Independence Day: Resurgence and its predecessor are good examples of how you can take something terrifying like conquest from extraterrestrial beings and turn it into crowd-pleasing fun. There have been scores of alien invasion movies since cinema started turning dreams into reality, but I wanted to highlight ten of my favorite ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. These were culled down from a list of thirty candidates and I guarantee that one you love was on there, but these are ones that stick out in my brain. You’ll also notice some classics are missing but that’s because they were a little too straight-faced. All these movies give me a big grin and I hope they can do the same to you.
The Blob (1958)
The ’50s were the heyday of the alien invader. After the Kenneth Arnold sighting in 1947, America was UFO crazy. At the tail end of the decade, a little movie called The Blob came out and replaced the typical big-headed extraterrestrial with an organic gunk that devoured everything it touched, growing bigger and bigger with each subsequent meal. This was tough guy Steve McQueen’s breakout performance, but here he’s a happy-go-lucky teenager that tries to warn his small town of the impending blobocalypse. The movie is a swingin’ dose of drive-in goofiness that still holds up today. The 1988 remake is a must-see for effects fans but it lacks the charm of the original.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Hollywood’s reigning crapmeister Ed Wood — who got a great biopic from Tim Burton — will forever be remembered for this disasterpiece of ineptitude. This story of resurrected bodies and Solaronite bombs is a typical anti-war/anti-atomic bomb message movie filtered through the cheapest sets, flattest actors, doofiest effects, and plenty of stock footage. This is a rite of passage for anyone who loves bad movies, and it’s recommended that you either nab the RiffTrax commentary track or get together with a bunch of friends and provide your own jokes. The movie will supply you with oodles of material, I promise.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
With a title like that, you know this movie isn’t aiming for any Oscar nominations. This playground pitch of a concept works primarily because of the excellent work by the Chiodo brothers, effects creators on such movies as Team America: World Police and Critters. They never let the movie get bogged down with too much character work or sensible plot. Who needs that when you have shadow puppets eating people and victims wrapped up in cotton candy cocoons? The opening theme by The Dickies is genuinely catchy and the movie is worth it for how committed it is to its one-note idea. And those prosthetic clown heads are pretty damn impressive.
They Live (1988)
John Carpenter‘s heavy-handed social allegory is intriguing because it depicts an alien invasion that has already taken place. We didn’t even know that our entire world had been conquered by ruthless extraterrestrials who now walk among us in disguise. In another world, They Live isn’t on this list because it’s played with utter seriousness. Thanks to an unashamedly badass performance from leading man Roddy Piper and a gleefully anarchic attitude from Carpenter, They Live is a fist-bumping slice of anti-establishment awesomeness. Put on your sunglasses and enjoy the ride.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
In the same year as Independence Day was released, Tim Burton adapted this trading card series (you heard that right) in an attempt to lovingly spoof such sci-fi classics as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and War of the Worlds. The deliberately shrill tone of the movie can be grating for some, but it’s far too knowingly stupid to hate. A stellar cast and shockingly great effects work make this a real treasure when it comes to live-action cartoon movies. Out of all the entries on this list, this is by far the outright silliest.
The Faculty (1998)
Probably one of the better post-Scream teen horror movies, this high school riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers is lovingly referential to the genre while also being a fairly effective paranoid thriller a la John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing from Another World. The young cast is likable and believable as disparate teens who discover that their school is being taken over by an alien menace. Throw in some notable adult actors who are having a blast — Jon Stewart gets stabbed in the eye with a pen in this movie. How can you not love that? — and a surprisingly cool monster that shows up for the climax, and you’ve got a recipe for a slick, slightly satirical sci-fi screamfest.
Before he was making us fall in love with the Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn made this raucous splatstick flick that takes a bucketload of inspiration from Fred Dekker’s 1986 cult classic, Night of the Creeps. Gunn’s version has a more balanced story though and has a killer cast of players to boot; Nathan Fillion as the hunky police chief and Michael Rooker as the possessed Grant Grant are standouts, especially when Grant Grant transforms into a wormy version of Society‘s final creature. This one might be hard to stomach for some, but it’s a gonzo bit of gross-out delight for the right audience.
Attack the Block (2011)
This British creature feature is probably best known for putting John Boyega on J.J. Abrams‘ radar, but the movie itself is a thrilling and propulsive monster flick that balances its horror with plenty of laughs and heart. The teenage hooligans that carry the film are all thoroughly endearing, and the simplistic alien design is one of the best in recent memory. Fans of The Force Awakens need to check this one out, but so does everyone else. This is a classic in the making.
The World’s End (2013)
Another trip across the pond gives us Edgar Wright‘s final installment in his Cornetto trilogy. Another slight take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers provides the framework for a touching story about childhood, friendship, unfulfilled dreams, and a whole lot of gooey madness. Wright regulars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost continue to be an unstoppable comedy duo, and Wright’s ever-present manic energy doesn’t lose any of its magic. It’s a little headier than its siblings but it has just as many laugh worthy moments as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Though it looked like another standard alien invasion action flick, Edge of Tomorrow actually had an ace up its sleeve: humor. Applying the Groundhog Day idea to a story about alien invaders seems uninspired at first, but Edge of Tomorrow plays with the inherent absurdity of the concept quite well. Tom Cruise always has loads of charisma to spare, but his role as Major William Cage isn’t the usual hero we’re used to seeing him play. Not to mention that leading lady Emily Blunt is straight up awesome as Sgt. Vrataski, and most of the action scenes maintain a playfulness that’s usually missing in big blockbuster fare these days. If ever a movie deserved a strong cult following, it’s Edge of Tomorrow.