15 Movies Like Alien (1979)

Staff & contributors

, 1995

Like a long, slow drag of a cigar, Smoke is a patient pleasure. Adam Holender’s leisurely lingering camera and the film’s relaxed editing allow us to savor the actors’ performances and the thoughtful script uninterrupted, trusting in their ability to captivate us. And captivate us is exactly what novelist Paul Auster’s screenplay and the film’s superlative ensemble do.

The film kicks off in Auggie Wren’s (Harvey Keitel) Brooklyn smoke shop, where myriad customers linger to chat and unexpected friendships form. The serendipitous network around which Smoke revolves unfurls gradually, like a curling wisp of smoke: Auggie’s patron Paul (William Hurt), a writer's block-struck novelist grieving the violent death of his pregnant wife some years ago, has his life saved by Harold Perrineau’s Rashid, the estranged 17-year-old son of a struggling mechanic (Forest Whitaker). Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing also feature in Auggie’s portion of the film, one of its five loose vignettes (although the film flows much more fluidly than a chapterized structure suggests). Auster’s contemplative, dialogue-driven screenplay — along with the film’s unhurried editing and luxuriating cinematography — make Smoke a gorgeous example of the art of savoring, which is exactly what you want to do with this wonderful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ashley Judd, Baxter Harris, Clarice Taylor, Deirdre OConnell, Erica Gimpel, Forest Whitaker, Giancarlo Esposito, Harold Perrineau, Harvey Keitel, Jared Harris, José Zúñiga, Malik Yoba, Mary B. Ward, Mel Gorham, Michelle Hurst, Murray Moston, Stephen Gevedon, Stockard Channing, Victor Argo, William Hurt

Director: Wayne Wang

Rating: R

This movie is gentle and utterly chaotic, intimate and massive, beautiful and ugly... it tries to be so many things and somehow pulls it off. It tells two stories parallel in time, based on the real-life diaries of two European scientists who traveled through the Amazon in the early and mid-twentieth century. Their stories are some of the only of accounts of Amazonian tribes in written history. The main character and guide in the movie is a shaman who met them both. At times delicate to the point of almost being able to feel the water, at times utterly apocalyptic and grand... to watch this movie is to take a journey through belief systems, through film... and to be brought along by cinematography that is at times unbelievably and absurdly beautiful. Meditative, violent, jarring, peaceful, luminous, ambitious, artful, heavy handed, graceful... it's really an incredible film.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Jan Bijvoet, Nilbio Torres, Yauenkü Miguee

Director: Ciro Guerra

, 2019

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho's sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film's cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Family

Actor: Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Chen-Ling Wen, Chien-Ho Wu, Chih-ju Lin, Greg Hsu, Guan-Ting Liu, Han Chang, Huang Hsin-Yao, Ivy Yin, Kuan-Ting Liu, Li-Tung Chang, Liao Hui-Jen, Lin Chih-ju, Liu Kuan-ting, Lung Shao-Hua, Ming-Shuai Shih, Samantha Ko, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Shao-Huai Chang, Shu-Chin Ko, Shu-qin Ke, Siu Wa Lung, Wang Ko-Yuan, Wen Chen-ling, Wu Chien-ho, Wu Tai-ling, Yi-Wen Chen, Yin Shin

Director: Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Rating: N/A

Named for all the connections that form a functioning society, Threads is a harrowing look at what might happen when those ties are rent apart by nuclear war. This British TV movie — released during the Cold War — so violently seized on the nuclear anxieties of the time that its premiere was dubbed “the night the country didn’t sleep.” Depressingly, it hasn’t lost that initial resonance, and so it remains a panic attack-inducing watch.

Threads begins in the kitchen-sink vein of a Ken Loach movie. In the northern industrial town of Sheffield, a young couple from different social classes (Reece Dinsdale and Karen Meagher) discover they’re about to be parents — but looming above their small-scale drama are the clouds of war, as televisions and radios blare out the details of escalating tensions between the US and the USSR. And then, it happens: the town is strategically bombed, and Threads unfurls into an unrelenting nightmare. In the documentary-like approach that follows, it spares no graphic or emotional detail, charting both the personal devastation caused by the bomb and the annihilating impact of the nuclear holocaust on all the vital infrastructure we take for granted. In short, one of the bleakest, most terrifying movies ever made.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, War

