In the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion about so-called UFOs being shot down in North American airspace; they're probably spy balloons or normal detritus, but conspiracies have run rampant. However, in the absence of any incontrovertible proof that aliens have walked among us, alien invasion movies will always have to remain a little unrealistic in general. Since we don't know what they might actually look like, CGI and special effects only add to the surrealism of alien films.

Update July 13, 2023: This article has been updated with even more great alien invasion films.

However, some invasion movies do a great job of being realistic in other aspects. Whether this is by showcasing the likely outcomes of how an alien invasion might play out or how society would probably react to one, for one reason or another, here are the most realistic depictions of alien invasions in sci-fi movies.

20 The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave movie
Columbia Pictures

The 5th Wave may not be one of the best alien invasion movies ever made, but it certainly reflects a realistic approach to the apocalypse. In the film, four waves of mysterious and deadly attacks have ravaged the Earth, leaving most of its surface in ruins. While trying to contemplate what caused such a massive catastrophe, Cassie sets off on a mission to save her little brother.

However, when things heat up with the fifth wave on standby, she teams up with a young man who may be humanity's last hope. The mere fact that there are no widespread battles and it relies heavily on sheer survival circumstances to create tension throughout, sets the movie apart from many other alien invasion films.

19 Invaders from Mars

Invaders from Mars movie
Twentieth Century Fox

An invasion may not always imply that extraterrestrial beings are wreaking widespread havoc until no humans remain on Earth. Sometimes it is more psychological, with aliens attempting to take over human minds, thus turning them into hosts and slowly taking over the world. Invaders from Mars explored this concept back in 1953 when science fiction movies were just surfacing.

The story follows a boy named David MacLean who witnesses a strange flying saucer one night, and when his father investigates his son’s wild story the following day, he returns as an entirely different person. After a few more incidents, David comes to the conclusion that alien invaders are taking over humans, and he teams up with a lady psychologist and a friendly astronomer to prevent it from happening.

18 Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers movie
Columbia Pictures

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a prime example of what science fiction is all about, and despite releasing in 1956, the movie was way ahead of its time, both in terms of storytelling and special effects. Perhaps, the trend of flying saucers that swept the world in the early 1950s inspired this fascinating movie in tandem with the Cold War.

Dr. Russell A. Marvin stumbles upon a cryptic coded message from a flying saucer one day while driving through the deserts, and they ask him to set a meeting with the leaders of Earth for their domination in 56 days. To save the human race from these mysterious beings, Russell, along with several experts, builds an anti-magnetic weapon in order to fight the invaders.

17 The Tomorrow War

Chris Pratt and cast in The Tomorrow War (2021)
Amazon Studios

We’ve always suspected that aliens might have been trying to contact us in some manner, but what if they have already arrived on our planet thousands of years ago? The Tomorrow War film, starring Chris Pratt, takes on a similar theme but with the inclusion of epic battles and ever-growing tension.

The story takes place in a normal world where people from the future arrive through time travel and draft some of the Earth’s personnel to stop the alien invasion that is bound to happen in thirty years or so. Dan Forester, the former Green Beret First Sergeant, volunteers so that his daughter can have a peaceful life in the future. Now, with a handful of last-standing fighters of humanity, he must track down the source of the alien invasion and destroy it before it's too late.

16 Battle: Los Angeles

Battle- Los Angeles movie
Columbia Pictures

Battle: Los Angeles is more than a science fiction or alien invasion film for its representation of a soldier’s spirit, and it can get as realistic as possible with the scenarios it pulls over time. The story revolves around Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), who is about to retire, but when a strange phenomenon apparent to an alien invasion sweeps over the Earth out of the blue, he embarks on one final mission.

Along with a platoon consisting of the best fighters, he flies to Los Angeles to rescue civilians while delaying the extraterrestrial beings as much as possible before the Air Force bombs the entire zone in three hours. While the movie doesn’t provide anything out of the norm, such as surprising twists and a complicated plot, it does take the viewer on a wild rollercoaster of emotions, making every minute worth staying.

