Saturday, February 23, 2013

Top 5 Movie Guide: Alien Encounter Movies

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we look to this weekend's "Dark Skies" and compile some of our favorite Alien Encounter Movies! From the same producer as films like "Paranormal Activity", "Insidious", and "Sinister", "Dark Skies" is a supernatural thriller that follows a young family living in the suburbs. But their safe and peaceful home quickly unravels as they begin witnessing a series of disturbing events. When it becomes clear that the family is being targeted by an unimaginably terrifying and deadly force, they take matters in their own hands to solve the mystery of what is after their family.


Is it aliens? Is it a paranormal entity? You'll just have to watch the film and find out for yourself! For us, discussions of the film led to this list. We haven't done a true alien genre list to this point, and as there are so many great ones out there worth discussing, that we thought it a fine time to do so. For the category, we tried to center it around themes from "Dark Skies" as much as possible, but as is generally the case, we ultimately left the category fairly open and let the individual writers define their parameters. We knew the films had to be about aliens visiting planet earth though. There aren't a lot of alien movies out there that don't involve earth, but nonetheless, it was something we tried to stick to. Outside of that, it was open for interpretation.

Hit the jump to see just how each writer defined their own Top 5 list, and which films made the cut!


Alex Schopp -
While I generally tend to stray from creating other parameters to refine my lists, with so many different alien movies that I love, I decided to take a closer page from this week's "Dark Skies" and limit my picks only to films that featured conflict. Obviously there is conflict in any alien movie that exists, but I was looking more for a battle between the races. So unfortunately, no "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial", etc.

     1. Signs (2002)
There are times when I want to put this in my Top 10 of All-Time. Great performances, great tension, great music; the watchability factor is so high with this film. I could probably watch this film every month and still get sucked in, feeling the same unease that these characters do. This is one of the more personal, character-driven alien films that I've seen.
     2. The Thing (1982)
Maybe the best use of practical effects ever in a film? It has to at least be in that discussion. This is a great concept for an alien invasion, where you don't know who's still human and who's been taken over. This has been a common theme for other alien films - and even this one is a remake - but this is the most effective version I've seen. I love the isolation, and the constant politics in figuring out who you can and cannot trust. Even at the end, are we really sure the day was saved?
     3. War of the Worlds (2005)
This movie continues to climb up my rankings as the years go by. The sound effects for the alien pods is what pulls you in (listen to it in surround sound and try to not have it curl your stomach every time), but Cruise really shines as an absent parent constantly risking his life to protect his children. Also, as is the case in just about every Steven Spielberg movie, the cinematography is exquisite.
     4. Predator (1987)
I just re-watched this a few weeks ago after purchasing the blu-ray. I was amazed at how well it held up. The story in itself is great: take a group of tough guys, throw them in a forest with an invisible alien and see who wins. It's just a fun action movie that rarely slows down and doesn't waste its time with many outside plot elements. It is what it is, it embraces it, and it succeeds. Plus, Schwarzenegger and his foe dropping their weapons at the end and settling things like men is so epic!
     5. District 9 (2009)
This is the film on my least that has the least actual violence in it, but the struggle between human and alien is just as strong as in any of these other selections. There is still plenty of violence throughout, but this is more of a political war than anything. Regardless, I felt the conflicts strong enough to include the film on this list. What's different about this film is it flips around our perspective. We feel for these aliens. I can't think of another film that gives me the same reaction to these creatures.

Ben Foutch -

     1. Predator (1987)
Is there a better B-movie dressed as an A-level film? This mesh of action/sci/horror holds up surprisingly well due to a solid production stemming from excellent location, casting, directing, and an iconic screen monster. The music is still immersive, the one-liners pack the same punch, and the pacing remains immaculate - it's easily one of my favorite films.
     2. The Thing (1982)
I didn't want two Carpenter films to dominate spots on the list, so if you're familiar with his work, it's probably obvious what didn't make the cut. Regardless, this is a classic horror/sci that pulls you right into the isolated location and suppresses any kind of hope with it's droning sound score. Plus, this is a prime example of what makes practical effects so special.
     3. Signs (2002)
I respect this film because it focuses on the psychological family dynamic, rather than the alien invasion. This lends more emotional weight and actually heightens suspense when things start cookin'.
     4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
I remember watching this as a young boy and feeling overwhelmed by a sense of wonder and intrigue.
     5. Fire in the Sky (1993)
I remember watching this as a young boy and feeling overwhelmed by fear and anxiety.

Derek Clem -
I wanted to narrow my list down to primarily abductions.

     1. Fire in the Sky (1993)
One of the most terrifying movies of my childhood. When I was little I wasn't afraid of ghosts or monsters at night, I went to bed afraid of aliens, thanks to this movie.
     2. Galaxy Quest (1999)
One of my favorite Sci-Fi Comedies. It presents a unique motive on the abductors part and an interesting reluctant willingness on the part of the abducted.
     3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
I know it's discussed all the time, but the fact that the main character is willing to just go ahead and forget his family behind is what makes this movie so great. That sense of overpowering wonder is pretty magical.
     4. The X Files (1998)
This is the only movie my uncle owns, and he's not even an X-Phile. But you can guarantee if I go to visit him, this is what I'm watching, as there are no other options. That's not me complaining though; it's a great movie!
     5. War of the Worlds (2005)
This is one of those I liked when I first watched it in the theater but didn't fall in love with until a second viewing years later. Very intense! It's one of those movies that reminds me, even though Tom Cruise is crazy, that he's still an awesome actor. Spielberg is a sci-fi master!

