The coming months find no shortage of space monsters invading the multiplex — and just in time for the current administration to make (admittedly minor) cutbacks to NASA! There’ll undoubtedly be some in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” in Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” and, obviously, in “Alien: Covenant.” The first one out of the gate may be the smallest of them all: the beastie discovered by a crew of international astronauts in this week’s “Life.” It starts out as a little puddle of flesh that moves, then grows to the size and shape of a squid, especially as it starts devouring our heroes.
The “Life” creature is cool, but it wouldn’t crack our list of 10 best, most creative, most terrifying space monsters. Let’s hope any life that may potentially (or not!) be found on any of the seven semi-close planets NASA recently discovered does not resemble any of these.
10. The creatures, ‘Pitch Black’
The never-named, winged, hammerheaded beasties from another world have giant piranha teeth and can devour a human body in seconds. That they were created on the relative cheap (“Pitch Black” was not very pricey) is all the more impressive. They even almost upstage the man who was about to become a star: Vin Diesel, who here debuted his other signature character — no, not Xander Cage, but Richard B. Riddick, the mercenary-turned-loner with weird, surgically altered eyes. Riddick returned to the big screen twice, to diminishing returns, but we’d almost rather see a series about these freaky aliens.
9. Killer Klowns, ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space’
Forgive us: We’re sort of terrified by clowns, especially when they tote killer popcorn guns and encase victims in flesh-eating cotton candy. In this low-budget premium cable staple from the ’80s, they’re an alien race who just happen to look like they have too much white makeup on their faces and sport a fondness for circus fare. That they look like accidents from a cut-rate creature factory makes them more disturbing than any Bozo that may have haunted your childhood dreams.
8. Those worm things, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’
Ricardo Montalban’s Khan isn’t the scariest thing about the first OG “Trek” sequel. What freaks us out more is something far smaller. In fact, they’re the size of a worm, which is what they look like. When Chekhov and Paul Winfield’s poor, disposable Captain Terrell beam down to a remote planet, they find the vengeance-filled Khan, who introduces them to an indigenous species: one that crawls into the ear and turns its victims into their slaves. Size does matter, especially when they’re the smallest things on this list.
7. Hedorah, ‘Godzilla vs. Hedorah’
Many of Godzilla’s foes sprang from deep within the earth. Some were dinosaurs; some were made-up local menaces, like Mothra. Others came from space. And so no list on premiere space monsters would be adequate without Hedora, aka the “Smog Monster.” He arrives on Earth from around the Orion constellation, looking like a giant, misshapen, angry-looking tadpole that’s been dipped in acid. Godzilla was born out of Japan’s nuclear trauma, whereas Hedorah tapped into fears over Japan’s urban pollution. And so he grows in size as he Hoovers up toxins and waste. This is one of the weirdest “Godzilla” entries, complete with an animated segment, a trippy drug section and gruesome, graphic human deaths at the hands of this most unusual kaiju. Give this guy a reboot spin-off.
6. Predator, ‘Predator’
Part Rastafarian, part samurai, part, and we quote, “one ugly motherf—er,” this interstellar menace rocks dreadlocks, a cool katana blade and a mouth that, well, looks like a vagina. Over the years he’s taken out Jesse Ventura, Morton Downey Jr. and Topher Grace. He’s even faced off against the alien from “Alien,” twice, though he’s clearly the inferior space monster, and not just because he’s only really gotten one decent film. Still, do hold out hope for next year’s latest “Predator” reboot, as it’s helmed by the great, peerlessly sarcastic Shane Black (“The Nice Guys” and, oh, the guy who invented the modern action-comedy by writing “Lethal Weapon”).
5. The thing, ‘The Thing’
In the 1951 original — called “The Thing from Another World” — the “Thing” was a dude who looked like he Brundleflied with a vegetable. John Carpenter is an A-number-1 fan of Howard Hawks, who produced (and probably at least partially ghost-directed) the classic, and his 1982 remake honors the first by not being terribly faithful. His creature is a shape-shifter that consumes then poses as its victims, pretending to be them and, when caught, flexing the flesh in creative and gruesome ways. At the time, disgusted critics and audiences thought Carpenter had gone too far. Nowadays we sing a different tune.
4. Freaky beasts with glowing teeth, ‘Attack the Block’
Possibly the most obscure movie on this list is this insta-cult classic from England, in which a low-income apartment building is beset upon by furry freakazoids that look like steroidal, less funnyCritters. But they’re could give any space monster a run for its money, after chewing it to pieces. They don’t have a name either, but when it’s dark you can only see their enormous neon blue-green fangs. Like the film itself, they’re not to be trifled with.
3. The blob, ‘The Blob’
It’s so simple: just a lumbering mass of goo that likes to suck its victims into its blubbery, translucent body, allowing on-lookers to see them eating them alive. The low-budget 1958 version, starring pre-mega-fame Steve McQueen as an unusually laconic teen hero, is the better piece of cinema, but the 1988 remake has its R-rated charms (including a poor dishwasher sucked into a sink drain, though we’re not sure how that works). Both are equally terrifying in part because, like zombies, they don’t move so fast, causing their prey to undermine their powers.
2. The Xenomorph, ‘Alien’
Still going strong after 38 years, the sleek, fat-headed, drooling creature that debuted in the 1979 original isn’t impressive for its number of kills, which is relatively low. It’s because of that design. Made at a time when most screen aliens were just some dude in a makeshift suit — even in the first “Star Wars” — “Alien” stuck out because the filmmakers hired the late H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist and the creator of somehow even more disturbing paintings, sculptures and other miscellany. Giger was drawn to the horrors of biomechanical design — the fusion of the human body with the metallic. His so-called “Xenomorph” has lasted in part because it taps into something genuinely disturbing in our collective subconscious about a world that has no use for humankind. And though the forthcoming “Alien: Covenant” features a new alien that bursts not from the stomach but from the back (yikes!), it could never beat Giger’s original.
1. The bugs, ‘Starship Troopers’
Hear us out, because we’re not just being controversial. We tend to be “quality over quantity” people, because, well, we’re snobs. And we’ll admit the super-sized so-called “bugs” of Paul Verhoeven’s bloody and subtly satirical 1997 soldiers-in-space epic are maybe not the greatest monster if you only saw one of them. (Though they’re still very, very, very cool; they can slice off limbs and heads with any of their appendages.) But if you see, let’s say, hundreds of them, marauding over their arid and rocky planet, descending upon puny humans armed merely with big guns, they’re jaw-dropping. And they have variety: Some of them are huge fire-breathers, and their leader is a gross, sluggy brain thing.
It’s really a case of very strong quality plus even higher quantity, which we’d argue, put together, gives them an edge over the iconic, deadly and generally brilliant Xenomorph of “Alien.” And then there’s this: they’re mysterious. We don’t know the real reason earthlings of the 23rd century has gone to war with some far-off monsters, because they live in a fascist state, where the government controls the media and drums up nationalism by uniting everyone against a common foe. Maybe the government has ulterior motives? Maybe we’re the bad guys — the invaders trying to wipe out a foreign species? Not only will the threatened remake play things straight — the source, by Robert A. Heinlein, is straight-up military propaganda, which Verhoeven said he couldn’t even finish — it probably won’t even have space monsters this awesome.
BONUS: The Martians, “Mars Attacks!”
These guys are jerks. And they killed [spoiler! and deep breath] two Jack Nicholsons, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Christina Applegate, Jack Black, Paul Winfield and Joe Don Baker.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge