The science fiction genre can sometimes be difficult to define, as it includes a wide range of subgenres and themes. From futuristic science and technology to space travel to parallel universes, there’s no shortage of storytelling possibilities, but let’s be real – the best sci-fi films are the ones that focus on extraterrestrial life.
Not all alien sci-fi movies are great. In fact, some are downright terrible, but whether they’re good or bad, there are plenty of them that deserve our attention for their significance in the genre. That being said, here are 10 must-watch alien sci-fi movies:
Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Gripping, well-acted, funny, and clever, Edge of Tomorrow offers entertaining proof that Tom Cruise is still more than capable of shouldering the weight of a blockbuster action thriller as he plays an alien-fighting soldier who gets to relive the same day over and over again, the day restarting every time he dies. With thrilling action sequences, a clever sense of humor, and a surprisingly intellectual storyline, Edge of Tomorrow blows all expectations out of the water, especially after some rather unconvincing trailers. You could describe this movie as a dizzying combination of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers, Source Code, and The Butterfly Effect, but truthfully, it’s something entirely unique to the sci-fi genre.Advertisement
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope
Directed and co-written by Neill Blomkamp, District 9 tells the story of an extraterrestrial race forced to live as refugees on Earth. Part of what makes this film so unique to the genre is that it abandons the traditional Hollywood sci-fi settings, instead placing us in the harsh slums of South Africa, where the aliens - referred to as Prawns - are treated as second-class citizens. The emotionally gripping narrative is complemented by stunning visuals, but never at the expense of believability thanks to the low-key, realistic CGI presentation. All in all, District 9 is an original and highly engaging science fiction film that breaks the mold and separates itself from your typical alien stories, giving viewers a thought-provoking look at the graphic nature of survival.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, C. Thomas Howell, Robert MacNaughton
Despite being one of Steven Spielberg’s undisputed classics, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is often overlooked in favor of the director’s higher-caliber motion pictures, such as Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and the like. Even Close Encounters of the Third Kind tends to get higher billing than E.T. as far as Spielberg’s alien-themed films go, but the latter manages to stand out thanks to the incredibly close-to-home story of a family torn apart by divorce, and a lonely boy who befriends a homesick creature from another world. Even though the film tackles some dark subject matter, though, it’s still jam-packed with wonder, imagination, and adventure, which makes E.T. a movie highly worth revisiting.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, Jena Malone, David Morse, Geoffrey Blake, William Fichtner, Larry King, James Woods, Angela Bassett, Rob Lowe, John Hurt, Jake Busey
Although Carl Sagan’s relatively tame novel about first contact didn’t naturally lend itself to big-budget summer movie on paper, director Robert Zemeckis managed to craft a visually stunning, thought-provoking story of humanity searching for extraterrestrial life. However, underneath the surface of this easy-to-swallow sci-fi premise is the story of a scientist’s love for her father, who was taken from her far too soon, and her desire to reconnect with him in some way. Additionally, Contact explores many other real-world themes and concepts, like the struggle to convey complex scientific discoveries to laypeople, as well as the ever-popular clash between religion and science. While Contact is hardly the best sci-fi film out there, it’s certainly one worth exploring if you’re looking to expand your horizons within the massive genre.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Director: Philip Kaufman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum
The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a powerful remake that expands upon themes and ideas only lightly explored in the original, while still employing the classic premise of a group of people who discover the human race is being replaced one by one with clones devoid of emotion. Between the development of fear over the actual biological invasion, and the old fashioned chase and hide sequences, this is a tense movie. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is more than just another average, unlikely alien invasion film. It's brilliantly told sci-fi horror that’s thoughtful, haunting, and realistic.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Arrival delivers a must-see experience for sci-fi fans that anchors its exciting themes with genuinely affecting emotion and a terrific performance from Amy Adams as linguistics professor Louise Banks, who’s tasked with interpreting the language of apparent alien visitors. What sets this film apart from others in the genre is the way that it plays with the notion of time, love, and the essence of being human. And that’s what’s key because, despite the extraterrestrial presence, Arrival is really more of an exploration of what makes us human, and the positive and negative aspects that are associated with that humanity.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien is a brilliant blend of science fiction and horror that spawned the birth of a franchise that’s still thriving to this day. It tells the story of a space merchant vessel that responds to an SOS call, only to find themselves in the presence of a mysterious and deadly extraterrestrial stowaway. It’s an incredibly suspenseful thrill ride, slowly building a disquieting tension and elevating it to the point of nerve-wracking. Despite this film’s age, its visual effects have managed to stand the test of time, and everything feels incredibly real, from sets to props to the terrifying Xenomorph. The terror isn't just the alien itself, though; it’s the entire atmosphere, which gets so effectively under your skin that you just can't shrug it off after the end credits like you can with so many other Hollywood horror movies. After all, at its core, Alien is a study in terror. It might not be as action-packed as the other films in the franchise, but it brings the fear of being hunted to a whole new level.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum
As the nation’s birthday approaches, a group of intrepid humans attempts to save the Earth from vicious extraterrestrials who most certainly do not come in peace. Borrowing liberally from such films as War of the Worlds and Aliens, director Roland Emmerich presents a visually stunning, fast-paced adventure that’s jam-packed with explosive special effects and large-scale action sequences. While the premise is hardly original and there are some blatant lapses in logic, it’s the combination of crowd-pleasing storytelling outstanding visuals that make Independence Day an undeniable fan-favorite among countless sci-fi fans.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr
After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen. It’s a simple premise but in its heyday, this film was a unique offering for audiences. Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s most iconic elements have been so thoroughly absorbed into the culture that it's easy to forget that its treatment of aliens as peaceful beings rather than violent invaders was somewhat groundbreaking in 1977. Countless films have emulated this picture, to varying degrees of success, but nothing compares to the true original.
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn
The moon from Alien has been colonized, but contact is lost. This time, the rescue team has impressive firepower, but will it be enough? That’s the question that Aliens looks to answer, all while packing a far more visceral punch than its predecessor. That’s because, for the sequel, director James Cameron decided to go a completely different route and make a fast moving, slightly tongue-in-cheek, boisterous action extravaganza. Remarkably, he was able to do that while still maintaining a stylistic and literary continuity that melds Aliens seamlessly with the first film.