2020’s summer blockbuster season has been put on hold because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the movies from the past that we flocked out of the sun and into air conditioning for. Welcome to The Ringer’s Return to Summer Blockbuster Season, where we’ll feature different summer classics each week.
In the chaotic clusterfuck we’re calling “2020,” the Pentagon is hoping we’ll bury the lede on UFOs. I’m not kidding: According to The New York Times, in the coming months, a covert program in the Office of Naval Intelligence called the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force will have some of its findings declassified to the public. While there isn’t a direct correlation between strange aerial phenomena and actual evidence of extraterrestrial beings, more UFO intel is going to be catnip for the kind of people who wanted to Storm Area 51 as a bit—and for anyone interested in the possibility that we aren’t alone in this universe. (Read: me.)
Would an alien encounter be friendly or hostile, and would it really matter if the revelation of extraterrestrial contact would bring about complete social collapse? It’s impossible to know—and to be clear, there is zero proof that aliens exist … yet!—but when thinking of humans interacting with aliens, my mind can’t help but turn to the birthday party scene in Signs.
M. Night Shyamalan is as hit-or-miss as any filmmaker working today, but Signs is a genuine triumph. (Dare I say, better than The Sixth Sense?) The movie does an excellent job of slowly building tension, delaying the inevitable appearance of its otherworldly antagonists—and even then, initially doing so through shaky footage relayed on a news channel being watched by Yoked Minor League Baseball Flameout Joaquin Phoenix. I’ll never forget how the birthday party scene scared the absolute shit out of me when I watched Signs for the first time. More than anything I reacted, well, just like Yoked Minor League Baseball Flameout Joaquin Phoenix:
As we’ve now established: Signs rips. Good ass film; the fact it was parodied to death in Scary Movie 3 is a testament to the resonance it had in the genre in the early 2000s. But if we’re to separate the quality of the movie from the aliens themselves, it’s hard to deny that the Signs aliens might be some of the weakest extraterrestrials we’ve ever gotten on the big screen. I mean, we get all this terrifying buildup—one of them tries to abduct Mel Gibson’s son at the end—and it turns out their deadly weakness is … water?!
Aliens are coming to invade our planet, but don’t worry, as long you’ve got a case of Aquafina on hand you can scare them off your property. Imagine going to war against an alien race using goddamn super soakers. It’s a bizarrely contrived resolution to an otherwise solid premise—count “water is their weakness” among Shyamalan’s worst plot twists. It seems, then, in the extremely unlikely scenario that aliens exactly like the ones in Signs invade our planet, we’d probably do a good job of avoiding human extinction. Just raze those dudes with super scooper planes.
For the most part, though, if we’re going off of how aliens are depicted in movies, extraterrestrials would absolutely wreck us—or assimilate into society without us even knowing a thing. (Chances of us facing a docile alien, like E.T., seem about the same as the odds of Nathan Peterman throwing a touchdown pass in an NFL game.) So, below—in no particular order, and in honor of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force—are the aliens from other films that mankind should least want to encounter on our planet.
Xenomorphs, the Alien Franchise
With acid for blood, tongues that have their own mouths, and the need to use our bodies as vessels in which to lay eggs, everything about xenomorphs is bad news. They are so lethal that humans would willingly team up with a goddamn Predator—a species that hunts people for sport and loves collecting our skulls—so long as it means xenomorphs are on the losing end of the battle.
The good news is that xenomorphs, for the most part, are relegated to the far reaches of space, and any idiot who stumbles upon them—see: every character in Prometheus—will be killed before these aliens reach a high population zone. Also, we’ve still got the biggest threat to them on our side: pissed off Sigourney Weaver.
Alien Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Imagine you’re a drunk Scottish bloke and someone who looks like the actress Scarlett Johansson lures you back to her place. Unfortunately, like a siren from outer space, all who follow her are doomed to be submerged in black goo and saved for later consumption. The setup of Under the Skin—kind of an arthouse spin on Species but, like, actually good—seems like it could lead to countless mysterious disappearances because the hungry alien looks like Scarlett Johansson. Oh, and that black goo? It’s pretty fucking scary.
