21 Movies Like Aliens (1986)

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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

, 1985

In the movie Brazil, our hero Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce) lives in a dystopian world that relies on the cold productivity grind of machines. He’s in a constant battle between the high-level dominating powers that be and the low-level beatdown scums of society. Saving him from complete misery is a recurring dream he has of a beautiful woman. There, nothing else matters but love, which fills his draining soul and makes his life seem worthwhile. 

The way director Terry Gilliam handles a serious matter in such a comedic way is fantastic, and the amount of thought and effort he puts into creating every single bit of existence in this film is mind-boggling. With Brazil, he succeeds in establishing his own style, making a mark for himself in an age when plenty of auteurs compete for mere recognition.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Ann Way, Barbara Hicks, Bill Wallis, Bob Hoskins, Brian Miller, Bryan Pringle, Charles McKeown, David Gant, Derek Deadman, Derrick O'Connor, Don Henderson, Gorden Kaye, Harold Innocent, Howard Lew Lewis, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Jack Purvis, James Coyle, Jim Broadbent, John Flanagan, John Grillo, John Pierce Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Katherine Helmond, Kathryn Pogson, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Myrtle Devenish, Nigel Planer, Oscar Quitak, Patrick Connor, Peter Vaughan, Ralph Nossek, Ray Cooper, Robert De Niro, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Sheila Reid, Simon Jones, Terence Bayler, Terry Gilliam

Director: Terry Gilliam

Rating: R

Serenity is a futuristic sci-fi film that serves as a feature-length continuation of the story-line from the TV program Firefly (2002-2003). The story revolves around the captain (Nathan Fillion) and crew of the titular space vessel that operate as space outlaws, running cargo and smuggling missions throughout the galaxy. They take on a mysterious young psychic girl and her brother, the girl carrying secrets detrimental to the intergalactic government, and soon find themselves being hunted by a nefarious assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The first feature-length film from Joss Whedon (The Avengers), Serenity is a lively and enjoyable adventure, replete with large-scale action sequences, strong characterizations and just the right touch of wry humor. An enjoyable viewing experience that stands alone without demanding that you have familiarity with the original program beforehand.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Amy Wieczorek, Carrie 'CeCe' Cline, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Patrick Lynch, David Krumholtz, Demetra Raven, Dennis Keiffer, Elaine Mani Lee, Erik Erotas, Erik Weiner, Gina Torres, Glenn Howerton, Hunter Ansley Wryn, Jessica Huang, Jewel Staite, Linda Wang, Logan O'Brien, Marcus Young, Mark Winn, Marley McClean, Matt McColm, Michael Hitchcock, Morena Baccarin, Nathan Fillion, Nectar Rose, Neil Patrick Harris, Peter James Smith, Rafael Feldman, Rick Williamson, Ron Glass, Ryan Tasz, Sarah Paulson, Scott Kinworthy, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Tamara Taylor, Terrell Tilford, Terrence Hardy Jr., Tristan Jarred, Weston Nathanson, Yan Feldman

Director: Joss Whedon

Rating: PG-13

A marvelous combination of perfect casting and a sizzling script. William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter are such natural talents they could make reading a dictionary watchable, but seeing them weave through James L Brooks punchy dialogue is a delight to behold. The three form the foundation of this drama that is as much about journalistic ambition as it is about love.

Hunter and Brooks are principled workaholics at a news station juggling a platonic friendship that seems destined for more but lacks a driving spark. Enter Hurt, a charming though self-admittedly stupid news anchor, who Hunter at once resents and yet can’t help falling for. What seems like a ready-built rom-com plot, however, churns into something else entirely. It’s a delicious film crackling with wit and character and is as funny as it is astute. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Amy Brooks, Christian Clemenson, Ed Wheeler, Frank Doubleday, Gennie James, Gerald F. Gough, Gerard Ender, Glen Roven, Holly Hunter, Jack Nicholson, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Kimber Shoop, Leo Burmester, Lois Chiles, Luis Valderrama, Marc Shaiman, Marita Geraghty, Martha Smith, Nat Benchley, Peggy Pridemore, Peter Hackes, Raoul N. Rizik, Richard Thomsen, Robert Katims, Robert Prosky, Robert Walsh, Stephen Mendillo, William Hurt

Director: James L. Brooks

Although it opens on Janet Frame’s first steps as a baby, this Jane Campion-directed biopic of the celebrated New Zealand writer doesn’t take an exhaustive approach to its subject’s life. We frequently only learn of milestones — the many awards she won, the death of her mother — later on and in passing. In a beautiful gesture that feels like a tiny righting of the many wrongs done to Janet, it’s her perspective that guides the film. 

