Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Alien Films Commentary

ALIENS IN FILM: A COMMENTARY by Carolyn Terpstra



Humans on Earth, beware! An advanced alienrace has arrived in a fleet of flying saucers to destroy the planetor invade human bodies in a collaboration to take over mankind. These deadly extra-terrestrial aliens, usually grotesque andparasitic creatures, are conspiring to unleash unspeakable terrorthroughout our small towns and large cities. Mankind must finda way to defend itself and fight back against the alien invasion. Stay tuned for more!

From the 1950s to the 1990s, alien filmshave followed the same general plot lines: aliens invade earth,take over mankind, and humans fight back. In movie after movie,Hollywood has depicted aliens as unfriendly and unstoppable, threateningthe utter annihilation of mankind. Movies such as They CameFrom Beyond Space (1967), Invaders from Mars (1986),War of the Worlds (1988), and Alien Terminator (1996)have more or less dined off each other. Each carries the stereotypicalalien plot. One can almost be guaranteed that an alien film willcontain an Earth invasion, flying saucers, body snatches, andassaulted scientists.

But what makes aliens such money-making monsters? For decades, movie-goers everywhere have been intrigued withthe idea that aliens exist and humans have the superiority toconquer these hideous beasts. Hollywood has capitalized on ourterror of destruction, conquest, and mind-controlling conformityby these invincible forces of the unknown. And it works. Infamousfilms like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), CloseEncounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Independence Day(1996) have been number one box-office hits at the theaters. Furthermore, we tend to make heros out of the actors who can conquerthese aliens on the screen. In the 1980s, Sigourney Weaver emergedas America’s favorite alien heroine, and in the 1990s, Will Smithprotects all humans from the scum of the earth.

Nevertheless, each decade of film-makingcan be distinguished by its emphasis on different aspects of aliens. In the 1950s, alien films were marked by their near-hystericalfascination with outer space and flying saucers. Hollywood producedsuch movies as Killers from Space (1954), Earth vs.The Flying Saucers (1956), and I Married a Monster fromOuter Space (1958). The films of the 1960s and 1970s werebased on alien invasions of human bodies. Extra-terrestrial alienscame to Earth in The Incredible Invasion (1968), Endof the World (1977), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978). And during the 1980s, we started to sympathize with thealiens. Suddenly, these formerly hostile invaders became moreemotionally “human” by offering spiritual friendships. Aliens befriended humans in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial(1982), Mysterious Two (1982), Cocoon (1985) and”Aliens Next Door” (1989).

However, the 1990s brought a whole new eraof alien films-politics became involved. Washington D.C. wasthreatened with destruction, and dozens of top-secret governmentagencies and alien-experimentation compounds suddenlydeveloped. Famous movie hits like Mortal Kombat (1995),Independence Day (1996), Contact (1997), and Menin Black (1997) gave their government bureaucrats great PR. In addition, higher-paid Hollywood actors joined the previouslylesser-known forces to fight the terrors of extra-terrestrials. In the past several years, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Nicholson, JodieFoster, Glenn Close, William Baldwin, and Sharon Stone have becomealien-hungry.

Nobody doubts that extraterrestrial alienshave become the preferred monsters in films leading into the nextcentury. And as long as movie-goers pay, seemingly invinciblealiens will be invading movie theaters everywhere. Humans onEarth beware indeed!

Aliens