Mankind has long been captivated by the concept that alien civilizations may exist somewhere in the vastness of outer space. There is no shortage of fantastical stories that imagine what alien species may look like, talk like, or even mate like. While certain particularly creative works of fiction, like Arrival, depict extraterrestrial beings as completely foreign to humanity in terms of biological makeup, phenomenology, and language, other more mainstream versions of alien life forms are very anthropomorphic and far less nuanced.
Because these alien tropes are so widespread, popular culture’s default vision of extraterrestrials has grown into a laughable caricature of itself. Here are some of the silliest assumptions about life from other worlds from popular fiction.
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Aliens Are Basically Just Humans With Small DifferencesPhoto: Star Trek:The Original Series / NBC
The Trope: Aliens are just like us, except green! In this trope, extraterrestrial life forms are imagined as bipedal creatures that look more or less human but with small tweaks. Usually this comes in the form of an unusual skin color, like blue or purple. Their eyes may be larger or completely black, or there may be strange appendages on their heads, but overall they’re pretty much just like earthlings in most ways that count.
Why Is It Inaccurate? If life did exist somewhere in the universe, it would almost certainly not have evolved in a way that resembles humans. With the incredible diversity of planetary environments that develop in other solar systems, the worlds that could host life would most likely differ from Earth in a staggering number of ways - the temperature; atmospheric pressure and constitution; presence of liquid or solid areas; and possible food sources would all be foreign to those on Earth. To survive in these different places, life would need to take a very different form than we would recognize.
Notable Offenders: Star Trek’s Vulcans are essentially just humans with pointy ears. Star Wars, while slightly more complex in its depiction, also follows this trope. Chewbacca is a person covered with hair and given a dog-like face, and Yoda is a person who is small and green with big ears. Perhaps the most flagrant offender of this bunch, however, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe; most of the alien species are just people with technicolor skin and maybe one odd physical feature added (looking at you, Thanos).
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They Have No Problem With Earth’s Gravitational Force Or Atmospheric PressurePhoto: They Live / Universal Pictures
The Trope: Whether they are sharing an environment aboard a spaceship or on our home planet, alien bodies are perfectly capable of handling the gravitational force that is natural for humans. In a Goldilocks-esque miracle, all the various alien life forms find the specific gravitational force of Earth to be "just right" for them.
Why Is It Inaccurate? Much like how a blobfish doesn't fare so well outside of the intensely pressurized depths of the deep sea, alien bodies would most likely not be suited to life on Earth. Even within our solar system, we can see that gravity is not exerted in equal forces across the board. Creatures from a planet with far less gravity who evolved in those conditions could be crushed under the force, much like how we could not survive on planets that are too different from our own. Living in environments with weak gravity also takes its toll on our bodies.
Notable Offenders: Essentially every piece of fiction featuring aliens falls prey to this trope. Men in Black and They Live both have aliens who live comfortably on Earth's surface without being affected by pressure or gravity whatsoever. Mass Effect, Star Wars, the MCU, and Star Trek also have numerous aliens sharing environments with humans that are unbothered by gravity.
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Sexy Humanoid Aliens Definitely Reproduce Like MammalsPhoto: Mass Effect / Electronic Arts
The Trope: When it comes to anything - anything at all - people will inevitably (and, most of the time, very quickly) start thinking with their crotches: If aliens exist, and they’re a lot like people, can we... you know, do it? This trope is an incredibly popular one for fairly obvious reasons.
Why Is It Inaccurate? It’s a stretch, but not impossible, to think that emotional attachment could spark up between two highly intelligent members of biologically distinct species, but things get really silly when we imagine that aliens would reproduce in even remotely the same way that humans do. The myriad different ways of reproduction within our planet’s different life forms alone show how utterly implausible this trope is. Chances are slim to none that we’re "compatible" with the Martians.
Notable Offenders: The Mass Effect series has gone to town with this one, offering a number of human/alien romances, complete with steamy cinematic scenes. Yet perhaps the most brazen example of this trope is from Star Trek. Spock’s very existence is a puzzling one; he’s half human and half Vulcan, because somehow these species that evolved on two totally different planets are reproductively compatible. Yes, there are "explanations" for this, but they are weak to say the least.
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They Have The Biological Capacity To Speak English Or Any Other Human LanguagePhoto: The Avengers: Infinity War / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The Trope: From the moment of first contact, aliens are fluent in English or whatever other human language the source material is composed in. The aliens not only have the immediate mastery of the language, but also the physical features necessary to produce human speech. Sometimes this trope appears in the form of a "universal translation" device that can somehow detect and instantly translate every language in the universe.
Why Is It Inaccurate? If aliens are from another star system, chances are their linguistic knowledge of earthlings is extremely limited, unless they were given lots of prior contact with human civilizations. Furthermore, aliens would likely have evolved in a drastically different way that probably would not include a larynx or other physical features that are capable of mimicking human speech patterns. As an example of something that might be more plausible, the hanar in Mass Effect communicate with one another through complex patterns of bioluminescence. Alien species' biological construction and environments would radically change their styles of communication.
Notable Offenders: In The Avengers series, Ebony Maw arrives on every planet and gives a speech about how lucky the planet's inhabitants are to be wiped out by Thanos. He and all of his cohorts seem to come preloaded with every single language in the galaxy, most obviously when they arrive in New York and begin speaking in fluent English. It also seems to be the case in Jupiter Ascending that all the intergalactic aliens speak English. This is especially odd since the main character's native language is Russian. There is no attempt made to explain this away, either.