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We're not alone, are we? It's fun to believe that we're not -- that somewhere, out there amongst the stars, there's intelligent life. Intelligent life with giant laser cannons and plans of domination.
For some people, the idea of an alien invasion is a terrifying nightmare. For others, it's a dream come true -- it would be proof that aliens actually exist, and we'd get to fight them with helicopters and laptop computers!
Alien invasion movies bring those dreams and nightmares down to Earth. With J.J. Abrams' top-secret "Super 8" invading DVD and Blu-ray, we take a look at some of the best other times we've been "visited."
9. 'Independence Day' (1996)
The "ID4" teaser trailer featured the White House getting blown to smithereens by an alien laser cannon. Summer movie audiences didn't need much more than that to get them to pay for a ticket. "Independence Day" was tons of fun, a pop-art depiction of global mass murder that also had a wisecracking Will Smith and a charmingly twitchy Jeff Goldblum.
Bill Pullman's rousing Fourth of July speech remains one of the best pieces of movie dialogue ever -- who the hell wouldn't get in a plane (whether you knew how to fly one or not) and attack a giant alien spacecraft after hearing the president insist that we were going to get through this? Randy Quaid did. Yeah, he got killed, but it's the thought that counts.
8. 'Signs' (2002)
Until it starts to self-destruct in the third act, "Signs" is a terrifically scary flick, making us realize that the last place on Earth we would want to be during an alien invasion would be an isolated farmhouse with Joaquin Phoenix.
M. Night Shyamalan's knack for tone, pacing and atmosphere (when he feels like it) really shines through here -- and Mel Gibson's encounter with one of the grey men in his neighbor's kitchen is one of the most intense sci-fi movie moments ever. Unfortunately, M. Night's knack for silliness starts to creep in before the show's over, but before Joaquin begins to "swing away," you get some great scares -- and some rather heartfelt moments, too.
7. 'The Thing' (1982)
John Carpenter took one of his favorite childhood flicks, 1951's "The Thing From Another World," and turned it into a gore-filled freak show -- and a movie (about an alien lifeform with the ability to almost perfectly mimic any living organism) that stands proudly next to "Alien" as one of the most intense sci-fi horror films ever created. Watch as egghead scientists already suffering from cabin fever completely lose their minds and start setting each other on fire! Tremble as an alien that made itself look like Wilford Brimley goes about its diabolical plans for world domination!
6. 'Men in Black' (1997)
One of our more, shall we say, easygoing alien invasion movies, but the stakes are still way up there as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones race against time to stop Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio), a "bug" that's looking to take over an entire galaxy (that fits inside a sphere about the size of a marble, at that). After Edgar manages to steal the galaxy and plans to use its vast energy for his own evil schemes, another alien race contemplates destroying the Earth. That's certainly one way to fix the problem.
Luckily, the Men in Black have those cool handguns that shoot laser beams and cool cars that can drive on the wall. What alien race can stand up against such sweet gadgets and good old fashioned alien-hunting know-how? Not to mention a hit song on the soundtrack.
5. 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977)
Yeah, this ended up not really being an alien invasion but rather a really freaky way of saying, "How do you do?" But for the first two-thirds or so of Steven Spielberg's sci-fi classic, you had Richard Dreyfuss buying a one-way ticket to divorce by obsessively building giant mounds of dirt in his living room and some little kid getting snatched by little grey men in the middle of the night (in what might be the best abduction scene ever filmed).
When the aliens finally do land, we communicate with a series of five musical notes and commence to staring in wonder for the better part of 20 minutes as dozens of abductees are returned to the Earth. For "nice" aliens, they sure have some strange ways of expressing a sense of brotherhood.
4. 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' (1978)
There's nothing "nice" about the aliens in this one. Hell, they point at you and scream like banshees if you haven't been turned into one of them, and that's quite an unnerving sight (and sound) when they look like '70s-era Donald Sutherland.
Probably the best adaptation of Jack Finney's novel to date (and there have been a few), the 1978 "Invasion" manages to capture all the paranoia, suspicion, stress and exhaustion that would come with everyone being replaced with emotionless alien copies. The supporting cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy -- three people who are always up for an alien encounter, especially an aggressive one.
3. 'War of the Worlds' (2005)
An underrated mini-classic from Steven Spielberg, this "War of the Worlds" succeeds because it's actually scary. Weird-looking alien machines emerging from under the streets of New Jersey wouldn't be "cool" because we've become numb by too many sci-fi movies -- no, it would be freakin' terrifying, even before they started blowing everyone to little bits. Tom Cruise gets to play dad here, and he does a fine job of it, and Tim Robbins plays the kind of guy you wouldn't want to be holed up with if something like this ever came to pass. That there is the key to the movie's success: it asks the question, "What if this actually happened?" and makes you truly contemplate it.
2. 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' (1951)
The Keanu Reeves remake looks pretty, but the original film is the real deal, as an alien ambassador and his big robot pal Gort land on our planet with a message of goodwill and we respond with some good old-fashioned earthling violence. A sci-fi flick with a political agenda if there ever was one, "Day" warned us against the evils of atomic power and, well, warfare in general -- the skies are watching us destroy each other, and they are none too pleased.
The movie succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is the imposing and unnervingly simplistic design of Gort, and its '50s straight-faced earnestness actually makes it more compelling rather than laughable. It's a comparatively outlandish "What if?" scenario, but one that should be heeded.
1. 'District 9' (2009)
A unique kind of alien invasion movie, "District 9" incorporates a "hiding in plain sight" scenario, as derelict aliens that took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and end up on Earth are up to more than just being pains in the asses for government welfare programs.
The film somehow manages to mix gritty hand-held realism with video game action sequences to great effect, creating a constant (and we do mean constant) sense of danger and uneasiness. "D9" is also one of the best "body horror" movies since "The Fly" (1986), as poor Sharlto Copley ends up slowly transforming into one of the "prawns" after some alien goo explodes in his face. The invasion, apparently, continues with us.
Originally published March 10, 2011.