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'90s Alien Movies That Should Be Required Viewing

Ah, the '90s. A decade filled with grunge music and Bart Simpson t-shirts, Tamagotchis and Beanie Babies. We used beepers rather than cell phones, surfed the world wide web via dial-up, and rented our movies from Blockbuster. Those were the days.

Speaking of movies, the 1990s were chock-full of films that are pretty much universally considered must-see hits. From Pulp Fiction to Titanic, Jurassic Park to Clueless, Goodfellas to Groundhog Day, it was an era that was packed with flicks we all know and love. And that's especially true for a particular sub-genre of film — the ever-awesome alien movie. The '90s were full of these extraterrestrial flicks. Set both in the stars and here on planet Earth, moviegoers had plenty of opportunities to watch everything from little green men to big, scary space monsters. And while there were plenty of stinkers (we're looking at you, Abraxas), there were also a slew of classics.

To that end, here's a list of '90s alien movies that are required viewing.

Starship Troopers is a sexy action flick with a message

The year is sometime in the 23rd century, and in its quest for interplanetary colonization, humankind has stumbled across a hostile alien species of giant insects known as "bugs." When it's reported that the bugs have destroyed Buenos Aires with an asteroid, killing millions in the process, a bunch of sexy young people enlist in the military to go kick some arthropod butt. Awesome action, lessons in leadership, and more than one topless scene ensue.

This is the plot of 1997's Starship Troopers, and if you haven't seen it, you're missing out on something great. Directed by the legendary filmmaker Paul Verhoeven — who graced us with such genre gems as Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and of course, Robocop — the movie gives as much as you're willing to get out of it. If you're looking for a B-movie filled with hot actors hooking up and fighting aliens in spectacular battles, you'll get it by the truck, ahem, starship-load. But if you're looking for a bit of depth, there's actually a surprisingly subversive critique of fascist power structures hidden among all the special effects and steamy scenes.

All in all, Starship Troopers is a hilarious, thrilling romp that has a healthy dose of smarts, and as far as we're concerned, it's essential viewing. It does, however, have a string of straight-to-video sequels of significantly diminished quality that you can feel free to skip.

Independence Day is the ultimate '90s alien blockbuster

It was one of the most quoted movies of 1996. Heck, maybe of the entire decade. What child of the '90s hasn't shouted "welcome to Earth" at least once? It's Independence Day, and it's one explosive thrill ride.

Let's set the scene. When dozens of 15-mile-wide alien spaceships descend upon the Earth and position themselves over major cities, the world is on the brink of panic. Then the ships simultaneously wipe out each of these cities with massive laser beams, all while releasing hundreds of small fighter ships that easily ward off any attack from human jets. It turns out that all of the alien ships are protected by some kind of impenetrable shield, and things are looking grim for humankind. As the ships reposition to destroy more cities, it becomes a race against time to figure out their weaknesses and fight back.

Boasting an absolutely stacked cast featuring the likes of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and many more (it even had the guy who played Data in Star Trek!), Independence Day was a smash hit, raking in $817.4 million at the box office, which made it not only the highest grossing film of 1996 but the second-highest grossing film ever at the time.

Of course, 20 years later, we got the release of Independence Day: Resurgence, which nobody asked for and nobody wanted to see. Without leading man Will Smith, the sequel was doomed to fail from the get-go, and in the end, it got bad reviews and flopped at the box office. So by all means, watch Independence Day, but don't feel bad if you decide to stop there.

Contact is a sci-fi drama that asks some big questions

While a lot of the movies included on this list have a somewhat humorous, campy feeling to them, one movie that's decidedly lacking in humor is 1997's Contact, which maintains a somber, thoughtful tone from start to finish. And that should come as no surprise, as it was based off the novel written by the renowned astronomer, astrophysicist, and all-around very smart person Carl Sagan, who most definitely took all questions pertaining to space and its potential inhabitants very seriously.

Boasting a star-studded cast that features the likes of Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, and Tom Skerritt (those last two are both Alien alumni, by the way), Contact kicks off when a researcher at SETI — that's the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — discovers a radio signal from a distant star system. This signal is found to contain schematics for some kind of massive transportation machine, presumably to bring whoever rides within it to meet the aliens that sent the message in the first place.

Contact is a massive undertaking of a film, filled with big special effects, an epic story, and plenty of heady ideas about science and religion. Helmed by Robert Zemeckis — who directed the likes of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away — the movie takes viewers on quite a ride, literally light-years into the universe and back again.

