The very idea of extra-terrestrial life is an intriguing one. Should aliens arrive on Earth, will they be friendly or will they be hostile? In fiction, it’s mostly the latter – and the concept of alien invasion has made for some fantastic movies over the years.
In this piece, we’ll be taking you through some of the finest movies in which aliens arrive on our planet with ill intent – and linking you to where you can watch them online.
If you like alien movies, we’re guessing you probably like monster movies, too? So please check out our list of the best werewolf movies while you’re here.
9. The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers – also known as Avengers Assemble in the United Kingdom – is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Directed by Joss Whedon, it sees Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye coming together as a team to defend the Earth from an invasion by the Chitauri, who are led into battle by Thor’s conniving adopted brother Loki.
One of the finest superhero movies ever made, The Avengers was a treat when it hit theatres. All the titular team’s members come together in a way that defies their obvious differences, with Whedon expertly juggling their contrasting stories and personalities. The action is truly epic – and the first time we see the six superheroes standing tall against invasion is a historic moment in cinema.
8. Independence Day (1996)
The epitome of 1990s disaster-filled action, Independence Day was directed by Roland Emmerich.
The movie itself focuses on different groups of people who converge in the Nevada desert in the aftermath of the aliens’ global assault. It has an impressive ensemble cast led by Will Smith, who plays U.S. Marine Captain Steven Hiller.
While the plot and characters are quite thin, those problems are more than made up for by a witty script and the movie’s general spectacle – the scene in which the White House is destroyed is fantastic. The special effects were amazing for the time and it’s widely seen as one of the finest summer blockbuster movies ever made.
If you wish, you can watch the inferior sequel on Amazon Prime (rental/purchase).
7. A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quiet Place is a post-apocalyptic horror directed by John Krasinski, who also stars in the movie alongside his wife Emily Blunt.
It’s about a couple – played by Krasinski and Blunt – who struggle to survive and raise their children in a world that’s been taken over by blind alien monsters with an acute sense of hearing. They must essentially live without making any noise or risk death.
This is an incredibly intelligent movie that’s as original as it is scary. It’s suspenseful and the monsters are terrifying. The detail is astounding – in the abandoned supermarkets, for instance, chip packets can be seen untouched on the shelves, because removing them would make noise and attract the creatures. A great sequel came out in 2021.
If you’d like to watch the sequel – which is not as good as the first movie, but still pretty great – here’s a link to it on Amazon Prime (rental/purchase).
6. They Live (1988)
They Live is a sci-fi action movie directed by the legendary John Carpenter (whose best movies we ranked here).
It’s about an an unnamed drifter, played by the late pro wrestler Roddy Piper, who discovers that the ruling classes are aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to consume, breed, and conform to the status quo through subliminal messages in mass media, courtesy of a special pair of X-Ray sunglasses that he dons.
This is a superb movie with a clever concept that was ahead of its time. Carpenter’s wit shines through, there’s some really cool action – one six-minute fight scene in an alley is up there with the best ever – and the line “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all outta bubble gum” is simply iconic.
5. Arrival (2016)
Arrival is a sci-fi drama directed by Denis Villeneuve. It was adapted by Eric Heisserer, who conceived the project as a spec script based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story “Story of Your Life”.
It’s about Louise Banks, a linguist – played by the wonderful Amy Adams – who’s enlisted by the United States Army and tasked with finding a way to communicate with extra-terrestrials who’ve arrived on Earth, before tensions between humanity and the invaders lead to conflict.
This is a great movie that was nominated for eight Academy Awards – including the prestigious Best Picture gong. It’s sophisticated, atmospheric, philosophical, tense and incredibly exciting at times – and Adams is absolutely fantastic in the lead role. The design of the movie’s aliens is amongst the eeriest in sci-fi history. It also has an amazing score – which certainly explains why it won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing.
4. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
Watch on: Amazon Prime (rental/purchase)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a sci-fi horror directed by Philip Kaufman. It’s a remake of the 1956 film of the same name. Both movies are great, but the 1978 iteration has aged far better.
It’s about a health inspector and his colleague in San Francisco who discover that humans are being replaced by alien duplicates. The duplicates are perfect copies of the original, but they’re completely devoid of human emotion.
If you ever hear anybody say remakes are pointless, this movie is the argument against that notion. The tone is bleak and terrifying, the performances – particularly that of Donald Sutherland – are fantastic, and the effects are sublime. Sutherland’s iconic scream at the movie’s climax will sit with you for days.
You can watch the equally impressive (but sadly badly-aged) original on Amazon Prime (rental/purchase).
3. District 9 (2009)
Another Oscar-nominated movie (four for this one), District 9 is a sci-fi action flick directed by Neill Blomkamp in his feature film debut. It was adapted from Blomkamp’s 2006 short film Alive in Joburg.
The movie opens in an alternate 1982, when an alien spaceship appears over Johannesburg, South Africa. A population of sick and malnourished insectoid aliens are discovered on the ship, resulting in the South African government confining them to an internment camp – the titular District 9. As the area turns into a slum over time, tensions rise as humanity believes the aliens to be filthy and resource-sapping.
Partially presented in the found footage format, this is a brilliant movie. It’s a study of humanity, detailing how we might react when forced to deal with extraordinary circumstances. It’s emotional, action-packed and sneakily political (it’s clearly a commentary on racism) – and Sharlto Copley is fantastic as bumbling bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe.
2. Signs (2002)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan – who also wrote, produced and appeared in the movie – Signs is a mystery thriller with a sci-fi twist.
It’s about a former Episcopal priest called Graham Hess – played by Mel Gibson – who discovers a series of huge crop circles in the cornfields of his farmhouse home. As events begin to unravel, Hess slowly discovers that the phenomenon is a result of an alien invasion.
Gibson is ably supported by a small supporting cast of Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin; the result is a wonderful and intimate movie that explores the themes of faith, kinship and, obviously, extra-terrestrials. You’ll be glued to the screen from start to finish – except for the split-second during which you jump out of your seat during that infamous scene.
1. The War Of The Worlds (1953)
The War of the Worlds is an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel of the same name.
The movie sees Earth suddenly and unexpectedly invaded by Martians – with the setting changing from Victorian England, as it was in the novel, to then-modern day California. It follows American scientist Clayton Forrester as he searches for any weaknesses that could stop the invaders.
It’s the first of five feature-length movie adaptations of the novel – with the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie being the most prominent of the rest. The original remains the best however. Its special effects, though dated, still look great – and it creates an atmosphere that is both chilling and unnerving. The Martians’ war machines still have an aura of imposing terror about them to this day.
If you’d like to watch that 2005 remake, here’s a link to it on Amazon Prime (rental/purchase).
Steven Spielberg is a director accustomed to making alien invasion movies, so why not check out our list of his best ones now that you’re done here?