What Makes a Great Alien?

On the one side, you have the Xenomorph, the Predator, and the legendary Thing from the movie of the same name.

On the one side, you have the Xenomorph, the Predator, and the legendary Thing from the movie of the same name. On the other, you get the Psychlos of Battlefield Earth or the Abzorbaloff out of Doctor Who.

For a lot of sci-fi films, having a great alien can make or break the entire project, with many franchises starting on the back of the primary monster and others also stopping short for the same reason. Crafting a perfect creature is an art form, so what are the key features that make a memorable beast from across the stars?


The Visual Design

While the impact you’re going for should not take a backseat, having a clean and distinctive design of your alien is a critical step. There are a few different ways of going about it.

To start with, there are more cartoony designs that see wide public recognition. The ‘little green men’ from the classic era of Mars Attacks or Stargate SG-1 have remained a key part of our visualization of aliens, despite the movies having been released several decades ago. They even inspired games such as the Mars Attacks Topps cards. Similarly, fans of the subject will immediately recognize colorful creatures with a varying number of eyes as extraterrestrials. Looking at the review site CasinoBonusCA, you can identify some alien-themed slot games being featured on the best-rated online casinos. Think of the bright blobs from the Reactoonz series that appear in all shapes and forms, or the one-eyed character featured on Alien Spinvasion. The classic design of aliens as described above has left a mark throughout the entertainment industry.

On the more horror side, the goal is to really play up the ‘alien’ design idea with dark creatures loaded with teeth, claws or body parts unknown. We mentioned the Xenomorph and The Thing earlier, but lesser-known examples in the same category include the ‘space gorillas’ from Attack the Block and the rarely-seen ‘Death Angels’ from A Quiet Place. As a last note, we can tag the various humanoid aliens onto this group, made famous by the likes of Star Trek. The latter aren’t usually as bizarre as the rest of the designs, but instead on the more ‘serious’ side of things.



The Abilities

There’s not much point in having a horrific-looking alien dog creature if it can only do the things typically associated with a dog behavior. Especially on the horror end, we expect our aliens to have incredible, bizarre, and terrifying powers beyond anything else we know about to gain our interest. The Predator, for instance, is loaded up with all manner of powers such as being super-resilient, having infrared vision and wielding enough strength to punch straight through concrete.

Then you have the Xenomorph and all its various incarnations that seem to get weirder and weirder as time has gone on. What always made these creatures terrifying is the simplicity of their weirdness, such as the small extra mouths and spiked tails of the full-size creatures, which are just familiar enough to be terrifying. We’re not even going to start on the facehuggers here, as those are an entirely different nightmare.


The Atmosphere

The atmosphere created by an alien is probably the most subjective, as it entirely depends on what the media is going for. For instance, all the aliens in Spaceballs or the Martians from Mars Attacks are shown up front are clear so that there’s no mystery behind what they are, as SCIFI Pulse explains. At the same time, we have the aliens from The Fourth Kind or the entity from Annihilation that are basically never seen, despite their presence being strongly felt throughout.

The rule of thumb is that the scarier you want your alien to be, the less you show them. It doesn’t matter if you have the most evil-looking Giger creation that ever existed; if you see it fully in the opening scene, then you’ve wasted about 90% of the effectiveness it had. To grab another example, it’s what made the Vashta Nerada or the Midnight entity so universally terrifying in Doctor Who. We never actually see either of these villains, but the fact we can still see their terrifying effects is more than enough.



The wonderful feature of the world of aliens is that we’re only limited by our imaginations or, in some cases, knowing there are things beyond our imaginations like anything from the Cthulhu mythos. With that said, it’s safe to assume that we’ll probably be seeing a few favorite formulas in the future as well. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net You can contact ian at: ian@scifipulse.net
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