Top 10 lists used to be a regular feature here on Kickin' it Old School. Interviews have sort of dominated my content lately and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have. I still have many Top 10 lists just waiting to be published and here is another that I thought was timely to help celebrate a special anniversary.
June 11th (2012) marks 30 years since the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was released in theaters. Wow, has it really been that long? No movie from the 80s (or almost from any decade) has been seen in theaters more than E.T. This modern fairy tale of sorts is considered by many to be one of the best films of all time. It certainly helped to open up people's hearts to space aliens. I did enjoy 2011's Paul and Men In Black now has a third installment, but, even though special effects have come a long way, nothing beats space aliens from the 80s for me. They were preceded by others like My Favorite Martian in the 60s, Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, the SNL "Coneheads" sketches which started in 1977 and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978 to name a few. To celebrate the anniversary of E.T., I wanted to recall some of the other space aliens that entertained us on television or at the movies in the 80s. I decided for the purposes of this list that the aliens must visit Earth or at least have significant impact on an earthling. This rules out that galaxy far, far away in the Star Wars films and the like. So with that in mind, here is OLD SCHOOL'S TOP 10 SPACE ALIEN CHARACTERS FROM 80s TV OR MOVIES (+ Bonus 7):
17. "Diana" from V the television series (1984-1985) – V started as successful mini-series that ran in May of 1983 and another in May of 1984. It continues the story about an alien invasion by "The Visitors" which is led by their commander Diana, played by Jane Badler, who has taken a sexy human-like form though they are really carnivorous reptilians underneath. The series lasted only one season of 19 episodes back then, but was revived with mostly different characters more recently for 22 episodes between 2009-2011.
16. "Jeriba Shigan" from Enemy Mine (1985) – This film does not meet the requirement of the alien coming to Earth, but it does have significant interaction between a human and alien. It stars Dennis Quaid as the human and Louis Gosset, Jr. as a Drac that he calls "Jerry" for short. During a war with each other's races, the two crash land on a planet and, despite initial hostilities, they eventually learn to cooperate in order to survive. They evolved from enemies to friends and almost brothers. The film's tagline was: "Enemies because they were taught to be, allies because they had to be, brothers because they dared to be." Due to production problems and changes, the film was delayed and went way over budget ultimately making it a major financial disappointment.
15. "Grig" from The Last Starfighter (1984) – Based on his skill playing an arcade game, a teenager is recruited to help save the planet Rylos from "Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada". He is persuaded to come to Rylos by "Centauri" who is an alien himself played by Robert Preston in his last film role. There he partners with Grig, the sole surviving reptilian navigator, to save the planet. They briefly return to Earth so Grig can tell the boy's family and friends about his heroic greatness, his new calling to teach future starfighters and, of course, to pick up his girlfriend to come with them. [Check out my interview with Catherine Mary Stewart who played "Maggie" the girlfriend in The Last Starfighter.]
14. "Philo" from UHF (1989) – This cult classic comedy was co-written by and stars Weird Al Yankovic as "George Newman" who takes over a struggling UHF channel. He meets the station's eccentric engineer, Philo (played by Anthony Geary), who also apparently lives there. He even gets his own show, Secrets of the Universe, where in one episode he starts by saying, "Today we are going to learn how to make plutonium from common household items." Later in the film, Philo helps save the station with some timely broadcasting trickery and then reveals himself to really be an alien who says, "Well, it appears that my work on this planet is finished, so I must now return to my home planet of Zarquon" before beaming himself away. The character's name was inspired by one of the inventors of television, Philo T. Farnsworth. It is said that the role was originally written for Joel Hodgson (of MST3K fame) and was also offered to Crispin Glover (George McFly) before Geary took it on.
13. "Wak and Neek" from Explorers (1985) – These aliens do not actually visit Earth, but they do end up as the destination for the kids' magical adventure. This marks the film debut for both River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke as two of the three kids who fly a Tilt-a-Whirl car to another galaxy to witness a real life science fiction fantasy. It turns out they were brought there by two young and curious aliens who played a prank while their parents were away. The alien brother and sister named Wak and Neek feel like characters out of a Looney Tunes cartoon and communicate in television and movie quotes which is all they know about Earth. Wak's first words quote Bugs Bunny, "What's up Doc?" Later he uses a Bogart line from The Maltese Falcon, "The uhh… stuff that dreams are made of." Neek behaves in a seductive manner using a Marilyn Monroe voice making a connection with Phoenix's character. When the aliens' father gets home he angrily sends the boys back home. Wak says, "Gee, too bad you have to leave before we could tell you the secrets of the universe." The real secret they find out is that things are not always as different as they seem.
