconographic robots Gort and Klaatu, no matter how dated and cheesy they become over time, are still among the first and most benevolent, magnanimous portrayals of celestial beings ever committed to celluloid. While not terribly threatening visually, it's the cold, clinical stoicism of the robots that make you the most uncomfortable. But aside from the technical, it's the film's staunch anti-war stance and cry for peace that really sets it apart from the rest...not only on our list, but among the 50s sci-fi fare in general (Howard Hawks' THE THING FROM ANOTHER PLANET is one example).
#4. DISTRICT 9 (2009)
Not only is Neill Blomkamp's DISTRICT 9 a well crafted - believable, immersive, highly imaginative piece of low-budget-big-scale filmmaking - it's narrative approach is one like any other on our list. Instead of portraying an alien life-form as superior, both intellectually and technologically, this film actually subjugates that template for something else entirely. When a giant spacecraft suddenly lands over Johannesburg, a sickly, indigent unknown breed is quickly interned in a war-torn ghetto. With obvious analogies to apartheid and widespread oppression, DISTRICT 9 aims for us (the audience) to do what most films of its ilk doesn't...actually think. This isn't mind-numbing escapist entertainment...far from it. Blompamp actually uses technology to tell a story...instead of using a story to gratuitously showcase technology. An admirable distinction!
#3. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
Easily the most intimate and touching portrayal of alien life on our list comes courtesy of Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND...a kind, thoughtful depiction of interplanetary contact. When power-man Roy Neary experiences a mysterious phenomenon one night, a lingering obsession with what he saw starts to threaten his livelihood (wife and kids, etc.). What's so dope about Spielberg's direction is that we the audience, almost as bewildered as Roy is (and his wife and kids are)...gets to experience firsthand a sort of cathartic wonderment in the films heartwarming final moments. There's a reason Spielberg is the most popular filmmaker of all time...it's his deft ability to marry character drama with visual panache...a combination never handled more compassionately than here (outside of Schindler anyway).
#2. THE THING (1982)
Not only one of two on our list, John Carpenter's 1982 THE THING ranks as one of the best all time remakes ever made. Period! In what stills jolts our senses almost 30 years later, Carpenter's sense of claustrophobic paranoia, the brooding suspense, the frigid atmosphere and extremely well acted all and male cast...not to mention some of the most eye-swelling special F/X by then 22 year old Rob Bottin (and his team), F/X that in many ways still sets the highest of bars...THE THING is an undisputed masterpiece. Honestly, I can keep reeling off superlatives as to why this is such a classic, the awesomely gruff performance by Kurt Russell chief among them, but kudos are also highly deserved for Ennio Morricone (who scored the film) and Dean Cundey (who shot the film)...two key contributors to the overall success of carpenter's best!
#1. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956, 1978)
Because both Don Siegel and Philip Kaufman's versions are so irrefutable great, the title INVASION OF THE BODY SNATECHERS happens to be awarded our polished gold medal. Siegel's film - a hilarious allegory of the Cold War communist threat - is eminently watchable more than 50 years later...the massive alcohol consumption as a panacea for terror and paranoia is pure comedy. Kaufman's film, while still charged with the metaphorical, is concerned more with personal/mental alienation and the indictment of medical system in America. But interesting subtext aside, both are well made fright flicks...the fright reflected inward rather than outward...a quality we sometimes tend to overlook in the horror/sci-fi genre.