14 Alien Performances That Feel Perfectly Almost-Human

List Rules
Vote up the alien performances that could almost pass for human.

There are countless films with attacking and invading extraterrestrials, often a monstrous species of aliens sharing little in common with humans. But for those aliens who can almost pass as human, sharing some or all human physical attributes and behaviors, a delicate balance must be achieved in the performance. The actor must find a way to appear somewhat human, while somehow still conveying an alien nature. When the right balance is found, these performances can be unforgettable - not unlike the efforts made by actors playing robots or cyborgs.

Since the release of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956, the fear that aliens may be among us without our awareness has been a common theme. In other films, the aliens are less hostile, often wanting nothing more than to coexist with humans. Sometimes the aliens are humanoid, naturally sharing a biological similarity to the human race, while other times they have the ability to take on the form in an attempt to fit in. Similarly, some of the human behaviors are learned while others are inherent. Often, the nuance of the performance comes from the actor’s ability to make normal human behavior appear slightly unnatural.


  • Extraterrestrial Nature: The antagonist in Men in Black is a 12-foot-tall extraterrestrial resembling an insect. Though primarily reminiscent of a giant cockroach, the bug alien also has features borrowed from a praying mantis, cricket, grasshopper, scorpion, and hornet.

    Human Qualities: After crash-landing on the farm of an abusive man named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio), the bug skins him for a disguise. The bug alien wears Edgar’s skin, though it begins to rot away over time. Despite most finding his demeanor and appearance off-putting, the bug alien is mostly able to get away with the deception.

    The Performance: Although makeup and visual effects help, it’s D’Onofrio’s physicality and facial expressions that really sell the idea of an alien bug wearing human skin. D’Onofrio also utilizes a labored speech pattern, which conveys the effort it takes for the alien to pull off this poor illusion.

  • Extraterrestrial Nature: A humanoid extraterrestrial calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) falls to Earth from a distant planet, seeking water to bring back to a home planet suffering from a drought. Using the advanced alien technology to acquire wealth on Earth, Newton works towards constructing a spaceship able to return the life-saving liquid to his people. Although he appears human, he uses artificial attachments to hide the alien form underneath.

    Human Qualities: With the use of artificial attachments and contact lenses, Newton is able to disguise himself as human. He even has a British accent, despite landing in New Mexico, and this foreignness provides a cover for some of his unconventional behavior. When Newton meets and falls in love with a human woman named Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), she introduces him to earthly practices. Not unlike much of humanity, it does not take long for Newton to become addicted and distracted by sex, alcohol, and television.

    The Performance: The casting of Bowie in the role of an alien was a brilliant choice, as the glam rock star was known for his experimental style and androgynous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Bowie’s rock star appearances and behavior were often more alien than the depiction of the extraterrestrial in The Man Who Fell to Earth, though he gives a convincingly strange performance as Newton.

  • Extraterrestrial Nature: Ella (Olivia Wilde) is an alien who has taken on a human form after coming to Earth in the 1870s to defend humanity against the alien race responsible for the destruction of her home planet. Ella’s alien race is highly intelligent, and she can speak multiple languages, allowing her to communicate with the Apache Native Americans. While not indestructible, Ella is also fire resistant and able to recover from attacks.

    Human Qualities: Ella looks human despite her superhuman abilities. Most of the locals are unaware of her extraterrestrial nature until she survives a fatal attack.

    The Performance: Wilde uses her large eyes and a mostly expressionless face to convey the slightly alien behavior of Ella, though her outward appearance is entirely human.

  • Extraterrestrial Nature: Responding to the message sent on the Voyager 2 space probe, the alien in Starman is a scout sent to establish first contact with Earth, only to have his spaceship shot down by the US military. The Starman alien has no concrete physical form but has the ability to clone living creatures. He first appears on Earth as a floating orb of light before taking on a human form (Jeff Bridges).

    Human Qualities: When the Starman alien first arrives in the home of widower Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), he uses a lock of hair to clone her deceased husband and take his form. This initially frightens Jenny, though she warms to the alien upon discovering his capacity for kindness, using a sphere to heal an injured deer. The Starman also learns human behavior over the course of the film, including how to drive and use credit cards.

    The Performance: Bridges portrays the alien with a childlike nature, curious and eager to learn, despite being equipped with silver spheres that give him miraculous powers.

  • Extraterrestrial Nature: When a humanoid alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) arrives on Earth with a robot companion during the Cold War, he brings a warning to all humanity to stop the creation of nuclear weapons and bombs. Klaatu’s people come from an advanced race, and he is capable of impressive feats, such as producing a salve able to heal wounds quickly and exerting complete control over Earth’s electricity.

    Human Qualities: Klaatu’s external features are no different from those of a human. In the 2008 remake, it was stated human DNA was used to alter the alien’s biology, but in the original version, he is simply from a near-human alien race.

    The Performance: Rennie plays Klaatu as a passive and gentle alien, despite having the ability to respond with great force. He displays poise and intelligence in the face of humanity’s emotional response to an outsider giving orders.

  • Extraterrestrial Nature: Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) is the leader of the Skrulls, a shape-shifting species of aliens who use that ability to infiltrate and spy. Talos goes undercover in S.H.I.E.L.D. as Keller, Nick Fury’s boss, but also takes on the shape of a female surfer and a Kree soldier.

    Human Qualities: Along with the ability to look like a human, Talos is enough of an actor to imitate what he perceives to be normal human behavior. When undercover as Keller, this means acting uptight and humorless, in contrast to Talos's actual personality.

    The Performance: Mendelsohn had two distinct accents for the character of Talos in his natural alien form and Keller, along with a change in personality and demeanor. Even without the extensive makeup used to show the alien qualities, Mendelsohn’s performance conveys the shift with his range as an actor.