The most amazing thing about sci-fi — aside from life-and-death struggles in fantastic worlds, of course — is how the hundreds and hundreds of movie aliens rarely feel stale or repetitive. Their amazingly diverse looks alone aren’t what make them unique, but just because they feel a little different doesn’t mean we can’t pigeonhole them. If you take a tour of the sci-fi galaxy, here are nine different types of aliens you just might meet.
Evil Aliens Who Take No Prisoners
Perhaps the most prevalent and most dangerous category of ET you’ll meet is the malevolent alien who wants to destroy humanity, often just because. Beware — they come in all different forms. There’s the Martians of War of the Worlds and their tripod ships; pods that absorb humans and replace them with duplicates (Invasion of the Body Snatchers); and the Blob, which proves that we should all fear Jell-O. More-modern versions are no less nefarious. Independence Day‘s killers drive massive souped-up ships. And lest you think all killers want to simply wipe us out — some like to have fun doing it, like the dreadlocked alien of Predator, who hunts humans for sport.
Evil Aliens Who Do Take Prisoners
There’s something worse than take-no-prisoners aliens: those who do take prisoners. These guys aren’t holding their charges in the “covered by the Geneva Conventions” sense, more in the “using their foes instead of killing them” sense. Why waste a resource, right? The massive extraterrestrials of Battlefield Earth enslave humanity, and the foes in The Puppet Masters are a race of mind-controlling parasites. Not a pretty way to go, but certainly less embarrassing than the alien machines of The Matrix, who use us as batteries. Batteries! How humiliating is that?
Possibly Evil Aliens With Hidden Agendas
Not every alien has a type-A personality. Some are more subtle in their approach to human contact — and control. In John Carpenter’s They Live, the members of the ruling class of the Earth are actually aliens in disguise, detectable only to those sporting a pair of special eyeglasses. Now that’s sneaky. The aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind also visit the Earth but don’t make their intentions clear, except to a secret government operation set up to establish contact. Hmmm, that can’t be good. They’ve been abducting people. Do nice aliens abduct others?
Kind and Misunderstood Aliens
Some aliens you’ll meet are actually kind, gentle beings, suffering from the stereotypes caused by the malevolent natures mentioned above. Before he was confined to the grid, Jeff Bridges played Starman, an alien stranded on the Earth and hunted by a government that deemed him a threat. But he’s not a bad guy. That’s prejudice. Then, of course, there’s the fun little ET himself, hunted and hated, even though he’s so cuddly you’d let him watch your kids. (I’ll get to that later.)
Aliens Who Serve As Humanity’s Moral Compass
Still other aliens — also usually mistrusted owing to their aforementioned evil brethren — go beyond mere kindness. They actually want nothing more than to show humanity its flaws and hence to save it. Klaatu (The Day the Earth Stood Still) is one such alien, traveling millions of miles to deliver a stern warning to a mankind threatening to annihilate itself. Similarly, in The Abyss, the aliens threaten us with a megatsunami because of our self-destructive behavior.
Aliens As Parents
Still other aliens are not content with merely warning humans of their foibles: they act paternally toward humanity. And let’s face it — compared with the highly developed alien races, humanity is but a child. Consider the unseen aliens of 2001: A Space Odyssey, who resign us humans to the galactic kiddie table until they discover a beacon on the moon. No, Mom and Dad, let me play with the big kids. In Contact, the brief encounter with alien life reminds us that this is just a first step on a long journey of evolution and progress. Thanks for the lecture, Dad.
Aliens You’d Let Your Kids Play With
Sometimes you encounter an alien so darned cute that you want to pinch it on whatever it has for cheeks. The titular ET in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the knockoff version in Mac and Me are both precious and kid friendly. If he weren’t so cuddly and lovable, you’d probably let him watch your kids. And never, ever forget the revelation of Muppets From Space: the adorable and incorrigible Gonzo is an alien. Don’t you want to give Gonzo a hug?
Extraterrestrial Class Clowns
One-upping the cute alien is the funny alien (though they aren’t mutually exclusive). Never let it be said that aliens lack a sense of humor, not while the man-dog Barf (Spaceballs) patrols the bounds of outer space. There’s also the cranial-challenged aliens of Coneheads, who might just be your really hilarious neighbors as they attempt to assimilate into American culture. Class-clown aliens should be your friends: they’ll stay loyal and hang out with you all while providing the type of comic relief you’ll need in a world populated by alien creatures.
What’s even better than a really cute alien or a comic alien who will lighten the shock of living in a world of little green men? The best of the good aliens: the hero. And as far as heroes go, there’s only one alien worth talking about: Superman. Sent to the Earth by his father, Kal-El is adopted by a middle-American couple and instilled with middle-American values. A true hero, a true American, a true friend, and a true lover, Superman is the alien everyone wants to meet, a guy (sort of) of the “Women want him, men want to be him” variety.