The greatest alien encounter movies ever, ranked

When UFOs descend to Earth, things get pretty real pretty quickly. This is the definitive ranking of the greatest alien-encounter movies as scored by Metacritic.

Jessica Learish
1 of 51 Warner Bros. Pictures

Here come the aliens

Here are the greatest extraterrestrial visitations that have ever hit the big screen. Because not all encounters are created equal, we ranked them by CNET sister site Metacritic's Metascore. You're welcome.

For the record, yes, we know Superman and Thor are aliens. We're not including comic book movies in this roundup. 

2 of 51 TriStar Pictures

(TIE) 48. Starship Troopers (1997)

Metacritic score: 51

Set in the 23rd century, Starship Troopers is a military satire featuring large insectoid aliens, called Arachnids, that are really not happy when humans begin encroaching on their habitat.

3 of 51 Summit Entertainment

(TIE) 48. Ender's Game (2013)

Metacritic score: 51

Based on the novel of the same name, Ender's Game stars Asa Butterfield as a gifted teenager who must save the world from an alien invasion. 

4 of 51 20th Century Fox

(TIE) 48. Predators (2010)

Metacritic score: 51

Featuring a star-studded cast comprised of Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne and Mahershala Ali, Predators is the highest-rated film in the Predators saga, per Metacritic. 

5 of 51 Tim Burton Productions

(TIE) 46. Mars Attacks! (1996)

Metacritic score: 52

In one of several alien encounter films to feature the invasion of Washington, D.C., this comedy-sci-fi flick directed by Tim Burton has a star-studded cast. Spot Jack Black, Natalie Portman, Danny DeVito and Jack Nicholson, who plays the president.

6 of 51 Gaumont

(TIE) 46. The Fifth Element (1997)

Metacritic score: 52

It would be a New York City cabbie that saves the world from absolute destruction.

7 of 51 Dreamworks Pictures

(TIE) 44. Captive State (2019)

Metacritic score: 54

This sci-fi crime thriller follows a young man who rebels against an alien race that's enslaved human beings on Earth. 

8 of 51 Universal Pictures

(TIE) 44. Oblivion (2013)

Metacritic score: 54

Tom Cruise stars in this post-apocalyptic action film about a man who's captured by aliens on Earth. 

9 of 51 Sony Pictures

43. Life (2017)

Metacritic score: 54

This sci-fi horror film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds follows a space station crew that discovers life on Mars. 

10 of 51 Universal Pictures

42. Paul (2011)

Metacritic score: 57

A pair of nerds (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost) help an alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) get back to his home planet. 

11 of 51 New Line Cinema

41. It: Chapter Two (2019)

Metacritic score: 58

Despite banking $472 million at the worldwide box office, the It sequel made $228 million less than the original. 

12 of 51 Amblin Entertainment

40. Men In Black III (2012)

Metacritic score: 58

By the time Men In Black III hit theaters, we had already lost count of how many times Will Smith had saved the world.

13 of 51 Centropolis Entertainment

(TIE) 37. Independence Day (1996)

Metacritic score: 59

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum teamed up in the '90s for a July 4 fireworks performance for the ages. This film also features a classic speech by President Bill Pullman.

14 of 51 Brandywine Productions

(TIE) 37. Alien 3 (1992)

Metacritic score: 59

Fun fact: The alien-infested mass-prison planet in this film is called Fiorina 161.

15 of 51 Touchstone Pictures

(TIE) 37. Signs (2002)

Metacritic score: 59

So, why would an alien species that can't deal with water even stop for gas on Earth? Also, is the humidity in Pennsylvania not serious enough to dissolve these creatures? So many questions.

16 of 51 Paramount Pictures

36. Transformers (2007)

Metacritic score: 61

The first Transformers, starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, is the highest-rated film in the saga, according to Metacritic. 

17 of 51 Lightstorm Entertainment

(TIE) 34. The Abyss (1989)

Metacritic score: 62

In James Cameron's first journey to the bottom of the ocean, Ed Harris plays a submarine foreman who mans the USS Montana with his estranged wife... right into the path of the submerged alien ship surrounded by benevolent aquatic forces.

