Aliens aren’t all that bad. Sure, some of them seem hell-bent on sucking your brains out, overthrowing the planet and generally speeding up the inevitable demise of the human race, but some of them have actually proven to be quite helpful. Here are some of our favourite alien movies when we were genuinely thankful friendly little green men paid us a visit:
Yes, stealing three-year-old boys in the dead of night doesn’t sound particularly friendly, but the alien abductions in Close Encounters turn out all right in the end, with everyone returned ship-shape and Bristol fashion, teaching us a little bit about the human spirit and introducing this merry ditty to the world along the way.
When an alien spacecraft lands on Earth, linguist Louise Banks is sent in to try to understand what the betentacled visitors are trying to say. Most of the world seems to think they want to destroy us, so Banks tries to decipher if they have a more peaceful agenda using the power of grammar and syntax. It turns out there is a bit of an “I scratch your back…” relationship, but ultimately we never imagined a sci-fi movie could help us prepare for an impending English exam.
Masterminded by the legend that is Carl Sagan, Contact tells the story of Dr Ellie Arroway, who while working for SETI discovers plans to build an interstellar device buried in a message from an advanced alien civilisation. Ultimately Arroway is the only one who gets to enjoy the fruits of this extra-terrestrial communiqué and no one believes her report of the trans-dimensional voyage (well, nearly no one) but the film certainly makes you think about first contact and how aliens can be pretty helpful when they want to be.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Day the Earth Stood Still Trailer (YouTube/idoru345)
If a peaceful, yet powerful alien civilisation comes to Earth offering gifts to revolutionise humanity’s technology, it’s best not to shoot it out of their hands as they give it over – especially if they’re watched over by a menacing laser-toting guard (albeit one with the distinctly unmenacing name of Gort). Sort of like a 1920s protection racket, the humanoid visitor Klaatu offers to spare Earth from inevitable destruction so long as we essentially all agree to be nice to each other. That doesn’t sound especially friendly until you find out it’s the inhabitants of Earth that would ultimately destroy the planet through nuclear war (or environmental damage if you decide to watch the woeful 2008 film with Keanu Reeves). They also brought the phrase Klaatu barada nikto, which is pretty cool.
It’s a running theme that when peaceful extra-terrestrials arrive on Earth it is usually to stop our own bloodlust getting in the way of progress, but when a shipload of hungry aliens arrive on Earth seeking food and shelter in District 9, it’s not our limbs they’re after, but our help. Humanity takes something of a dim view of this and confines all the “prawns” in an internment camp, which needless to say our guests don’t take too kindly. So yeah, not the best welcome we’ve ever given, but at least the film itself gives us a chance to look at how we handle refugees and deal with big business, teaching us a bit about our own humanity in the process.
What list of joy-bringing aliens would be complete without E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? Instead of coming in the dead of night to take specimens of humans, the adorable little long-necked explorers are actually out collecting plant samples, when they get spooked and fly off leaving one behind. Not only did the glowing-fingered ET bring friendship, happiness and a flying bike to young Elliot, the final scene showed the world that even the coldest of hearts could crack and shed a tear. It also raked in a huge amount of money for some delighted movie execs somewhere.
Outlander UK Trailer – Released 24 April 2009 (YouTube/LetsGas)
You might not remember Outlander, not least because it was awful (backed up by flopping horribly at the box office), but also the premise was so utterly ridiculous. From the lofty start of being loosely based on Beowulf, it’s downhill from thereon in as an alien Jim Caviezel crash lands in the Viking age to hunt a space dragon that threatens to gobble up all the pointy-hatted Scandinavians. Needless to say he saves the day, without which we probably wouldn’t have had long beards, the Jorvik Viking Centre or Thor, which is certainly worth cheering.
Paul seems like your standard beer-swilling, wise-cracking lad with a way with the ladies, but he’s also an alien on the run. Fortunately (for us), he teams up with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the brains behind the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, in this brilliant buddy film as they romp across the USA evading the authorities. Paul doesn’t really bring much to aid or assist humanity as a whole but he’d probably be a laugh down the pub, especially if he brings his mates.
Yes, Superman is a super hero, but he’s also an alien sent to Earth by his parents shortly before the demise of his home planet Krypton. Upon learning how to control his super strength he’s able to thwart thieves, divert nuclear missiles, shore up the San Andreas Fault, reverse time and, let us not forget, save cats from trees. And to think he did it all hiding his identity behind a pair of thick-rimmed specs.
Mars Attacks! (1996) Official Trailer #1 – Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan Sci-Fi Comedy (YouTube/Movieclips Trailer Vault)
So yeah, Martians swapping our heads onto a Chihuahua’s body, vaporising our world leaders and, horror of horror, attempting to kill Tom Jones, isn’t one to be welcomed, but it is unquestionably one of the funniest alien movies ever made. And for that reason we welcome our new alien overlords…
Alexander is the Online Editor at BBC Science Focus and is the one that keeps sciencefocus.com looking shipshape and Bristol fashion. He has been toying around with news, technology and science on internet for well over a decade, and sports a very fetching beard.