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This article is about invasion by extra-terrestrial beings as a theme; for other uses of the term, see Alien invasion (disambiguation).

The alien invasion is a common theme in science fiction stories and film, in which an extraterrestrial society invades Earth with the intent to exterminate and replace human life, enslave it under a colonial system, to harvest humans for food, or sometimes to destroy the earth altogether.

The invasion scenario has been used as an allegory for a protest against military hegemony and the societal ills of the time. Wells' The War of the Worlds is often viewed as an indictment of European colonialism and its "gunboat diplomacy" —setting a common theme for some politically motivated future alien invasion stories.

Prospects of invasion tended to vary with the state of current affairs, and current perceptions of threat. Alien invasion was a common metaphor in US science fiction during the Cold War, illustrating the fears of foreign (e.g. Soviet Union) occupation and nuclear devastation of the American people. Examples of these stories include "The Liberation of Earth" by William Tenn and The Body Snatchers.

In the invasion trope, fictional aliens contacting Earth tend to either observe (sometimes using experiments) or invade, rather than help the population of Earth acquire the capacity to participate in interplanetary affairs. There have been a few exceptions, such as the alien-initiated first contact that begins the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, and the Vulcan-initiated first contact that concludes the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact (although after a failed invasion by the Borg in the rest of the film). In both cases, aliens decide to visit Earth only after noticing that its inhabitants have reached a threshold level of technology: nuclear weapons combined with space travel in the first case, and faster-than-light travel using warp drive technology in the second.

Technically a human invasion of an alien species is also an alien invasion, as from the point of view of the aliens, humans are also aliens. Such stories are much rarer than aliens attacking humans stories. Examples include The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury; and the Imperium of Man in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

As well as being a sub-genre of science fiction, these kind of books can be considered a sub-genre of Invasion literature, which also includes fictional depictions of humans invaded by other humans (for example, a fictional invasion of England by a hostile France strongly influenced Wells' depiction of a Martian invasion).



In 1898 H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds, depicting the invasion of Victorian England by Martians equipped with advanced weaponry. It is now seen as the seminal Alien Invasion story and Wells is credited with establishing several extraterrestrial themes which were later greatly expanded by science fiction writers in the 20th Century, including first contact and war between planets and their differing species. There were, however, stories of aliens and alien invasion prior to publication of The War of the Worlds.[1]

In 1727 Jonathan Swift published Gulliver's Travels. The tale included a race of beings similar but superior to humanity, who are obsessed with mathematics. They live on a four and one half miles in diameter floating island fortress called Laputa, and use its shadow to prevent sun and rain from reaching earthly nations over which it travels, ensuring they will pay tribute to the Laputians. [2]

Voltaire's Micromégas (1752) includes two aliens, from Saturn and Sirius, who are of immense size and visit the Earth out of curiosity. Initially they believe the planet is uninhabited, due to the difference in scale between them and human beings. When they discover the haughty Earth-centric views of Earth philosophers, they are very much amused by how important Earth beings think they are compared to actual titans such as themselves. [3]

In 1892 Robert Potter, an Australian Clergyman, published The Germ Growers in London. It describes a covert invasion by aliens who take on the appearance of human beings and attempt to develop a virulent disease to assist in their plans for global conquest. It was not widely read, and consequently Wells' vastly more successful novel is generally credited as the seminal alien invasion story.[1]

Wells had already proposed another outcome for the alien invasion story in The War of the Worlds. When the Narrator meets the artilleryman the second time, the artilleryman imagines a future where humanity, hiding underground in sewers and tunnels, conducts a guerrilla war, fighting against the Martians for generations to come, and eventually, after learning how to duplicate Martian weapon technology, destroys the invaders and takes back the Earth [4]

Six weeks after publication of the novel, the Boston Post newspaper published another alien invasion story, an unauthorized sequel to The War of the Worlds, which turned the tables on the invaders. Edison's Conquest of Mars was written by Garrett P. Serviss, a now little remembered writer, who described the famous inventor Thomas Edison leading a counterattack against the invaders on their home soil.[5]. Though this is actually a sequel to 'Fighters from Mars', a revised and unauthorised reprint of War of the Worlds, they both were first printed in the Boston Post in 1898[6].

The War of the Worlds was reprinted in the United States in 1927, before the Golden Age of science fiction, by Hugo Gernsback in Amazing Stories. John W. Campbell, another key editor of the era, and periodic short story writer, published several alien invasion stories in the 1930s. Many well known science fiction writers were to follow, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford Simak and Robert A. Heinlein, with The Puppet Masters, in 1953. [7]


The most well-known alien invasion scenarios involve the aliens landing on Earth, destroying or abducting people, fighting and defeating Earth's military forces, and then destroying Earth's major cities. Usually, the bulk of the story follows the battles between the invaders and Earth's armies, as in The War of the Worlds. However, not all alien invasion stories follow this plot. In some accounts, the alien invaders will covertly subvert human society using disguises, shapechanging, creating conflict in humanity and let humans destroy themselves, or human allies. In other depictions, the aliens score an overwhelming victory over humanity and the bulk of the story occurs after the aliens have taken over. Sometimes, the aliens do not come from space, but from another dimension. And in some fiction, the invaders may not actually be aliens, but demonic creatures.


