lindsay ellis
lindsay ellis videos
lindsay ellis video essay
lindsay ellis aliens

Designing the Other: Aliens on Film

दृश्य 362 587

An overview of some alien creature designs from popular movies over the last few decades, and what information those designs impart to the audience.
Merch Store:
Twitter: @thelindsayellis
Support us on Patreon:
From ET's big baby eyes, to the HR Giger's xenomorph from Ridley Scott's Alien's no-eyes and the Independence Day aliens no-mouth. Also, District 9 is in here, too. Tags, tags, tags.

Lindsay Ellis
Lindsay Ellis
  • Matthew Fodell

    Matthew Fodell

    दिन पहले

    I like to think that, in the same way that we have a natural *potential* to either be self-serving or altruistic, lazy or productive, hedonistic or pursuant of higher meaning, hateful or loving, our nature is also to have this dual potential to be tribalistic (have rigid in-group/out-group mentality) or to be universally empathic, or however you would describe the absence of these in-group/out-group tendencies. I don’t disagree that for much of human history, people have tended towards this tribalism, but like other areas of human nature (such as the ones I mentioned) it is not intrinsic to human beings that we *must* be and remain tribalistic. It is not an inevitable part of being human in the way that the structure of our DNA is. It is common, but I wonder to what extent its continued presence today is because of social factors, such as the reinforcement of this mindset by the class system, but nationalism, by racism, and so on. Pretty indisputably, it creates a modal spectrum (i.e. everyone is not exactly the same amount tribalistic), not a binary, so it is something that can be reduced, but how low.
    Something that I think is at the very heart of human nature is our higher mental faculties— our capacity for language, mathematics, logic, scientific investigation, ethical reasoning, and others... Besides the actually chemical distinctions in our DNA, these are what distinguish us from other primates, other lifeforms on Earth— in my view, these are what most demarcate our nature. The upshot of these faculties is that they enable us to challenge our base instincts, our worst characteristics and impulses... We can look at the condition of the rest of the animal kingdom and ask, “Is it right to let sick and elderly people just die if we can avoid it? Is it right to harm others for your own short-term gain?” It’s true that competition and tribalism were evolutionary forces which influenced our development, and do have deep roots, but co-operation and harmonious social cohesion were also evolutionary advantages which influenced our development into the highly social, interconnected species we are. There is a reason we evolved empathy and compassion, perhaps the greatest antidote to tribalistic impulses. These socially beneficial counterweights are every bit as much an aspect of human nature as tribalism and xenophobia.
    I just think it’s important to think of human nature in these terms, because often the pessimistic perspective on human nature that the right wing espouses leads people to horrible conclusions... “People are just greedy, selfish, tribalistic by nature, and we should embrace the systems that incentivize and utilize those qualities” is a very common argument in favor of capitalism. Or the claim that people are “just lazy” and wouldn’t work if they didn’t have the threat of starvation forcing them to work for someone else’s profit. The same for arguments towards our inherent servility or need for a strong paternalistic state to justify authoritarianism.
    When we recognize the apparently dual (IMO truly nondual) character of human nature, that we have a wide spectrum of potentialities when it comes to any given quality, it becomes pretty obvious: we should advocate and fight for social systems which incentivize and encourage our best nature, which maximally develop every human being to their greatest potential, while minimizing and discouraging our worst nature. Simply deciding our bad potentials are actually good (*Ayn Rand*, along with Satanists, whose core philosophy is pretty similar) is such an insanely backwards and antisocial move... The fact that this is the natural tendency for people who seek to defend capitalism should tell us something about how inherently misanthropic and irrational it is as a system, when it comes down to its most basic logic, which literally deems human/social consequences as an externality with no need to be considered... Because there is darkness in each of us, that does not mean we should foresake the light and fully become our shadow... We should strive towards high ideals, our guide towards our best potential selves and best possible world, and come what may, create the best outcomes we can. That has always been the driving impulse of human progress which has moved us further and further in the direction of human emancipation and social progress. In neoliberalism we see backsliding, and we see liberals calling it progress, but nonetheless, the dialectical conflict between those who would move us forward and those who would cling to the status quo (or even move us far back) will continue, and if history is any indicator (it’s literally all we have to go off) time after time, after many defeats in their uphill battles, it has been the abolitionists, the anti-feudalists, the suffragettes, the revolutionaries, who have eventually been right; a better, freer, more just world was possible. Organized together (and only together), the subjugated masses could demand a better social contract, better terms, the abolition of the more brutal forms of masterdom. And we can thank all of them for virtually everything good about our lives today (where as we can thank the ruling class and their pushback for much of the suffering, deprivation, precarity, repression...). Now, the next step is to outright dissolve the class divide, to take the biggest step towards human freedom and justice in all of history, and I don’t expect it to come easily. And in the meanwhile, I’m 100% in favor of doing whatever we can to reduce suffering in the present system, of course (I’m a rule consequentialist— I couldn’t stand for accelerationism or any wack shit like that). Still, even in our advocacy of short-term reforms, even in our day to day tactical decisions— I think it is absolutely vital that this high ideal, this long-term horizon to strive towards, is what animates the left.
    Losing sight of that is how you get neoliberal Democrats claiming they are “the left,” advocating austerity, deregulation of corporations, preventing the minimum wage from rising, and supposedly progressive-minded people just accept that that’s the “left” position in our polical climate. Only having the expicit goal of a well-founded ideal, only when you know what it is you’re ultimately aiming towards, do you have the frame of reference to understand who is actually on your side, to understand what policies will actually be beneficial in the long term.