15 Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival
Paramount Pictures

Far from the usual depiction of aliens invading us and wanting to destroy us, the 2016 film Arrival, was a refreshing take on the genre. In this film, when alien ships enter Earth, they hang around various locations throughout the globe. Most powerful nations attempt to decipher the language the aliens attempt to communicate with, lending the movie a great intellectual angle since it features a prominent linguist played by Amy Adams.

Related: Here's Some of the Most Intellectual Sci-Fi Movies and the Ideas They Explore

The USA's team of experts discover that one of the messages they send means "offer weapon." Here's where the realistic part kicks in. These words are then interpreted differently by different nations. While the USA's lead scientist on the matter believes the aliens to not be a threat, other nations, such as China, take the message as a sign of aggression.

Given the geopolitical situation in the world today with the conflict in Ukraine, and the different viewpoints based on individual political beliefs and cultures that have stemmed from it, it isn't far-fetched to imagine that an actual alien invasion may go this way too — with all the superpowers disagreeing on how to handle it based on their own political views and cultural norms.

14 Cloverfield

The monster in Cloverfield.
Paramount Pictures

There may not have been anything too out of the ordinary in Cloverfield. After all, at its core, it was an alien invasion film that featured a hostile extraterrestrial monster who came to Earth to cause death and destruction.

However, what made this film great was that it was done in the style of a found footage film. Rather than relying on sweeping camera views and professionally designed shots to give it cinematic beauty and scope, that angle gave it a more raw and realistic edge since it made you feel like you were actually there, experiencing all the noise, chaos, and panic first-hand.

13 Independence Day

Rooftop Scene - Independence Day
20th Century Fox

Roland Emmerich's hit film Independence Day was a huge commercial success despite critics generally calling it cheesy and stereotypical. While the film certainly was a mainstream rendition of alien invasion flicks, packed with clichés and silliness, it did have some great elements of nuanced realism present in the societal dynamics that played out when the aliens invaded.

On that front, there was a tragically all too realistic scene where free-spirited groups of people gathered on a rooftop to welcome the aliens, despite warnings that they may be hostile. In the real world that has since moved to become beset with TikTokers who regularly flout common sense and warnings to be a part of the next big trend, the scene was an all too chilling reminder of how irrational society can become when a herd mentality guides it.

12 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Kevin McCarthy's face, covered in mud, looks terrified in Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956 movie
Allied Artists

As a sci-fi horror, the 1956 film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is today considered to be one of the best political allegories in history. While it centered on an invasion of aliens that take over people's bodies, the film was also a disturbingly unsettling glimpse into the mass hysteria and division that can be caused by paranoia and political rhetoric.

Often seen as a deep dive into the dangers of McCarthyism in the wake of anti-communist political ideals at the time, the film's brilliant use of an alien invasion to depict these significant themes left it so open to interpretation that others saw it as a commentary on the loss of political autonomy under totalitarian societies instead. The film has since grown into a franchise of sorts, with each remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers finding new ways to add a realistic edge to it by remaining politically relevant in some way.

11 War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds
Paramount Pictures

Director Steven Spielberg has a long and well-known love affair with making great sci-fi movies, and War of the Worlds was certainly one of them. Featuring some stellar performances from the likes of Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Tim Robbins, the film was a masterpiece in tension-building.

Related: These Are the Best Steven Spielberg Films, Ranked

While it featured monstrous aliens and some typical tropes from alien invasion movies, what set it apart was the amazing directing that was able to infect audiences with the same fear and tension experienced by the characters, allowing for an immersive experience that crawled under your skin — especially if you're a parent.

10 The Thing

Scene from The Thing
Universal Pictures

The Thing, John Carpenter's cult classic from 1982, was underrated compared to his Halloween from four years earlier but has fortunately become more acclaimed over time. The film focuses on a scientific expedition to Antarctica turned on its head when an alien inhabitant that crash-landed there a long time ago is discovered. The film was hailed for its special effects since the alien could effectively re-splice its own genetic makeup to mimic others and impersonate people.