Alien infiltration

This is a familiar variation on the alien invasion theme. In the infiltration scenario, the invaders will typically take human form and can move freely throughout human society, even to the point of taking control of command positions. This type of invasion usually emphasizes paranoid fears and was very common during the Cold War,[8] with the Communist agents suspected everywhere, but has also become common during any time of social change and unrest. The classic examples of this would be Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the gradual evolution of humans to `hybrid' aliens in TV's Invasion, Threshold, the Animorphs series, Invader Zim, Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters and the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story "Who Goes There?", which was made into 1951 Howard Hawks film The Thing from Another World, with a more faithful adaptation being made by John Carpenter in 1982 as The Thing. This also happens in the Doctor Who Series One episodes "Aliens of London" and "World War 3". Aliens could also control people to do their will through electronic devices implanted in human bodies such as in 1953's Invaders from Mars. Another example of alien infiltration is in the 2005 video game "Destroy All Humans!" in which the player controls an alien scout in order to destroy and eventually become the President of the United States, as well as annihilate humans in their path.

Alien occupation

This is a theme that can occur in many invasion stories. In short, the alien invaders win and occupy the Earth or human civilization (sometimes they even try to terraform the earth to make it suit them better [a more accurate term for this would be "xenoform"]), at least until a human resistance movement overthrows the aliens and/or their puppet governments. Many occupation stories are influenced by the real human invasions by totalitarian governments, such as Nazi Germany, in which the alien invaders support existing human government infrastructures that welcome their new alien overlords or purge opposition governments and rebuild them in their own image and the enforcement of their rule through the use of collaborators and secret police. Examples of life under alien occupation can be seen in the TV series V, John Christopher's book series, The Tripods, the comic book miniseries Slash Maraud and the Half-Life series of computer games. In Nemo Ramjet's All Tomorrows the Qu - a superior alien race - after conquest of humanity reduce it to animal status by means of genetic engineering, making it impossible for resistance to occur.

Alien raids

Short-term alien invasions by creatures incapable of supporting a large-scale invasion due to small numbers and instead use the shock of their arrival to inspire terror. Other stories following this line of reasoning would have the alien invaders conducting reconnaissance and probing raids on the Earth's population and especially their military forces. Also, the invaders will try to choose isolated spots, such as the desert or farmlands of rural zones in the United States, as a staging area or landing zone. This type of plotline provides a better possibility of small groups, like local police and military, or even ordinary civilians, the ability to repulse the invaders and return to normal life after the event. Because of budget constraints, this variation was fairly common in the 1950s, science fiction B-movies, such as It Came from Outer Space, Teenagers from Outer Space, The Blob, and Plan 9 from Outer Space. It also appears in the film Signs.

Beneficial Alien Invasion

This theme has also been explored in fiction on the rare occasion. With this type of story, the invaders, in a kind of little grey/green man's burden, colonize the planet in an effort to spread their culture and "civilize" the indigenous "barbaric" inhabitants or secretly watch and aid earthlings saving them from themselves. The former theme shares many traits with hostile occupation fiction, but the invaders tend to view the occupied peoples as students or equals rather than subjects and slaves. The latter theme of secret watcher is a paternalistic/maternalistic theme. In this fiction, the aliens intervene in human affairs to prevent them from destroying themselves, such as Klaatu and Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still warning the leaders of Earth to abandon their warlike ways and join other space-faring civilizations else that they will destroy themselves or be destroyed by their interstellar union. Other examples of a beneficial alien invasion are Gene Roddenberry's The Questor Tapes movie and his 1968 Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, the anime and novel series Crest of the Stars and David Brin's Uplift series of books.

Demonic Alien Invasion

In which the invaders are supernatural or otherwise religious-inspired demonic beings, who infiltrate the Earth, attack mankind, take over human society (disguised as humans themselves) and make war upon the saints, fulfilling the events described in the Book of Revelation or another religious prophecy, occasionally invented for the story itself. Warhammer 40,000 and The Doom computer game series follows this concept. The novel Childhood's End may be viewed as a form of demonic alien invasion, because of the Overlords' devilish appearances.

