Tom Cruise has been invading our living rooms and supermarket tabloids for weeks, what with his crazy I'm-in-love jumping-up-and-down antics on Oprah's couch and his ever-increasing talk about the virtues of Scientology. Indeed, there are apparently aliens living among us already …

But here comes Cruise again, the star of a new movie about … more aliens among us. War of the Worlds, directed by Steven Spielberg, opens this week in theaters nationwide.

In honor of the occasion, we decided to look back at ten of the best movies that feature alien invasions. The word "invasions" is critical, because you won't find E.T. in this list. The precious little walking prune clearly had no hostile intent when he was only visiting this planet. Our list only features aliens who are out to get us here on Earth, which is why we omitted such films as Alien and Aliens—great movies, but they didn't come here. (At least not until the awful AVP movie last year.)

Finally, our alien list doesn't include all monsters that terrify the earth. Godzilla and King Kong were fearsome creatures, to be sure, but they were not aliens.

And so, without further ado, we present a list that's just out of this world—that is, until they enter our atmosphere and land somewhere in a cornfield near you. Lock your doors, board up your windows, and say your prayers, because they are coming …


10. Mars Attacks! (1996)

directed by Tim Burton

OK, so it's a stupid movie. A really stupid movie. But this Tim Burton spoof of 1950s low-budget sci-fi movies did make me laugh. I mean, the Martians are just so silly looking, with those huge heads and bug eyes, how can you not laugh? And the things they do—bowling with the statues on Easter Island, posing for photos in front of temples while they blow up in the background—are just a hoot. Apparently much of Hollywood thought so too, because it seems like everybody wanted a piece of the action. The all-star cast includes Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones (as himself!), and a 15-year-old Natalie Portman, who would go on to star in a few more movies that included various and sundry alien life forms.


9. Men in Black (1997)

directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

All right, so it's another stupid movie, but not as stupid as Mars Attacks! And it is funny. And the Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones pairing is absolutely brilliant. Without them, this movie sinks into oblivion. But with them, and their wisecracking, butt-kicking, wink-at-the-audience banter, it's quite a hoot. I love the scene where Smith's character, Agent J, learns that aliens have always lived among us, appearing as humans—including Sam Donaldson, Tony Robbins, and Michael Jackson. Now that he knows the truth, J says that he always thought his third grade teacher "was from, like, Venus or something." Jones' character, Agent K, replies with a straight face: "Mrs. Edelson." Smith looks stunned. Jones, deadpan, goes on: "Jupiter, actually. Well, one of the moons." What a hoot.

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8. The Blob (1958)

directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr

Perhaps the best part about this movie is the fact that they had such a hard time coming up with a title. The film was also known as The Glob, The Glob that Encircled the Globe, The Meteorite Monster, The Molten Meteorite, and The Night of the Creeping Dead. Despite looking like an enormous, shimmering batch of cherry-flavored Jell-O—and moving at about the same speed—the panicked townfolks somehow couldn't get away from the gelatinous mass, which consumed everything in its path. Well, except Steve McQueen, who of course saves the day. (Trivia notes: An awful sequel, 1972's Beware! The Blob, features cameos by pioneer Jesus rockers Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill. Also, director Yeaworth, who only made six movies, was behind the camera for 1967's The Gospel Blimp, a satire on evangelism techniques.)


7. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

directed by Robert Wise

Not much action in this one, but gosh, when that spaceship landed and that 7-foot giant robot, Gort, emerged, I was absolutely awestruck as a kid. Still am—especially when Gort, in self-defense, begins melting everything in sight with his deadly eye-laser beam. That's the thing about this movie: They weren't hostile aliens, until we trigger-happy Earthlings forced their hand—er, metallic appendages, or whatever. The irony is that Klaatu, the human-looking spaceman who arrives with Gort, has come to warn humans that much of our earthly violence stems from our irrational fears—and when we start shooting at Gort, his point is proven. (One of our movie critics, Todd Hertz, also thinks Gort is one bad dude; read more in his list of the Top 10 Movie Robots of All Time.)

6. Predator (1987)

directed by John McTiernan

Long before 2004's ridiculous AVP (Alien vs. Predator), we had the original Predator movie. And long before he had any notions of becoming the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing what any good Austrian-turned-American-bodybuilder-turned-action-hero should do: Kick alien hide. And in this case, it was quite a remarkable hide. The fearsome creature had a jammin' Rasta doo and some pretty funky weapons, but his skin—typically reptilian in appearance—had an amazing property: He could turn invisible. If you looked hard enough, you could see him moving, bending the light rays just so, making for a way-cool special effect. The first time I saw this gruesome flick, I was pretty spooked.

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5. The Thing (1951 and 1982)

directed by Christian Nyby ('51)
directed by John Carpenter ('82)

Both versions (technically, the original's title is The Thing from Another World) are worth noting, for entirely different reasons. The original includes some memorable, though sometimes campy, roles, especially the creepy Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), who might just be scarier than the alien itself. Speaking of the alien, he's played by none other than James Arness, who just a few years later would be world famous as Marshal Matt Dillon in TV's Gunsmoke. John Carpenter's 1982 remake, starring Kurt Russell, is absolutely terrifying, featuring a shape-shifting alien that can mimic the look of anyone it comes in contact with—OK, anyone it eats. Carpenter's brilliant special effects carry the show, but the script ain't bad either, as it reads almost like a whodunit—which of the guys is The Thing now?


