Some space aliens are born great; others achieve it, and some have greatness thrust upon them. But even if they're here to wreak havoc, we can't help but love them.
The following ten pop-culture visitors from another world are the ones that have most completely infiltrated our collective consciousness and conquered our imaginations.
Michael Mallory is the author of The Science Fiction Universe... and Beyond: Syfy Channel Book of Sci-Fi (Universe, $40)
When will we learn not to trust good looking politicians who only want what’s “best” for us? The character known as Diana, played by Jane Badler in the 1983 NBC miniseries<em> V</em>, was the beautiful public face of a “friendly” visitation by an advanced alien culture. But the face was a mask, hiding a reptilian visage, and the Visitors were really here to conquer the Earth through division, forcing the show’s characters to choose allegiance.
The creation of cartoon masters Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese, Marvin was not your typical threatening menace from outer space. He was a pint-sized, megalomanic, adenoidal bowling ball in a Roman helmet, who, given the opportunity, showed just as much of a talent for incompetence as his earthly brethren. Marvin’s finest hour (not to mention one of animation’s in general) came via 1953’s <em>Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century.</em>
This was the Martian invasion that we had come to expect: an influx of creatures from the angry Red Planet piloting hovercraft shaped like the Loch Ness Monster, who lay waste first and ask questions later. But beneath their seemingly unstoppable attack the actual Martians, once they debarked from their spaceships, were stunted, weak things that were helpless against Earth bacteria.
One of the most iconic and parodied movie images of the last quarter-century was the tiny alien life form bursting through the chest of an astronaut (played by John Hurt), in 1979’s <em>Alien</em>. Part of what made it so memorable is that the other actors in the scene had only a minimal idea of what they were about to witness. Their reactions were just as shocked and horrified as those of the audience.
We never find out where they are from, or even how they got here, exactly, but now that they are here, they are taking over through us, inhabiting our bodies when we sleep. <em>Invasion of the Body Snatchers</em> is an iconic example of the sci-fi subgenre of paranoia. Some believe it to be a Cold War anti-Communist allegory; others feel it is actually an attack against McCarthyist mass-hysteria. But maybe its basic message is simpler: <strong>You snooze, you lose.</strong>
Many aliens have come to Earth under the guise of benevolence, but the Christ-like Klaatu actually does come as a friend, albeit one ready to dispense tough love: chiefly, Earth either gets its nuclear arms race under control, or it will be destroyed by a confederation of other planets. <em>The Day the Earth Stood Still</em> was a thinking person’s sci-fi epic, and Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie, the perfect embodiment of it.
The eight-hundred year old alien known simply as The Doctor (the “Who” of the title refers to the question of his identity, not his name) is an eccentric, regenerating Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels the universe in a device called a TARDIS, which looks like a London police box. <em>Doctor Who</em> first appeared on the BBC in 1963, though it didn’t become a global phenomenon until the mid-2000s. The role of the Doctor has been recast more times than James Bond, with Matt Smith as the eleventh, and current, incarnation.
While many, if not most, movie aliens had been out to conquer and destroy, the child-sized E.T. was the sort of pet you want to bring home and beg your Mom to keep. In Steven Spielberg’s vision, it was not the alien who was the menace; rather it was the amorphous government forces desperate to capture and study it. Special effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi created the animatronic E.T., resulting in cuddliest simulated human since Disney’s Pinocchio.
Half human and half-Vulcan, the pointy-eared, green-blooded Spock established the prototype for every “alien advisor” character that would follow, largely thanks to the defining portrayal by Leonard Nimoy. In once sense, the dynamic between the ultra-logical Vulcan and the emotional Captain Kirk is yet another replay of the time-honored sci-fi conflict between science (intellect) and the military (action). But rarely, if ever, has it been played so well.
We tend not to think of him as a space alien, yet Kal-El, first son of the planet Krypton, a.k.a. Superman, is the most visible and influential of all extra-terrestrials. Ironically, his then-teenaged creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster originally envisioned him as a menacing alien bent on world conquest. Only when they reconceived the character as a superhero, and sold him to comic books in 1938, did Superman instead proceed to conquer every medium in popular culture. He is the premiere alien of the twentieth century, and beyond.