The original Men in Black, released in 1997, was a pitch-perfect combination of action, comedy and sci-fi trappings, and audiences flocked to the genre mashup, which earned over $250 million domestically (and while that doesn’t look too impressive in this post-Avengers era, keep in mind that MIB had a low—compared to today’s blockbusters, anyway—budget of $90 million). Stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones returned for the 2002 sequel, which was poorly reviewed and didn’t do as well at the box office as its predecessor but still managed to generate a profit. Now, 10 years later, Agents J and K are back for Men in Black III, in theaters this Friday.
In honor of the film that brought sci-fi comedy into the mainstream, at least for a little while, we’re taking a look back at five of cinema history’s most hilarious—either intentionally (Barf from Spaceballs) or unintentionally (Voldar from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians)—aliens. We miss the extraterrestrial that makes your sides split (from laughing, not in an evil-alien-invasion way)? Let us know in the comments.
Voldar from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Directed by Nicholas Webster
Vincent Beck’s performance as the scheming, manipulative, Christmas-hating Martian Voldar falls firmly into the “unintentionally funny” category. The movie’s ostensible comic relief is the bumbling Martian Dropo, but it’s Voldar, who tries to kill Santa Claus so that Martian children won’t be able to experience the joy of Christmas, that’s the movie’s funniest character. Voldar is finally defeated (after pointing a ray gun that looks like a blow dryer at Santa and telling him “You’re going to relax, permanently!”) when human and Martian children band together and attack him with toys, the great Martian warrior brought down by some wooden soldiers and fake swords while Santa laughs dementedly in the background.
Dr. Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Directed by W.D. Richter
The eponymous Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) in this ‘80s cult classic is a lot of things, among them a neurosurgeon, physicist, inventor, race car driver, rock musician and comic book hero. He glides through the movie using his many talents to stop World War III (and get the girl) like it’s something he does every week. He stays cool as a cucumber as he breaks the sound barrier, crosses into the 8th dimension, and calls up the President to let him know aliens are about to attack, only to foil the plan himself with no assistance from the bumbling Secretary of Defense.
But the best part of the movie isn’t Buckaroo Banzai. It’s the mad scientist Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), whose failed attempt to cross over to the 8th dimension accidentally releases the murderous Red Lectroids from Planet 10, while their leader Lord John Whorfin takes over Dr. Lizardo’s mind. Lithgow’s performance is completely over the top, from his manner of speech (all lines done at top volume with an Italian/Russian hybrid accent) to his crab walk to his twitchy mannerisms to how he constantly mispronounces the name of one of his henchmen as “John Bigbooty” when it is actually “John Bigbooté”. Watching a character rant and rave and deliver such lines as “Shut up, John Bigbooty, you coward! You’re da weakest individual I ever know!” is funny no matter what, but it’s Lithgow’s energy level and commitment to playing this psychotic alien that makes it unsettling as well.
Barf from Spaceballs (1987)
Directed by Mel Brooks
Every aspect of Spaceballs is some sort of joke about sci-fi classics like Alien and Planet of the Apes. . . but Star Wars is on the receiving end on most of the mocking. Instead of Jabba the Hutt, there’s Pizza the Hut (you’d better pay him, or else “Pizza. . .is gonna send out for you”). There’s the wise alien advisor Yogurt, who teaches the hero all about the mystical power known as the Schwartz. And there’s the line “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate!” delivered by the evil Dark Helmet to the hero Lone Starr (Lone Starr’s reaction: “What’s that make us?”) So in terms of comedy, there’s a lot for Barf (John Candy) to compete with. But as Lone Starr’s sidekick/co-pilot he brings a lot to the movie, engaging in banter with Lone Starr (as in the whole “jamming the radar” scene), serving as a buffer between the quarreling Lone Starr and Princess Vespa and delivering one of the movie’s best lines: “I’m a Mog. Half-man, half-dog! I’m my own best friend.”
Mathesar from Galaxy Quest (1999)
Directed by Dean Parisot
In Galaxy Quest, the cast of the much-revered sci-fi TV show “Galaxy Quest” (guess what it’s a spoof of) makes their post-cancellation living going to conventions, signing autographs for costumed fans, and either reliving their glory days or lamenting their failed careers. When a group of real aliens (known as Thermians) show up asking the crew to save them from an evil alien overlord, the crew goes along with it, realizing too late that the aliens, who have no concept of what “acting” is, believe the “Galaxy Quest” episodes are “historical documents”. The movie’s best scenes show the washed-up actors having to re-acclimate to their roles as starship crewmembers, this time with a ship that actually works and with lives hanging in the balance. Given the excellent performances given by the faux-crew, the sweet, pacifistic Thermians could easily have been the most forgettable part of the movie. But the Thermian leader Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni), with his melodic, monotonous way of speaking and his inability to understand the concept of fiction (when asked whether he thinks “Gilligan’s Island” is real, his only response is “Those poor people!”) is one of Galaxy Quest’s saddest and funniest characters, and having the main alien be a big softie is a welcome change from the more traditional “I think I’ll blow up the White House and enslave humanity today!” alien.
Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Directed by Garth Jennings
Ah, robots. They complete the menial tasks that humans don’t want to bother with or can’t figure out. Sometimes they’re good-natured and helpful (Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet). Sometimes they’re murderous (HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Very rarely are they chronically depressed, but Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was made with a prototype version of GPP (Genuine People Personalities) that leaves him constantly glum. As the voice of Marvin (Warwick Davis was inside the suit), Alan Rickman’s monotonous delivery of lines like “I have a million ideas, but they all point to certain death,” “Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? ‘Cause I don’t,” and of course “Life. Don’t talk to me about life” bring out Marvin’s ennui and hopelessness. Marvin’s despair is, odd as it may seem, one of the best parts of the movie, simply because it’s so constant and exaggerated. His ability to suck all the happiness out of a room just by walking through the door frustrates those stuck on a ship with him, but it sure is funny for the audience.