Independence Day And 17 Other Alien Invasion Movies And How To Watch Them

The White House in Independence Day
(Image credit: Fox / Disney)

Some of the best horror movies, a few of the most exciting disaster movies, and even a good number of Hollywood’s most thought-provoking social commentaries share one distinct element: flying saucers descending from beyond the clouds to put humanity to the ultimate test. Of course, not all alien invasion movies involve that trope, as some depict extra-terrestrials as more cunning intellects who infiltrate society with human disguises or even as kindly visitors who just want to learn more about us. We cover them all in this list of classics – some of which are also included on our list of the all-time best sci-fi movies – that will leave you haunted by the question, "Are we alone?"

Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Independence Day (1996)

It may be named after a day honoring America's liberation, but director Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie extravaganza depicts it as one bleak moment in, not just the US but, the Earth's history. The star-studded Independence Day cast features Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and more as an ensemble of interconnected people affected by trying to fight the threat of aliens in some big-ass flying saucers.

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Daniel Kaluuya in Nope.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Nope (2022)

After tackling subjects of race and class in his first two acclaimed directorial efforts, Academy Award winner Jordan Peele aimed to comment on America’s obsession with spectacle with his own contribution to the alien invasion genre, Nope. Arguably the best horror movie of 2022, the exciting thriller stars Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as siblings trying to catch evidence of something otherworldly that has been abducting horses from their ranch.

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Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able Monsters

(Image credit: Magnet)

Monsters (2010)

While most alien invasion movies focus on the events surrounding invasion itself, Monsters is one of a few notable examples on this list that depicts the aftermath. The feature film debut of Gareth Edwards – who went on to helm 2014’s Godzilla, one of the best Star Wars movies (Rogue One), and the upcoming dystopian thriller, The Creator – is a tense, striking, romantic adventure following a journalist (played by Scoot McNairy) and a tourist (played by Whitney Able) through dangerous terrain years after bizarre creatures inhabited Earth.

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Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick as The Vast of Night

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

The Vast Of Night (2020)

Sometimes the most intriguing alien movies have less to do with the aliens themselves, such as this Amazon Prime original movie starring Jake Horowitz and  Sierra McCormick as teens investigating an ominous sound they hear over the radio one night in a small town in 1950s Texas. Told in real time at an absorbing pace, first-time director Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night is a clever Cold War era commentary that I imagine would have made Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling proud.

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Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin.

(Image credit: StudioCanal)

Under The Skin (2013)

While alien movies are already strange by topic alone, Under the Skin is an especially weird cinematic experience for co-writer and director Jonathan Glazer’s provocative and cerebral approach to commenting on human nature through an otherworldly perspective. Also one of the best horror movies distributed by A24, this adaptation of Michael Farber’s novel stars a striking Scarlett Johansson as an alien who takes human form to prey on the desires of unsuspecting men in the United Kingdom.

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Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker in Slither

(Image credit: Universal)

Slither (2006)

Before James Gunn became a household name by making one of the most entertaining space adventures in recent memory (and one of the best Marvel movies), Guardians of the Galaxy, he made his feature-length directorial debut with this instant classic horror-comedy that is as endearingly funny as it is aggressively disgusting. Slither stars Nathan Fillion as the sheriff of a small town that becomes overrun with parasitic alien worms turning its citizens into grotesque mutants.

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The Evolution cast

(Image credit: Sony)

Evolution (2001)

Another one of the more lighthearted alien invasion movies we have covered here is even more of a straightforward comedy, but stands out by playing its sci-fi elements straight. Evolution – one of the best movies from the late Ivan Reitman – features an all star cast (David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore, and Seann William Scott) trying to save the world from microscopic creatures from outer space that quickly grow into a more monstrous threat.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

I have always believed the greatest science fiction stories reflect reality beneath the fantastic spectacle and director Robert Wise's iconic classic – one of several sci-fi movies with an RT score above 90% – is one such picture. In a unique twist on the alien invasion stereotype way ahead of its time, an otherworldly visitor in human form named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his robot companion, Gort (Lock Martin), come to Earth, not as a threat to humanity, but in hopes to save it. Based on a short story by Harry Bates, The Day the Earth Stood Still was recognized for its social commentary at the 1952 Golden Globes, where it was awarded the prize of Best Film Promoting International Understanding.

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The stars of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

(Image credit: Allied Artists Pictures)

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Jack Finney's thriller serial has been adapted into five movies and one of the best is still director Don Siegel's 1956 original, starring Kevin McCarthy. One of many classic horror movies rated higher than 90% on RT, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is especially acclaimed for how it served as a reflection of the Cold War paranoia that plagued the United States around the time of its release. While Finney always insisted the political allegory was never intentional, it is easy to see how the story of emotionless alien duplicates replacing humans could be taken as a warning that the person you think is a friend could be your enemy.

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Boy Opening door in Close Encounters of the Third kind

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

In 1964, a 17-year-old Steven Spielberg independently produced and released his first directorial feature, Firelight, about human beings who believe the strange sightings they find in the sky are aliens. After hitting it big with Jaws in 1975, the filmmaker took the idea of Firelight, added a Hollywood-level budget, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind was born. Now regarded as one of Spielberg’s best movies, this timeless, spectacular drama – whose title refers to the first-hand witnessing of a UFO and its inhabitants – deservingly won Vilmos Zsigmond an Academy Award for his gorgeous photography of the film's ahead-of-its-time visual effects.

