If exterminator extraordinaire Delbert McClintock were sent to exomoon LV-426 instead of all those space marines, Aliens would be a five-minute movie. As its name boldly suggests, Frank Marshall’s horror-comedy delight is absolutely swarming with spiders. An entomological expedition to a remote Venezuelan tepui accidentally transports a primordial arachnid back to a sleepy small town in California. The enterprising eight-legged freak quickly cross-breeds with a local house spider, unleashing its deadly half-breed brood on the unsuspecting townsfolk. It’s up to a new, big-city doctor (Jeff Daniels) to alert the town to the creepy crawly threat, locate the nest, and destroy the offending arachnid before it sows more venomous spawn throughout the West Coast.
As skin-crawling as it is amusing (in true Amblin fashion), Arachnophobia and Aliens toe the same “they’re coming outta the goddamn walls!” line. Throw in an eye-witness that no one takes seriously frantically attempting to sound an alarm, and you’ve got yourself one hell of an infestation-themed double bill.
Available on Amazon Prime.
Sure, we’re a little biased in this regard: we like to think that all of these recommendations are stellar movies, if not fantastic masterpieces. But sometimes greatness and prestige get boring and it’s just more fun to slum it with some good old-fashioned sleazy sci-fi. Enter Species! Using alien transmissions, scientists splice together extraterrestrial DNA with human DNA. This creates Sil (Natasha Henstridge), a hybrid that’s as deadly as she is beautiful — a true recipe for destruction. After she escapes, a crew of scientists and mercenaries is assembled to track Sil down before she can mate and potentially destroy the human race. If you want a movie to take home to mom, look elsewhere. But if you want a gleefully trashy romp, you’ve come to the right place. Also, this film features a hellish character design (and an evil nightmare train) from none other than H. R. Giger, the man behind the look of the xenomorph. Hell yeah!
Available on Hoopla.
Event Horizon (1997)
Following a rescue mission headed for the mysterious titular spacecraft, Event Horizon packs a punch to go along with its thrillingly schlocky genre elements. Director Paul W. S. Anderson delivers some genuinely unsettling sci-fi scares on a grand cinematic scale. The film pulls from a wealth of influences, including just enough of Tarkovsky’s Solaris to class up the joint. But it’s also a wonderfully original movie that allows its sci-fi roots to blossom into something uniquely terrifying. Though it didn’t initially fare well at the box office, the film has developed a well-deserved cult following among genre fans. Oh, and did we mention the film features one of Sam Neill’s best performances? All around, this one is a must-watch.
Available on Max Go.
The Descent (2005)
One of the greatest strengths of Aliens (and of the Alien franchise as a whole) is Ripley as a character. She’s intelligent and clever, a force to be reckoned with as an action heroine, and richly human. She’s influenced the creation of countless female characters. And she is universally cited as a push towards well-developed women in genre cinema. While The Descent isn’t a film that feels directly tethered to Aliens’ legacy, it does deliver a group of women as flawed as they are capable and as strong as they are doomed.
Set in the depths of an Appalachian cave system, the women of Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror flick find themselves closed off from the cave’s entrance, with no choice but to push ahead in hopes of finding an exit. The cannibalistic humanoid creatures that live under the surface, however, have different plans for them. With personal issues aggravated by the situation, it doesn’t take long for The Descent to become a truly terrifying character study in addition to an action-packed thriller.
Available on Amazon Prime.
The Host (2006)
It’s no surprise that Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 sci-fi flick is an insightful social allegory as much as it is a fresh and exciting genre masterpiece. It also features an all-time great cinematic monster, brought to life by toxic waste left behind by the military. There are sequences here that are gobsmackingly brilliant. And the film is a masterclass in how to reveal a monster in full for maximum effect. But it’s also a touching take on family dynamics, class, and national issues. In the 15 years since its release, we’ve come to expect nothing less than excellence from one of South Korea’s best directors. But even with high expectations, The Host still has the ability to shock and awe audiences at every turn.
Available on Kanopy.
Attack the Block (2011)
Before battling intergalactic empires, John Boyega cut his teeth in the sci-fi genre pitching a fight against some unwelcome alien visitors. Set in a London housing estate, Boyega’s Moses leads his crew of teen compatriots against the impossible: both the literal monsters crawling through the apartment complex and the assumption that none of them could accomplish anything meaningful. Attack the Block is a raucous gem with heart and grit to spare. Not to mention some creature effects that’ll send a chill down your spine.
Available on Tubi.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Ellen Ripley’s cargo-loader walked so that Rita Vrataski’s exo-battle suit could run. If there is one true modern successor to the action/sci-fi gauntlet Aliens threw down, it’s Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow. Adapting Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill, the film tells of an alien menace that makes mincemeat of humanity’s military but fails to contend with a handful of lone, determined badasses. William Cage (Tom Cruise), a PR man with absolutely no military experience, is dropped into the middle of a warzone where he proceeds to immediately die, drenched in the corrosive blood of an unusually huge alien creature. Then he wakes up. Trapped in a mysterious time loop, Cage relives the invasion over and over, becoming a proficient killer in the process. Edge of Tomorrow has it all: caustic aliens, a tenacious female co-lead (Emily Blunt), and more comedy than you’d expect from a film about constantly having your lights snuffed out by humanity’s potential destroyer.
Available to rent on iTunes.