  • Chris Forest

    Chris Forest

    दिन पहले

    I'm not sure if it's that simple. If I can emphasize with a protozoa, and think it cute, then why should we assume the audience is too dumb to be able to do the same with something equally far removed from humanity? We need to learn to push the boundaries of what can and can't be done on film even farther than what we have.

  • Matei Lupu

    Matei Lupu

    8 दिन पहले


  • Koana


    13 दिन पहले

    0:46 t h i c c

  • johnson jameson

    johnson jameson

    23 दिन पहले

    Ok, so we're just going to ignore calling the District 9 aliens "prawns?" I know that's what "everyone" calls them, but in the context of the movie, that's like calling them the n word. Feels strange to casually throw that word around. Am I wrong about this?

  • Damián Nagel

    Damián Nagel

    28 दिन पहले

    Any explanation of why aliens everywhere are so against the idea of wearing clothes?

  • Amanda Capsicum

    Amanda Capsicum

    महीने पहले

    When you said "Thor", I initially thought you were referring to the alien Thor from Stargate SG1, who is more like the grey type aliens. Although he's initially represented very indirectly as a holographic recording of a human who resembles the Thor from Norse mythology which turns out to just be a recorded message. This feels like a bait and switch kind of setup to initially present the alien as something familiar then take it away, replacing it with something very alien as a surprise.

  • Bartimaeus of Uruk

    Bartimaeus of Uruk

    महीने पहले

    What I got from this video: Humans are simple and predictable.

  • Alexander Supertramp

    Alexander Supertramp

    महीने पहले

    Arrival really did this right. Possibly the least humanoid aliens I’ve ever seen in Hollywood films.

  • James S

    James S

    महीने पहले

    Poor ol "sarah baartman" good stuff adding her in the beginning of the video I dont think alot of people know about her story.

  • DAM the Man

    DAM the Man

    महीने पहले

    4:30 The Greys might actually be inspired by HG Wells; in War of the Worlds, the Martians have livestock that very closely resemble the Greys; which is why they exclusively target Humans as a food source. He also wrote up & illustrated a premise known as Man of Year Million that depicts Human descendants, a million years into the future, as hairless & pale with vestigial legs, long arms & large heads.

  • bongo gibbans

    bongo gibbans

    2 महीने पहले

    Fear is human we fear is what we don't know.

  • Hist


    2 महीने पहले

    0:46 She lookin' kind of thicc tho.... 0.0

  • Cyan


    2 महीने पहले

    I think you missed something big with the Xenomorph. It has machine components. You can see tubing on its head, and the things on its back kind of look like gas pipes. This is probably intentional, considering if you look at other pieces of HR Giger's work you'll find a lot of cyborg monstrosities.

