Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in "paranormal pop culture," has lectured at conventions nationwide on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at ParanormalPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.
Don't panic but our planet is in dire need of saving – from alien invaders. At least, that's if the impending summer blockbuster movie season is any indication.
The immensely successful super hero supergroup movie "The Avengers," directed by Buffyverse maestro Joss Whedon, was not only the beginning of the 2012 summer movie season, it also signaled the potential end of Earth unless a super-powered resistance can fight off godlike aliens. Then Peter Berg’s "Battleship" – an alien invasion flick based off the board game and starring Liam Neeson – came ashore on May 18. Memorial Day weekend unleashed Barry Sonnenfeld’s "Men in Black III" with Will Smith before Ridley Scott’s "Alien"-esque prequel "Prometheus" opened up on June 8. The fallout of the alien invasion on "Falling Skies" is particularly nitty-gritty: The post-apocalyptic world of the 2nd Massachusetts human resistance regiment returned to the airwaves this month with the show's second season.
So what does all this potential destruction of humanity mean? Well, we humans certainly love to watch films and television shows where our lives and planet are put in danger, but the appeal goes deeper than that. Audiences can deal with humankind on the verge of an extinction event as long as there a few good men and women willing to put up a fight to the finish. We love to watch a kick-ass leader emerge even if his efforts don't ultimately stop an invasion. To borrow from Bonnie Tyler, we need a hero whose got to be strong, sure and larger than life – and being smart and funny also helps to cope with the stress of saving the planet and inevitable whining of weaker characters.
With those characteristics in mind, we give you Paranormal Pop Cultures' best human resistance leaders to face off against otherworldly threats.
Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956)
It is a sure bet most fans of science fiction have seen this classic film or one of its remakes/variations. The original begins with Dr. Miles Bennell in the hospital after he was found ranting and paranoid in the highway. He relays the tale (to a psychiatrist) of what has been happening to everyone around him: Alien plants are replacing everyone with doppelgänger pod people devoid of any personality. Bennell is determined to warn everyone but, like in many invasion films, no one believes him at first. He's certainly an intelligent man who selflessly goes on a mission to save us all from doom – but he's also a bit nuts. Luckily, he's eventually believed when the doctors at the hospital see the results of the pods for themselves. The authorities are alerted, so everything will be okay, right? Right? The invasion would have been discovered eventually, but Bennell demonstrates qualities of an admirable leader. However, he could've used a sense of humor and some Xanax.
Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) from "The Blob" (1958)
This classic film (remade in 1988) depicts more of an accidental vs. deliberate alien invasion. An amorphous alien lands, compliments of a meteorite, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He (if blobs have genders) likes to dissolve and consume the unsuspecting townsfolk. And let's face it, the bigger the Blob, the more difficult it will be to destroy. In Steve McQueen’s film debut, he's local teen Steve Andrews. Right away, he selflessly interrupts a hot date to take the Blob’s first victim to the local doctor. (Warning: never poke at a gelatinous substance that falls from space.) Serious Steve starts to discover that strange things are afoot in his town and rounds up his buds to help warn the skeptical adults. That’s great he has the confidence and organizational skills as a leader, but he is also not thinking through that his pals may get dissolved. Steve remains tenacious and eventually discovers, when hiding in a store’s refrigerated area, that the Blob hates the cold. This knowledge ultimately results in the Blob’s demise from CO2. Or does it?
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from "Alien" (1979)
While Alien is not technically about an Earth invasion, it surely would have been without the bravery and quick-thinking of one of the strongest female leads in the history of science fiction. Ripley is a member of the 7-member crew of the Spaceship Nostromo, and during its return to Earth after a mining mission, it picks up a distress signal from an abandoned ship on a nearby planet. They check it out and things go downhill during the investigation and after a "face-off." Oh hey, and they end up bringing a parasite back onto their ship. Hilarity then ensues! Well, not really, since everyone – including the corporate stooge android (Ian Holm) – ends up dying horribly except for Ripley. She is scared out of her mind but her will to survive (while looking hot in her undies!) is inspiring. In the closing scene, the terror on her face shows her vulnerability but heroes are allowed to be afraid. Ripley’s determination to survive and kill the alien result in its demise outside of the craft and prevents it from reaching our planet via the Nostromo. She then takes a long, much deserved, nap.
