Considering how often they pop up, you’d think it exceptionally easy to make an alien invasion movie. You get some aliens, you get some buildings, you blow up said buildings and people flee from said aliens. Easy, right? Of course not. Just look at Skyline, now available on DVD and Blu-ray, if you need a lesson on just how hard it is to leave a memorable impression on a genre that’s been preyed upon for years. However, even though I’m not a very big fan of the movie as a whole, it’s hard to argue that Skyline doesn’t kick ass in the actual alien invasion department.
The Strause Brothers may fumble the human characters, but at least they deliver when it comes to the aliens. At the end of the day all anyone really needs from an alien invasion movie is a handful of scenes that snap you to attention, and Skyline has enough spaceship mayhem to make it worth checking out. So, in honor of the Strause Brothers giving us their fair share of rock solid images, like an entire city’s populous being vacuumed skyward, we present this list of mankind’s most memorable clashes with alien invaders.
But before we go on, let’s be clear that this is not a list of the best alien invasion movies of all time; it’s simply a handful of the best alien invasion fights on screen (key word being “invasion”). Also of note, considering how new they are, we’ll intentionally be leaving off Attack the Block and Battle: Los Angeles, though both are worthy contenders.
Starship Troopers: Rico versus the Tanker Bug on Tango Urilla
First, a technicality: Starship Troopers isn’t really an alien invasion movie. It’s a WWII analog about one nation getting unceremoniously attacked by another and then travelling halfway around the world to bring the fight to their shores. Except with Verhoeven’s film, it’s halfway around the universe and “their shores” means planets populated by giant bugs. But considering how unrelentingly kick ass Starship Troopers is, let’s ignore the fact that it’s really a movie about humans invading aliens and focus on one of the most iconic images from the movie: Johnny Rico standing in front of the exploded carcass of a magma-blasting tanker bug.
The battle between Rico and the tanker is actually one of the weaker ones in the movie (the massacre on Planet P, for one, is a hell of a lot better), but its aftermath - that one image of Rico smiling in front of his decimated enemy - is just a glorious image, like some kind of bizarro world propaganda poster from 1944.
War of the Worlds: Storming the Hill
It seems a lot of people don’t like Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, and the reason they don’t like it almost always stems from the film grinding to a halt once Tom Cruise shacks up with Tim Robbins in a basement. And that’s a fair enough complaint, but the only reason it does grind to a halt is because of how damned spectacular the minutes leading up to it are.
We have no idea what’s on the other side of that hill, but the furious sounds - a battle themselves of explosions and oddly organic moaning - and flashing lights make it abundantly clear that it’s epic. And as much as I’d love to see that battle, I actually prefer that we don’t see it. That it’s left to our imaginations to picture what has the army running scared.
The Thing: Flamethrower versus Spiderhead
Not all battles with alien invasions need to involve armies fighting off spaceships. Sometimes all it takes is one alien to mess up your Christmas, and there’s no finer specimen to do so than The Thing. There are plenty of fights and images in the movie that could wind up on this list, but of course top honors have to go to the sequence involving Cooper trying to revive Norris after his heart attack. Not only does it have one of the most Holy Shit surprises in the movie, but it culminates in a horrifying crescendo of the alien, despite having been hit full force with a flame thrower, detaching its head from its body, growing a nasty set of arachnoid legs and trying to scuttle away. There really isn’t a better “F**k that noise!” moment on this list.
The Faculty: Improper Use of a Paper Slicer
The Faculty just doesn’t get enough credit these days, though I’m not sure it ever did. Hell, even at Scott Weinberg’s 'Directing the Dead' panel at SXSW ‘10, Robert Rodriguez seemingly forgot he had ever even made the movie when trying to remember what straight faced horror movies he had made. And that’s a shame because The Faculty is actually a pretty rad (and rare) horror movie from the late ‘90s. It’s got high schoolers chopping their alien-infested teachers to bits-- what’s not to like?
Altered: Kidnapping the Alien
Eduardo Sanchez’ Altered offers up a simple yet inspired twist on aliens visiting Earth: what if some of the kids they abducted and probed grew up wanting revenge. So instead of telling yet another story about a group of people trying to survive an alien invasion, Altered is about a group of pissed off prior abductees who decide to have a close encounter of the kidnap-an-alien-and-torture-it kind.
It’s a gripping premise filled with all kinds of batshit moments, but for me it all boils down to that first shot of their prisoner wrapped in a sheet, chained to a workbench, with a welder’s mask duct taped to over their face. It’s one of the always awesome moments in film where you realize you’ve never seen this before and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. A gang of rednecks kidnapping an alien could be a perfect short film all by itself, but thankfully things get better from there, as we’re treated to some man versus E.T. battles that twist minds and mutilate bodies with equal mania.
The Day the Earth Stood Still, Gort Ends a Fight Before it Starts
Independence Day, the Fall of the Ships
Signs, As Seen on TV
Slither, The Surprise Hiding Behind the Barn Doors
Monsters, The Gas Station
District 9, The On-Air Firebomb Abortions