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The 50 best alien movies of all time
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The 50 best alien movies of all time

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A newly described glass sponge species, dubbed the "E.T. sponge,” has two holes in its body that reminded researchers of the alien from the movie.

Humanity’s ideas of alien existence often says more about us than the little green men we envision. Our conception of life beyond Earth reflects our collective hopes and fears about the unknown and about technology, as well as our knowledge of the larger universe — which changes dramatically as time goes on.

No medium has more vividly captured and utilized scenarios of extraterrestrial life better than film. Aliens first appeared on screen in 1902, in Georges Méliès’s “A Trip to the Moon.” After 1947 — in which civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold’s UFO sightings and the discovery of a mysterious “flying disc” near Roswell, New Mexico occurred — a subculture devoted to otherworldly creatures called “ufology” emerged, leaving a lasting mark on cinema.

As America dealt with the Red Scare in the 1950s, influential alien films like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “War of the Worlds” used intergalactic characters to reflect citizens’ fear of Communism and other “outsiders,” as well as humanity's penchant to destroy itself from within. Extraterrestrials were also common sci-fi horror monsters, ranging from the titular alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic to the shape-shifting arctic creature in “The Thing.” However, in the 1970s and 1980s, friendlier and sometimes lovable aliens were also reflected in movies such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” and “Cocoon.” These days, otherworldly characters appear in a wide range of roles, from the alien force that mutates biological creatures in “Annihilation” to the more kindly, time-bending heptapods of “Arrival.”

With the wide number of alien movies throughout the history of film, how can viewers determine which extraterrestrial features are most worth their time? To answer that question, Stacker compiled data (as of Sept. 2, 2020) on all sci-fi movies on Letterboxd, the film-based social media network, and selected the top 50 alien movies, ranked according to their average Letterboxd score. To qualify, aliens had to be main characters or central to the plot of the film.

Here are the best alien movies of all time, starting at No. 50 and counting down to No. 1.

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I’m limiting myself to one James Bond favorite. “Casino Royale” introduced us to a new 007, so it contains lots of Daniel Craig, as well as the signature gun-barrel bit, a sly hint at what’s going on with Eva Green’s character and playful animation that nods to the lethal card game at the movie’s climax — all to the tune of my controversial choice for best Bond theme, the late Chris Cornell’s ferocious “You Know My Name.”

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No surprise that a movie this fast and funny makes sure even the credits don’t waste a second. A parody of 1970s-style police shows, the sequence is shot from right behind the flashing light atop a cop car. The car zooms down a city street but then veers onto a sidewalk, through a car wash, onto a roller coaster and toward terrified bystanders. Everything you need to know about the movie is set up: It’s deadpan, sharply observed, hilarious and relentless.

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This series joins the Bond films as one where the audience knows they need to be there for the inventive credits. All of ’em are dandy, but the first is the best because it introduces Henry Mancini’s slinky theme and has so much fun with typography.

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Most of the words in this quirky comedy are in French, even in the credits, but it doesn’t matter because the various jobs are so cleverly visualized as a camera roams around objects in a dingy basement. The cinematographer’s name is written on a camera and the screenwriters’ on a page of a script.

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As a variation on Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” plays, we’re shown the villain’s fingers as he reads a book about crime, thumbs through creepy photographs, cuts up a dollar bill and (I think) slices off the tips of his own fingers. There’s no blood, but Cooper’s jittery editing, ominous images and percussive music suit director David Fincher’s bleak vision.

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The Marvel logo is bound to send audiences in one direction, so this parody of superhero movies immediately takes them in another direction by spoofing the idea of credits. Instead of “A Tim Miller Film,” we get “Some Douchebag’s Film.” It’s not “Starring Ryan Reynolds” but “Starring God’s Perfect Idiot,” accompanied by Reynolds’ “Sexiest Man Alive” magazine cover. It continues skewering tropes, through “British Villain” and “Moody Teen,” accompanied by a camera snaking through a violent scene and Juice Newton’s soaring “Angel of the Morning.”

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