That embedded approach also makes the emotions that come with her heartbreaking yet uplifting story more profound. And there is much heartbreak here: alongside the several tragic losses Janet experienced as a child, she was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic as a young woman and spent eight harrowing years in psychiatric hospitals. Throughout all of this, she wrote fiction and poetry, work that saved her life in more ways than one: as well as being a rare constant source of joy, it won her a literary prize just days before she was scheduled for a lobotomy, prompting her doctors to reconsider. Neither Campion nor Janet allowed this experience to define her, however, and the film empathetically grants her real moments of joy and choice throughout — making for a deeply sensitive and uplifting watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexia Keogh, Alison Bruce, Alistair Douglas, Andrew Robertt, Brenda Kendall, Brian Flegg, Celia Nicholson, Collette Cooper, David Letch, David Stott, Edith Campion, Elizabeth McRae, Faye Flegg, Fiona Kay, Francesca Collins, Gerald Bryan, Iris Churn, Jessie Mune, Jim Rawdon, Julia Calvo, Karen Fergusson, Katherine Murray-Cowper, Kerry Fox, Kevin J. Wilson, Lilian Enting, Mark Clare, Mark Morrison, Martyn Sanderson, Melina Bernecker, Natasha Gray, Paul Norell, Peter Needham, Robert Jayne, Ruth Dudding, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, Sheryl Stewart, Tiffany de Castro, Timothy Bartlett, Willa O'Neill

Director: Jane Campion

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

When citizenship and rights can only be achieved through federal service, you have no choice but to militarize. Johnny Rico is young, impressionable, but noble; in other words, he is an archetypal hero even if he initially enlists just to be close to his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards). From then on, Starship Troopers unfolds as a high-strung high school drama, but in the middle of a space colonization. During one such mission, a highly evolved insectoid race, Arachnids, proves to be the most dangerous enemy to human supremacy and the fight is on. What's interesting about Starship Troopers is that it shows how a well-oiled propaganda machine works and for that reason, it was accused of indoctrination and army endorsement. Even more, it was dubbed fascist, instead of the fascist satire it claimed to be. But today, it's indisputably a cult film and a great introduction to the Paul Verhoeven's work in Hollywood.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Stielstra, Amy Smart, Anthony Ruivivar, Armand Darrius, Betty Hankins, Blake Lindsley, Brad Kane, Brenda Strong, Brooke Morales, Bruce Gray, Bruce Holman, Cari Vega, Casper Van Dien, Christopher Curry, Clancy Brown, Claude Stuart, Curnal Achilles Aulisio, Dale Dye, Dan Olivo, David Rey, Dean Norris, Denise Dowse, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Edward Neumeier, Eric Bruskotter, Eric DaRe, Farnaz Samiinia, Greg Travis, Hunter Bodine, Jake Busey, John Cunningham, Jon Davison, Julia Self, Julianna McCarthy, Julie Pinson, Kai Lennox, Kaius Harrison, Lenore Kasdorf, Mara Duronslet, Marshall Bell, Mary Ann Schmidt, Matt Duggan, Matt Entriken, Matt Levin, Michael Ironside, Michael Papajohn, Mike Stokey, Mylin Brooks, Nathaniel Marshall, Neil Patrick Harris, Parry Shen, Patrick Bishop, Patrick Muldoon, Patrick Wolff, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Quiroga, Robert David Hall, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam, Stephanie Erb, Steven Ford, Tami-Adrian George, Timothy McNeil, Timothy Omundson, Tyrone Tann, Ungela Brockman, Walter Adrian, Whitney Hall, Zoë Poledouris

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R

Two misfits, an immigrant and a traveling cook, team up to start an unlikely enterprise in this slow but captivating drama. The story, set in 19th century Pacific Northwest, evolves around the arrival of the first cow to that part of the world. This presents a unique opportunity that the two main characters try to benefit from. 

