Space exploration, alien invasion, and flying saucers have always been popular motifs for science fiction and cinema as a whole. The stars have been the backdrop for many films, even going back to 1902 in Georges Méliès’ now-iconic silent film, A Trip to the Moon; famously depicting the moon with a rocket gouged into its eye, was a massive success. This film may have been one of the first and most popular, but it certainly was not the last to feature extraterrestrial creatures.
To many, the ’80s are considered a sort of golden age in movie history. It is a time before the widespread use of visual effects and CGI, when films relied more heavily on practical effects, props, and set design. The model makers and puppeteers were kings during this era, and the films captured during this time had a distinct quality that is difficult to recreate in our digitally-dominated age. The pacing and general feel of these films are much different from our contemporary media, but they are special, nonetheless. Here are the very best ‘80s movies about aliens, ranked.
9 Spaceballs (1987)
Spaceballs is a 1987 musical and parody film that points fun at the characters, plot points, and clichés of other sci-fi films of the era, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, and Planet of the Apes. This film tends to be polarizing for a lot of people, forcing people to either love the movie or hate it. It was directed by Mel Brooks, and stars Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, George Wyner, and Joan Rivers. It’s a lighthearted film, and if you enjoy parodies, then this is worth the watch.
8 They Live (1988)
They Live is a 1988 film directed by John Carpenter, and stars Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster. Its plot follows a wandering vagabond named Nada, who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal the ruling class is disguised as aliens who are forcing humans into line with subliminal messaging through mass media. The film itself is interesting and has a unique concept. If you enjoy aliens, John Carpenter, and a healthy dose of social commentary, then this is the film for you.
7 Starman (1984)
Starman is a 1984 sci-fi romance film, again directed by John Carpenter. This film stars Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, and Richard Jaeckel. Bridges, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his acting, plays an alien who has come to earth after finding the gold phonograph record installed on the Voyager 2 space probe. Science fiction and romance are two genres that you don’t often see together. It makes for an interesting film with a stellar performance by Bridges.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, this film follows a young boy who finds an alien, who has been stranded and left behind on earth. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is both a science fiction film and a sort of coming-of-age film as it depicts Elliot, the main character, navigating the difficulty of bringing his friends and family in on this peculiar circumstance. Spielberg has stated that the concept for this film is based on an imaginary friend Spielberg had created after his parents divorced. The film went on to become a huge hit; it received four Academy Awards and at the time, was the highest-grossing film ever made.
5 Enemy Mine (1985)
Directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr., Enemy Mine tells the story of two enemies, one an alien and one human, who must overcome their differences when they become stranded on a barren planet together. The initial box office reception for this film was poor; however, it fared well in the Soviet Union, as it was the first American sci-fi film to be shown in theaters.
4 Predator (1987)
Predator was an absolute hit in the world of the ‘80s film landscape. It hits all the marks and continues to be a perfect example of ‘80s action within the science fiction genre. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader of a skilled paramilitary group on a mission to save a group of hostages in the Central American rainforest. Their mission becomes something much more when confronted by the technologically advanced alien, Predator. The film went on to inspire many sequels and spinoffs, and while it may not be the most complex plot line, it delivers a healthy dose of action.
3 The Abyss (1989)
Another great ‘80s film by James Cameron, The Abyss was released in 1989, just barely landing a spot on this decade’s list. Bolstered by Cameron’s directorial style, the stars of this film include Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn. The film follows a U.S. search and rescue team as they race against the Soviets to recover a sunken submarine. The marine setting for this film is a bit unconventional, as you wouldn’t normally expect an alien-themed film to take place underwater. The alien featured in the film matches the setting in its peculiarity. Instead of your more common extraterrestrial depiction, the figure in this film is clouded in ambiguity and mystique. The film is a refreshing take on the alien science fiction film, and it is well worth the watch if you enjoy James Cameron films.
2 The Thing (1982)
A vanguard in the ‘80s directorial pool, John Carpenter launched this beautiful take on a horror/sci-fi film, The Thing, in 1982. The movie features beautifully done acting by Kurt Russell, who plays a helicopter pilot for a research crew based out of Antarctica. Similar to the alien featured in The Abyss, the alien in this film has a mystery surrounding it. The titular being dubbed “the thing”, has the ability to infect and take over other living creatures. This leads the crew into a state of paranoia and skepticism as they question whether or not any of their peers have been taken over by the monster. John Carpenter’s delivery of this excellent horror film with a unique setting and talented cast makes it one of the best sci-fi stories of the time.
1 Aliens (1986)
Topping our list and dominating the decade with his masterful sci-fi hits, is James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens. Following Ridley Scott’s original 1979 masterpiece Alien, is no small task. Cameron succeeds by combining his unique writing style with a familiar world and cast of characters. His perfect combination of familiarity and novelty picks up 57 years after the events of the original film and follows Officer Ripley as she tries to warn others of the ferocious and clever beasts. This great film checks all the boxes with its amazing casting, storyline, set design, and cinematography.
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