18 of 51 South Side Amusement Company

(TIE) 34. Contact (1997)

Metacritic score: 62

Jodie Foster discovers a signal of looping prime numbers that kickstarts humanity's introduction to astronomical wormholes and shape-shifting aliens.

19 of 51 Brandywine Productions

33. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Metacritic score: 63

About 200 years have passed since the conclusion of Alien 3, and Sigourney Weaver still looks like she's never seen a Xenomorph in her life. That, of course, is because she's been cloned by military scientists. Clone-Ripley is thrust into a conflict to, once again, save Earth from an alien invasion.

20 of 51 Paramount Pictures

32. Cloverfield (2008)

Metacritic score: 64

This found-footage horror film follows five friends who try to escape from an alien invasion in New York. 

21 of 51 Scott Free Productions

(TIE) 30. Prometheus (2012)

Metacritic score: 65

Set in 2089, this is a prequel to the Alien franchise. It features a party of scientists who go on a deep space journey to uncover humanity's predecessors, the "Engineers." What could possibly go wrong?

22 of 51 20th Century Fox

(TIE) 30. Alien: Covenant (2017)

Metascore: 65

Humanity, (and a robot Michael Fassbender) attempt to colonize an uncharted planet. Without giving away too much, humans already made a mess of this planet during the action of Prometheus.

23 of 51 Paramount Pictures

29. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Metacritic score: 67

If you've never seen this movie but the name Khan sounds familiar, it's probably because the character was reimagined for the 2013 film Into Darkness, but this 1982 film was the first time Khan did battle with Kirk and Spock.

24 of 51 Paramount Pictures

28. Star Trek: Beyond (2016)

Metacritic score: 68

Spock and Kirk team up to do battle with Krall, an alien warlord played by Idris Elba.

25 of 51 Warner Bros. Pictures

27. It (2017)

Metacritic score: 69

Pennywise might look like just another birthday clown, but he's actually a shapeshifting evil being from another universe.

26 of 51 DreamWorks SKG

26. Galaxy Quest (1999)

Metacritic score: 70

This cult classic takes on the intergalactic sci-fi genre in truly meta fashion. The cast of a once-popular science fiction show is caught up in a conflict between an alien race called the Thermians and an evil Ninja Turtle-esque space villain.

27 of 51 Amblin Entertainment

(TIE) 21. Men In Black (1997)

Metacritic score: 71

The good guys dress in black, remember that? Black suits with black Ray-Bans on! Will Smith plays a New York City cop who is recruited for by a secret government agency to combat alien threats. Just one year earlier, Smith had saved the planet from hostile extraterrestrials in Independence Day.

28 of 51 Paramount Pictures

(TIE) 21. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Metacritic score: 71

Fun fact: In this film, humanity's first contact with alien life happens on April 5, 2063.

29 of 51 David James

(TIE) 21. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Metacritic score: 71

Tom Cruise plays a desk-bound military officer who receives his first combat assignment when aliens invade Earth. For better or worse, his character gets stuck in a time loop that allows him to die over and over again, while he learns the best way to defeat the aliens and save the world.

30 of 51 Paramount Pictures

(TIE) 21. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Metacritic score: 71

This is guaranteed to be the only sci-fi flick in which William Shatner saves humpback whales from extinction.

31 of 51 Columbia Pictures

(TIE) 21. Starman (1984)

Metacritic score: 71

Picture it: you're a grieving widow living in Wisconsin. One night, a mysterious orb appears and takes on the form of your dead husband. This person who looks like your dead husband begins reciting a United Nations message inviting aliens to visit Earth. And the alien needs a ride. 

Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the humanoid Starman, who crash-landed in rural Wisconsin.

32 of 51 Amblin Entertainment

(TIE) 19. Super 8 (2011)

Metacritic score: 72

This 2011 film is like the love child of Stranger Things and Cloverfield. If you love late '70s nostalgia, impressive kid-actor performances and the drama of an enormous alien pillaging 20th century electronics to rebuild its ship, this is the movie for you.

33 of 51 Paramount Pictures

(TIE) 19. Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Metacritic score: 72

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto reunite for the second film in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek series. Kirk and Spock learn a very important rule: Do not come for Benedict Cumberbatch without an airtight plan.

