The best alien movies of all time

We are not alone in the universe … we hope. Otherwise, creation would be a pretty vast and lonely place. The idea of life on other worlds has been a staple of science fiction for a very long time. As saviors, invaders, companions, friends, or even lovers, aliens have captured our collective imaginations. More importantly, the stories in which aliens appear often have something to say about us and the world that we inhabit.

While we may never know whether aliens are real, the stories they’ve inspired have left an indelible impact on our pop culture. Some of the sci-fi alien films are true masterpieces, while others offer exciting cinematic experiences. We’ve examined several of the top choices to put together this list of the best alien movies of all time. But if you get abducted before you finish watching these flicks, it’s not our fault!

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2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, largely keeps its aliens off-screen. However, their influence is felt throughout the film, as the alien monoliths shape the course of human evolution in the past and the present. Only one of the astronauts in the movie makes it all the way to Jupiter. His mind-bending experience there and the story’s deliberately ambiguous ending still have fans sharing theories decades after 2001’s release.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rating:
G
Runtime:
142 minutes

Alien, the best alien movies of all time

Alien (1979)

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” And this list just wouldn’t be complete without the original Alien movie. This was the film that launched a franchise, but the alien Xenomorphs have never been more terrifying than in their first appearance. The doomed crew of the starship Nostromo encounter an alien vessel, and unknowingly bring a deadly lifeform back with them. Only Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley survived the carnage, and she became a cinematic icon in her own right.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating:
PG-13
Runtime:
117 minutes

Alien Nation

Alien Nation (1988)

Alien Nation had a bold take on otherworldly visitors by casting them as immigrant refugees instead of invaders. Three hundred thousand alien Newcomers were given sanctuary on Earth and integrated into human society. In the film, James Caan plays a human cop named Matthew Sykes, while Mandy Patinkin portrays Sykes’ Newcomer partner, Sam Francisco. Together, they unravel the mystery surrounding Newcomer crime lord William Harcourt (Terence Stamp) and find a way to overcome their differences as well.

Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Stars: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp
Director: Graham Baker
Rating:
R
Runtime:
91 minutes

Aliens

Aliens (1986)

While Alien was a prerequisite for this list, there’s simply no excuse to exclude James Cameron’s excellent sequel, Aliens. This film amplified the action of the original flick by introducing numerous Xenomorphs, including the very intimidating Xenomorph Queen. Decades after the original film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is awakened from stasis and recruited for a new mission in space. On the colony LV-426, Ripley and her new team find only a single human survivor: a young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). Ripley’s desire to save Newt and avenge herself made Weaver into an action icon.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen
Director: James Cameron
Rating:
R
Runtime:
137 minutes

Arrival

Arrival (2016)

Few movies depict interplanetary visitors as something truly alien. Arrival pulls this off with creatures whose language is so complex that linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are called upon to help translate the message. The aliens’ presence sparks a worldwide emergency, as other nations aren’t quick to accept their stated intentions to help humanity. However, Banks is the first to realize that the aliens’ language is both a curse and a blessing, as well as the key to their shared future.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Rating:
PG-13
Runtime:
116 minutes

Avatar

Avatar (2010)

James Cameron’s Avatar flips the switch on alien movies by making humans the invaders of a world that is not their own. Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, a former Marine recruited to pilot an artificial body (or avatar) to better interact with the natives of the planet Pandora, the Na’vi, in order to gain their trust. But after Jake falls for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and comes to appreciate both her people and their world, he ultimately turns against his commanding officer, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), and fights alongside his new tribe.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang
Director: James Cameron 
Rating:
PG-13
Runtime:
162 minutes

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

For its time, Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a groundbreaking approach to aliens. Steven Spielberg infused the story with realistic touches, while maintaining the otherworldly aspects of the visitors from another world. Richard Dreyfuss portrays Roy Neary, a man whose life is profoundly changed when he witnesses a UFO in the sky. Roy becomes so obsessed with learning more about them that he drives his family away. Regardless, Roy and others like him soon gather to meet the aliens, and get the chance for the experience of a lifetime.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating:
PG
Runtime:
135 minutes

Contact

Contact (1997)

Carl Sagan’s classic sci-fi novel, Contact, was adapted for the screen by director Robert Zemeckis. In the film, Jodie Foster plays Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Ann Arroway, a woman whose lifelong quest to discover alien life apparently pays off when she detects a signal coming from outer space. After decoding complex instructions on how to build a personal transport to create a first contact experience, Ellie’s hopes are dashed by petty emotions and deadly zealotry. Thankfully, Ellie gets one last chance to achieve her dreams, but not in the way that she expects.

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rating:
PG
Runtime:
150 minutes

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The alien movies of the 1950s tended to be schlocky and repetitive invasion stories. However, The Day the Earth Stood Still offered a different take on the genre. The arrival of an alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), and his robot, Gort (Lock Martin), sends the world into a panic. So much so that no one seems to be willing to listen to Klaatu’s message of peace. While evading the authorities, Klaatu befriends a widow named Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), and her son, Bobby (Billy Gray). With Helen’s help, Klaatu ultimately shares his warning and his welcome for humanity.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Stars: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
Director: Robert Wise
Rating:
G
Runtime:
92 minutes

Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine (1985)

During an interstellar war between humanity and the alien Dracs, two pilots from each side come together in Enemy Mine. Willis E. Davidge (Dennis Quaid) and his Drac counterpart, Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr.), are initially at each other’s throats while stranded on a desolate planet. But over time, a true bond of friendship is formed between them. So much so that Willis takes it upon himself to raise Jeriba’s son, Zammis (Bumper Robinson), even in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett, Jr., Brion James
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Rating:
PG-13
Runtime:
108 minutes

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of the most beloved films of all time and another winner from director Steven Spielberg. When an alien is accidentally left behind on Earth by his own people, he befriends a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore). The children teach the alien enough language that he dubs himself E.T. and asks for their help so he can return home. However, E.T.’s empathic bond with Elliott complicates things when his body begins to shut down, and leaves both the child and the alien on the brink of death as government agents close in.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Henry Thomas
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating:
PG
Runtime:
111 minutes

Independence Day (1996)

Alien invasion movies are pretty common, but few are as rousing as Independence Day. It’s simultaneously a disaster film and a sci-fi flick, as a ruthless wave of alien ships decimates the globe on July 3. But on July 4th, the remnants of humanity stage a desperate strike to take back their world and free themselves from the aliens. The speech given before the final battle by President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) still gives us chills. This was also the movie that helped make Will Smith a movie star.

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Stars: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Roland Emmerich
Rating:
PG-13
Runtime:
146 minutes

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most unnerving alien invasion stories ever told. Instead of taking humanity out by force, the aliens strike while people are sleeping and replace them with seemingly perfect duplicates whose only defect is that they can not fake human emotions. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is among the few who realize the truth far too late to stop the aliens. Regardless, Matthew and his friends do their best to survive. The film’s ending is legendary for its final twist, and horrifying for its implications.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Philip Kaufman
Rating:
PG
Runtime:
115 minutes

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