The 15 Best Movies About Alien Invasions, Ranked According to Rotten Tomatoes

Movies about disasters – natural or human-made – have been produced since the earliest days of film. As early as 1916, a disaster with an extraterrestrial cause was touted in The End of the World, a Danish film about a passing comet causing chaos and terror on Earth. But most stories about disasters being visited upon our planet from outer space involve aliens, not comets.

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A comet has no agency, no malignant intent… on the other hand, alien invaders want to conquer humans, enslave the world, and consume humanity’s precious resources before laying waste to the entire surface of the planet. What follows are the top 10 alien invasion movies that manage to capture this horror, ranked according to their scores on Rotten Tomatoes.

Updated on July 24, 2023, by Jessie Nguyen:

The sci-fi film genre has long captured the imagination of audiences worldwide, offering a thrilling escape into futuristic worlds and mind-bending concepts. Among its many subgenres, the alien invasion theme holds a special place, thus, it’s always high in demand. There are numerous best alien invasion films that fans should add to their watch list immediately.

15 ‘Earth vs. the Flying Saucers’ (1956)

The White House in Earth vs the Flying Saucers

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

Most definitely a film of its time, 1956’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers made the most of the 1950s obsession with alien spacecraft and helped launch a bevy of similar films all revolving – in a manner of speaking – around flying saucers. In this film, at least, the aliens at first have no intention of invading, but after being met with violence when they first land, retaliate ruthlessly.

RELATED: The Best UFO Movies

Special effects legend Ray Harryhausen created the flying saucers with stop-motion animation that was very effective for its time, one reason why this is still regarded as a seminal and ground-breaking alien invasion film.

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14 ‘War of the Worlds’ (2005)

A martian tripod stands over the city in 'War of the Worlds'

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

The beloved sci-fi action film, War of the Worlds, is Steven Spielberg‘s 2005 version of H. G. Wells‘ classic story. It seems entirely fitting that a director with Spielberg’s ability to make the epic personal should craft a film where the concerns of a single man, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), should focus the attention of the audience while the world around him succumbs to one of the most horrifying and cinematically glorious alien invasions ever put on the big screen.

Although Ferrier’s family life can sometimes seem overly melodramatic, it all makes sense in those scenes where his children are threatened. The escape from the Hudson River ferry, for example, when the giant striding Martian machines wreak havoc and slaughter, must have had even the most jaded sci-fi critic looking for a bigger box of popcorn to hide behind.

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13 ‘Quatermass 2’ (1957)

Man with a mask from Quatermass 2

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%

With a screenplay by Nigel Kneale based on his television series of the same name, 1957’s Quatermass 2 was one of the earliest sci-fi films produced by Britain’s Hammer studios. The film has a straightforward narrative about aliens taking over humans, in this instance to help build and keep secret a giant base to house and protect the invaders.

What makes Quatermass 2 special is the way it uses suspicion and paranoia to propel the narrative along, helping to paper over some gaping holes in the story’s logic and scientific plausibility. All in all, it’s a great deal of fun with several scenes of real horror and growing dread.

12 ‘Cloverfield’ (2008)

Cloverfield’ (2008) (1)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%

Cloverfield is a found footage-style monster thriller film that follows a group of friends in New York City who are documenting a farewell party when a massive monster suddenly attacks the city. The film captures their attempt to survive and navigate the chaos as they make their way through the devastated streets, battling not only the monster but also other terrifying creatures that have been released.RELATED: Uh, ‘Cloverfield’s Slusho Website Just Came Back Online

Cloverfield stands out in its genre for its distinctive use of discovered material, compelling plot, and tense setting. Additionally, the film generates a realistic sense of anxiety for viewers by concentrating on the views of common people caught up in a tragic occurrence. The film’s cryptic marketing materials and viral marketing strategy also increased its appeal and generated interest.

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11 ‘Avatar’ (2009)

'Avatar'

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

Not only has James Cameron‘s 2009 blockbuster become the highest-grossing film of all time, its recently released sequel Avatar: The Way of Water is already the 4th highest-grossing film of all time. And make no mistake, this is one of cinema’s alien invasion films par excellence, it’s just that in this case, the aliens are humans who are bent on conquest and exploitation.

If the story is sometimes a tad predictable, it’s no mean trick to shift an audience’s perceptions so they end up rooting for the blue-skinned Na’vi instead of the equivalent of the colonial marines. Cameron, who wrote as well as directed Avatar, pulls it off in a film where the special effects truly and literally made the world.

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10 ‘Invaders from Mars’ (1953)

Alien from Invaders from Mars 1953

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

For decades, Mars has been a favorite movie setting and origin for alien invasions. H. G. Wells undoubtedly had a lot to do with that, but Hollywood played its part with films like 1953’s Invaders from Mars. Director William Cameron Menzies was first and foremost a production and art designer, and the film’s low budget benefits from his skillful use of color and lighting.

The story, about a Martian vanguard taking over the minds of townsfolk to prepare for a later invasion, played on American Cold War fears of communist infiltrators as much as the flying saucer scare that was reaching its peak about the same time.