R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) from "John Carpenter's The Thing" (1982)
This gory and "chilling" remake of the 1951's "The Thing From Another Planet" is more accurately based on a short story by John W. Campbell called "Who Goes There." A group of scientists are in the Antarctic and one-by-one, their bodies are violently invaded by an unknown organism. MacReady is a loner helicopter pilot who enjoys his whiskey. While having a vice can be a hero trait, a loner doesn't typically have a lot of philanthropic intentions. But his suspicious nature and speculation about the nature of the alien's intentions keeps him alive and determined to destroy the alien. Clearly an intelligent leader, he figures out this particular organism has a defense mechanism that kicks in when threatened. MacReady's initial motivation is his own survival, but when he discovers the alien's horrific nature, he knows it's in humanity's best interest to kill it. The camp is ultimately destroyed by fire – and MacReady survives with one other, but suspect their time is limited.
Elliott (Henry Thomas) from "E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
This 30-year-old blockbuster by Steven Spielberg turned on our heartlights when an extra-terrestrial – who was helping his fellow aliens collect samples of our plant life – was left behind on our giant marble when G-men spooked his spaceship driver. The confused E.T. makes his way to the home of a needy little 10-year-old boy. Elliott is an unlikely leader but we find him to be intelligent; he has geeky toys and is selfless in that he sacrifices his Reese’s Pieces to lure the alien into his home. He is also funny, especially when he refers to his jerky brother as "penis breath." Elliott is also brave to take in an unknown being. This bravery, however, jeopardizes his family’s lives and potentially the lives of all of mankind. (After all, why were the aliens stealing our plants? What was their intention? Plus, don’t you just love how E.T. captures not only Elliott’s heart, but the hearts of those around him?) The psychic connection between Elliott and E.T. did reveal the alien's vulnerabilities at the risk of the boy's own life. But hey, maybe being a sweetheart to the alien was an elaborate scheme on the part of Elliott to disarm the long-necked buggers. Eventually, Elliott secured E.T.'s return to his people which led to them leaving our plants, and planet, alone. Thank you, Elliott, for your courage and ingenious plan to capture and mind-bend this creature with your employment of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant) from "V" (original miniseries 1983)
The 1983 two-part miniseries about reptilian aliens who want to deplete our resources and consume us spawned a second miniseries in 1984 (V: The Final Battle) and a television series that same year (V). A remake of the original series also aired for two seasons in 2009-11. The Visitors were friendly and even helpful at first but their true nature was soon discovered. A resistance eventually formed to fight the Visitors and regain our planet. Fourth year med student and researcher, Juliet Parrish leds the group in Los Angeles, California. Her initial lack or confidence and modesty makes being called a leader difficult for her, but her courage and ability to organize resistance raids, earns her the title. She ultimately aids in discovering Red Dust, a bacteria that is used as a deadly weapon against the Visitors. Girl Power!
John Nada (Roddy Piper) from "They Live" (1988)
As if aliens who want to control our world isn’t bad enough, this breed disguises themselves as upper-class a-holes and politicians. Our fearless leader in this film is drifter John Nada, who discovers these rad sunglasses that reveal the aliens and their true intentions. He is also savvy enough to discover they’re controlling us through subliminal messages sent through our media. He’s not as dumb as he looks and better yet, he’s hilarious! One of the most quotable lines from a science fiction/horror movie comes from his lips: "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass ... and I’m all out of bubblegum." Not only does he have a wicked sense of humor and good detective skills, he bravely takes one for the team (a.k.a. the humans of Earth) in the end but only after he destroys the mind-controlling broadcasting antenna.
Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) from "Independence Day" (1996)
The plot of this movie is pretty simple: An alien mothership sends its little baby ships out there to help take over our planet. Captain Steven Hiller, USMC, turns on the “hell, no!” and springs into action, ultimately aiding in implanting a computer virus and detonating a nuclear device in the mothership. He does display obvious intelligence with his problem solving, and selflessness and bravery in risking his life – but he also has a hot girlfriend and her son to protect. His sense of humor rocks this movie and helps break up the heaviness of the planet’s certain doom. He is confident but possibly to a fault that mutates into cockiness and recklessness, which potentially puts his comrades in danger.
Tom Jones! ... and Richie Norris (Lukas Haas) and Byron Williams (Jim Brown) from "Mars Attacks!" (1996)
The title of the absurd comedy based on the '60s trading card series sums up the premise. Freaky looking Martians come to our planet "in peace," which apparently means taking over and shooting us with disintegrating ray guns. Pretty ominous for creatures that sound like ducks and are perverts. There are a few characters in this Tim Burton cult classic that seem like obvious leaders, like say, President Jack Nicholson or "Chairman of the American Academy of Astronomics" Professor Pierce Brosnan. Even TV reporter Michael J. Fox seems a likely leader, but they're all too obvious and fail miserably. The true leaders of the human resistance is an employee of a Kansas donut shop; a retired boxer dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh working in Vegas; eternally sexy crooner, Tom Jones. Richie Norris is your average teenager who loves his grandma. He risks his life to save her during a deadly attack and serendipitously discovers that the Martian's main weakness is the vocal stylings of Slim Whitman. He pretty much saves the planet because of his courage and selflessness. Byron Williams is a determined and humble family man who puts his life on the line by boxing the Martians so that Tom Jones could fly (of course Tom Jones knows how to fly a plane) a small group of survivors to a cave in Tahoe. In the end, the alien's heads turn into the slime that is used for the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards and Richie and his grandma receive the Congressional Medal of Honor from First Daughter Natalie Portman. Byron returns to his ex-wife and two sons in D.C. and Tom puts on a concert for the forest animals with his new squeeze, Annette Bening.
Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) from "Torchwood" (premiered 2006)
Brits enjoy their science fiction just as much as we do and this "Doctor Who" spin-off TV series is the perfect example. Torchwood is about a team of alien chasers, lead by Captain Jack Harkness and based out of the Torchwood Institute in Cardiff, Wales. Captain Jack was first introduced to us in the Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child." Like the Doctor, he is a time traveller. He is also a former con-man who happens to be immortal. As the first bisexual character in the "Doctor Who" series, he has become a positive role-model for British gay and bisexual youth. Jack is a tortured soul who has experienced great loss, but these traits making him a brave and strong leader in combating the alien threats and monitoring a spacetime rift running through Cardiff. He is a cunning problem-solver who isn’t afraid to take action where needed, even when there is great risk. His cryptic history makes him more intriguing and an obvious choice for our list.
Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) from "Falling Skies" (premiered June 19, 2011)
This Steven Spielberg-produced science fiction television series takes the viewer six months into the aftermath of an alien invasion that not only has wiped out the Earth’s power grid and technology, but also the majority of life. The invading "Skitters" are insect-like creatures who kidnap the youth to "harness" and control as slaves. Tom Mason is a Boston University history professor who is an integral part of a group of invasion survivors known as the Second Massachusetts. His confidence and knowledge of historical militia tactics helps him lead in the resistance but his main goal is to protect his growing sons – and at one point even re-capture his kidnapped son Ben (Connor Jessup). Not much of a sense of humor emanates from Professor Tom but hey, can you blame him? He displays some deep anger towards the cocky aliens (obviously) but he does show key characteristics of bravery when he boards an alien ship to learn more about the uber-aliens controlling the show.