Alien 3 is vastly underrated

In 1979, Alien set the standard for modern sci-fi movies and catapulted lead Sigourney Weaver to superstardom. In 1986, Aliens upped the ante by expanding the "woman vs. mysterious alien" premise to "people vs. tons of aliens plus lots of guns," with thrilling results. Then, in 1992, Alien 3 confounded its filmmakers and audiences alike by throwing way too many cooks into the kitchen, resulting in a movie that — at the time — was panned for its questionable script, disjointed pacing and storytelling, and general lack of excitement. All of that being said, retrospective reappraisals have found much to appreciate in Alien 3, largely because the extended cut that came out some years later proved that the movie director David Fincher wanted to make was much better than anyone understood at the time.

Narratively speaking, Alien 3 was pretty straightforward. Sigourney Weaver's character, Ripley, crashes on a remote prison planet where it turns out that her escape pod had a stowaway Xenomorph egg inside. Said egg impregnates a dog, resulting in a neat canine-alien hybrid that forces the prisoners to band together and fight for their lives. Pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, the movie was plagued by production problems, cycling through screenwriters, cinematographers, and directors like a game of musical chairs. When now-renowned director David Fincher finally got a hold of it, he did everything he could to right the course. Behind-the-scenes meddling, however, took its toll. But as we mentioned above, revisited today, Alien 3 turns out to be a better movie than anyone realized at the time. It's an interesting tonal shift for the series, lending it an almost gothic feel. And many of the plot choices are genuinely daring to the point of surprise.

All in all, Alien 3 is must-see viewing for anyone interested in the Alien franchise and sci-fi as a whole. The fact that it introduced the world to the great David Fincher is in itself reason enough to put it on your list.

Mars Attacks! is the craziest alien movie of the decade

After arriving on Earth, the first order of business for our alien visitors is to vaporize the U.S. congress before attempting to take over the entire planet. This might sound like the plot of a horror movie, but Mars Attacks! is anything but scary. In fact, it's an outright ridiculous romp.

Released in 1996, Mars Attacks! was director Tim Burton's attempt at making a '50s-style sci-fi B-movie in the vein of The Day the Earth Stood Still or Plan 9 from Outer Space, and it leaned hard into that B-movie distinction. Mars Attacks! is absurd to the extreme, weaving together a range of unlikely subplots about people — who are almost always doomed due to their own idiocy — attempting to survive the extraterrestrial-induced chaos.

The cast is incredible, boasting A-list names (and B-list, too, befitting the aims of the movie) like Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, Tom Jones, Danny DeVito, Jack Black, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, and more. But even with all that star power, Mars Attacks! was a flop. Critics scorned it, and it holds a mere 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. And it didn't perform any better at the box office, bringing home just $101 million worldwide on its $80 million budget.

But don't let any of that deter you. Mars Attacks! is a must-see, if for no other reason than to experience one of the weirdest watches of the '90s.

Fire in the Sky is worth a watch for one disturbing scene

The following is supposedly true. In 1975, loggers in rural Arizona panic and flee when their coworker is blasted by a ray of light from an unidentified flying object. Upon returning to the scene, said coworker is nowhere to be found. When the loggers report the incident to the local police, they are, of course, the primary suspects in the man's disappearance. He reappears a few days later, however, naked and incoherent, eventually relating in extreme detail that he'd been abducted by aliens.

This was the story of the infamous Walton Incident, which alleged abductee Travis Walton detailed in a book that, in 1993, was made into a film entitled Fire in the Sky. In a decade full of alien and sci-fi blockbusters, Fire in the Sky was a relatively small movie with its $15 million budget, and it was nothing short of a box office flop, bringing in just $19.8 million worldwide. Reviews at the time were mixed, and today, it has a mere 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.

So what makes Fire in the Sky required viewing if it underperformed? It's simple — the intense alien abduction flashback! After the abductee returns and recovers his senses, he relates in extreme detail his experience on the alien examination table as his captors perform various experiments. While the rest of the movie is admittedly a bit lukewarm, it's definitely worth your time to check out this one squirm-worthy scene.

The Fifth Element is an over-the-top '90s adventure

It's a sleek, silly, over-the-top sci-fi romp that inspired orange-haired, revealing Halloween costumes for decades to come. It won awards at both the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Raspberry Awards. Its creator, Luc Besson, began writing it when he was just 16 years old, and it opened as the #1 movie in the U.S. more than 20 years later. It's The Fifth Element, and there's no other movie quite like it.