  • Hoku The Overwatch Editor

    Hoku The Overwatch Editor

    2 महीने पहले

    Now try angels, with 1996's Michael starring John Travolta

  • Mike Neal

    Mike Neal

    2 महीने पहले

    One film that may add interest into the discussion is Robert Shaye's "The Last Mimzy"; mostly because the alien of the film is given a very familiar, and at the same time passive design of being a child's stuffed animal. On top of that the alien takes on a rather feminine motherly role of helping the two children protagonists nurture talents which help them take on new perspective towards their roles and be able to communicate with others. On top of all of that, I distinctly remember the film being marketed as the "new E.T." incorporating the mysterious, yet magical other in need of help to return home where the creature would be saved from immanent death and experimentation by the powers at be.
    It's also interesting from a feminist perspective as Mimzy is both a foreign presence and an intimate childhood object designed for comfort and attachment. Mimzy is a stuffed animal, an object meant to be held close and provides softness, comfort, and texture to be felt to provide security. Granted, the film could be read as a coming of age story where the children protagonists move beyond their childhood toys and imaginary friends as they have now learned how to express themselves and overcome obstacles; I'd also argue specifically because of the "return the powerful foreign creature to where it belongs so it can survive" aspect of the plot, one could read elements of it as encouraging a generation to help a feminized individual (Mimzy is specifically given to the daughter/sister character as her toy) to escape the confines of the traditional domestic situation to something more meaningful where Mimzy can flourish. Mimzy, after all, is The Last Mimzy, a member of an alien race that came to Earth centuries ago to help the human race develop, or something like that, being taken in as children's toys for girls and young women, only to slowly but surely die off as the Mimzies were not able to survive in the human climate. I forget why specifically, although I believe it had something to do with wanting to take advantage of and exploit the Mimzies for their powerful abilities or difference equals evil.

    ***All of this is written off of memory; I haven't seen the film in a decade or so; I fully concede details may be inaccurate or wrong; the feminist perspective may not hold up should details I have provided above be shown to be wrong. Thank you for your time, thought, inputs, and energies for those who have read this comment.

  • ussilov


    2 महीने पहले

    Jesus fucking christ lady! You CAN'T go around calling them "PRAWNS"! They got names, i mean Jesus, what? Do you go around calling tusken raiders "sand people"?

  • RupertBoiJedi!


    2 महीने पहले

    The only alien I find the most scary are the grays and ET scared me as a kid lol

  • VJ Goofy

    VJ Goofy

    2 महीने पहले

    How about how they sound?, lately Hollywood has being using a clicking kind of sound

  • Thomas Boyle

    Thomas Boyle

    2 महीने पहले

    Throughout the whole discussion of aliens, not once did she mention immigrants. I am disappointed.

  • Ace Bashige

    Ace Bashige

    2 महीने पहले

    All ways schooling me in film. Thank you Lindsay Ellis

  • Olga Shishkina

    Olga Shishkina

    2 महीने पहले

    Well, there is one sentence that made me scratch my head. It's really hard to make trees appear creepy and plants are in an other kingdom than us. Trees are just part of the background unless they have eyes

  • DrRocketman 779

    DrRocketman 779

    3 महीने पहले

    Well, Optimus was mostly a sympathetic character...until the summary execution of that one guy.

  • Laila Deruma

    Laila Deruma

    3 महीने पहले

    I saw Alien and Aliens as a small child, around four of five years old. They were my favorite movies for a while. I have only seen clips of E.T. as an adult, and it makes my skin crawl.

  • crithon


    3 महीने पहले

    hmmm, okay, I can see the Binkie, but I would argue Bumblebee is designed after a Dog as much as you're previous video notes that Bay loves Dogs. And Prime more after a gorilla especially his climbing and mouth.

  • Greta mmm boi

    Greta mmm boi

    3 महीने पहले

    Those big baby eyes always look even MORE unsettling, I really can’t stand them in alien design. Just... ew. Lemme have my alien aliens you cowards

  • PhoenixKing


    4 महीने पहले

    Honestly, E.T.'S design is more unsettling to me than the xenomorph. I think it's because E.t. almost resembles a human, but it's different enough and my brain doesn't like it. Like the uncanny valley.

  • crakeful


    4 महीने पहले

    E.T. is a Terrifying Demon Sith Lord!

  • J R42

    J R42

    4 महीने पहले

    I always loved the way, of all movies, Mom and Dad Save the Earth portrayed a cutesy, mushroom shaped E.T. and then had it become a terrifying Xenomorph type creature. They did a good job of bait and switch there. At least for me when I was a child, even as a child I still understood what they were trying to do even though I had not seen Alien at that point...

  • Dorothy Bellion

    Dorothy Bellion

    4 महीने पहले

    although not an "alien" R2D2 manages to be extremely sympathetic despite looking like a trash can on wheels

  • Chloe


    5 महीने पहले

    "Lizard people" is an antisemitic conspiracy theory. And it is inappropriate to joke about it

  • Lycoris-Kage


    5 महीने पहले

    what movie is that white praying mantis-like Alien from?

  • KarolaTea


    6 महीने पहले

    My favourite screen alien is the Horta (Start Trek Original Series), cause it's just completely different from our expectations about life.

  • Jacob Hoefer

    Jacob Hoefer

    6 महीने पहले

    And no mention of Mac and Me? Those huggable treasures had enormous eyes!

