Aliens may be awe-inspiring, but more often they play the terrifying threat to human tranquility. All that power translates into impossible odds, and there’s nothing quite like watching the plucky underdogs of humanity standing against beings of arguably-higher intelligence. It gets our heart rate pumping and our superiority complex firing on all cylinders. But which invaders have proven the best threats? Are there aliens whose menace, to put it bluntly, rules?
5. The aliens in Attack the Block
This is a case where the aliens are cool, but wouldn’t be anything particularly special. But the film they’re introduced in is so special, so glaringly unique and fun, that they demand to be included. If you haven’t seen Attack the Block, please remedy that, because this little British gem takes the invader alien trope and makes it a non-stop blast. With a rookie director and a cast of unknowns (save for Nick Frost), this story about a bunch of hooligans who start out mugging people and end up defending their apartment block from vengeful space creatures breathes life into a genre fraught with melodrama. What’s lovely about the film is the way it makes the awful sympathetic. The marauding street gang become the heroes. Even the invaders have a soft fluffy motive—it doesn’t take away from the terror of them stalking the apartment dwellers, but it adds depth to the heartless Earth-conqueror trope.
4. The Network, from The World’s End
This is another one where I’m including it partially because the film is so, so good. The grand finale of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy isn’t just an incredible alien story—although yes, yes it is—it’s an incredible story of human malaise, weakness, and the strange metamorphoses of self-esteem and friendship. Simon Pegg gives the performance of a lifetime as aimless Gary King, with Nick Frost as the perfect adult foil in Andy Knightley, all proper life experience and barely simmering rage. When the chums face the Network, an evil alien collective hell-bent on”civilizing” humans by replacing them, their barbaric yawps against a relentless system capture the essence of humanity, stubborn and bullheaded as we are. The World’s End succeeds not only in having a rip-roaring scifi adventure, but also in having a rawly human story about coming to grips with age and the passage of time. A film that can combine space aliens with the alien parts of human progression is a winner in my book.
3. The Vogons in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
My husband challenged me on the Vogon inclusion, but in the end I don’t care what he says, I’m counting them as invaders. At the very least they are eliminating human life and and threatening the existence of Earth, so even if they aren’t technically invading terra firma, they are absolutely invading humanity’s sense of safety and security and life. So here they are, on the list.
It would feel strange to talk about alien lifeforms without some nod to Douglas Adams,* and, to me, the Vogons are one of the most delightful twists on alien threats. It’s so bureaucratic, so droll, and their unseemly visage is just the wart on top of the boil. Making the otherworldly stand-in for unfeeling corporations, the humanoid embodiment of slugs is so on the nose and yet exhibits the Adams brilliance (and special shout out to Henson’s Creature Shop for designing something so beautiful in its grotesquerie). These invaders are wonderful because they encapsulate the regular invasions that manipulate our life—boring, staid, and often with terrible poetry.
2. The aliens from Independence Day
It’s impossible to talk about aliens with an agenda without bringing up the aliens from Independence Day. ID is the epitome of alien movies, and if you don’t agree let me show you the technological door, because you aren’t welcome here. Will Smith at the height of his powers. Bill Pullman as a president whose speeches make grown men break down and weep like the giant babies they are on the inside. And Jeff Goldblum. JEFF GOLDBLUM, rocking that intergalactic Mac OS like a boss. But the aliens themselves are the paragon of invaders. With an off-putting form, borrowing from xenomorphs and the mystical strangeness of the deep sea squids, those aliens inspired terror. I think that the moment when our heroes stumble upon communication with the beasts, via one unlucky scientist, is the first jump moment I experienced in a film (it’s either this or some scene in Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Or something from The Last Unicorn). No image instills terror quite like those large spacecrafts obscuring the sky, and no moment inspires patriotism more than their defeat. Welcome to Earth indeed.
1. Invader Zim
Invader Zim has to be the number one. I mean, invader is in his name. Also, I think he’s by far the most ruthless invader of the bunch. Essentially, his only characteristic is his quest to destroy Earth and prove his worth to the rest of the Irken’s (an alien race determined to conquer the entire universe). The fact he infiltrates Earth by adopting the disguise of a poor, defenseless child is proof positive of his brilliant maliciousness. Armed with the insane robot Gir, thwarted at every turn by the giant-headed Dib, and only truly foiled by meat products, Zim is everything an invader should be—relentless, unhinged, and utterly awesome.
*Almost as strange as it feels realizing that we haven’t touched on Star Wars, Star Trek, or The X-Files in this alien-centric month.