First Cow is a mix between a Western and a modern-day plot-less indie drama.  It has likable characters, stunning scenery, and a fascinating look into how social outcasts lived back then.

Genre: Drama, History, Western

Actor: Alia Shawkat, Don MacEllis, Dylan Smith, Eric Martin Reid, Ewen Bremner, Gary Farmer, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Jeb Berrier, John Keating, John Magaro, Kevin-Michael Moore, Lily Gladstone, Mary Ann Perreira, Mike Wood, Mitchell Saddleback, Orion Lee, Patrick D. Green, Phelan Davis, Rene Auberjonois, Scott Shepherd, T. Dan Hopkins, Ted Rooney, Toby Jones, Todd A. Robinson

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: PG-13

A Room with a View is downright beautiful. Amidst the impressionistic scenery of Florence’s and England’s countrysides, paired with iconic classical opera, some of Britain’s best actors bare the feelings of their snobbish, upper-class characters in stylish and historically-accurate costumes. But all of these elements aren’t just silly decorations. Like the novel it’s based on, the characters’ refined and respectable veneer, and their insistence on propriety, is a front that hides the feelings stirring in their gut, particularly that of the lovers George Emerson (Julian Sands) and Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter). Inevitably, these feelings can’t be contained– they can only be examined. And when Emerson earnestly declares his love, it’s so powerful to be seen as one’s self rather than as decoration.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amanda Walker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Fabia Drake, Helena Bonham Carter, Isabella Celani, James Wilby, Joan Henley, Judi Dench, Julian Sands, Kitty Aldridge, Luigi Di Fiore, Maggie Smith, Matyelok Gibbs, Mia Fothergill, Patricia Lawrence, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Cellier, Peter Munt, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: Not Rated

A hilarious comedy about politics in the UK and US. The secretary of State for Internal Development Simon Foster accidentally backs the plans for a war in the Middle East and suddenly finds he has a lot of friends in Washington. What follows is a difficult to follow maneuvering of pro- and antiwar factions in both governments. The harder it gets to follow what's going on in the movie the more it resembles our present day politics and the funnier it becomes.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alex MacQueen, Anna Chlumsky, Chipo Chung, Chris Addison, David Rasche, Del Pentecost, Enzo Cilenti, Eve Matheson, Gina McKee, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Doherty, James Gandolfini, James Smith, Janelle Schmidt, Joanna Brookes, Joanna Scanlan, Johnny Pemberton, Lucinda Raikes, Mimi Kennedy, Natasha Sattler, Olivia Poulet, Paul Higgins, Peter Capaldi, Rita May, Samantha Harrington, Steve Coogan, Tom Hollander, Will Smith, Zach Woods

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: Not Rated

Somehow an art house film, horror, and romance all in one, Let the Right One In explores the boundaries of its genres with unprecedented finesse, and offers a stunning alternative for those disappointed with recent vampire love stories. From its haunting minimalist imagery to its incredible score, it is persistently beautiful. The film follows twelve-year-old Oskar and Eli, drawing on numerous aspects of traditional undead lore, and still manages an impressive feat in feeling entirely fresh and devoid of cliche. Those in search of a terrifying movie might need to look elsewhere, but if what you're looking for is simply a great watch, don't pass this one up.

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Anders T. Peedu, Henrik Dahl, Ika Nord, Johan Sömnes, Kåre Hedebrant, Karin Bergquist, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Lina Leandersson, Malin Cederblad, Mikael Rahm, Pale Olofsson, Patrik Rydmark, Per Ragnar, Peter Carlberg, Tom Ljungman

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rating: R

Hit Man is many things—a romance, neo-noir, comedy, and thriller. And though it sometimes feels like it doesn’t quite reach its full potential in all those areas, it’s hard not to be blown away by Powell’s Rolodex of characters and his palpable chemistry with Arjona. The story itself isn’t as sturdy as I hoped it would be, but it’s supported by a strong, funny script co-written by the ever-reliable Linklater (who I suspect is behind the deep existential ruminations) and Powell (who must’ve supplied the cache of modern jokes), ultimately making Hit Man a smart, funny, and deeply pleasurable watch.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance

Actor: Adria Arjona, Anthony Michael Frederick, Austin Amelio, Bryant Carroll, Eleanor Threatt, Evan Holtzman, Glen Powell, Gralen Bryant Banks, Jo-Ann Robinson, Jordan Salloum, Julia Holt, Kate Adair, Kim Baptiste, Mike Markoff, Molly Bernard, Morgana Shaw, Retta, Richard Robichaux, Ritchie Montgomery, Roxy Rivera, Sanjay Rao, Sara Osi Scott, Stephanie Hong

Director: Richard Linklater

Rating: R

In The Kid Detective, Adam Brody stars as Abe Applebaum, a once-beloved child prodigy turned pathetic P.I. stuck in the glory days of his past. At 32 years old, he’s still solving petty mysteries and coasting on his parents’ money, but things start to change when he is finally dealt with a real, adult case: a murder that confounds even the local police. As Abe uncovers more details about the case, he also unwittingly finds a connection to his traumatic past and begins a long-overdue coming-of-age journey. 

Released during the first year of the pandemic, The Kid Detective understandably flew under the radar when it first came out, garnering sufficient critical praise but not enough fanfare. It will no doubt find a second life among film lovers, though; it’s too smart and riveting to go unnoticed. Most impressive is how director Evan Morgan, in his feature debut, deftly balances multiple genres in a movie that often feels as if Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and modern stoner humor were somehow rolled into one. The gags consistently amuse, the drawn-out mysteries pay off, and the human element persists throughout. Adam Brody, himself a kid celebrity back in the day, expertly carries this delightful and sobering film. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Brody, Alan Catlin, Alicia Brand, Amalia Williamson, Avery Esteves, Barbara Rajnovich, Bethanie Ho, Brent Skagford, Bruce McFee, Dallas Edwards, David Rosser, Deborah Tennant, Devin Myler, Giovanna Moore, Isaac Kragten, Jake Bell-Webster, Jesse Noah Gruman, Jonathan Whittaker, Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Kaleb Horn, Kevin Hoffman, Kira Gelineau, Lisa Truong, Marcia Bennett, Marcus Zane, Marlaina Andre, Maurice Dean Wint, Peter MacNeill, Sarah Sutherland, Sharon Crandall, Sophia Webster, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Nélisse, Steve Gagne, Tracy Rowland, Tyler Duke, Tzi Ma, Wayne St-George, Wendy Crewson

Director: Evan Morgan

Rating: R

Pan’s Labyrinth is often considered director Guillermo Del Toro’s best film, and rightfully so. But if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this is the film that gets the job done. Everything about this film is sad and beautiful and unnerving, from the setting (an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War) to the atmospheric visuals.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Lamana, Berta Ojea, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Francisco Maestre, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo, Javier Bódalo, Jose Manuel Lorenzo, Juan Carlos Vellido, Junio Valverde, Marisa Paredes, Miguel Ortiz, Víctor Elías

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Rating: R

Lauren Greenfield’s film follows the Siegel family’s decline from opulent abundance to gaudy ruin. Mega wealth, delusions of grandeur, and grotesquely opulent taste—the Siegel family were the perfect subjects for the film, which sets out to document their most lavish expense: their Versailles home, a mansion sprawling more than 85,000 square feet and modeled after the Palace of Versailles.

The Siegels, no doubt, are entirely out of touch with reality. David Siegel, the owner of one of the world’s largest timeshare developers, married Jackie, a former Mrs. Florida who is 30 years younger. The Versailles home is to be Jackie’s castle, an enormous home for her eight kids and numerous pets.

But the 2008 recession does not spare the Siegels, and their company is devastated. After layoffs and desperate attempts to recover financially, the family struggles to pay back the banks. Construction halts. The Versailles home remains vacant and unfinished.

While the film does not sympathize with the Siegels, Greenfield creates a space where pity is possible as well as criticism. And from there comes the universal: desperation, longing, hope for better, if not also more, more, more.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Jacqueline Siegel, Virginia Nebab

Director: Lauren Greenfield