erik lundegaard

A Short History of Alien Invasion Movies—The Fifth Wave: Post-9/11

Read the intro here, the first wave (red scare) here, the second wave (gods and lost children) here, the third wave (camp) here, the fourth wave (bad muthas) here ...

9/11 changed everything but the immediate reaction from Hollywood was muted. Invasions, when they came, came small and dark. In “Dreamcatcher,” the invasion is limited to the Maine woods, in “Alien vs. Predator,” the alien (and the predator) never get out of Antarctica. The all-out invasion in “Signs” is as surreptitious as a Bigfoot sighting. Are they there? Is that really them? Even when Steven Spielberg—of all directors—made his grainy remake of “The War of the Worlds,” it felt less than global. What a shock, at the end, to find Boston neighborhoods untouched.

Or did 9/11 change anything? The same battles rage as raged before. Do aliens have more to fear from us (“District 9”) or we from them (“Skyline”)? The camp component hasn’t died (“Cowboys vs. Aliens”). Lost children still arrive, though they’re hardly children anymore (“Super 8”). Metaphors abound: aliens as advanced weaponry (“Transformers”), as an oppressed minority (“District 9”), as the U.S. in Iraq (“Battle: Los Angeles”).

Alien invasion movies really turn on the most basic of human reactions: How do you greet a stranger? With a smile or a frown? With an open hand or a closed one? Whatever our response, it’s often a corollary to the Golden Rule: We expect others to treat us as we treat them. Which is why the scientists in these films tend to be curious while the military men are combative.

History, sadly, would seem to side with the military men. A technologically advanced race showing up one day and slowly wiping out the inhabitants? That’s the story of America. Even in our most paranoid moments—in the 1950s, in the 2000s—we are still what we fear.

Poster for "Signs" (2002)  Poster for "District 9" (2009)  Poster for "Super 8" (2011) 

--Erik Lundegaard is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. But he’s got lots of bubblegum. He can be reached at

--This piece was originally published, in slightly different form, on

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Posted at 06:16 AM on Tue. Jun 21, 2011 in category Movies  
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