Nathan Hinds -
At first I though this would be the hardest list I've done, because so many movies were popping up that I loved. But as I looked at it more closely, there were exactly five movies that stood way above the rest and it turned out to be really easy.

     1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Not only is this on my all-time Top 10 list, and easily number one in this category, since it's Oscar weekend I also want to point out it's one of the biggest Best Picture snubs of ever. I mean, no offense to "Gandhi", but it blows my mind people voted for that over E.T. I feel like I remember someone telling me that the director of "Gandhi" actually said E.T. should have won during his acceptance speech. I've tried to look for that clip but have never been able to find it.
     2. Men In Black (1997)
One of my all-time favorite sci-fi movies. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are the perfect duo. This movie has aged incredibly well.
     3. Space Jam (1996)
Talk about another movie that has aged incredibly well, at least for me. When I first went to make this list I was sure this would be #1 on my list, but that is probably due to the fact that the star of the film, Michael Jordan (the greatest basketball player of all-time), just had his 50th birthday on Sunday. I quickly realized it wasn't #1 but I can still watch this anytime and be thoroughly entertained. Plus, that soundtrack!
     4. Superman Returns (2006)
I still feel weird referring to Superman as an alien - I guess that probably has to due with the fact that he has the word "man" in his name - but my love for this movie grows more and more each time I watch it. It's too bad how so many people don't understand why this movie is so good.
     5. Transformers (20007)
When you look at this film's RottenTomato score, you will see a shining example of the completely unfair negative bias critics have towards Michael Bay. The fact that this film only has a 57% right now is asinine. This movie is so entertaining, the visual effects are spectacular, and it's got heart to boot. There really is nothing not to like about this movie. It's awesome.

Tracy Allison -

     1. Another Earth (2011)
This was my favorite movie of 2011. I love the way it blended an absolutely heart wrenching emotional drama with a well-crafted sci-fi film. Both aspects were effective. All I’ll say is that the movie pertains to what the title implies; there seems to be another Earth that can be seen with the naked eye. The feeling that this looming planet imposes can be felt throughout in the tone. And I like that it poses the question of a literal and visible alternate reality. There were several scenes in this movie that were absolutely bone chilling and the feeling stuck with me for days.
     2. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Like millions of others, this movie is etched in the framework of my childhood. Would I be the person I am today without this movie? The connection, both mental and emotional, that binds Elliott and E.T. is so beautiful. As soon as I turn on this film, there are tears in my eyes and they remain there for almost the entire movie. Although I've seen it countless times, that doesn't change the fact that I’m always scared about what will happen in the end.
     3. Signs (2002)
This movie is beautiful because it puts you on edge, you find yourself waiting, just like the characters in the film, and wondering what will happen, as they do too. This movie’s eerie feeling makes you feel as though someone is standing behind you the entire time. It’s constantly building and the reason why it was so effective for me was that even when the movie ended, I felt like the story and the suspense were still out there somewhere, only not on film for us to see. The memorable and very emotional “last supper” scene is such a weird and striking scene. It feels as if you’re a voyeur peering through a window upon an extremely personal family scene.
     4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The intriguing thing about this movie was that the alien encounters in this film resulted in sort of “chosen ones” among the frightened and curious human population. These auspicious few become obsessed in a way that completely changes their lives, much to the detriment of those around them. I particularly enjoy the way that the aliens and humans communicate in this Spielberg classic.
     5. District 9 (2009)
Even if this isn't accurate depiction of what would happen if wayward aliens came upon Earth, it feels as if it is. The mockumentary style and realistic lighting especially lend to this feeling. Even the harsh sunlight in the film seems to shed an ugly light on the nastiness transpiring between the humans as they “help” these aliens. The creatures are depicted disgustingly, thanks to their actions and appearance, but their eyes and story still served to capture my empathy.

There we have it, folks! Another strong grouping of films, where 15 different titles were selected. Again, each writer had a different film in their #1 spot, showing just how deep this category is. There were a lot of repeats this week, but none in extraordinary amounts. No film appears on five lists or even on four lists, and only two films appears on three: "Signs" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (one of three different Steven Spielberg movies to appear on at least two lists this week), maybe the quintessential alien movie, is a great film about character, family, and wonder. It's a beautiful film and, while slower in pace than most alien movies you'll see today, if you haven't checked this one out, definitely do so. "Signs", on the other hand, is a much newer film (shoot, already 11 years old now...), that deals with many of the same family and character issues - though there's an extra sense of fear added this time around.

As for the films receiving two selections this week, there were six titles in all: "Fire in the Sky", "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial", "Predator", "The Thing", "War of the Worlds", and "District 9". There's such a variety there that we don't have the time to go into each of them, but there are great descriptions above, and if you're by chance diving into the alien genre for the first time and have missed a few of these titles up until now, these would all be great, quality picks to start with.

As always, we hope that each of the selections above helps to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this genre has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!