In honor of the impending release of the new Simon Pegg alien road-trip comedy Paul, we’ve delved into the quirky list of those friendly aliens among us whom we’ve feel compelled to conceal and protect from our fellow humans. We can only hope that if stranded on an alien planet that the kindness humankind has shown these various otherworldly people will be duly returned.
If the conversations around the Tor.com offices are to be believed, there’s a good chance Starman is your mom’s favorite undercover space alien. Starring the incomparable Jeff Bridges as the titular character, the Starman takes the form of poor Jenny Hayden’s (Karen Allen!) recently deceased husband in an innocent attempt to relate to her better. Starman has also assimilated a limited amount of human language (specifically English) and manages to communicate with Jenny, albeit in a halted, charming alien kind of way. On the run from cops and the government, Jenny will stop at nothing to make sure the Starman is reunited with his people. This tearjerker also left us with the notion that Jenny was all set to have an alien baby! Just who would play the son of Starman if there were a sequel? (And how much of a riot do we plan if a sequel wasn’t called Son of Starman?)
*batteries not included (1987)
Sometimes undercover friendly aliens don’t need our protection, but rather can help us solve some of our own petty little human problems. If your apartment or local café is being vandalized by thugs, the “fix-its” might be the answer to your prayers! What planet are the fix-its from? Are they sentient robot spaceships or are even smaller robot things controlling them? (One scene seems to imply this.) Are they non-malicious Von Neumman machines? In any case we think these little space-bots were a better kept secret than anything Jessica Tandy revealed in Fried Green Tomatoes.
If contact were every made very quietly with peaceful aliens during the 1980s, it seems pretty clear at this point that our appointed human ambassador would have been Jessica Tandy. (In fact if one were to nominate a movie star as an ambassador from each decade, we tend to think Sam Rockwell for the 00’s and Simon Pegg for the current decade.) But in this Ron Howard movie that your mom also probably really likes, centuries-old aliens who founded Atlantis possess the power of de-aging! This film presents a nice little closed world as the aliens take most of the elderly folks with them to the home planet of Antarea where they will be young forever. Supposedly the now immortal people return to Earth to visit their families in the sequel, but we never saw that one.
Spock in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
As fish-out-of-water alien plots go, it doesn’t get funnier than Spock cruising around San Francisco. From his constant cursing (“Just one damn minute, Admiral.”) to his total lack of social graces; the Spock in this film was the ultimate analog for how geeky children and teenagers experience the world. The recent memory-loss Spock had undergone made him sort of child-like in his perception of things and as such lacked the very subtle cynicism that the character possessed previously. From a story perspective, dropping him in the middle of an environment as strange as the late 20th century couldn’t have been more genius. Surely, this movie depicts the entire Enterprise crew as aliens in their own world, but Spock undergoes a considerable amount of alienation in this one.
The Brother from Another Planet (1984)
How many people can say they spent a portion of their MacArthur genius grant on producing a film about three-toed aliens in Harlem? John Sayles can. In this cult film, The Brother is an alien slave on the run from his home planet. Deposited in Harlem, the telekinetic man has to dodge bounty hunters (one played by director John Sayles!) from his home planet intent on bringing him back. Part comedy, part dramatic social commentary, The Brother from Another Planet is definitely somebody we would harbor in our various apartments!
At least two members of the Tor.com crew were born in the early 1980s, and one of us knows for a fact that this was the first movie he saw EVER. (Sure it was a drive-in movie and it was a car seat, but whatever, it made an impression.) Did this really, really famous movie create a trend of funny friendly alien movies? It seems likely. Ironically, the origins of this movie came from an abandoned project about evil aliens that was partially scripted by none other than John Sayles. If you can forgive Spielberg for the over-the-top revisionism in the special 20th anniversary re-release, this still remains the best and obvious example of a friendly alien movie.
Special Absurd Spotlight: Mac & Me (1988)
Many of us had really fond memories of this movie, but upon closer inspection it appears to be one big long commercial for Skittles and MacDonald’s. Also, how can one not be at least mildly offended by the scene in which the physically-handicapped main character plummets off a cliff in his wheelchair?
What about you? Who are you favorite friendly aliens among us? Does another decade have more than the 80s?
Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and the voice of many of the staff. Unlike E.T. or Mac, Stubby doesn’t survive on any kind of candy, but rather prefers really good burritos.