Of course, all these elements departed from anything realistic. However, where the film and its remake shone was in their psychologically disturbing depictions of how paranoia infects all the scientists and causes them to turn on each other out of fear and mistrust. In some ways, the film accurately reflected the worst sides of human nature when groups of people are subjected to psychological strain.

9 The Vast of Night

The Vast of the Night
Amazon Studios

The debut film for indie director Andrew Patterson received some rave reviews for being able to take a classical alien invasion trope and turn it into an atmospheric masterpiece, considering its tiny budget. The Vast of Night portrays a teenager's attempts to understand and track down mysterious audio signals that turn out to be part of an alien invasion.

Some of the plot devices used may have been typical of the genre, but where the movie excelled was in the way it developed a tense and realistic feel through its visceral audiovisual appeal. The 1950's setting made the film feel like a proper update on the classic genre. Katie Rife of the A.V Club had this to say about its realism and how Patterson achieved it:

"Patterson keeps the camera tight on his actors’ faces as they tell (or listen to) these stories, beginning with an extended dialogue scene that’s much more compelling than you might think for a long, unbroken shot of a teenage girl moving circuits around on a switchboard. Here, Patterson drops the picture out entirely—one of several moments that nod to the other major influence on The Vast Of Night’s storytelling: old-fashioned radio dramas. Much of the script would work just as well as a radio play, building unearthly atmosphere through dialogue and sound effects rather than action."

8 Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Under the Skin was an alien invasion movie where the aliens took a different approach. Rather than using brute force, in this movie, their main aim was to infiltrate and assimilate as humans to learn about our species by luring their victims.

The film was also layered and intriguing to a hilt since it provoked audiences to think deeply about a myriad of different societal ills through a role reversal where predatory females preyed on men (made more titillating by the fact that the main predator was played by Scarlett Johansson).

Here's how famed film critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, introduced his review of the film:

Is "Under the Skin," in which Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious woman luring men into a fatal mating dance, a brilliant science fiction movie—more of an "experience" than a traditional story, with plenty to say about gender roles, sexism and the power of lust? Is it a pretentious gloss on a very old story about men's fear of women, and women's discomfort with their own allure? Does it contain mysteries that can only be unpacked with repeat viewings, or is it a shallow film whose assured style and eerie tone make it seem deeper than it is? Is there, in fact, something beneath the movie's skin?

7 Annihilation

Natalie Portman in Annihilation.
Paramount Pictures

It's difficult to categorize Annihilation as a realistic alien film since so much of it is surreal — beautiful but surreal. Starring Natalie Portman as a biologist who must enter a large tract of land that has been terraformed by a what might be a meteor, the film brilliantly creates a completely new world out of this site, even if it does borror heavily from the classic Soviet film Stalker.

Related: Best Natalie Portman Movies, Ranked

With unknown danger around every corner, this alien environment now serves as a beastly, yet oddly intriguing and beautiful landscape known as The Shimmer. The entire nature of The Shimmer causes the viewer to ponder its enigma while somehow experiencing some kind of soul-searching wonderment about the nature of life as we know it, and how all living things are biologically linked.

For all its brilliance, it was considered a flop since it never turned much of a profit commercially. Despite this, Annihilation may not be realistic but its mesmerizing cinematography and effects still finds a way to evoke very real emotions - even though you may not even be sure what you're feeling or why.

6 Slither

Universal Pictures

Nothing hidden under the radar in this fun sci-fi horror comedy. Slither is not realistic in any other way aside from the fact that it thinks pragmatically. Given how infinite the universe is, it's almost certain that aliens do exist somewhere out there. Yet, why do we always imagine them as large-headed, beady-eyed humanoid creatures with three fingers, flying saucer ships, and cruel intentions?

