These alien invasion TV shows run the gamut from military fiction to paranoid thrillers, and they are all great.
Ever since Orson Welles touched off a panic with his radio drama version of The War of the Worlds in 1938, the alien invasion has been a staple plot for movies and TV. Unlike movies, which have to tell a concise story due to their runtime, television shows have no such limitation and have been the perfect medium for some truly great sci-fi shows over the years.
7. War of the Worlds (1988-1990)
A sequel series to the classic 1953 film War of the Worlds, this show asks the question, “What if the aliens didn’t die?” Instead, the alien invasion on this TV show comes from within when the invaders are unearthed from toxic waste sites and possess human terrorists.
Thanks to humanity’s “selective amnesia,” the events of the movie are mostly forgotten, meaning that no one knows aliens are now running around trying to take over the planet with our own weapons.
If that sounds like an insane concept for an alien invasion TV show, well, it is. For having the gumption to be a sequel to H.G. Wells’s classic book, War of the Worlds deserves a spot on this list, and amazingly, for the time, it’s not really all that bad.
In 2019 another War of the Worlds series was released, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, and it also went with the idea of what happened after the seminal story ended, though just as with the 1988 series, it only went a few seasons before being cancelled.
6. The 4400 (2004-2007)
Another USA original, The 4400 is about 4,400 people that mysteriously appear on a lake, seemingly pulled from different years since 1946. Some of the group start to develop powers, others decide to form a cult, and well, there’s an alien invasion involved, which puts it with the other TV shows on this list.
The most unique invasion on this list, the nature of the aliens and what they want is unlike anything else seen before (though it has been since, sort of).
A slow burn of a series, The 4400 somehow maintained ratings throughout its run, ending on a cliffhanger, but this time it’s on purpose after answering nearly all of the questions raised during the show’s run.
The CW tried to reboot the series in 2021, making it one of the most alien invasion TV shows to hit network television, but it was cancelled after one season, failing to attract even a fraction of the original show’s devoted following.
5. Roswell (1999 – 2002)
One of these things is not like the others, one of these things….still belongs. A WB series (the network that became The CW), Roswell is a very different alien invasion TV show, in that it’s a teenage drama with sci-fi trappings.
This time, the aliens are already among us, and it’s a challenge to keep them hidden from the authorities and the resulting experimentation coupled with human greed that would be disastrous. There’s a catch to this invasion that makes it wildly different from every other one on this list, but most of all, this show is just fun.
Starring Jason Behr as Max, a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl, and Tom Hanks son Colin Hanks, the show never gets more serious than any other teen drama, though even if aliens are involved, it makes more sense than Riverdale.
The cult following for Roswell was so intense, the CW launched a “reimagining” of the series in 2019 called Roswell, New Mexico, but it failed to capture the strange crossroads of alien invasion TV shows and teen drama as the original.
4. Colony (2016-2018)
The most recent series on this list, Colony aired on USA and going by the name, it’s clearly not a typical alien invasion TV show. Taking place a year after Earth was invaded by the Hosts, and now The Authority rules over a future Los Angeles in their name.
The city is separated into “blocs” thanks to massive monolithic blocks that came down from space, and yes, the show is not subtle about its symbolism or themes at any point.
Wearing its influences on its sleeve doesn’t make it a bad show, in fact, quite the opposite, as Colony, was praised for embracing the tropes of the alien invasion TV show and just riding with them.
Played completely straight until a certain point, the series delves into the aftereffects of an invasion on humanity, the psychic toll, and what it even means to survive under prolonged occupation.
3. The X-Files (1993-2002)
Is it a spoiler that the aliens in The X-Files are real and not just a delusion held by Fox Mulder (David Duchovny)? Perhaps the least likely alien invasion TV show on this list, but that;’s what the series is about from the beginning; it just takes time to get there.
The first alien isn’t even seen on the show, but in the first movie, the journey to get there is one of the best in television, not just sci-fi. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) starts out skeptical as to what’s really going on, while Mulder embraces the thought of little green men, creating a dynamic unmatched today in any medium.
Unfortunately, following the cancellation of the series in 2002, later revival projects haven’t had the same magic as the original, which was ground-breaking television at the time.
The creepy theme song, use of darkness, and natural lighting worked with the shockingly good special effects to create a paranoid atmosphere that millions of fans spent a decade saying, “The truth is out there.” As for the who, what, where, and why of the alien invasion, go watch the show, it’s still worth it today.
2. Falling Skies (2011-2015)
Falling Skies starts after the invasion begins, with Boston survivors trying to flee for safety and rebuild their shattered society while meeting the invaders head-on.
Unlike other alien invasion TV shows, the series doesn’t reveal why Earth has been invaded until Season 4, though it starts layering twist after twist at that point, resulting in one of the better sci-fi shows able to tell a complete story without being cancelled far too soon.
Starring Noah Wyle, fresh off his starring role in ER, and Terminator Salvation’s breakout star Moon Bloodgood, Falling Skies manages to go from ragtag groups, to the makings of a new United States, and finally, as with all alien invasion TV shows, a climatic showdown.
1. V (1983-1985)
The original miniseries V was such a success in the early 80s it spawned a sequel movie, V: The Final Battle, and then finally, a regular sci-fi series on NBC. All three parts put together tell the cohesive story of the Visitors, a species who’s method of alien invasion is carefully controlled and calculating, slowly subverting its victims until they willingly submit to their new overlords.
The alien queen, Diane, has the ability to brainwash and control humans, which she uses on figures in power to exert the Visitors’ influence over Earth’s governments.
The cold and calculating nature of the aliens in V made it stand out as one of the best alien invasion series. Eventually, it escalates into a full-blown conflict between the species, but the road to get there is fraught with politics, manipulation, and paranoia as viewers are faced with a world where some humans would welcome being conquered by beings from beyond the stars.
A remake aired in 2009, starring Morena Baccarin, Laura Vandervoot, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Morris Chestnut (via IMDb)but by then, what was once innovative had become cliche, and it failed to find an audience before being cancelled on a cliffhanger that was horrible for humanity.