4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

directed by Don Siegel

We all know somebody slightly off-base, somebody who makes you want to ask, Just what planet ARE you from, anyway? We've all wondered, ARE there aliens among us? This movie takes that idea and runs with it. The film's main character, Dr. Miles Bennell, learns that some of his patients are having paranoid delusions that their friends or relatives are impostors. Bennell eventually believes that something weird is indeed afoot, and he seeks to get to the, ahem, root of the problem—which turns out to be these indestructible plant pods that can turn into human clones. Despite the fact that this movie has no monsters, minimal special effects, and little violence, it's a tense horror flick all the way. Culture analysts have speculated about its political agenda: Was it about the fear and loathing of Communists? The mass hysteria of McCarthyism? The spread of germ warfare? The numbing of our minds through comformity? Whatever the underlying message, it's a thriller that'll keep you on edge—and maybe make you take a second, and third, look at that slightly strange neighbor. Is he one of THEM? 

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3. The War of the Worlds (1953)

directed by Byron Haskin

The new version releasing this week will be hard-pressed to top the original, which gave me nightmares as a kid. I'll never forget those Martian spacecraft, their high-pitched engines and their lethal heat rays, blasting everything in their path—including entire military battalions. Who could save us? Perhaps only God? God certainly came into play in this version. Near the end of the movie, the protagonist, Dr. Clayton Forrester, on the run from the Martians, stumbles into a church to hear the preacher praying: "O Lord, deliver us from the fear which has come upon us—from the evil that draws ever nearer—from the terror that will soon knock upon the very door of this, Thy house. O Lord, we pray Thee, grant us the miracle of Thy divine intervention." The whole time, the Martians are closing in. It's intense—and it's cool to see how God does ultimately intervene.


2. Independence Day (1996)

directed by Roland Emmerich

Yes, it's campy. But those explosions. Sure, it's predictable. But those explosions. Indeed, it's silly. But those explosions. And did I mention the explosions? I can't think of any more amazing explosion in movie history than when the alien spaceship fires upon the Empire State Building, which is blasted into smithereens in an overwhelming nuclear inferno, followed by massive fireballs roaring through the streets of Manhattan, decimating everything in its path. But what makes this movie so stinkin' fun is the lead roles played by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, and their one-liners throughout. Goldblum's best line comes when they're trying to escape the alien mother ship; he turns to Smith (piloting their craft) and says, "Must go faster. Must go faster"—a nod-and-a-wink to 1993's Jurassic Park, when Goldblum used the same line while trying to get away from an angry T-Rex. Smith's best line comes after he shoots down an alien spaceship in the desert, and then, after his own crash landing, he walks up to the enemy craft, opens the hatch, sees the hideous creature, punches it in the face, knocking it unconscious, and shouts, "Welcome to Earth!" (Trivia note: The original script called for him to say, "Now that's a close encounter.")

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1. Signs (2002)

directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan had already wowed us with 1999's The Sixth Sense, stunning moviegoers with his incredibly creative surprise ending. While Signs doesn't end with quite such an astonishing twist, I love how he worked the true meaning of the title throughout the story. No, it wasn't the aliens' crop circles, the film's obvious "signs." It was the little, subtle things all along that ultimately added up to the happy ending for Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) and his family—Bo's paranoia about water contaminants, Morgan's asthmatic condition, Merrill's baseball glory days, and even Graham's wife's dying words, when she told her husband, among other things, to "see." See what? For Graham, who had turned his back on God and given up the priesthood after his wife's tragic death, it meant seeing the evidence—however subtle—of divine fingerprints all around him. In the end, Graham does indeed "see," yielding a cathartic conclusion that is simultaneously heartwarming and tear-jerking. On top of all that, Shyamalan pulls it off with Hitchcockian aplomb, starting with the opening credits and by taking us along for an incredibly suspenseful ride—all while refusing to show us the aliens for most of the movie. A terrific film on so many fronts.

Dishonorable Mention


No respectable top 10 list of the best alien invasion movies would be complete without noting the worst of the lot. That distinction goes to 1953's Robot Monster, in which the alien, Ro-Man, is a guy in a gorilla suit. No joke. But there's more: He's wearing a diving helmet … spray-painted silver … with a TV antenna duct-taped to the back. Are you laughing yet? Ro-Man, who meanders around at about the pace you'd expect from a guy in a burdensome gorilla suit, is somehow a threat to the entire human race, even though he's the only one of his kind on our planet, and even though he apparently has no weapons. But we know he's one ba-a-a-d dude. Why? Because he lives in a cave. Oh, and because he communicates with his leader (who's in a spaceship) via a sophisticated communication device that looks suspiciously like an old radio sitting on a coffee table outside his cave. But it's obviously a sophisticated radio of the future. We know this, because it emits … bubbles. Yes, bubbles. Director Phil Tucker apparently only had a $20,000 budget for the movie, and it shows. Oh, how it shows.