Have you heard the rare amazing news? NASA and European astronomers have found seven Earth-sized planets! They’re some 40 light years away, orbiting a dwarf star. That’s not close, but it’s not too far, and some of them may have the right atmosphere to contain oceans, if not land — or even life. That’s right: We may (or may not!) be close to proving intelligent life exists somewhere else — unless the non-intelligent people running our government decide to gut NASA next week. Hopefully these alien species, should they be real, don’t have their own Milo, too.
If movies and TV and books have taught us anything, it’s to be Trumpian about this: Aliens tend to be belligerent. Maybe they’re terrorists! But not all movie aliens are evil. Sometimes filmmakers chill out and give us something like “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Contact” or “Arrival,” in which extraterrestrials way superior to humans reach out, offer an olive branch — and, in “Stood Still” and “Arrival,” encounter military types who act like tetchy morons.
Here, then, are 11 movie aliens we’d like to hang out with (and three we’d put in the “eh, probably not” category):
E.T., “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”
He just wants Reese’s Pieces. And he drinks Coors. And Drew Barrymore likes him. The waddling dwarf of Steven Spielberg’s killer tear-jerker gets lost in the California ’burbs, but the rest of his species seems to be as cool as he is. They’re just stopping by, and they’re thoughtful enough that they come back to rescue their little one. It’s really the meddling government that’s the problem, though at least in the 2002 reissue the only weapons they have are walkie-talkies.
Prawns, “District 9”
As in “E.T.”, we’re the jerks. If a race of crustacean-looking refugees descended from the stars, you better believe we’d treat them as terribly as we treat our planet’s own refugees or immigrants. And of course, all they want to do is live. But we should probably ignore their wicked arsenal of cool guns.
He comes from space, lured by the promises of Voyager 2 that humans are peaceful and want to make contact. That’s not what he finds when he gets here, but he holds up his end of the bargain: Upon landing, he makes himself look like 1984-era Jeff Bridges, he’s quick to pick up English and other skills and whenever humans threaten him, he tries to rectify the situation without bloodshed. He even comforts a grieving widow (Karen Allen). What decent person wouldn’t want to hang with this guy, even if we’d rather he looked and acted more like Bridges in “True Grit”?
Thomas Jerome Newton, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”
For one thing, he’s played by David Bowie. For another, like the Prawns of “District 9,” he just wants to survive. Bowie’s visitor has arrived here to find a way to transport water to his desolate planet, where his family still lives. He fails because Earth’s temptations (booze, TV, capitalism, more booze) prove too alluring. If a real Thomas Jerome Newton showed up, let’s try an intervention.
Given the state of affairs now, would you turn down a group of blindingly glowing beings who invited you to their far-away planet? You might say yes even before they told you it’s a place where no one dies. The only catch: you have to be old, and if you’re old there’s a stronger chance you voted for our dictator-in-chief. Then again, that would leave the planet with fewer Trump supporters.
Fix-Its, “*batteries not included”
Now, these guys are cute: Little flying robots with eyes as big as cats, who drop in on the tenants of a dilapidated, to-be-razed apartment building — including no less than “Cocoon” alumni Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy — and proceed to fix it up, like little construction workers with an endless budget.Put them in charge of Ben Carson’s Housing Department!
The Brother, “The Brother from Another Planet”
Would Joe Morton’s alien — who only has three toes and can’t speak but looks for all the universe like a black earthling — fare much better now than he did in 1987? Maybe only a little. The closest to a funny movie directed by the very serious John Sayles — who’s directed po-faced masterpieces like “Matewan” and “Eight Men Out” but also wrote great trash like “Alligator” and “The Howling” for hire — it gives us an E.T. who tries to escape from interstellar slavery. (Yes, it turns out the entire universe is racist.) When he arrives in America, he finds himself instantly persecuted and cast to the ghetto, trying to eke by here.
A serious contender for most adorable space invader is in this Spielbergian fantasia from “Kung Fu Hustle”’s Stephen Chow. He looks like a furbie, and over the course of his stint with a small boy and his dad, he keeps revealing new powers. If he killed us, it would only be with the power of his cuteness.
Max, “Flight of the Navigator”
It’s really just a spaceship with a brain, the alien of this ’80s live-action Disney romp, but if you ask him nicely he’ll speak with the voice of Paul Reubens, basically doing Pee-Wee. We remember almost nothing else about this film, but does it need anything more?
Celeste Martin, “My Stepmother is an Alien”
Yes, the visitor played by Kim Basinger is part of an alien race that wants to kill all humans. But she’s a good kind of alien: the turncoat kind, who comes to love us stupid earthlings — even when they’re played by Dan Aykroyd — and in the end destroys her superior (who’s taken the form of a purse). Also, does anyone else think that Kim Basinger’s comedic chops are fairly underrated?
Lest we forget: Superman is an alien, too. Even so, once upon a time he was the ideal American, fighting for truth, justice and … one more thing we’re forgetting. Then Zack Snyder reminded us that he could, in the wrong hands, become an unregulated psychopath. And so Superman is kind of an asshole now. But Supergirl seems alright! In the much-loathed (but highly watchable) 1984 bomb, she just wants to help people, and she spends as much time in superhero mode as she does as her alter ego. (Ditto on her current CW show.) Give us her over that bumbling bad reporter Clark Kent.
The “eh, probably not” pile:
OK, maybe not these guys: A cadre of space robots who turn into cars for some reason, who create destruction even when they’re trying to help, and are anyways pathologically followed by those dips—s the Deceptacons. They’re too big, and they don’t know how to do anything but fight and drive fast.
Harold Anderson, “What Planet Are You From?”
Maybe not this guy either: In what proved his only ever big movie vehicle, Garry Shandling plays a visitor from an all-male planet who’s arrived solely to find a woman and impregnate her. She’s played by Annette Bening and the movie was unaccountably directed by Mike Nichols, and the whole affair’s meant to be a satire of male chauvinism spanning the known universe. But Earth already has enough sexist pigs who only think of women as babymakers.
Mac, “Mac and Me”
This bald-faced “E.T” ripoff not only features an extended set piece set in a McDonald’s with a dancing Ronald McDonald — its lead creature is also clearly the result of a tragic accident at the cute alien factory. See below:
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge