And no, we’re not talking about the variety without a green card here!
I know there is still some originality out there, but when it comes down to films featuring aliens on Earth, sci-fi films seem to revolve around a set amount of ideas.
Now, will all of the best sci-fi films fall into these patters? Not necessarily, but I bet when you think about it, the vast majority will at least share some of these ideas and you can rest assure you will come across them again in the future.
1) We Come in Peace! Hey, Why Are You Trying to Dissect/Kill Us?
Prime Suspects: E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Super 8, Escape/Race to Witch Mountain
Ah, the benevolent alien – sometimes human, sometimes not, but one thing you can always count on is that the nicer the alien, the more likely mankind is trying to do something extremely unpleasant to them. Government experiments, lots of chase scenes and most likely a happy ending.
Plus, you can always count on an adorable moppet to connect with the alien (except in the case of Witch Mountain, in which that adorable moppets are the aliens) and connect it to humanity.
I like to think it works out in the end, but in the case of Super 8, I like to think the alien, despite finding an actual human it doesn’t want to eat, still sends its big brother back to destroy mankind in Cloverfield. Speaking of which…
2) We Don’t Come in Peace. In Fact, We’re Here to Annihilate Your Species!
Prime Suspects: Independence Day, War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks! Skyline, The Darkest Hour.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the aliens who aren’t interested in connecting or making deals – they’re here to kill us all – and it usually involves a lot of special effects and catch phrases. Yet one thing all these films have in common is that despite a vast superiority to Earth’s primitive forces, these advanced races always seem to have the most inane weakness. In War of the Worlds, the seemingly invulnerable invaders are felled by a common virus.
For Independence Day, it was a different kind of virus – mainly a computer one (how alien technology is compatible with ours… well, it is a movie, best not to think too hard on that one). In Mars Attacks! It is… yodeling and in Signs it’s freaking water! (Note to alien invaders: Don’t invade a planet where over 70% of the surface is covered in stuff that can kill you… not to mention the weather). In the end, mankind somehow seems to prevail, no matter how many of us gets wiped out in the process.
3) We Come in Peace… At Least That’s What You’ll Believe Once You’ve Been Assimilated.
Prime Suspects: Star Trek: First Contact, Invasion to the Body Snatchers, The Puppet Masters, The Thing, They Live, Invasion
If you’re not the paranoid type then you certainly will be after sitting through a few of these films. Whether it’s tongue-in-cheek like They Live or deadly serious like The Thing – for whatever reason, aliens just want to be human – or at least look like/control them. These films are often chilling because you never know whom to trust (hint: nobody, not even your mom/best friend/dog).
Plus, these are usually the only sci-fi films that can end with the aliens winning or at least coming to a draw. Personally I find this scenario much more sinister than simply coming in with guns a’ blazing.
4) We Come in Peace! Psych! We’re Actually Here to Steal Your Resources and/or Eat You!
Prime Suspects: V, To Serve Man, Mars Attacks! (briefly)
While not as prevalent as some of the other examples, this nicely splits the difference between the benevolent alien and the all-out total destruction of mankind. Instead of simply wiping everyone out (and probably using up massive amounts of resources), why not come down, provide some “miraculous” cures and/or technology and then turn the tables luring us to our doom.
Oh, sure, you eventually have your group who figures things out (“It’s a cookbook!”) but by then it may be too late… or at least a lot harder to fix the problem. Or, in the case of Mars Attacks! you simply blast a dove out the air and then turn your audience into awesome green and red skeletons.
5) We’re Not Entirely Sure What We Want to Do, So We’ll Test the Waters First
Prime Suspects: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, Men in Black (backstory)
Hey, you have to start somewhere – if you’re not here to destroy us, and the government hasn’t gotten their stinking paws all over you, then you have the reluctant first meeting. Of course, you can’t make things easy, so you end up sending cryptic signals or instructions for building a massive machine. Is this some kind of test? Do we all have to be MENSA quality to shake your hand/tentacle/other? But it’s not such a bad idea – if you just showed up all unexpected, mostly likely we would shoot you (just ask Klaatu).
Chris Kavan is the Community Manager of FilmCrave.com and he believes the truth is still out there.