Outland (1981) | Peter Hyams



Sometime in the future, humans establish a mining operation on Io, a volcanic moon orbiting Jupiter, a week’s distance from the nearest space station. The mining base is currently shattering records for productivity.  Sean Connery is William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery), in his second week of a one-year stint as the federal district marshal of this isolated space community. “Work hard, play hard” is the motto of the mining operation’s general manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle), who touts production numbers as proof his philosophy works. The marshal is alarmed by the increasing rash of suicides and violent outbursts among the miners. No autopsies are ordered and the bodies are loaded on departing shuttles, disposed of through a ‘burial in space’.

The marshal’s wife (Kika Markham) says she’ll leave him if he continues his new assignment, so that their young son, who has been shuttled around in space all of his life, can experience a normal life on Earth. No one else, not even his deputies, wants to rock the boat to get to the reason there are so many suicides. By monitoring Sheppard’s goons, the marshal discovers that the company is selling the workers an amphetamine-like synthetic narcotic that produces hyperactivity. This exponentially increases their productivity, each of them averaging the sum of doing fourteen hours’ worth of work during a six-hour shift. This is great for their bonuses, but the drug carries a nasty side effect for some of them, bouts of severe psychosis after nearly a year of taking the drug. When the marshal decides this can’t continue, the company will do anything to assure he’s out of the way so their gravy train keeps rolling along. Peter Hyams directs from his screenplay.


Total Recall (1990) | Paul Verhoeven



Set on Earth of the future, where we’ve already mastered the ability for space travel to through the solar system, and even set up colonies on Mars, Total Recall surrounds a lowly construction worker named Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who has recently been plagued by a recurring dream of being on Mars.  His doting wife (Sharon Stone) tells Doug it’s just a dream, but there’s something in the events of the dreams that makes him curious to find out more about the red planet.  Seeing an advertisement for a company called Rekall, an establishment that will implant the memory of vacation into the mind in vivid and perfect detail, Doug decides to choose the “secret agent” package set on Mars. 

No sooner than the implanted thoughts enter his head, Doug finds himself in what he perceives to be a real-life espionage drama involving himself and his role in a Martian underground society of spies, all seeking to end the stranglehold of a megalomaniac corporate businessman named Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).  Fighting for his life, Doug makes his way to Mars to try to uncover the secret to who he really is, but not everything is what it seems to be, both on Mars and in his mind.

Paul Verhoeven directs.


They Live (1988) | John Carpenter



This sci-fi actioner stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (yes, the ex-pro wrestler) as Nada, a drifter desperately in need of a decent job. He lands a temp job at a construction site, but strange doings in the church across the street cause him to investigate, and after the place is raided he discovers what looks like ordinary sunglasses have special lenses to be able to see the world for what it really is. Unfortunately, the world just so happens to be inhabited by an alien race who have taken over the Earth and forced humans into submission through subliminal messages while they are slowly turning it into a place of their own. When Piper starts fighting back, he gets himself into a whole world of trouble. With no one believing him and everyone after him, it looks like it’s up to one man to try to take down a world of powerful aliens singlehandedly. Keith David and Meg Foster co-star. John Carpenter writes and directs.


V: The Final Battle (1984) | Richard T. Heffron



In this three-part TV miniseries sequel, the Resistance is fending off the pressing Visitors, who continue to fool the people of Earth by controlling the media, while depleting the planet of precious water and rounding up humans for food. The resistance scientists hope, hoping to find a weakness in the overpowering Visitor defenses that will help them turn the tide of the war. However, the Visitors still manage to gain the upper hand, especially when they capture Resistance leader Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), who the scheming Diana (Jane Badler) tries to break with intense conversion techniques. Meanwhile, Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin) is dealing with her pregnancy from the lizard-like aliens, horrified at what kind of baby she will have. Marc Singer co-stars. Richard T. Heffron directs.


