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The best alien movies, ranked

Directors like Spielberg, Abrams, and more have made movies that headline our list

The alien from Alien (1979)
unSaint Saturn/Flickr

There’s got to be something out there in outer space besides just rocks and stars, right? Extraterrestrial lifeforms and their potential for being real have been one of humanity’s great curiosities for generations. Filmmakers and storytellers have been at the forefront of speculating and creating plots and themes based around aliens and their invasions on Earth and around the solar system.

Sometimes science-fiction films and space movies give political commentary on racism, colonialism, diversity, and government. Other times the intense action and futuristic weapons are what make the movies interesting. There is so much more to the best alien movies than just lasers and green spacemen. These are the best ones Hollywood has to offer! From horror to sci-fi and even animated classics, aliens have touched almost every category of film there is to offer.

10. Independence Day (1996)

10. Independence Day
145m
Genre
Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars
Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by
Roland Emmerich
Watch on Amazon
There’s nothing like good ol’ patriotism to get people interested in the premise of an alien invasion. When powerful lifeforms try to destroy the world right before the Fourth of July, Will Smith’s Captain Steve Hiller is more than happy to save the day. Independence Day doesn’t dabble in anything too thought-provoking or politically related to aliens, instead focusing on a purely good versus evil approach that gets your adrenaline rushing and makes for a fun spectacle on the big screen.

9. Lilo & Stitch (2002)

9. Lilo & Stitch
85m
Genre
Animation, Family
Stars
Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere
Directed by
Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Watch on Disney+
The only animated film on this list, Lilo & Stitch is an easy-going tale of a Hawaiian girl who befriends an alien who arrives on Earth. The concept of a human and an alien becoming friends like a kid and a dog is definitely the most Disney thing possible. This cartoon is an optimistic angle of what could and should happen when foreign beings meet each other; love instead of hate conquers all.

8. District 9 (2009)

8. District 9
112m
Genre
Science Fiction
Stars
Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt
Directed by
Neill Blomkamp
Watch on max
Of all the alien movies ever made, not many do a better job discussing issues of racism and segregation than District 9. The film shows the ways humans capture and confine alien life that arrives on Earth to a separate sector of society away from the rest of the population. The story is based on segregation in Soth Africa, and the film will surely make you think a little differently about the ways human beings are so ready to separate anyone who looks different from them.

7. Predator (1987)

7. Predator
107m
Genre
Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Thriller
Stars
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo
Directed by
John McTiernan
Watch on max
One of the most famous action movies of the 1980s stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the only man who can stop the extraterrestrial hunter dubbed “the Predator”. Seeing the back and forth between the two forces of nature is an incredible battle that can still be enjoyed by sci-fi and action fans over 30 years after the theatrical release. Several sequels and a crossover with Alien have kept the movie relevant, as well.

6. Planet of the Apes (1968)

6. Planet of the Apes
112m
Genre
Science Fiction, Adventure, Drama, Action
Stars
Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
Directed by
Franklin J. Schaffner
Watch on Amazon
Despite corny special effects and outdated costumes, Planet of the Apes is a true pioneer in the sci-fi genre because it raises questions about how humanity treats animals. When human astronauts discover an island with alien apes who have superhuman intelligence, the shoe goes on the other foot. The Earthlings start to get a taste of how it feels to be treated as inferior. Charleton Heston gives one of the better performances of his career.

5. Arrival (2016)

5. Arrival
116m
Genre
Drama, Science Fiction, Mystery
Stars
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Directed by
Denis Villeneuve
Watch on Amazon
Based on “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, Arrival tells the story of a woman who specializes in linguistics. She uses her knowledge of the field to study and identify what languages are spoken by aliens who have made their new home on Earth. The whole experience is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking account of the power of communication and how it separates different types of intelligent beings from one another.

4. Star Trek (2009)

4. Star Trek
127m
Genre
Science Fiction, Action, Adventure
Stars
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy
Directed by
J.J. Abrams
Watch on Netflix
The J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise has all of the great characters, atmosphere, and alien encounters that fans had come to know and love since the 1960s. Captain Kirk, Spok, and more are in conflict with the Romulan character Nero. The series has always been progressive and worked toward finding solutions for different types of people to get along and dissolve conflict.

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
135m
Genre
Science Fiction, Drama
Stars
Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
Watch on Amazon
If there is ever a true textbook classic of the alien genre, it would be Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Without much in the way of special effects or technology, Spielberg grounds his story in pure moviemaking magic, distilling the alien invasion into one man’s version of events and the life he leads after seeing extraterrestrial life on Earth. This movie came out the same year as Star Wars and Spielberg and Star Wars creator George Lucas famously placed a bet on which film would gross more at the box office.

2. Alien (1979)

2. Alien
117m
Genre
Horror, Science Fiction
Stars
Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm
Directed by
Ridley Scott
Watch on Hulu
Sigourney Weaver became the ultimate female action star of her generation when she starred as Ellen Ripley, a leader of space crew who must overcome the violent and shocking nature of the titular alien. The horror atmosphere in this film has aged incredibly well, as the first time the alien springs into action is still as bone-chilling as it was in 1979.

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
115m
Genre
Science Fiction, Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Stars
Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
Watch on Apple TV+
Was there ever any doubt? E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is everything humans could ever imagine a relationship with alien life being like. The relationship between Elliot and E.T. is so adorable it makes you want to hug someone close to you. This movie is still creating shockwaves and influencing alien cinema and the best space movies four decades later, with Netflix’s Stranger Things and blockbusters on our list like Arrival drawing from Spielberg’s classic!
Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek, Quote.com, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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