Thanks to humanity’s fascination with space and what resides in it, alien invasion movies make up a very special subgenre within horror and sci-fi. Whether they’re monstrous occupiers or complicated entities just trying to survive, extraterrestrials make excellent nightmare fodder.
Movie theaters are designed for immersive, otherworldly features that explore the great beyond. Look no further than films like A Quiet Place or Signs for proof. Sometimes, though, martian movies bomb. Even when critics praise these unique or different takes on close encounters with intergalactic beings, moviegoers just don’t feel them enough for filmmakers to earn back their production costs, let alone turn a profit.
10 Under The Skin (2013)
Jonathan Glazer’s critically celebrated femme fatale film stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien who seduces and feasts on men in Scotland. Understated and visually abstract, Under the Skin is far from a typical alien invasion movie.
Even though it’s considered one of the best sci-fi/horror films of the 2010s, Under the Skin flopped horribly during its theatrical run. It only made $7 million at the box office, about half of its $13.5 million budget.
9 Bad Taste (1987)
In the early days of his filmmaking career, New Zealander Peter Jackson built his special effects portfolio with gory, bloody horror comedies. Bad Taste is a low-budget splatterfest about aliens who plan to harvest humans for their chain of intergalactic fast-food restaurants.
Even though Jackson only made Bad Taste for about $25,000 dollars, censorship laws and limited distribution kept it from being a profitable feature. It wouldn’t be until 1994’s Heavenly Creatures that Jackson would receive the international acclaim he deserved all along.
8 They Live (1988)
John Carpenter’s critical track record is mixed at best, proving that horror movie fans often struggle to get behind his contributions post-Halloween. A prime example is his now cult classic They Live, which mixes consumer culture paranoia with action movie stylings.
In They Live, wrestler Roddy Piper plays a drifter who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that let him see the world for what it really is: a planet overrun by a species of skull-faced aliens who control the population through subliminal messaging. Even though it did okay in theatres, They Live would have done a lot better if it hadn’t been derailed by critics who didn’t appreciate its blend of social commentary and camp.
7 The Signal (2014)
The Signal is a refreshing but far from perfect alternative to the explosive blockbusters that tend to dominate theatres. This indie feature directed by William Eubank never received wide distribution, meaning it only earned back half of its $4 million budget.
In The Signal, three MIT students on a road trip through the Southwest are disrupted by what turns out to be a technologically advanced alien species. Laurence Fishburne stars as researcher Dr. Wallace Damon alongside Brenton Thwaites and Olivia Cooke.
6 The Thing (1982)
Another John Carpenter film that was underappreciated upon its release, The Thing is now considered to be among the best horror movies of all time. In it, a group of Antarctic researchers must contend with a parasitic shapeshifting alien moving from person to person within their group.
Cold, dreary, and snowy, The Thing stars Kurt Russell and Keith David. Thanks in large part to being released around the same time as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the much more nihilistic The Thing only earned $19 million against its $15 million budget.
5 Starship Troopers (1997)
Paul Verhoeven is another director whose work doesn’t always land well with critics and audiences. More political satire than action film, his 1997 movie Starship Troopers follows an intergalactic soldier fighting a violent war against a species of alien bugs.
While this big-budget venture received praise for its special effects, critics only came to treasure its potent messaging with time. Starship Troopers broke even at theatres, making $120 million against its $105 million budget.
4 Color Out Of Space (2019)
Adaptations of the cerebral works of H.P. Lovecraft can be hit or miss, but few films perfect Lovecraftian visuals like Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space — the director’s first feature after more than 20 years. It stars Nicolas Cage as the head of the Gardner family, recently transplants to rural New England whose lives take a volatile turn when an alien meteorite crashes in their front yard.
Vibrant colorations transform into tangible terrors as the alien lifeforce mutates the landscape and everything in it — including the Gardners. Color Out of Space cleared $1 million at the box office, a slim earning compared to its $6 to $12 million budget.
3 Attack The Block (2011)
Attack the Block is a contemporary British creature feature about a group of street smart teens in South London who find themselves at the center of an alien invasion. John Boyega gives his breakout performance as the leader of the crew, who rallies his troops to protect his neighborhood from the furry, ferocious beasts.
Despite its perfect pacing, compelling performances, and on-point social commentary, Attack the Block didn’t catch the attention of moviegoers. It only made half of its £8 million budget.
2 Lifeforce (1985)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper joined forces with Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon to make an off-kilter horror movie that combines aliens, zombies, and vampires. The result, Lifeforce, was criminally undervalued by both cinematic audiences and critics.
In the movie, a species of space vampires arrive in London, where they transform humans into zombie-like entities. Made for $25 million, Lifeforce generated about $11.6 million in ticket sales at the box office.
1 Grabbers (2012)
This British-Irish gem suffered from a limited distribution during its theatrical run. Grabbers is a throwback to classic monster movies, and it traces an alien invasion that arrives from off the coast of Ireland’s Erin Island.
The tentacled, blood-sucking aliens hope to make meals out of all the locals, who band together at the local pub to get drunk and erect a survival strategy. Compared to its $5 million budget, Grabbers earned about $500,000 in international theatres.