V – The Original Miniseries (1983) | Kenneth Johnson



The people of Earth are visited and befriended by a human-like race from outer space inhabiting massive spacecraft, 50 of them measuring three miles in diameter, hovering over cities throughout the world. These newcomers speak Earth’s languages fluently, though they have distinct electronic-sounding voices and are so sensitive to light that they frequently wear sunglasses. They’re called the Visitors by the people of Earth. They’ve come to our planet for resources that we can manufacture for their people to survive in exchange for their vast knowledge of technology and medicine. They become celebrities welcomed by humans worldwide.

Manufacturing ramps up while the Visitors take over media outlets, shaping public opinion for their cause against the world’s scientists and any others who might figure out how to stop their domination, registering them to track their whereabouts, and imposing their influence upon the world. Revealed within the tale is that the Visitors are a race of carnivorous reptilians donning elaborate human disguises to suck the Earth completely dry of its water and to harvest humans for food. Kenneth Johnson writes, directs, and produces. Marc Singer, Faye Grant, and Jane Badler star.


Alien Nation (1988) | Graham Baker



Set in the near future of 1991, it’s been three years since the landing of an actual flying saucer landed on Earth, containing a species of aliens (dubbed “Newcomers”) who had been genetically engineered as slave laborers.  The Newcomers are smarter and physically stronger than their human counterparts, which makes them more suitable to perform certain jobs, and the backlash against them from the human population is escalating daily.  In this environment, Detective Sergeant Matt Sykes (James Caan) has his partner killed by one of the alien “slags”, making it his mission to take down the ones responsible.  He voluntarily requests to be partnered with the first Newcomer police detective, Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) – Sykes calls him “George” instead, and while they haven’t been specifically assigned the homicide case, Sykes won’t stay off of it, employing Sam’s help as needed in order to get to the bottom of the underworld slag crime syndicate. Directed by Graham Baker from a script by Rockne S. O’Bannon and an uncredited James Cameron.


Stranded (1987) | Tex Fuller



In the story, five escaped alien refugees come to Earth like a bolt of lightning and find themselves in a remote North Carolina Victorian-style farmhouse inhabited by a newly-orphaned teenage girl Deirdre Clark (Ione Skye) and her grandmother Grace (Maureen O’Sullivan). Suspicions are high, resulting in the aliens taking casualties in a gunfight with the local yokels. They just want to be left alone and leave peacefully. But police are surrounding the house, just barely able to contain the gin-toting locals out for revenge for these aliens killing one of their own. Joe Morton and Flea also appear.


The Brother from Another Planet (1984) | John Sayles



A mute extraterrestrial resembling a black man (but with feet that have three toes) crash lands his spaceship near New York City. Not understanding where he is or what people are saying, he finds his way to Harlem’s 125th Street. Although derided as either crazy or homeless, others discover his worth when he can heal broken electronics and human injuries with a single touch. A concerned social worker helps him get a job as a repairman. Hobnobbing with patrons at a local bar, the Brother finds a dangerous world outside of junkies, thieves, and thugs. Bounty hunters from his homeworld are after him. After discovering a boy’s heroin overdose, he uncovers a Wall Street drug ring. Joe Morton stars in this John Sayles film.


Starman (1984) | John Carpenter



An alien race intercepts Voyager II, a space probe describing Earth, effectively inviting aliens to visit. These aliens take Earth up on the offer, sending a scout pod to see what we’re up to. American fighter jets greet it and the alien scout crashlands up in the American backwoods in Wisconsin. Using DNA found in the hair in recent widow Jenny Hayden’s photo album, he transforms himself into the likeness of Jenny’s dead husband, a house painter named Scott (Jeff Bridges). Now, not-Scott must get to a rendezvous point at Meteor Crater, Arizona to get back to the mothership before he dies, but SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and the FBI want him to experiment on.  The alien has no choice but to kidnap Jenny (Karen Allen) to assist him.  John Carpenter directs.


