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.