34 of 51 Disney

(TIE) 17. Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Metacritic score: 73

Stitch, not unlike an Earthling puppy, is destructive and has to learn about friendship, loyalty and not eating the garbage before he can live happily with his adopted family.

35 of 51 Bad Robot Productions

(TIE) 17. War of the Worlds (2005)

Metacritic score: 73

Tom Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, a longshoreman who endeavors to save the world from a doomed race of aliens. Spoiler: There's a lot of running.

36 of 51 Optimum Releasing

16. Attack the Block (2011)

Metacritic score: 75

Before John Boyega defected from the Storm Troopers in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he played Moses in this hilariously apocalyptic comedy about what happens when aliens go up against a South London gang.

37 of 51 Faliro House

(TIE) 14. Midnight Special (2016)

Metacritic score: 76

Without giving away too much about this awesome arthouse flick, there's a boy, a dad and an extended chase that involves the FBI, the army and a healthy fear of sunlight. If you haven't seen it, cancel your plans and watch.

38 of 51 Paramount Pictures

(TIE) 14. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Metacritic score: 76

The Cloverfield franchise takes a left turn with John Goodman playing Howard, possibly a kidnapper, definitely a doomsday prepper, who is adamant that the outside world has been ravaged by some kind of chemical attack.

39 of 51 BFI

13. Under The Skin (2013)

Metacritic score: 78

Scarlett Johansson plays a seductress-alien who lures men in Scotland into doomed sexual encounters. The movie's conclusion is not for the faint of heart.

40 of 51 Paramount Pictures

12. Annihilation (2018)

Metacritic score: 79

Natalie Portman ventures into a shiny blob called Area X that is rewriting the DNA of every living thing in its path. The movie is part horror, part sci-fi.

41 of 51 British Lion Films

11. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Metacritic score: 80

David Bowie plays the otherworldly, tragic hero Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who has come to Earth to retrieve water for his drought-stricken home planet.

42 of 51 QED International

(TIE) 9. District 9 (2009)

Metacritic score: 81

District 9 isn't just another alien encounter movie. This one challenges viewers to question how welcoming they would be if aliens arrived on Earth in need of our help. Events in the film were inspired by the real-life District Six, a region in Cape Town where tens of thousands of non-white residents were forcibly removed from their homes in the 1970s after the neighborhood was declared a "whites only" area.

43 of 51 Universal Pictures

(TIE) 9. The World's End (2013)

Metacritic score: 81

So, if the alien androids in this movie are responsible for early-2000s advancements in telecommunications — you're telling us that androids... invented iPhones?

44 of 51 Paramount Pictures

(TIE) 6. Star Trek (2009)

Metacritic score: 82

Our favorite alien encounter in this origin story happens when salty Iowan James T. Kirk goes head to head with the maddeningly logical Spock.

45 of 51 FilmNation Entertainment

(TIE) 6. Arrival (2016)

Metacritic score: 82

Arrival features Amy Adams as a linguist who has to figure out why multiple alien spacecraft have touched down around the world.

46 of 51 Paramount Pictures

(TIE) 6. A Quiet Place

Metacritic score: 82

A family struggles to survive when Earth is overrun by blind aliens who hunt using sound. The temptation to hold your breath while watching this movie is real. Make sure to breathe. The aliens can't hear you.

47 of 51 Walt Disney Pictures

(TIE) 4. Avatar (2009)

Metacritic score: 83

James Cameron's Avatar was the highest-grossing film of 2010. There are two sequels currently in development. 

48 of 51 20th Century Fox

(TIE) 4. Alien (1979)

Metacritic score: 83

Ridley Scott's first voyage into deep space, Alien introduced us to the stunning visual of a human giving unnatural childbirth to an extraterrestrial spawn.

49 of 51 Brandywine Productions

3. Aliens (1986)

Metacritic score: 87

Sigourney Weaver has been floating in space in "stasis" for almost six decades when she is once again charged with saving everyone from the stomach-hitchhiking alien species.

50 of 51 Amblin Entertainment

(TIE) 1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Metacritic score: 91

Any alien who loves Reese's Pieces is a verified cool dude.

51 of 51 Columbia Pictures

(TIE) 1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Metacritic score: 91

From the iconic imagery of the Devils Tower to the five-note musical phrase used to communicate with the UFOs, this movie will stick with you long after you watch it.

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