Stories about aliens invading Earth are nothing new. Whether it's H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds or Independence Day, Earth has frequently found itself under attack from space. But sometimes aliens come down to Earth and don't want to conquer the planet. In fact, they occasionally have a hard time fitting in. Here's a list of the best films about humanoid aliens trying to make their way on planet Earth.
Robert Wise's tale of an alien craft landing on Earth was almost lost amidst the slew of B-movie science fiction in the 1950s. But the film's overtly anti-military message and Christ-like alien were a refreshing twist on genre conventions. Michael Rennie is the peaceful Klaatu who informs the people of Earth that they must learn to live in peace or be destroyed. There's a wonderful scene of Rennie, as the ultimate tourist, cruising the city and trying to learn about the ways of the human race. The film also boasts the impressive robot Gort, but avoid the remake with Keanu Reeves.
David Bowie – who's always seemed a bit alien – gives us an androgynous glam rock extraterrestrial in Nicholas Roeg's trippy sci-fi parable. As the humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton, Bowie starts a hi-tech company on Earth in order make money to build a spacecraft to transport water back to his thirsty planet. But Newton is not well-suited to dealing with human emotions or the cutthroat corporate world. Roeg's ending is wide open to interpretation, with Bowie turning in a mesmerizing performance as an alien who proves tragically human.
Joe Morton plays a black, mute visitor from outer space. He looks quite normal except for the fact that his feet only have three toes. Director John Sayles serves up a lighthearted Harlem adventure that also has serious overtones about racial issues in America. Morton's performance has the sweet innocence of such silent clowns as Harry Langdon. Also check out Sayles and David Strathairn as the original Men in Black.
An alien orphan is sent from his dying planet to Earth where – after some initial problems fitting in – he becomes a superhero protecting the human race. Richard Donner's film with Christopher Reeve as Krypton's favorite son is still the best screen adaptation of the 1930s Siegel and Shuster comic book. Bryan Singer's 2006 Superman Returns plays up the character's alien roots more intensely, but Donner's film proves to be the more entertaining.
Say the title fast and you get "alienation," and that's the point of this sci-fi actioner with existential aspirations. Back in the early 1990s, aliens called "newcomers" landed in the Mojave Desert and were given refuge by the U.S. government. But the newcomers are a bit confused by the discrepancy between what their new homeland claims to offer its citizens and what they actually get. James Caan is the human cop and Mandy Patinkin is his alien partner. The film spawned a short-lived Fox TV series and five TV movies.
A wrinkly little outer space visitor teams up with some suburban kids (including a very young Drew Barrymore) to try and engineer a way for him to go back home. Steven Spielberg shot most of the film from the eye level of the kids and E.T. The film was a phenomenal success. The use of Reese's Pieces to entice E.T. caused sales of the candy to skyrocket and is probably responsible for opening the eyes of companies to the wonders of product placement.
Jeff Bridges is an alien who takes the form of a woman's late husband in order to fit in while he waits to hitch a ride back home. Bridges earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his quirky performance as a stranded alien trying to find his way back home. John Carpenter gave us aliens on Earth in They Live and The Thing, but Starman is by far the sweetest of his films with our sympathies definitely being with Bridges' extraterrestrial.
Peter Jackson produced this contemporary alien tale about a spaceship that parks above Johannesburg forcing South Africa to place a million aliens in refugee camps. Director Neill Blomkamp places the story in his native South Africa, which gives the sci-fi actioner a political charge. The aliens – looking a bit like David Cronenberg's Brundlefly – are referred to as "prawns" and are not looked upon favorably by the humans. All the aliens want to do is go home… But if they can't, then they want cat food. And lots of it.
Although there is an alien threat here from a cockroach-like creature in ill-fitting human skin, most of the aliens – about 1,500 of them we're told – are just trying to get by on Earth. The gag is that almost anyone you meet could be an alien hiding beneath a human disguise. Tommy Lee Jones – never more straight-faced – and Will Smith are the titular Men in Black who are responsible for policing the aliens, and Rip Torn is their self-satisfied boss.
And finally, a silly piece of fluff in which a trio of colorful, furry, and very horny aliens land in a Valley Girl's pool. The trio gets a makeover at a hip salon and emerge as the attractive Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans. Romance ensues with the Valley Girl and her friends. Geena Davis is the lead Valley Girl who's happy to discover that her alien visitor is anatomically correct for an Earth girl.