12. "The Antareans" from Cocoon (1985) – These are the aliens who wear a disguise to make them look human when they are visiting Earth to rescue those who were left behind here in cocoons. The leader looks like Brian Dennehy in his human disguise while another is played by the sexy Tahnee Welch (daughter of Raquel Welch). Yep, Steve Guttenberg tries to get busy with the sexy alien. The rest of the non-alien cast is pretty special too featuring Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche and Jessica Tandy among others who find the fountain of youth thanks to the aliens' special energy.
11. "The Alien (or Xenomorph)" from Aliens (1986) – You can't have an alien list without the namesake which made its debut in the 1979 original, then continued in the 80s sequel as well as Alien 3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997) and two crossovers Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). Whenever one of these is around you really want Sigourney Weaver's "Ellen Ripley" on the scene to even up the odds. Not very pleasant.
10. "Predator" from Predator (1987) – Speaking of not very pleasant, Arnold Schwarzenegger battled this technologically advanced (and ugly) alien who seems to hunt other species for sport. It had infrared vision, a plasma weapon and active camouflage. It wasn't done all by special effects, there was someone in that suit. Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast to play the Predator, but he was later removed and the role ended up going to Kevin Peter Hall, who was more physically imposing at over 7 feet tall. Hall, who also portrayed "Harry" in Harry and the Hendersons in 1987, played the title role in both the original and the 1990 sequel. Hall, sadly would die in 1991 at just the age of 35. The character went on for one more sequel, Predators (2010) as well as the two crossovers with the Alien franchise mentioned previously.
9. "Mac, Wiploc & Zeebo" from Earth Girls Are Easy (1989) – These three aliens crash land in the Valley area of southern California in this musical comedy which is a little silly and predictable. They are blue, red and yellow and played by Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans respectively. Pretty stellar cast! They are discovered by a manicurist played by Geena Davis who takes them to her friend played by Julie Brown and, after shaving off their fur, find that they're attractive men underneath. They absorb human culture from watching about ten minutes of television and they all go out to party at L.A. nightclubs. While out in the clubs, they are able to make My Best Dancing Scenes from 80s Movies list.
8. "Celeste" from My Stepmother is an Alien (1988) – Kim Basinger portrays "Celeste" who comes to Earth on a secret mission. She is disguised deliberately as an attractive woman. Once here, there is quite a bit of the expected "fish-out-of-water" humor and first-time human experiences. She falls in love with a widowed scientist played by Dan Aykroyd and his daughter. She very well ranks this high because she is portrayed by the gorgeous Basinger. This might not be the case if the role went as originally cast to Shelley Long.
7. "Starman" from Starman (1984) – The title character is played by Jeff Bridges in a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The Starman comes to Earth and takes the form of the recently deceased husband of Karen Allen's character, Jenny, who needs to help him get home. He has the power of healing (which he demonstrates by bringing a deer back to life) and even gives the infertile Jenny a baby. Columbia Pictures actually had two scripts about an alien visiting Earth at the same time and wanted to make only one of them, so they chose this one and unwisely allowed E.T. to be made by Universal Studios.
6. "Howard the Duck" from Howard the Duck (1986) – A box office disappointment which has gone on to become sort of a cult favorite, Howard comes from Duckworld and lands on Earth in Cleveland, Ohio. The film adaptation of the comic book follows Howard as he defeats the Dark Overlord and ends up with the beautiful girl in the end played by Lea Thompson. I had the pleasure of an interview with Ed Gale who was actually inside the Howard the Duck costume bringing him to life for this film.
5. "Marvin the Martian" from Looney Tunes Cartoons (1948-present) – Though he made his first appearance way back in 1948, he has continued to be featured in the cartoons since then. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were a favorite of mine growing up in the 80s (and still are), so that qualifies Marvin for this list. His distinctive voice was provided by the late, great Mel Blanc from his first appearance all the way until 1989 when he passed away. He is often foiled by Bugs Bunny when he attempts to attack the Earth and also does battle with Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers.
