What happens if aliens come calling on Earth? Science has little to say on this subject, but sci-fi films do. Hollywood has imagined dozens of alien encounters. Here, POPULAR MECHANICS mines the movies to identify all likely alien scenarios-and the best strategic responses.
By Erik Sofge
Illustration by Patswerk
Alien type: Friendlies
ET, title star of the 1982 movie, is deeply nonhuman: benevolent, selfless and greedy for nothing more than some Reese’s Pieces. So did the poor guy deserve to be terrorised by thugs in hazmat suits? Yes. It’s all fun and flying bicycles until some alien sneezes out a pandemic virus. Required action: quarantine. Sorry ET, Sorry, ET, it’s off to the plastic bubble with you, at least for a while. We’ll supply free TV and snacks, along with the probes and blood tests. Then, once we know it’s safe, you and the other aliens can go on your way.
Human response: Diplomacy
Welcome to Camp David! Talks will be led by expert schmoozers and engineers. The aliens have advanced technology to share; in exchange, Earth can offer dim sum and a basic 12-bar blues progression.
Alien type: Immigrants
Some off-worlders may want to settle on Earth for the barbecue and sitcoms. Or they may just get stranded by engine trouble. Men in Black, 1997, had the scenario more or less right: the new normal is a messy melting pot with overworked cops and visa clerks. (For darker versions, see Alien Nation, 1988, and District 9, 2009.)
Human response: Immigration services
Give us your tentacled, your scaly, your bulbous-eyed masses. Appropriate agencies should be set up to handle difficult situations. Here come the Men in Black.
Alien Type: Parasites
The space virus that lands on Earth in The Andromeda Strain, 1971, isn’t evil; it’s an innocent crystalline microbe that just happens to turn human blood into sand. Even the slobbering creature from Alien, 1979, isn’t malicious, really. It’s an oversize botfly – laying eggs in people is merely a quirk of its life cycle. Yes, biology can be ugly.
Human response: Extermination
Alien type: Rogue criminals
In movies like Predator, 1987, which is set in a Central American jungle, the alien enemies aren’t homesteading or scavenging for food. They’re just remorseless psychopaths with advanced weaponry. Similar specimens appear in 1951’s The Thing From Another World, which features a rampaging plant–man, and The Hidden, 1987, in which a fugitive alien runs amok in LA. These creeps are born to die hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners.
Human response: Extermination
Hate to say this, alien life-form, but you’re no longer welcome on Earth. First we’ll try alcohol wipes. If that doesn’t work, we’ll introduce you to our friends Smith & Wesson.
Alien type: Covert agents
In sci-fi, would-be alien overlords often rely on a sinister combination of infiltration, subversion, and under-the radar brutality. In 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, humans are replaced by emotionless copies (grown in pods), who plot to expand their power base. In V, 1983, the visitors come bearing gifts and human smiles – but they’re really fascist lizard people. In They Live, 1988, Earth’s alien rulers pose as yuppies, including advertising execs.
Human response: Guerrilla movement
Vive la résistance, alien invaders! We can’t fight you openly, considering your plasma bombs and/or your creepy ability to masquerade as freshman Congressmen. Instead, we’ll be grabbing a beret and joining Will Smith at a secret location to launch an insurgency. The Anonymous hackers are on our side too (we think). This war ain’t over yet.
Alien type: Invaders
Independence Day, 1996, was optimistic. If an advanced alien armada ever warp-drives its way to Earth bent on conquest, the jig is up. Humans will be helpless under the onslaught. In Independence Day, we repel the aliens using a computer virus uploaded from a Mac laptop, but could even Apple’s product placement team really make that happen? In Earth vs the Flying Saucers, 1956, and The War of the Worlds, 1953, we likewise prevail through lucky plot twists.
Human response: Surrender
We had a good run, but when a civilisation that’s mastered interstellar travel and death rays comes knocking, it’s game over. Hopefully, unlike the genocidal aliens in Independence Day, the newcomers will accept unconditional surrender by our leaders. But not to worry, Earth patriots: grovelling is just the first step in our master plan.
Also read: ‘The science behind the case for alien life‘.