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9 ‘Annihilation’ (2018)

Lena investigating an alligator in the Shimmer in 'Annhilation.'
Image via Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

In 2018’s female-led survival thriller Annihilation, it’s all of nature and evolution itself that’s being taken over. It’s not an alien invasion with any malevolent intent as such; even though never fully explained, the story seems to suggest that what arrived on Earth is a life form that – like a virus or bacteria – infects other life forms, reproduces, mutates, evolves, and spreads.RELATED: The Best Sci-Fi Movies That Are Not ‘Metropolis’ or ‘Blade Runner’

Many of the mutated creatures inside its sphere of influence, called ‘The Shimmer’, are extraordinarily beautiful and sometimes just downright lethal. Once started, Annihilation takes its audience on a wondrous and terrifying journey with a satisfyingly ambiguous ending. This may be the alien invasion film for modern cinema.

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8 ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953)

1953 version

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Surprisingly, it took over fifty years for The War of the Worlds to be made into a film. In the end, the long wait was worth it as the production’s special effects (which won the Academy Award for visual effects in 1953) helped make this one of the great sci-fi films from the 1950s.

Audiences were spellbound by the sight of Martian killing machines floating above the landscape, destroying everything in their path with their heat rays. Produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin, this film set a very high bar for every alien invasion film that followed.

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7 ‘The World’s End’ (2013)

The World's end (1)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

The World’s End follows Gary King (Simon Pegg), a middle-aged man desperate to reclaim his youth by reuniting with his high school friends to complete a legendary pub crawl in their hometown. However, their plans are disrupted when they discover that the town has been taken over by alien robots.

The World’s End poses difficult topics, such as what is the true meaning of friendship and how being too dependent on technology can humans be, while utilizing the alien invasion genre as a front. Additionally, even though it’s a comedy, the alien part is pretty frightful, and the show is rife with English humor and pop culture references, giving the audience a time of their life.

Watch on Prime Video

6 ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane’ (2016) (1)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

10 Cloverfield Lane follows a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wakes up after a car accident to find herself in an underground bunker owned by a man named Howard (John Goodman). Howard claims that an apocalyptic event has occurred outside and that they are now safe underground. Suspicion and fear arise as Michelle tries to determine the truth about Howard’s claims and what is really happening outside the bunkerRELATED: Epic Soundtracks by Bear McCreary

The movie deftly weaves in the fear of an oncoming extraterrestrial invasion that isn’t revealed in the movie until the conclusion, but it doesn’t stop viewers from feeling afraid. It also combines themes of mystery, psychological thriller, and survival that distinguish itself from its predecessor.

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5 ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow’ (2014) (1)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Based on the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) who finds himself trapped in a time loop during a battle against extraterrestrial beings known as Mimics. Each time Cage dies, he wakes up again at the start of the same day. With the help of skilled soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage must learn from his repeated experiences and find a way to turn the tide in humanity’s favor.

Edge of Tomorrow distinguishes out for its distinct interpretation of the idea, integrating time-looping and complex storytelling. Additionally, rather than emphasizing the extraterrestrial, the movie concentrates on the human during the conflict as well as how it impacts everyone involved’s mental health, evident in Cruise and Blunt’s outstanding performance.

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4 ‘The Avengers’ (2012)

The Avengers assemble in the Battle of New York scene in The Avengers
Image via Marvel Studios 

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Still considered one of the best MCU movies to date, 2012’s The Avengers is, at its core, an alien invasion story where everything from script to acting to direction to production design is so loud it’s like being shouted at through a megaphone. And it’s wonderful.

The first Avengers film is also the most light-hearted in the series. It is an almost continuous romp that barely hints at the darker future only finally resolved with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. But even these hints evaporate during the climax when a virtual conga line of Chitauri invaders are beaten off by Earth’s superheroes and extraordinarily colorful defenders.

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3 ‘Village of the Damned’ (1960)

Village of the Damned - 1960

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

This 1960 film is in many ways the perfect conclusion to the wave of sci-fi films made in the 1950s. Cinema helped give sci-fi mainstream attention, if not always a lot of mainstream credibility, but when good stories were turned into good scripts supported by good directors and producers, films like Village of the Damned became possible, earning respect for the genre and paving the way for other well-written sci-fi films to follow.RELATED: This ’90s John Carpenter Horror Movie Gave Us One of Mark Hamill’s Best Roles

The story’s alien invasion is one of the most insidious from the genre. The fact that it involves using humans and their paternal instincts to protect and nurture children who are not remotely human themselves gives the story a special and lasting horror.

2 ‘Arrival’ (2016)

Arrival (2016) (1)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Arrival revolves around a linguist named Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is tasked with deciphering a complex alien language when mysterious spacecraft arrives on Earth. As humanity teeters on the brink of global tensions and potential conflict, Banks must communicate with extraterrestrial beings to understand their purpose and intentions.

Arrival maintains a message of hope and understanding for a better humanity that spectators may need. It is both intellectual and heartbreakingly emotional, using the alien invasion genre as a front. Moreover, it’s one of the most compassionate and profound films about aliens that explores how language functions and how it softens the boundaries between species.

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1 ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956)

a scared man and woman run forwards

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Alien spores drift to Earth from space, landing in a quiet Californian town and growing into seed pods. At first, no one notices anything amiss, but then locals start claiming their family members and friends have been replaced by someone – or something – else. Local doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his ex-girlfriend Betty Driscoll (Dana Wynter) soon discover that humans are being replaced by duplicates created in the seed pods – exact in every way except they are completely without emotion.

This 1956 film, based on a 1954 novel by Jack Finney, played so cleverly on the audience’s fears of slowly losing not just themselves but all they loved to unseen invaders that it has been remade three times, most successfully in 1978 with Donal Sutherland and Brooke Adams.

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