Chances are, actual aliens may be anything, including a parasitic life form that annihilates us through an infection rather than coming at us with superior technology. Aliens could be more primitive yet more dangerous that way. With James Gunnat the helm, Slither was nothing more than a great watch that takes on a lot more significance after everything we've collectively lived through since. If there's anything that the pandemic taught us, it's that the world can sometimes be far more susceptible to threats we don't see or imagine rather than the ones we may actually focus on.

5 Life

A scene from Life
Sony Pictures Releasing

The uncomfortably realistic aspect of Life was apparent through the fact that its plot is entirely possible. It takes place aboard the International Space Station after an unmanned space probe returning from Mars is intercepted by it for exobiologists to study soil samples it collected there.

Since so much is still unknown about other planets and the infinite vastness of space, it is entirely possible, if not probable, that all number of alien life forms and organisms are out there. While the film doesn't contain a traditional alien invasion, since there's no massive incursion by aliens that make it to Earth and take over, the samples recovered in the film turn out to contain an alien life form instead. The 'invasion' is that it causes chaos aboard the ISS by the threat it poses to the crew. For having a plot that is entirely plausible, this gives the film a realistic edge that's as unsettling as it is entertaining.

4 Signs

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

One of the most enduring mysteries (engulfed in labyrinths of conspiracy theories) are the famous crop circles to be found around the world. Most speculation points toward these strange designs and patterns being of alien design.

Related: Signs: M. Night Shyamalan's Masterpiece 20 Years Later

By taking this very real phenomenon and using it to provide a glimpse into the kind of coordinated purpose they could serve, M. Night Shyamalan's hit film Signs was unsettlingly frightening. Though still a great watch, the film is classically Shyamalan-esque but probably fell a little short of the kind of acclaim it searched for.

3 Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Columbia Pictures

This beautifully made Steven Spielberg film remains highly praised to this day. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was made back in 1977 but in many ways, was ahead of its time. It featured a different twist on alien invasions, one where the aliens seemingly wanted nothing more than to satisfy their benign curiosity with humans; even returning abducted ones unharmed. The film was a brilliant depiction of how the unknown may not always be what we think and how fear of it may not always be warranted.

The following describes perfectly why, despite being complete and utter fiction, the film felt so raw in its realism. Here's what the legendary Roger Ebert had to say about the film in his original review back in 1977, words that remain no less true today:

“Close Encounters” ended more than two hours later, not with a bang, but with a gentle whisper. And by going that distance from raw sensation to a genuine feeling for humankind — Spielberg achieved not only a success, but a triumph."

2 They Live

They Live
Universal Pictures

A John Carpenter classic from the late '80s, They Live was socially subversive and politically divisive as it sought to tell a lurid tale of real problems through the eyes of an alien invasion. In the film, the aliens are already here and live among us, pretty much controlling everything and keeping the rest of us from seeing beyond the matrix they've created.

Since the aliens are nothing more than a parable for how wealthy elites control the world through over-commercialization of everything to keep us enslaved to their cause, the movie's true realism hovered under the radar. Despite that, it took place during the era of Reaganomics, so was well-placed to make this critique of society, as it perceived it.

1 District 9

Scene from District 9
Sony Pictures

So much of District 9 was great, it's hard to know where to start. Firstly, the film takes place in South Africa, which gave it a refreshing break from the usual clichés of alien invasions taking place in the USA. However, where the film earned its brilliance was in how realistically it depicted several aspects of South African society.

It featured some great special effects and riveting, uncomfortably visceral cinematography. There was also a Kafka-esque feel as the main protagonist slowly disintegrates into his own Metamorphosis. The film also ingeniously re-imagines some of the more substrate divisions and socio-economic issues that plague modern-day South Africa in the wake of the horrors the country suffered during apartheid.

While not without controversy, it was rightly acclaimed overall as it provided a creative take on the vividly real problems of a nation that still very much limps from the wounds of its past - although you'd probably have to be South African to truly appreciate much of its full nuance. With a sequel in the works, as a politically realistic alien invasion film, the legacy from this gem of a movie is set to live on.