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In science-fiction, aliens don’t typically “come in peace.” Instead, they tend to be invaders or monsters — think War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Alien, or countless other examples of threats from Mars or beyond. However, there are some pop culture aliens who mean well, the most famous of which is undoubtedly E.T.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial hit theaters 40 years ago this week. Steven Spielberg’s touching story of interplanetary friendship featured an alien who only wanted to help, heal, and phone home. E.T. was loveable, and if some viewers thought he was scary-looking then, well, that’s on them. SYFY will be celebrating E.T. with a mini-marathon on Saturday, June 11, with the film running non-stop from noon until 7:30 p.m. The film is also streaming now on Peacock.
In recognition of E.T.’s anniversary, we’re ranking 10 of our favorite friendly aliens from movies and TV. This list is primarily Earth-focused. Chewbacca, for instance, is obviously a friendly alien, but he’s just one of a ton of different species in Star Wars. Heck, In a space opera setting like that, it doesn’t feel fair to single out specific beings as “aliens.” No, this list is about visitors from space who came to Earth and were chill.
1. Superman, Action Comics (1938)
It can be easy to forget that Superman is, technically, an alien, such is the extent to which he fits right into life here on Earth. The Last Son of Krypton doesn’t have any firsthand memories of his homeworld. He was far too little when his parents put him in a rocket that carried him safely away from their dying planet and into the arms of a kindly Kansas couple. Over the decades, Superman has stood for truth, justice, and the American Way, and he’s his adoptive planet’s greatest champion and defender. Hard to find a friendlier alien than that.
2. Klaatu, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Just because an alien is friendly doesn’t mean they’re a pushover. Klaatu, the alien in Robert Wise’s classic sci-fi film, comes to Earth with good intentions. Even after he’s shot by a trigger-happy soldier, Klaatu orders his imposing robot, Gort, to stand down. While on the mend, Klaatu forms a nice relationship with a widow and her son. However, he’s ultimately here to issue an ultimatum: Humanity, having developed atomic power, needs to accept his invitation to live in peaceful disarmament with the rest of the galaxy, or “pursue your present course and face obliteration.” Klaatu is a nice guy on a personal level, certainly, and even though his invitation comes with a threat, he’s ultimately looking out for our best interest. Whether our species can be as peaceful and friendly as Klaatu is up to us.
3. The Doctor, Doctor Who (1963)
With such a long-running history — not to mention 13-ish distinct iterations of the Time Lord — The Doctor has had instances where he’s done bad things, been selfish, or hurt those around him. That doesn’t make him unfriendly, however. People (and friendships!) can be complicated, but The Doctor always tries to put things right in the end. And, for what it’s worth, it’s kind of a shame that The Doctor’s various co-stars are known as “companions.” They should be called “friends.”
4. E.T., E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
We already sang E.T.’s praises in the introduction to this list, so let’s just add that E.T. is a simple, friendly alien who likes bright city lights, playing catch, dress-up, eating Reese's Pieces, and going on bike rides through the night sky. And, at the end of the movie, he promises to be a great long-distance friend, too.
5.. “Theodore Arroway,” Contact (1997)
No, Jodi Foster’s dad is not an alien — that’s just the form the actual alien takes to make Dr. "Ellie" Ann Arroway comfortable when she (and by extension, humanity) encounters a being from another world for the first time. The aliens in Contact are extremely friendly, wanting nothing more than to welcome a new space-faring race… in due time, of course. They are patient, thoughtful, and kind — and they believe in humanity enough to trust that we’ll be able to figure out how to contact them and join them in the stars. They will be happy to have us there when we’re ready. Extremely friendly of them, especially seeing as their first encounter with our species was a video of, uh, Adolf Hitler.
6. The Iron Giant, The Iron Giant (1999)
Setting aside the question of whether or not robots can technically be considered aliens (the title character is from outer space, it feels kosher), The Iron Giant is perhaps the friendliest alien on this list because that is not what he was supposed to be. The Iron Giant was built to be a deadly weapon of war. A bump on the head disarms him, but it’s through his friendship with Hogarth and learning about another friendly alien on this list, Superman, that the Iron Giant transcends what he was designed to do. That is admirable, as is his heart-wrenching sacrifice at the end of the film.
7. Stitch, Lilo & Stitch (2002)
All the marketing for Lilo & Stitch played up what a little stinker Stitch was. Trailers would have Stitch ruin magic moments from past Disney movies, like Beauty and the Beast’s dance or Simba’s debut on Pride Rock. And, Stitch does start the movie as a holy hellraising terror. But, it turns out he’s actually a big sweetie who just needed a family — ohana.
8. Paul, Paul (2011)
E.T. is a beautiful story about friendship. Paul, a movie about a Seth Rogen-voiced slacker alien who goes on a road trip with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is another, cruder story about friendship. And yet, even as Paul takes the piss out of E.T., there’s still a certain undeniable sincerity to Paul. If nothing else, Paul seems like he would be a fun hang — perhaps more fun than any other alien on this list, provided you’re okay with some puerile humor.
9. The Heptapods, Arrival (2016)
The Heptapods in Arrival came to Earth to give our species a gift. Their language is a tool, one that allows those who comprehend it to see throughout time. Now, a cynic could argue that this is not actually a friendly gesture, because they’re only giving it to humanity because they predict they will need our help 3,000 years in the future. That is not disqualifying, however. Friendship is a two-way street, and the Heptapods are putting a lot of faith in our ability to communicate, work together, and that we’ll be there when they need us. It’s not the warmest depiction of friendship on this list, but it is an important and touching one.
10. Harry, Resident Alien (2021)
Okay, call this one aspirational. Harry came to Earth with a mission to wipe out humanity, which is not exactly a friendly thing to do. However, as Harry learns more about the species he intended to kill and becomes part of the community thanks to his human disguise, he starts to turn a little soft. By the end of the first season, he’s given up on his mission, which is a great first step. Harry’s probably the least friendly alien on this list, but he’s got potential. He just needs to work on his people skills — literally.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is currently streaming on Peacock.