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An example of what the Thing can do in The Thing.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Thing (1982)

Speaking of Spielberg and aliens, the filmmaker's hugely successful E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has been openly blamed by director John Carpenter for the commercial and critical failure of his much darker creature feature which came out just two weeks after the family film. Fortunately, The Thing is now regarded as one of the best horror remakes of all time for its more faithful interpretation of the suspenseful, paranoia-fueled source material and timelessly convincing practical effects. It never fails to put a lasting chill down your spine watching Kurt Russell (in one of his most badass roles) struggle to figure out which of his fellow Antarctic researchers is a shape-shifting alien in disguise.

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Roddy Piper in They Live

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

They Live (1988)

Six years after The Thing, John Carpenter took a comparatively less earnest, but still undeniably creepy, approach to the "alien enemy hiding in plain sight" concept for his adaptation of Ray Nelson's short story, "Eight O'Clock in the Morning." They Live stars former wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as a drifter who discovers, with the help of a special pair of glasses, that many of the people around him are not people at all. Unlike the similarly themed Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the underlying social commentary in this film is very much intentional with how the extra-terrestrials' use subliminal messages in media advertisements to manipulate consumers.

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Mel Gibson in Signs

(Image credit: Disney / Touchstone)

Signs (2002)

M. Night Shyamalan has had an uneven career, consisting of a few hits – like his breakout thriller, The Sixth Sense – and a number of misses, such as The Last Airbender. However, I would consider Signs – starring Mel Gibson as a widowed former pastor whose suspicions of alien activity turn out to be all too true – to be one of Shyamalan’s best movies for its deliciously absorbing slow burn and effectively chilling scares. On the other hand, I can understand how some might be a little underwhelmed by the "twist" ending for its reliance on a strange premonition and similarity to the source material of our next entry...

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The War of the Worlds cast

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

War Of The Worlds (2005)

To complete his unofficial trilogy of alien movies, Spielberg opted to make the visitors the clear enemy this time, by way of reinterpreting H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel. Set in modern day, War of the Worlds stars Tom Cruise – giving one of his more underrated performances – as an irresponsible divorced father tasked with protecting his estranged children during a worldwide catastrophe. Depicting the cataclysmic event from a smaller, more personal perspective makes the horror even more effectively thrilling and, to be frank, the Martians’ tripods look pretty awesome.

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John Boyega in Attack the Block

(Image credit: Sony)

Attack The Block (2011)

Before he defended the galaxy as a member of the Rebel Alliance, Star Wars actor John Boyega defended his and his friends' South London apartment building against a savage extraterrestrial race. Comedian Joe Cornish was nominated for a BAFTA for his debut writing and directing effort about a group of inner city children who team up with a young woman they rob (Jodie Whittaker) after discovering an alien invasion is brewing right in their urban neighborhood. Attack the Blockwhich has a sequel in the works – is not without its comedy, but you will be giggling out of excitement far more often than its jokes.

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Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

In this additional example of Tom Cruise's attempts to save the planet from aliens, he plays William Cage – a cowardly soldier who's reluctantly pulled into combat against the squid-like creatures that have invaded much of the planet. Fortunately, Cage has been incidentally imbued with the power of spontaneous resurrection every time he dies, which resets the day, allowing him enough time to train with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to master his fighting skills and defeat our non-human enemy. Edge of Tomorrow, based on the manga All You Need Is Kill, is a fun, action-packed time-loop movie favorite that has since earned a cult following and an upcoming sequel that has been in development hell for a while.

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Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams in Arrival

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Arrival (2016)

Direct, irrefutable contact with extraterrestrials would, likely, drive the human race into an immediate state of panic and confusion, but director Denis Villeneuve's unique sci-fi drama, Arrival, imagines the world responding with a question: what is their purpose here and how do we figure that out? That is what linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), are recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to figure out. This Oscar-winning adaptation of Tim Chiang's short story, "Story of Your Life," is a gripping masterpiece with an ingenious ending that puts the humanity back into alien movies.

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John Krasinski in A Quiet Place.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The A Quiet Place Movies (2018, 2021)

If you have never given yourself the opportunity to watch any great silent movies, these inventive, pulse-pounding thrillers might be a good starting point. Real-life spouses Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also co-writes and directs) play a married couple who, to protect their children, must live in complete silence after the world has become overrun with blind, sound sensitive, monsters seemingly from a distant planet. However, none of that is nearly as important as the relentless, raw emotion that both A Quiet Place and its satisfying follow-up, A Quiet  Place Part II brilliantly invoke by subtly forcing you not to make a sound.

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Stream A Quiet Place Part II on Paramount+.
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A congressional hearing blowing the whistle on alleged alien activity – according to CBS News – brought increased interest to the topic of life from other planets in July 2023. We don't know about you, but that makes us want to prepare for any potential strange encounters by revisiting these classic alien invasion movies.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.