Set some 200 years in the future, The Fifth Element tells the story of Korben Dallas (played by Bruce Willis), an ex-soldier and down-on-his-luck flying taxi driver who's thrust into adventure when a young, mysterious woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) literally falls into his life. Dallas comes to learn that Leeloo is the key to stopping an evil force that threatens to destroy Earth, and they set off on a ridiculous quest to save the planet.

And we're not exaggerating when we use the word "ridiculous." On one hand, The Fifth Element is an exciting space thriller, but on the other, it's a slapstick comedy a la the Three Stooges. Gary Oldman plays one of the most (purposely) laughable villains in movie history, and Chris Tucker takes absurdity to new heights as the shrieking, flamboyantly wisecracking intergalactic talk show host Ruby Rhod. As the director explained himself, it's not "a big theme movie." Instead, the point is more or less to offer adventure for the sake of adventure, with plenty of jokes on top.

The Fifth Element delivers, which is why it still has a devoted fan base more than 20 years after its release.

Men in Black combines alien movies with the buddy cop genre

No matter what decade it happens to be, the buddy cop concept generally turns out to be a winner. You know the formula. A pair of mismatched lawmen get paired up, one of whom is the straight-laced square, and the other is the quirky risk-taker. Along the way, they learn to appreciate one another while saving the day.

In 1997, Men in Black took this recipe and spiced it up by turning the cops into a duo of secret government agents and by pitting them against — you guessed it — aliens. It starred Tommy Lee Jones as the straight man and Will Smith as the loose cannon, and the result couldn't have been more perfect. The premise was pretty simple. New to the Men in Black secret agency, Smith is partnered up with Jones, and the pair are tasked with finding a mysterious device called the "Galaxy" before it falls into the wrong alien hands. Or tentacles. Or whatever. The adventure that ensues is hilarious as it is thrilling.

Men in Black was a massive success, earning universally positive reviews and raking in the bucks at the box office. This success resulted in a sequel that was as panned by critics as the first installment was praised. And while the third attempt was an improvement on the sequel, the fourth go-round was just plain bad. All three of the sequels were released in the 2000s and 2010s, though, so maybe Men in Black was a '90s only sort of thing?

Galaxy Quest is a loving Star Trek parody

What happens when the fans of your science fiction TV series take it too seriously? While this is an issue that many a Star Trek alumnus has had to grapple with, it's unlikely that William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy ever had to deal with extraterrestrial obsession. But that's exactly what happens to the crew of the Protector, however, in 1999's Galaxy Quest.

When the washed-up cast from a once-popular sci-fi show is mistaken for the real deal by an alien species that confused television for reality, the actors are plucked from their lives and taken aboard an actual spaceship. Their outer space audience has amicably abducted them, hoping for their help in fighting off a terrifying foe, and soon, the cast is embroiled in an authentic intergalactic adventure.

While Galaxy Quest parodies sci-fi series like Star Trek, it was widely acclaimed by Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike. In addition to lead star Tim Allen, the cast was stacked with talent like Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, and Tony Shalhoub. Simultaneously smart, hilarious, and exciting, it was a critical and box office success, and so embraced was it by Star Trek aficionados that they voted it the seventh best Star Trek movie of all time.

The Faculty is a fun '90s alien flick

No one likes high school, but for the kids in The Faculty, high school is a killer for all the wrong reasons.

The premise is simple. After discovering a strange, unidentified parasite, a handful of students at Herrington High begin to notice that their teachers and classmates aren't acting like themselves. It turns out that they aren't themselves, as their bodies are gradually being taken over by an invading alien force. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers but for teens. Armed only with an unnamed drug manufactured by one of the students that kills the aliens for some reason, these students have to save their school — and the world — before it's too late.

Released in 1998, The Faculty performed well at the box office, but it was hit or miss with both critics and audiences alike, roughly half of which leveled the charge that the movie was too cliché. But for many viewers, that was also its strength, paying homage to a tradition of sci-fi horror thrillers that didn't take themselves too seriously.

Admittedly, The Faculty isn't brilliant, nor is it all that original. But it's an undeniably fun watch. And, hey, Jon Stewart makes a cameo! It also has the distinction of being among the earliest films by eventually renowned director Robert Rodriguez.