There's something a bit familiar about the premise of District 9 -- namely, the part where the human makes friends with the alien. Now, District 9 is a terrific movie, and director Neill Blomkamp delivered a lot of action, violence, pathos and kick-ass special effects on a relatively small budget.
But aliens? We've been friends with aliens before. In fact, this week marks the 25th anniversary DVD/Blu-ray release of The Last Starfighter, a low-budget fan favorite that sought to cash in on the popularity of both Star Wars and video games by sending an unsuspecting teen hero on a mission to save a distant galaxy. His recruiter-slash-buddy was Centauri, an intergalactic con man (played by Robert Preston, riffing on his Music Man persona in his last role).
Some of our other favorite aliens-as-friends movies:
1. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) -- Poor old Klaatu (Michael Rennie). He's just a middle manager sent to Earth to file a report on whether or not the galactic overlords should blow us to smithereens. His decision? To leave us be ... if we promise not to screw up.
2. The Brother From Another Planet (1984) -- John Sayles' underseen gem stars Joe Morton (currently of TV's Eureka) as an escaped slave from another world who crash-lands in Harlem. Unable to speak but a whiz with electronic gadgetry, he makes friends with the locals while eluding two men in black (Sayles and David Strathairn). If you've never seen this, you really should.
3. The Fifth Element (1997) -- A New York City cabdriver (Bruce Willis) circa 2259 has a cute-meet with a bizarre redhead named Leeloo (Milla Jovavich) who, it turns out, is really a mystical element/"perfect being" necessary to defeat a Great Evil. Wacky hijinks ensue.
4. Alien Resurrection (1997) -- The most underappreciated of the franchise may not be a great Alien movie, but it's a flat-out amazing Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. The director of Amelie, City of Lost Children and A Very Long Engagement spins a 200-years-after yarn with a lab-gestated, half-alien Ripley clone brought into service to battle the drooly beasts before they get to Earth.
5. Galaxy Quest (1999) -- A great comedy, a marvelous parody of the Star Trek universe, and a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure in its own right, this is one of those movies that's dead-perfect in every way. As a the cast of a long-defunct TV show, persuaded by aliens to help them with their real-life problems, Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and Tony Shalhoub are simply superb:
6. Cocoon (1985) -- Let's say you're aliens that have been sent to retrieve twenty members of your species who've been stranded on Earth for 200 years. And let's say you need a private place with some water to recharge your brethren so they can survive the trip home. What do you do? Why, you rent a house with a bitchin' swimming pool and make friends with the old folks who live nearby.
7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) -- Dr. Frank N. Furter, a visitor to Earth from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, was just trying to make a man in the best Frankenstein tradition when that meddling Brad and Janet arrived and messed everything up. Thank god Riff-Raff and Magenta had their wits about them, so they could save the earthlings and return to their home planet -- while advising us all "Don't dream it, be it."