4.(tie) "Superman" from Superman II (1981) – Not normally considered your typical alien, Superman came from the planet Krypton. Christopher Reeve famously donned the cape and the S in the 1978 original and returned in this sequel to not only battle the evil Lex Luthor, but a trio of super-villains from his home planet. The series continued with the awful Superman III (1983) which co-starred Richard Pryor and the equally bad Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), but none surpassed the villains in the first sequel.
4.(tie) "General Zod, Ursa & Non" from Superman II (1981) – The super-villains from Krypton deserve special mention. They arrive on our planet with superpowers similar to Superman granted by the Earth's yellow sun. Superman has just decided to relinquish his powers in order to be with Lois Lane which is typical bad timing as the Kryptonians intend on taking over the world. General Zod is the leader portrayed so well by Terence Stamp. Sarah Douglas portrays Ursa who is second-in-command and just as evil while collecting the patches/badges from those she has defeated. At 7 feet tall, Jack O'Halloran portrays Non who is mute and not-so-smart, but just as destructive. These three villains are really what makes this film special to me.
3. "ALF aka Gordon Schumway" from ALF (1986-1990) – ALF (which is stands for Alien Life Form) was created and voiced by Paul Fusco. The native of Melmac crashes his ship into the garage of an unsuspecting suburban family, the Tanners. Comedy ensues as ALF moves in with the Tanners who grow to love him despite the trouble he seems to constantly cause. He is often sarcastic, cynical and likes to eat cats (but never seems to get one). He became sort of a pop culture phenomenon for a while and rumors are that ALF might be making a comeback soon.
2. "Mork from Ork" from Mork & Mindy (1978-1982) – "Mork" was played by the hilarious Robin Williams for four seasons before he went on to become a movie star. It was actually a spin-off from his appearance in a Season 5 episode of Happy Days. Na-noo, Na-noo and Shazbot were his form of greeting and profanity respectively. Mork would check in with his home planet by calling "Orson" (Mork calling Orson, come in Orson) and telling him what he had observed on Earth. It is fun to go back and watch this show now and enjoy the brilliance of Robin Williams on display.
1. "E.T." from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – There were space aliens before 1982 and even more after, but none have ever connected like E.T. did. We can thank Steven Spielberg for that and the immediate recognition when "E.T. phone home" is spoken. He became a pop culture icon and one of the most beloved non-human characters in history. The bike ride chase scene when they cross the moon is one of those magical moments in cinema that is unforgettable. It's difficult to keep a dry eye when they first think E.T. has died and then again when they say goodbye at the end. "Be good." And E.T. even made Reece's Pieces a phenomenon leading to Hershey Company seeing an incredible 65% rise in profits. No question, E.T. certainly deserves to rank at the top of this list for me. [Please check out my Preview Review issue with the original trailer as well as interesting trivia and my issue on the failed Atari game.]
There's my list. As usual, these are based on my personal preferences and the order could very well change a little depending on my mood on a given day. Are there any 80s aliens that you feel I have overlooked? If so or if you'd rank any differently, please leave them in the comments section below or on Facebook. As you can see the 80s had many aliens in pop culture. Especially looking back now, fashions in the 80s helped lots of folks to look a little like they might be aliens from another planet though they obviously weren't. Or were they?!?! I guess we will never know for sure.
That does it for another issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. If you are interested in reading more of my Top 10 lists, please click there for a summary. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: E.T. and Elliot flying on the bike across the moon has become an iconic image and Spielberg has even used it as the symbol for his production company Amblin Entertainment. Here are a few other creative takes that I have come across…
What it might've have looked like if Elliot had a unicycle instead of a bike…
Elliot displaying some X-Games moves with E.T. not strapped in…
E.T. giving Elliot the boot and going the rest of the way by himself…
After hitting some apparent turbulence, both Elliot and E.T. can't hold on…
Oops, I think that is the wrong movie…
What might've happened if the creature from Aliens took E.T.'s place in the basket…
And finally, after the success that E.T. had, all the other space aliens wanted to get their picture flying across the moon on a bike…
Quote of the day: "The only thing that scares me more than space aliens is the idea that there aren't any space aliens." -Ellen DeGeneres