The past year hasn’t seen a terrible amount of creative, big screen extraterrestrials. We had a couple of biped invaders (Battle: Los Angeles, Cowboys & Aliens), a J. J. Abrams creation that was vaguely similar to Cloverfield (Super 8) and another go at a colorful, familiar Martian from Mars Needs Moms. All fun movies, but when you have a canvas as wide open as “alien race from another planet,” you hope (or, at least, I hope) for something a little less…normal.
So you can probably understand why I’m looking forward to this weekend’s The Darkest Hour, an alien invasion movie that pits Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor and the awesome Joel Kinnaman against invisible, energy-infused aliens. Are they lightning bolts? Are they flying beasts undetectable by the human eye? Are they something that director Chris Gorak once sketched in the margins of his high school notebooks? I hope all three.
Inspired by the ingenuity of The Darkest Hour, here are a few of film’s most unique alien designs:
The Thing from The Thing
Mystery plays a huge part in making John Carpenter’s 1982 horror movie, and there’s nothing more mysterious than an alien without a definitive shape. Thanks to its gene-altering inclinations, The Thing could become anything. Occasionally, that “anything” was a walking set of jaws or a tentacled head monster. The Thing didn’t really care what it looked like, as long as it was ripping open scientists’ chest cavities—a prerogative that made for a wondrous special effects playground.
The Strangers from Knowing
Turns out, all those references to “angels” in religious texts? Aliens.
The underrated, completely whacked-out, Nic Cage sci-fi movie Knowing stipulates that the celestial beings of various faiths were in fact extraterrestrial beings with the insight to save “the chosen ones” of our race. How was Nic Cage not chosen?!? Cool looking beings, but poor taste.
The Ballchinians from Men in Black 2
Not every alien design has to be a mature, thoughtful, creative endeavor. Sometimes you just want to create a race of people with balls on their chin.
The ridiculous Ballchinian of Men in Black 2 was already one of the weirder extraterrestrials in movies—I swear I’ve seen this guy drive a New York cab before—but throw on a pair of cojones on the guy’s face and suddenly the creation is that much more genius. Maybe that’s my inner-ten-year-old’s opinion, but still.
The Ewoks from Return of the Jedi
The original Star Wars, rebranded A New Hope, changed the creature creation landscape forever. Remember the Mos Eisley cantina? Teaming with crazy looking aliens from across the galaxy.
But you can tell the real George Lucas emerged from his shell when he finally got around to Return of the Jedi. The man loves cutesy characters, and there’s nothing more adorable then a species of cuddly wuddly living Teddy Bears. The Ewoks were inquisitive little critters, getting into the kind of trouble that would be prime for modern day viral videos. But alas, with all the Empire tyrannical nonsense plaguing Yavin IV, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for hugs. That’s why they made two Ewok sequels!
The Decepticons from Transformers Trilogy
Michael Bay has obliterated our senses with his trilogy of high octane robot action, but for the few milliseconds the robots (Decepticons specifically) are standing still, they’re intricate design is quite exquisite. Forget the fact that they’re an alien race composed entirely of mechanical parts that hail from an equally mechanized planet called Cybertron (Who built them? Cue: Transformers existential crisis). In a war where looking cool is 95% of the battle, the Transformers rule.
Diva Plavalaguna from The Fifth Element
Diva Plavalaguna is one of the wilder, more extravagant aliens to be essentially thrown away in a movie. She’s a vital component of The Fifth Element, so she had to look snazzy, but she appears in one sequence and is quickly killed. That said, no alien in all the cienemascape has as much soul as this blue beauty. I think the head tentacles secrete pizazz.
Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs
I’ve already explained that Lucas’ Star Wars series was a milestone in alien design, but let’s not forget Mel Brooks’ equally innovative spoof film that gave us variations like Yogurt, Barf and, perhaps the greatest of them all: Pizza the Hutt. Get it? Like Jabba the Hutt. But made of Pizza. Like the restaurant. Pizza the Hutt. He’s an alien made of pizza.
Sadly, Pizza the Hutt suffered an untimely death after consuming himself. For fans, sequel hopes were dashed.
The Klowns from Killer Klowns from Outer Space
The titular evil Klowns of Killer Klowns from Outer Space may elicit a shrug of been-there-done-that (they do look a lot like clowns…), but I think the real key to appreciating the artistry of the 1988 cinematic oddity is the pure fact that they’re clowns. That are aliens.
Prot from K-PAX
Eeeek! Absolutely terrifying.