Actor: Ashley Barker, Brian Grellis, David Brierly, Dean Williamson, Ed Bishop, Harry Beety, Henry Moxon, Jane Hazlegrove, Joe Belcher, Karen Meagher, Lesley Judd, Maggie Ford, Michael O'Hagan, Nat Jackley, Patrick Allen, Peter Faulkner, Phil Rose, Reece Dinsdale, Richard Albrecht, Rita May, Ruth Holden, Steve Halliwell, Ted Beyer

Director: Mick Jackson

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Amalia Kassai, Natalia Geisse

Director: Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña

Filmed as a “found footage” of a Norwegian college film crew investigating local poachers, this movie really surprised me. To be fair, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I definitely didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. The pacing is on point. The suspense hits you at just the right times. There are a few drops of humour trickled throughout to keep a smile on your face. And that’s how my face stayed when the credits rolled.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: André Øvredal, Anton Yelchin, Eirik Bech, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Hans Morten Hansen, Inge Erik Henjesand, Johanna Mørck, Johanna Mørck, Kelsey Grammer, Knut Nærum, Knut Nærum, Lexi Medrano, Otto Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg, Tomas Alf Larsen, Torunn Lødemel Stokkeland, Urmila Berg-Domaas

Director: André Øvredal, André Øvredal

Rating: PG-13

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as "fallen" that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents. The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, "Why?" and "Who are they to?". You will share in Bernadette's sense of outrage, in Rose's compassion and Margaret's acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina's questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists. The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anne-Marie Duff, Britta Smith, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Daniel Costello, Dorothy Duffy, Eamonn Owens, Eileen Walsh, Eithne McGuinness, Frances Healy, Geraldine McEwan, Mary Murray, Nora-Jane Noone, Peter Mullan, Phyllis MacMahon, Stephen McCole

Director: Peter Mullan

Rating: R

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn't a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider's point of view. It's a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Rawiri Paratene, Tahei Simpson, Tammy Davis, Taungaroa Emile, Vicky Haughton

Director: Niki Caro

What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jackie Quinn, John Comerford, Leanne Mullen, Lisa Taylor, Rory McCann, Tommy Flanagan

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Spike Lee’s adaptation of Richard Price’s novel might appear lesser next to his best work, but it still a gorgeous showcase for all of his talents as a director. Its case is further bolstered by a stacked cast including Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Pfifer, Isaiah Washington, and John Turturro. 

Clockers is set in the world of small-time drug-dealers during the crack epidemic, and much like The Wire (which Price would go on to write for) applies a multifaceted lens to the material. Lee’s uncompromising and emphatic direction lends a gorgeous gravity to the taut drama while top-notch performances fuel the emotional furnace at its core.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Arthur J. Nascarella, Bray Poor, Brendan Kelly, Brian Konowal, Christopher Wynkoop, David Batiste, Delroy Lindo, Elvis Nolasco, Frances Foster, Fredro Starr, Ginny Yang, Harry Lennix, Harvey Keitel, Hassan Johnson, Isaiah Washington, J. C. MacKenzie, James Saxenmeyer, Jeff Ward, John Turturro, Keith David, Ken Garito, Lawrence B. Adisa, Leonard L. Thomas, Lisa Arrindell, Marc Webster, Maurice Sneed, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Badalucco, Michael Cullen, Michael Imperioli, Michael McGruther, Mike Starr, Norman Matlock, Orran Farmer, Paul Calderon, Paul Schulze, Peewee Love, Regina Taylor, Rick Aiello, Ron Brice, Scot Anthony Robinson, Skipp Sudduth, Spike Lee, Steve White, Sticky Fingaz, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Tim Kelleher

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

A story about inspectors on the Hungarian subway and their struggle to get travelers to pay up. Skinheads with attack dogs, drunks and freaks are the harsh reality of these working-class heroes, who themselves of course are quite the weird bunch. Dark post-soviet humor, refreshingly politically incorrect characters and an abstract parallel love story which barely makes sense even at the end. Kontroll is a movie you will regret having waited 10 years to see.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Balla Eszter, Bence Mátyássy, Csaba Pindroch, Enikő Eszenyi, Eszter Balla, György Cserhalmi, Győző Szabó, János Derzsi, János Kulka, Lajos Kovács, Péter Scherer, Sándor Csányi, Szabó Győző, Zoltán Mucsi, Zsolt Nagy

Director: Nimród Antal

Rating: R

Acclaimed director Johnnie To and many stars from the hit series Infernal Affairs reunite for this stylish action drama about a gangster who leads a quiet life but whose murder is suddenly ordered.

