The Threat Levels of Pop Culture’s Friendliest Invading Aliens

Photo: Universal Pictures/Courtesy shot
Photo: Universal Pictures/Courtesy shot

In the movies, most aliens land on earth to enslave mankind and ravage our resources. But there is also a smaller, far less dangerous population of space invaders who don’t want to annihilate our species, they just want to eat unlikely objects, be confused but intrigued by break dancing, and interpret American idioms literally to hilarious effect. In honor of the latest of these kinder interplanetary expats — the titular, pint-sized Paul (nice aliens are never tall nor goo-secreting) — we compiled a list of them and judged their friendliness on our trusty E.T.-o-meter, which grades each critter’s potential danger levels, from one finger (totally harmless) to five (alert Jan Brewster!). Let us turn on our heartlight and lead the way …

ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: After leaving their home planet of Remulak, the Coneheads — Beldar (Dan Aykroyd), Prymaat (Jane Curtin), and Connie (Laraine Newman) — find themselves stranded in suburbia, where they’re doomed to repeat the same “We’re from France” gag indefinitely. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Nasally, monotone voices; stiffly worded syntax; coneheads. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: The ability to transmit thoughts using “memory crystals,” and to derive sexual pleasure from a game of ring toss. UNUSUAL DIETARY SUPPLEMENT: Mass quantities of beer and cigarettes. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: In 1993’s Coneheads film, Beldar convinces his masters not to blow up Earth. THREAT LEVEL: Though the Coneheads themselves are relatively harmless, their master — a mysterious, soft-spoken baron named “Lorne” — has been known to inflict damage via repetitive sketches and unwanted film spin-offs.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: Wisecracking alien Mork (Robin Williams) is cast off from his home planet of Ork and dispatched to Earth, where he observes human behavior by hanging out with Mark Harmon’s future wife. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Alliterative catchphrases; child-like wonder; hyper-speed banter; red jumpsuit. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: The ability to freeze time, revive the dead, and to shrink, though not all at once. Also: gives birth to portly, improvising baby who ages backwards, Benjamin Button-style. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Teaches members of the KKK a moral lesson by changing their skin color. THREAT LEVEL: Mork may be incapable of doing harm, but he can get a bit exhausting after twenty-two minutes or so.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: After escaping slavery on his home planet, the Brother attempts to hide out in New York City. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Three-clawed feet; inability to speak. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: Telekinesis; ability to heal wounds with his hands. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Woos a nightclub singer. THREAT LEVEL: In New York City, three-clawed mutes are a common sight, particularly in the Murray Hill area.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: After intercepting a message from a U.S. satellite, an alien (Jeff Bridges) crash-lands in Wisconsin, where he takes the form of a recently deceased housepainter. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Sporadic nudity; limited vocabulary; uncanny resemblance to the guy in the video for Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).” OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: The ability to change objects’ temperature, to revive dead animals, and to create holograms. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Knocks up his doppelganger’s depressed widow (Karen Allen), which is a nice make-good. THREAT LEVEL: Single Earth dudes shouldn’t have to compete with a rugged-looking space-hunk who likes to flaunt his naked body.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: His home planet of Melmac destroyed by nuclear war, ALF (a.k.a. Alien Life Form, a.k.a. Gordon Shumway, a.k.a. longtime bane to Animal Liberation Front members worldwide) escapes to Earth, where he takes up with the milquetoast Tanner family. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Head-to-toe body hair; elongated schnozz; propensity for Catskills-ready one-liners and survivor’s-guilt existential crises. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: None, but a monstrous appetite. UNLIKELY DIETARY SUPPLEMENT: Cats. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Tries to warn Americans of the dangers of nuclear weapons. THREAT LEVEL: For humans: For cats:
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: When their ship crash-lands into Hollywood, a trio of undersexed aliens — Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey — attempt to infiltrate the city’s singles scene. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Brightly hued body hair, which is quickly shaved off; limited vocabulary; fear of sprinklers. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: Ability to quickly mimic other creatures’ voices. Also, one of them’s a pretty decent breakdancer. UNLIKELY DIETARY SUPPLEMENT: Vinyl records. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Together, they help a Valley Girl manicurist (Geena Davis) get over her husband’s infidelity. THREAT LEVEL: Their musical romp of a visit could all just have been an attempt to distract Earthlings with Julie Brown vs. Downtown Julie Brown debates (“Wait, is this one on MTV?”) while the aliens enacted a secret, nefarious plan. You never know.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: When his family is accidentally imported to Earth, a Coke-addled alien named MAC (Mysterious Alien Creature) befriends a wheelchair-bound teen named Eric (Jade Calegory) in Mac and Me. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Bugged eyes; scrawny physique; perpetual Urkel-style “Did I do that?” expression. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: Ability to elongate limbs, sip an entire can of soda in just seconds, and prod a roomful of McDonalds customers to break into an elaborate song-and-dance number. UNLIKELY DIETARY SUPPLEMENT: Nothing but soda and Skittles, which might explain why the creatures look gray and near-death at all times. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: When Eric’s wheelchair falls off a cliff and into a river, MAC swims him to shore, using his Coke-fueled aqua strength. THREAT LEVEL: MAC and his family are eventually sworn in as U.S. citizens, threatening to raise our health-insurance rates with their fructose-laden diet.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: When her home planet is threatened, My Stepmother Is an Alien’s Celeste (Kim Basinger) is sent to Earth in order to woo a newly widowed scientist (Dan Aykroyd). DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Lavishly designed evening wear; inability to comprehend sex; vocabulary that consists entirely of overheard TV dialogue. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: Impervious to extreme temperatures. And though it’s technically not a power, she does consult with a one-eyed, snake-like creature that lives in her purse. UNLIKELY DIETARY SUPPLEMENT: Cigarette butts. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Convinces the leaders of her planet not to destroy Earth. THREAT LEVEL: Considering that she chose to visit Dan Aykroyd in the same year that he did The Great Outdoors and Caddyshack 2, she was only hurting herself.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: A group of extraterrestrial explorers (including John Lithgow and Kristen Johnson) move to Ohio, where they attempt to observe mankind after assuming human form. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Great confusion over their new sexual organs (at least for the first season); loud voices; lots of mugging. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: Ability to enter parallel universes, communicate via brain implants, and dominate Emmys. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Vanquished a gorgeous squad of Venusians attempting to hypnotize Americans with the ultimate Super Bowl commercial. THREAT LEVEL: Introducing William Shatner to comedy as their leader, the Big Giant Head, was a deadly time-bomb set to explode in our faces 12 years later with $#*! My Dad Says.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: After sneaking onto Earth during a meteor shower, a group of aliens take up residence in an aging vacation house. All of ‘em are evil, save for the clumsy, manic Sparks. DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Bugged eyes; Yoda-like green skin; multiple limbs. OTHERWORLDLY POWERS: Ability to control grown-up minds, and to avoid copyright-infringement lawsuits from the creators of Gremlins, Critters, and Mac and Me. GESTURE OF INTERGALACTIC GOODWILL: Thanks to their mind-control device, the aliens expose one earthling’s shallow behavior. THREAT LEVEL: Ability to incorporate Doris Roberts into a moldy Matrix parody is not good for anybody.
The Threat Levels of Pop Culture’s Friendliest Invading Aliens