  • Rafa Gómez

    Rafa Gómez

    6 महीने पहले

    The image of the "Area-51 alien" is what they (You US) told us we(Humans)'ll be in the year 2.000:
    Our muscles will decay for not having to do physical work, head and eyes grownth, fingers longer so we can push button more easily, I don't remember why we had to get all bald, etc.

  • Secant


    6 महीने पहले

    In fairness I'd watch the shit out of a film where ET looks like a Xenomorph.

  • TARDISgirl


    6 महीने पहले

    This video is helping me write a paper for my film course on E.T. Thank you Lindsay

  • Polygonmaster2


    6 महीने पहले

    Duran Duran?

  • im19ice3


    7 महीने पहले

    while we're on this i'd like to remark that i find it a little annoying that in star wars they're all so anthropomorphic

  • Benjamin Nolan

    Benjamin Nolan

    7 महीने पहले

    Honestly, _Arrival_ is one of my favourite films of all time. I've always had a fascination with languages and my favourite book and short story are both centred around them ( _Babel-17_ and _Omnilingual_ ), but there's something about _Arrival_ and its editing that just speaks to me.

  • Aspiring Marauder

    Aspiring Marauder

    7 महीने पहले

    Imagining Chris Hemsworth as ET boggles my fucking mind.
    It's just.. asuttralian man scooting around on his knees and being scared

  • boreas777


    7 महीने पहले

    Here's a weird personal take after having watched this video mega late: I always related to the "other" type of characters, especially in games where they let me be one, because I've always been an outcast, and it became more understandable to me to be an outcast if I at least looked the part of the "other", if that makes sense, plus there was that whole feeling a connection thing because of that shared outcast experience. I'm hispanic, and when it came to representation, those were the characters I related to, rather than other hispanics. To elaborate, it's not about the looks, I look pretty average as you can see from my picture, but the way they're treated resonated with me and my experiences with me being a strange fellow, which has had a way larger impact in my life than my whole hispanic deal.

  • Brandon Letkeman

    Brandon Letkeman

    7 महीने पहले

    This all further exemplifies the genius of Arrival and how by the time the bomb goes off we feel sad on behalf of eyeless squid hands

  • The Real Logus

    The Real Logus

    8 महीने पहले

    11:06 Holy Moley! Art from the Star Wars Illustrated Guide to the Galaxy! In my group of folks, I am the only one who really liked Star Wars all that much, and I am definitely the only one who read that book. It is cool to see art from such an obscure SW work. Probably just the result of Google-ing "Slug alien," but still pretty cool.

  • LoLshark99 B

    LoLshark99 B

    8 महीने पहले

    Arrival could have been really good, but it ended up being enormously stupid.

  • Weap0


    8 महीने पहले

    I would be interested to see an update on this video regarding Annihilation.

  • rocker11281


    8 महीने पहले

    I really appreciate your work and like hearing your analysis on movies, Lindsey, but I wonder, if you're not getting tired of talking about bad movies all the time. You really seem to be possesed with Disney and Transformers. Let it go! The whole plate was enough (really liked that series, except the part about marxism, which was way to short and only scratching the surface).
    I would love seeing you talk about GOOD movies from time to time. What about the likes of "1900", "Once Upon A Time In The West", or - to put something fresh on the table - "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri". Maybe you don't like these three. Which is ok, but I think you will find a lot of stuff to talk about in them. From gender stuff up to handling a narrative well.

  • Clayburn Griffin

    Clayburn Griffin

    9 महीने पहले

    I think aliens should be different.

  • Questionable Object

    Questionable Object

    9 महीने पहले

    I really like more alien aliens.
    Especially when they're humanized through emotion and action.
    Stamp out xenophobia through media.

  • Lordodragonss


    9 महीने पहले

    Thank you Lindsay. I somehow completly missed Arrival movie. But thanks to you I watched it and LOVED IT!

  • PoseidonXIII


    9 महीने पहले

    Awesome analysis!

  • Turtleproof


    10 महीने पहले

    I have news for anyone that still thinks meeting extra-terrestrials will bring about peace on Earth: we've already encountered sapients that don't look like us and speak other languages. The encounters went really well and nobody was hurt.

  • olliemad


    10 महीने पहले

    Think want a Thor / district 9 cross over now. Actually, I’ve got it! Imagine if in the first film he gets banished and lands in a refugee camp and can’t get out.

  • Baron3D


    10 महीने पहले

    Very good, as always.