Alien invasion in the past

A period of the recent or distant past serving as the scene of an alien invasion of one of the aforementioned types. The most ambitious project of this kind seems to be Harry Turtledove's alternative history Worldwar & Colonization Series , where lizard-like aliens land on Earth in 1942, bent on conquest, forcing the opposing sides of the Second World War to sign hasty cease-fires and fight their own (largely) separate wars against the invaders. In Sideslip by Ted White and Dave van Arnam, a private detective from our New York finds himself in an alternate reality where Earth is under occupation by interstellar humanoids nicknamed "Angels", who had landed in 1938, taking advantage of the confusion following Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio program, and had ruled Earth as a colony ever since. In Starspawn by Kenneth Von Gunden, Earth is infiltrated by small parasitic aliens capable of attaching themselves to a human and controlling him or her - similar to the scenario of Heinlein's aforementioned The Puppet Masters - except that the invasion takes place in Medieval England, against the background of knights besieging a castle. In similar settings at Poul Anderson's The High Crusade, an alien ship lands at a Medieval English village, but the overconfident would-be conquerors find out the hard way that they are not immune to swords and arrows; the humans take over the ship and proceed to carve out an empire among the stars, but lose contact with Earth which goes on with its familiar history. In Eifelheim by Michael Flynn, an alien spaceship lands in central Europe in the middle of the Black Death. In Doctor Who, because of the time travel element, invasions happen a lot, most notably the Cyberman invasion of Victorian London, using a 60m tall cyberking walker, and the Jon Pertwee episode depicting a small invasion by the master of a small village. The Stargate franchise is based on this concept, where several alien races came to Earth and took on the mantle of ancient gods (with either harmful or beneficial intent for humanity). Much of the television program Stargate: SG-1 dealt with meeting descendants of such humans who had been transported across the galaxy and whose technological development was hindred by this fact, as well as preventing the malicious aliens from attacking Earth. The 1996 movie Star Trek: First Contact deals extensively with this theme, although the frame of reference is in the future; the Borg come to Earth in 2063, approximately two to three hundred years prior to the relevant events in the Star Trek universe.


Occasionally, two or more themes can be used as a combination. For example, the aliens may first infiltrate society secretly, then, after gaining human trust, they will suddenly begin destroying Earth's cities, with the humans taken by complete surprise. Another example of this is in two episodes of the popular sci-fi show Stargate SG-1 an alien race known as the Aschen befriend humans and share their advanced technology and medicine freely in exchange for stargate addresses. But it soon becomes clear that the Aschen plan to eradicate the human race slowly by making both women and men infertile so the human race dies out over generations. Another type of invasion is seen in various Godzilla films, most notably Destroy All Monsters, and also in the Monster Wars saga of Godzilla: The Series and the 2004 film, Godzilla: Final Wars. In these films, alien races take control of earth's monsters and use them to attack and destroy Earth's major cities, but are usually ironically defeated by the monsters themselves.

Notable examples

The classic treatment was The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, which was made into movies in 1953 and 2005, as well a numerous radio adaptations and a TV series. Another early version is The Germ Growers (1892), by Robert Potter. Other treatments have posited biological invasions (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), or cultural invasion (The Uplift Wars by David Brin).

The 1988 cult film They Live uses its own alien infiltration backstory as a satire on what some perceived as Ronald Reagan's America and the 1980s as an era of conspicuous consumption, in which the hidden aliens and human members of the elite oppress poverty-stricken humans and a shrinking middle class.

In Doctor Who, alien invasions are the centerpiece of earth set episodes, with some notable exceptions.

The beginning of Half-Life 2 reveals an Earth that was invaded and overrun by a hostile alien empire, the Combine, via a portal. The game's protagonist later joined the human resistance effort.

In Alan Moore's Watchmen, Ozymandias uses cloning and teleportation technology to fake an alien attack on New York, destroying it instantly, in order to provide a catalyst for peace between the USA and Soviet Union, who only moments before had been on the verge of a nuclear war.

See also


  1. ^ a b Flynn, John L. (2005). War of the Worlds: From Wells to Speilberg. Galactic Books. pp. 18-19. ISBN 0976940000.  
  2. ^ Guthke, Karl S. (1990). The Last Frontier: Imagining Other Worlds from the Copernican Revolution to Modern Fiction. Translated by Helen Atkins. Cornell University Press. pp. 300-301. ISBN 0-8014-1680-9.
  3. ^ Guthke, Karl S. (1990). The Last Frontier: Imagining Other Worlds from the Copernican Revolution to Modern Fiction. Translated by Helen Atkins. Cornell University Press. pp. 301-304. ISBN 0-8014-1680-9.
  4. ^ Batchelor, John (1985). H.G. Wells. Cambridge University Press. p. 28. ISBN 052127804X.  
  5. ^ Gerrold, David (2005). Glenn Yeffeth. ed. "War of the Worlds". War of the Worlds: fresh perspectives on the H.G. Wells classic/ edited by Glenn Yeffeth (BenBalla): 202-205. ISBN 1932100555, 9781932100556.  
  6. ^ Edison’s Conquest of Mars, "Forward" by Robert Godwin, Apogee Books 2005
  7. ^ Urbanski, Heather (2007). Plagues, Apocalypses and Bug-Eyed Monsters. McFarland. p. 156-8. ISBN 078642916X.  
  8. ^ Peter, Lev. Transforming the screen, 1950-1959, Volume 7 of. History of the American cinema. 7. University of California Press. p. 177. ISBN 0520249666. "Invasion films were common in the 1950s featuring a variety of aliens portrayed as superior to earthlings both in intelligence and technology . In these films, aliens represent what some Americans feared about the Soviets. Invaders, friends or enemies, and often with the help of robots, either come to warn earthlings or destroy them with superior technology. Sometimes the invaders use the strategy of infiltration, taking over the minds of the people, making slaves of them or appropriating their bodies, thus making war unnecessary."  

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