Your only hope is that the creature has an alien crisis of faith, spending so much time in her human skin that she begins to empathize with her apparent food source. (Spoiler alert?) Of course, other questions would emerge: How many aliens with gooey lairs are hiding among us? Are they all conventionally attractive? Do all of them resemble famous actors? Is there an Alien Zac Efron having a human buffet in Ireland right now?
Pod People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
What’s scarier than thinking about an alien posing as a human to gobble up some stragglers? How about dealing with a species that replaces humans and gets rid of pesky things like emotions? Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a strong contender for the scariest movie of its decade, ratcheting up the idea of dangerous groupthink to a terrifying extreme.
The aliens themselves, which first take over their human counterparts while they’re sleeping, might have a thing or two to learn about canine anatomy, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers makes a compelling case that we’d be gone before we even knew what was happening. (Or, more accurately, once our heads hit the pillow.) And if you did know what was happening, chances are Donald Sutherland would just scream in your face until all hope is lost. It’s not what you want.
The Ruling Class, They Live
Actually, we’re already living out John Carpenter’s movie.
The Thing, The Thing
OK, we’re probably not living out this John Carpenter movie. But the titular Thing is the stuff of nightmares: a creature that can perfectly imitate another organism. As the Kurt Russell–led group of Antarctic researchers finds out the hard way, the Thing can hide in plain sight. The Thing can be anyone. The Thing can, in the very worst of circumstances, turn what was once a human torso into a gaping alien maw.
The Thing’s ambiguous ending only adds to the film’s staying power. A whole horde of Things, in theory, would make quick work of our species unless we keyed in on its big apparent weakness: fire. (Call it the anti-Signs aliens.) Whether that weakness extends to heat in general is unclear—this whole movie never leaves the chilly continent—but given our own capacity for self-destruction, global warming might wipe us about before the Thing does.
Those Probe-Loving Assholes, Fire in the Sky
One of the classic narratives about extraterrestrials having already visited our planet is the alien abduction. Several people claim to have been abducted, and while all abduction accounts are highly dubious at best, no movie made the notion of being probed by another species more horrifying than Fire in the Sky.
An adaptation from Arizona logger Travis Walton’s account of being abducted in 1975, the film is mostly interested in the psychological toll of Walton’s suspect ordeal. But rather than stick with ambiguity as to whether this guy was snatched by Martians, Fire in the Sky goes the Traumatic Flashback route with what has to go down as one of the most excruciating alien movie sequences ever made.
The practical effects and nightmarish equipment really sell the terror, as do half the YouTube comments comparing this ordeal to a visit to the dentist. Anyway, here’s hoping insurance covers stuff like this.
The Aliens Who (Quite Relatably) Hate Noise, A Quiet Place
Before we get to the sound-hating aliens, I just wanted to take a moment to remind everyone it’s a miracle that John Krasinski’s character in A Quiet Place survived as long as he did with super-detailed intel like this:
Incredible stuff. It’s unclear how noise-hating aliens came to our planet—perhaps the sequel, which has been delayed till 2021 due to the pandemic, will give us some more answers—but there’s no denying this would be an awful ordeal to live through. New Yorkers are toast, though I’m sure Bill de Blasio would post one final tweet about how great a job the NYPD was doing getting slaughtered by the aliens. And if some Americans think wearing a mask to protect oneself from a global pandemic is an infringement upon their freedom, I can just imagine thousands of idiots claiming they can be as loud as they want up until the moment one of these creatures tears them in half.
The entirety of Earth is slowly enveloped by the mysterious Shimmer. Your cat crossbreeds with a pigeon and lets out ungodly shrieks well into the night. Your local mart is covered in beguiling flora, while patrons are occasionally attacked by a bear that screams like the person it devoured. Every night you have to confront your doppelgänger in an existentially terrifying exploration of the self.
Florida is still mostly unchanged.