Not every alien movie is about an invasion. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, District 9, Arrival, and others feature peaceful beings from other planets.
The possibility of alien life is one of the world’s most fascinating subjects. It seems unlikely that we’re alone in the universe, but humans have yet to make confirmed contact with extra-terrestrial life. So, in the meantime, the closest thing to seeing a real alien is watching movies about them.
Most movies about aliens depict them as bloodthirsty killers or ruthless invaders who want to wipe out the human race. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a prime example of a heartwarming sci-fi classic about an alien who isn’t hostile. E.T. doesn’t want to kill anybody; he just wants to get home.
10 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
At its core, E.T. is a story about a lonely kid who’s neglected by his family and bullied by his classmates. When the titular alien arrives in Elliott’s life, he doesn’t have to feel so lonely anymore.
Elliott and his friends team up to help E.T. get home while the U.S. government is frantically scouring the town, looking for the alien on the loose. This heartwarming sci-fi classic was once the highest-grossing movie ever made.
9 Contact (1997)
Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey star in Robert Zemeckis’ Contact, which sees extra-terrestrials communicating with humanity via radio signals.
Since the film stars McConaughey and its story is based on the work of a real scientist (in this case, Carl Sagan), Contact has been viewed as a kind of precursor to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
8 Starman (1984)
John Carpenter’s Starman barely broke even at the box office when it hit theaters in 1984, but it’s since become a cult classic. Jeff Bridges stars as the titular alien, who inhabits the body of a Wisconsin man when he comes to Earth.
He goes on a road trip to Arizona with Jenny, played by Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Karen Allen, to reunite with the ship that can take him home.
7 Paul (2011)
After starring in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz for director Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost took their unique on-screen pairing stateside with their script for the sci-fi comedy Paul.
Pegg and Frost star as a pair of geeks who take an RV across the United States on a tour of UFO sightings. Along the way, they meet a real alien who escaped from Area 51 and have to protect him from government agents as he tries to get home.
6 The Iron Giant (1999)
Brad Bird’s directorial debut has a delightfully retro animation style. Vin Diesel voices the title character, a sentient alien robot. When he befriends a young kid, The Iron Giant becomes a poignant boy-and-his-dog story in which the dog is a huge sentient android.
While the government is determined to destroy the robot, the boy is determined to protect him. It bombed at the box office, but The Iron Giant has since become revered as a cult classic.
5 The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
David Bowie stars in The Man Who Fell to Earth as an alien disguised amongst the human race who’s come to Earth to get the water that will ensure the survival of his species. While he’s transporting the water to his home planet, he befriends a lawyer and falls in love with a hotel clerk.
The plan is scuppered when the U.S. government catches onto his plan and comes after him just as he’s about to pack up shop and head home.
4 The Wild Blue Yonder (2005)
Werner Herzog’s hidden sci-fi gem The Wild Blue Yonder is split between footage from a real NASA space mission and a mockumentary starring Brad Dourif as an alien who tried and failed to colonize Earth.
The experimental style of this movie could’ve easily backfired, but Herzog’s unwavering command of the moving image ensures that the experiment pays off.
3 District 9 (2009)
Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 flips the trope of aliens being hostile toward humans on its head and instead features peaceful aliens who arrive on Earth and are met with hostility from humanity.
The aliens in District 9 — dubbed “prawns” — are essentially space refugees who came to Earth in search of food and shelter and got relegated to internment camps and slums. The movie is a sharp allegory for apartheid in South Africa, drawn from Blomkamp’s own childhood experiences growing up during that era.
2 Arrival (2016)
Adapted from the short story “Story of Your Life,” Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival begins with a bunch of alien ships appearing on Earth and hovering over various random sites. They come in peace with a message for humanity, but that message isn’t immediately clear because, unlike in a Marvel movie, these aliens don’t speak English.
So, a linguistic expert played by Amy Adams is brought in to interpret their words and symbols. As she figures out the aliens’ language, the movie uncovers its emotional crux.
1 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
E.T. isn’t the only peaceful alien that Steven Spielberg brought to the screen. After the unexpected success of Jaws gave Spielberg the clout to make whatever movie he wanted, he decided to tell a story about humanity encountering alien life entitled Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Spielberg made Close Encounters as realistic as possible, with the aliens using colors and sounds to communicate with humans, and the framing narrative of a government cover-up made the movie a poignant commentary on the post-Watergate era.
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