E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) | Steven Spielberg



E.T.: The Extraterrestrial starts in a forest outside a California suburb. An alien spacecraft lands, and several extraterrestrials emerge, gathering flora samples.  Suspicious humans arrive, the aliens escape, leaving one behind.  He hides in a backyard shed, discovered by a 10-year-old boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Startled and scared, Elliott hides the alien, whom he dubs “E.T.,” in his room, and they become friends. E.T. determines to find his way back to his world by gathering the materials necessary to build a transmitter and “phone home” for his kin to come back and get him, as he appears to be growing weaker the longer he remains on Earth.  However, Earth’s scientists aren’t going to let such an extraordinary creature get away quickly. STeven Spielberg directs. Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, and Peter Coyote also appear.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) | Steven Spielberg



Richard Dreyfuss stars as Muncie, Indiana electricity lineman, Roy Neary, one of many people in the world to experience a close encounter with a UFO.  Others experiencing the phenomenon exhibit the same odd behavior — radiation burns and an obsession with a mountainous shape. Roy’s obsession strains his relationship with his family, who think he is mentally ill. The eyewitnesses are compelled to converge at a location where the US military also plans for a close encounter of the third kind. Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Cary Guffey, and Melinda Dillon also appear in this influential film written and directed by Steven Spielberg.


The Abyss (1989) | James Cameron



Virgil ‘Bud’ Brigman (Ed Harris) is the lead foreman of Deepcore, an underwater oil drilling rig 2,000-feet deep. Deepcore receives word of a downed US Navy nuclear submarine in the area near the Cayman Trough. As Russian subs are close by, foul play is suspected. The crew must escort Bud’s soon-to-be ex-wife Lindsay (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the project engineer for Deepcore, and a crew of Navy SEALs for a rescue mission.  A hurricane cuts communication outside, effectively leaving Navy SEAL Lieutenant Coffey (Michael Biehn) in command. Psychosis from pressurization makes Coffey unstable and paranoid, viewing the various neon-colored NTIs (Non-Terrestrial Intelligence) in a nearby abyss as enemy Russian vessels that must be destroyed. James Cameron writes and directs.


DeepStar Six (1989) | Sean S. Cunningham



The plot of DeepStar Six involves a team of eleven scientists working for the US Navy is constructing a facility stationed six miles beneath the surface of the ocean for the launching of nuclear missiles. They discover they are building atop what appears to be a vast underground cavern. The Navy might scrap the project if they don’t complete it before their six-month stint is up. Once they destroy the cavern, they discover that they aren’t alone down there, as some strange and massive prehistoric arthropod creature begins to attack their undersea vehicles. Nancy Everhard, Greg Evigan, Miguel Ferrer, Taurean Blacque, Nia Peeples, and Matt McCoy star.

Erratum: Apologies to Harry Manfredini for calling him “Henry” in this episode.


Leviathan (1989) | George P. Cosmatos



Scientists on the last few days of their stint in a deep sea mining operation stumble upon a mysterious Russian ship, “Leviathan”, which has sunk and perhaps was ambushed by their own navy.  They loot some cargo on board and inadvertently bring back the remnants of a genetic experiment gone awry, which they also set loose upon their own vessel, to gruesome and nightmarish results. Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Richard Crenna, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, and Hector Elizondo appear in this film directed by George Cosmatos.


Humanoids from the Deep / Monster (1980) | Barbara Peeters



In a small coastal fishing village called Noyo in northern California, the residents are set to celebrate their annual salmon festival. The festival has been on the decline of late because the fish population has dwindled, leaving the town suffering  Doug McClure plays a fisherman and trusted community leader named Jim Hill (Doug McClure), doing what he can to keep harmony among his neighbors. Vic Morrow is the town’s more aggressive type, twisting whatever arms necessary to get a company to establish a cannery in town. Anthony Pena is among the Native Americans protesting the cannery planning to exploit his tribe’s land.

The corporation has been experimenting with ways to escalate the growth of fish in the area. Ann Turkel is a scientist named Dr. Susan Drake who led the experiments, which involved tinkering with salmon DNA so they’d grow large and increase spawning activity. However, the experiment goes awry after prehistoric coelacanths begin to consume these genetically altered salmon. Their offspring evolves quickly into humanoid sea creatures that emerge out of the ocean, attacking landlubbers with an overwhelming desire to feed on mammals and procreate with human women.

Directed by Barbara Peeters for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.