  • Christian McKee-Alexander

    Christian McKee-Alexander

    11 महीने पहले

    Amazing video

  • Dávid Kertész

    Dávid Kertész

    11 महीने पहले

    There was an episode in star trek voyager that went deliberately against this. The good guys where reptile looking, ugly AF, and the bad guys where completely human looking. And we were led to believe that the human looking folks were the good guys till the end of the episode. It's episode 4 in season 4, called "Nemesis" (not to confuse with the movie).

  • Dávid Kertész

    Dávid Kertész

    11 महीने पहले

    I want to rewatch district 9 now. Such a unique movie.



    साल पहले

    I find it hilarious, even interesting, that Steven Spielberg was responsible for both the popularity and the demise of the Grey aliens, at least in its pop culture depiction.

  • Collin D.

    Collin D.

    साल पहले

    Good video keep up the good work

  • Rebecca Tomlin

    Rebecca Tomlin

    साल पहले

    Shout out to you and your work, Lindsay, helped me get top marks in my Aliens uni essay in my Modern Gothic class

  • Selena S.

    Selena S.

    साल पहले

    I saw part of Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I was little and it scared me so much that to this day I am more terrified of greyman style aliens than any other alien design.

  • SaraJ86


    साल पहले


  • Terry Burke

    Terry Burke

    साल पहले

    This is a great analysis. What comes immediately to mind is the designs and general thematic bluntness of 'Starship Troopers'. That seems like a film that subversively used 'otherness' to tease out a sympathy through narrative while the design conflicts entirely. Its as if Verhoeven watched 'E.T.' and 'Alien' then actually did make a movie where xenomorphs played an E.T. role.

  • Matteo Allegra

    Matteo Allegra

    साल पहले

    I know you're never going to read this, but H. R. Giger's surname is pronounced "gee-ger", not "guy-ger" (that would be written "Geiger").

  • Josh Tan

    Josh Tan

    साल पहले

    I teach an introduction to astrobiology for non-majors at LaGuardia Community College, and we intend on using this excellent piece of criticism as a means to help students interrogate their own ideas about what they think of when they try to imagine life outside the Earth. I think it's useful to interrogate this even with respect to the way professional astrobiologists and scientists working with SETI may approach the subject. Some work has been done with the necessary deconstructions, but there is a lot left to do.

  • DrManiac


    साल पहले

    ET has always creeped me out, but I've never actually seen the movie, so maybe it's less creepy when you actually watch it.

  • Stephen Spackman

    Stephen Spackman

    साल पहले

    This is very interesting to me, because as a film watcher with no film schooling, I often lose a lot from science fiction films: I see klingons (who obviously diverged from humans about 100,000 years ago) or the ‘prawns’ (500 million years, but still clearly of terrestrial origin) and I'm thinking, hm, who had the space ships back then, and what does this mean, and then this turns out *not* to be a plot point and I'm so … confused! Sometimes we're even told about ‘alien DNA’ (making it clear that we're intending to talk about more than some freakish example of convergent evolution) and yet the scientists in the film don't think *that's* a desperate mystery. It's like giving someone a deliberate and exaggerated accent from entirely the wrong place and having everyone pretend it's normal and then we're somehow *not* supposed to be thinking about a play within the play, if you see what I mean?
    Anyway, the point is that it is interesting that you are seeing a different cut between symbology and literal content, calling a thing ‘science fiction’ yet analysing it as fantasy. It explains many things, yet at the same time makes you humans seem even stranger. ;)

  • Olivier Baudert

    Olivier Baudert

    साल पहले

    The transformers designs are godawful. They are so visually cluttered and dense with detail that pretty much all you can read from them is their vague silhouettes and some slight color contrast. This type of over-detailing in design is really common in gritty stories, often fantasy and sci-fi are big offenders (especially videogames). Fantasy in particular tends to put spikes on things as if they’re christmas ornaments rather than letting big bold shapes define what a character looks like. I am very passionate about character design and i could go on forever but i’m just gonna stop myself here before i go on too much of a tangent.

  • G. Thomás Hart

    G. Thomás Hart

    साल पहले

    There is more material in this issue too! Miime, from Captain Harlock, portrays a variety of characteristics including both sexual features and loneliness, and often alien beings and machines are the ones best able to put the inconsistencies of the human characters in clear perspective!

  • EngelSpiel


    साल पहले

    That remark you made about a lack of eyes in the original Alien, I think that can easily apply to the mass-production Evangelions in End of Evangelion. I really like those designs. And similarly, I think it helps that they have white bodies and crimson lips with white teeth-like structures, which make them look even more uncanny.