When two hitmen arrive to take him out, they discover a second pair of mobsters assigned to protect him. All five men being childhood friends, they end up sharing a meal before deciding where their loyalties lie.

A great score, a gorgeous setting in 90s Macau, and great action sequences make Exiled the perfect summer night thriller.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anthony Wong, Chiu Chi-Shing, Eddie Cheung, Ellen Chan, Ellen Chan Nga-Lun, Francis Ng, Gordon Lam, Hui Siu-Hung, Jimmy Wong Wa-Wo, Josie Ho, Lam Ka-tung, Lam Suet, Lu Ching-Ting, Nick Cheung, Richie Jen, Richie Ren Xian-Qi, Ronald Yan, Roy Cheung, Simon Yam, Suet Lam, Tam Bing-Man, Tam Kon-Chung, Wong Chi-Wai, Wong Wa-Wo, 吴镇宇, 许绍雄

Director: Johnnie To

Summary: it’s a really unusual movie, especially for a star like Robin Williams. It’s almost an indie film actually. Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, the father of a typical rude teenage boy Kyle Clayton (Daryl Sabara) wherein Sabara’s character meets an unusual demise, and out of embarrassment of the situation the father ghost-writes a suicide note from his son. This white lie leads to another and another and so on until his lies spread further than anticipated. The movie definitely earns points for making the film that was set out to be made. They wanted to make a dark comedy and a dark comedy was what they made. It’s even uncomfortable to watch at times. Between Lance’s love life and Kyle’s non-existent one there’s enough awkwardness that you feel like you can’t wait to get to the next scene just so this one can be over. All in all the actors did a truly fantastic job. Each character seemed well developed by the individual actor to the point where every gesture, line delivery, and awkward silence seemed too natural and organic. Additionally, the writing was exceptional for this movie, as no dialogue was ever wasted. Each and every little detail in each and every shot of each and every scene was very carefully designed to continually push the aesthetics, this film is a big success.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexie Gilmore, Bobcat Goldthwait, Cheri Minns, Daryl Sabara, Ellie Jameson, Evan Martin, Geoff Pierson, Henry Simmons, Jermaine Williams, Jill Talley, Krist Novoselic, Lorraine Nicholson, Mitzi McCall, Morgan Murphy, Naomi Glick, Rebecca Erwin Spencer, Robin Williams, Toby Huss, Tom Kenny

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

Rating: R

, 1994

Notorious comic artist Robert (R.) Crumb is definitely the most well-adjusted member of his immediate family. Fairly early in this documentary we are introduced to his two sibling brothers (mom is briefly viewed as well) and it becomes apparent that his childhood was less than rosy. Crumb and his brothers drew mind-blowing comics as an escape from their chaotic childhood, but it was only R. who would turn his talents into a means of permanent escape, while his oldest brother remains at home with his mom and never leaves the house, and his youngest brother is holed up in a seedy residence hotel and spends his days sitting on a bed of nails (I kid you not.) Whether or not you’re a fan of Crumb’s work, this is an amazing documentary about an eccentric individual and the world of underground comics.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Aline Kominsky, Charles Crumb, Robert Crumb, Robert Hughes

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Rating: R

A peculiar Western that might not please everyone if it wasn't for its main star, Kurt Russel. It's a mix between classic western material, a horror flick, and a fantasy movie. Yes, it's a lot. And not only that, it can be slow at times. However, in those perks it also finds a lot of originality in a saturated genre, and one more time: Kurt Russel. He's amazing as can be expected, playing the sheriff of a quiet town that gets struck by sudden disappearances. The suspect is a faraway tribe known for its cannibalism practices, the movie follows the sheriff as he leads an expedition to save a disappearing woman.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Western

Actor: Alex Meraz, Brandon Molale, David Arquette, David Midthunder, Eddie Spears, Erick Chavarria, Evan Jonigkeit, Fred Melamed, Geno Segers, James Tolkan, Jamison Newlander, Jay Tavare, Jeremy Tardy, Kathryn Morris, Kurt Russell, Lili Simmons, Maestro Harrell, Mario Perez, Matthew Fox, Michael Emery, Michael Pare, Omar Leyva, Patrick Wilson, Raw Leiba, Richard Jenkins, Robert Allen Mukes, Sean Young, Sid Haig, Zahn McClarnon

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Rating: Not Rated