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50 best alien movies

  • 50 best alien movies

    Humanity’s ideas of alien existence often says more about us than the little green men we envision. Our conception of life beyond Earth reflects our collective hopes and fears about the unknown and about technology, as well as our knowledge of the larger universe—which changes dramatically as time goes on.

    No medium has more vividly captured and utilized scenarios of extraterrestrial life better than film. Aliens first appeared on screen in 1902, in Georges Méliès’s “A Trip to the Moon.” After 1947—in which civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold’s UFO sightings and the discovery of a mysterious “flying disc” near Roswell, New Mexico occurred—a subculture devoted to otherworldly creatures called “ufology” emerged, leaving a lasting mark on cinema.

    As America dealt with the Red Scare in the 1950s, influential alien films like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “War of the Worlds” used intergalactic characters to reflect citizens’ fear of Communism and other “outsiders,” as well as humanity's penchant to destroy itself from within. Extraterrestrials were also common sci-fi horror monsters, ranging from the titular alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic to the shape-shifting arctic creature in “The Thing.” However, in the 1970s and 1980s, friendlier and sometimes lovable aliens were also reflected in movies such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” and “Cocoon.”

    These days, otherworldly characters appear in a wide range of roles, from the alien force that mutates biological creatures in “Annihilation” to the more kindly, time-bending heptapods of “Arrival.” With the wide number of alien movies throughout the history of film, how can viewers determine which extraterrestrial features are most worth their time?

    To answer that question, Stacker compiled data (as of Sept. 2, 2020) on all sci-fi movies on Letterboxd, the film-based social media network, and selected the top 50 alien movies, ranked according to their average Letterboxd score. To qualify, aliens had to be main characters or central to the plot of the film.

    Here are the best alien movies of all time, starting at #50 and counting down to #1.

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  • #50. The Vast of Night (2019)

    - Director: Andrew Patterson
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.48
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: 84
    - Runtime: 91 min

    One night in 1950s New Mexico, a young switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) and radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) uncover a strange radio frequency that seems to be extraterrestrial. Andrew Patterson’s debut feature was inspired by real-life unexplained events, such as the Kecksburg Incident and the Foss Lake disappearances.

  • #49. Starman (1984)

    - Director: John Carpenter
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.49
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Metascore: 70
    - Runtime: 115 min

    In “Starman,” an alien (Jeff Bridges) becomes stranded on Earth and assumes the form of a late Midwestern man named Scott to blend in. As he races to reunite with a vessel from his home planet, Starman finds himself falling in love with Scott’s widow, Jenny (Karen Allen). Bridges was nominated for Best Actor at the 1985 Academy Awards for his portrayal of the titular alien.

  • #48. Gandahar (1987)

    - Director: René Laloux
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.51
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 78 min

    Based on Jean-Pierre Andrevon’s 1969 novel “The Machine-Men vs. Gandahar,” this French animated film takes place on the utopian planet of Gandahar. As the story begins, the characters’ peaceful society is threatened when an ancient army arrives and begins turning their victims to stone.

  • #47. The Brother from Another Planet (1984)

    - Director: John Sayles
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.53
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: 70
    - Runtime: 108 min

    Joe Morton stars as “The Brother,” a mute humanoid alien who crash lands near Ellis Island. Although The Brother finds refuge in Harlem, he is soon pursued through the New York City neighborhood by a pair of intergalactic bounty hunters. In an interview with Cinema Gotham, director John Sayles noted that the film was about “the immigrant experience,” and is “a story of assimilation.”

  • #46. Men in Black (1997)

    - Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.54
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Metascore: 71
    - Runtime: 98 min

    Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones lead this sci-fi action comedy, playing two agents of a secret organization called the Men in Black. Their job is to supervise the extraterrestrial creatures who live on Earth, and conceal their existence from ordinary humans. However, things are thrown into chaos when they uncover an alien assassin’s plot to kill two alien ambassadors living in New York City. “Men in Black” became a box office hit, leading to multiple sequels and an animated children’s series.

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  • #45. Time Masters (1982)

    - Director: René Laloux
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.54
    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 78 min

    In the French animated film “Time Masters,” a boy named Piel (Frédéric Legros) is trapped on a planet overrun by enormous killer hornets. It’s up to space adventurer Jaffar (Jean Valmont) and an exiled prince and princess to travel through space and rescue Piel before it’s too late.

  • #44. From Beyond (1986)

    - Director: Stuart Gordon
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.55
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 85 min

    Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story with the same name, this body horror sci-fi movie opens as obsessive scientist Dr. Pretorious (Ted Sorel) discovers a way to access a parallel world. However, strange creatures from another dimension soon drag him into their world, returning him as a malformed shape-shifter who begins attacking his laboratory colleagues.

  • #43. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    - Director: James Gunn
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.55
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Metascore: 67
    - Runtime: 136 min

    In this follow-up to James Gunn’s popular Marvel sci-fi film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill meets his long-lost alien father (Kurt Russell)—but things aren’t what they seem, leaving Peter and the other Guardians to save the universe from destruction. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was praised for its blend of intergalactic humor and thoughtful explorations of found families and parental trauma.

  • #42. Attack the Block (2011)

    - Director: Joe Cornish
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.56
    - IMDb user rating: 6.6
    - Metascore: 75
    - Runtime: 88 min

    Before John Boyega played Finn in a galaxy far, far away, he starred in another well-regarded sci-fi film called “Attack the Block.” The movie centers on a gang of South London teens, who take it upon themselves to defend their block from murderous alien invaders.

  • #41. The World's End (2013)

    - Director: Edgar Wright
    - Letterboxd user rating: 3.57
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Metascore: 81
    - Runtime: 109 min

    This sci-fi comedy begins as five middle-aged British friends attempt to complete an epic pub crawl that they failed to finish 20 years earlier. However, their plans go sideways when they discover that aliens have invaded their hometown that very same night. “The World’s End” is the third film in director Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” a comedy anthology that also included the movies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”

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