Best Alien Species in Science Fiction Media

Fan art interpretation of the Heptapods from the Arrival franchise.

Image Credit: caitlinrose87 on Deviant Art.

With the right alien species, a work of science fiction can become the stuff of legends. It can even inspire future writers to expand on that universe and the creatures populating it.

Conversely, forgettable aliens, often those that look and act similarly to humans, can throw off the narrative’s feel and leave viewers frustrated.

These are the best alien species in all science fiction movies, games, or shows—friend or foe, advanced or human-like, these extraterrestrials elevate the sci-fi standard.

 

 

Vulcans

Vulcan Spock and Kirk from Star Trek standing back to back.
Image Credit: Dave-Daring on Deviant Art.

Franchise: Star Trek
Native Planet: Vulcan
Notable Members: Spock, Sarek

The likelihood of finding beings from other planets with the same general appearance as humans is, of course, almost statistically impossible—but also fascinating to imagine, which might be why sci-fi keeps doing it. It provides audiences with enough context to really make the non-human qualities shine.

In the wrong hands, this angle could fall horribly flat. Vulcans, however, are the epitome of humanoid aliens done right.

Despite their lack of distinguishing physical characteristics—other than pointy ears and very arched eyebrows—Vulcans remain one of the most recognizable aliens in sci-fi.

Their focus on logic and disdain for emotion set them apart from other humanoid alien species, and undoubtedly helped make the Star Trek franchise so memorable.

 

The Thing

Black and white sketch of The Thing.
Image Credit: DugNation on Deviant Art.

Franchise: John Carpenter’s The Thing
Native Planet: Unknown
Notable Members: The Thing

The best aspect about the Thing is its chameleon capabilities. While it does seem to have a primary form—a strange, worm-like, toothy wiggler—the Thing prefers to take over the bodies of other living creatures.

It doesn’t discriminate between dogs and humans, seemingly okay with whatever shape its host is, as long as the creature is alive.

 

Talos IV Inhabitants

Three aliens from Talos IV in Star Trek staring at viewer menacingly.
Image Credit: pyroleppard on Deviant Art.

Franchise: Star Trek
Native Planet: Talos IV
Notable Members: Unknown

Though they only appeared in two Star Trek episodes, Talos IV’s inhabitants were extraordinary creatures.

Their entire society had crumbled after they invented the perfect illusion: a way to live inside your fantasies, instead of experiencing the world’s sensations.

As they noted, humans were not immune to the temptations of such an illusion. Their technology should remain a secret, lest other civilizations destroy themselves too.

 

The Bodysnatchers

Franchise: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers
Native Planet: Unknown
Notable Members: Unknown

The story is told from the horrified humans’ perspective, so not much is known about the pod people other than how they arrive on Earth.

They come as seeds from another world, intending to take over this planet by growing into a copy of existing humans…and then wiping out the humans themselves.

However, the pod people have very short lifespans, and are unable to reproduce. All life on Earth is eradicated in just a few years, leaving it a barren planet.

The author of the original story intended it as a warning about colonization, and using up resources without any thought of the future.

This is, arguably, one of the scariest things about the Bodysnatchers: how closely they resemble humans in that regard.

 

Yoda’s Species

Painting of "baby Yoda" Grogu from The Mandalorian.
Image Credit: AramisFraino on Deviant Art.

Franchise: Star Wars
Native Planet: Unknown
Notable Members: Yoda, Grogu

This long-lived species is still shrouded in mystery. However, with The Mandalorian featuring Grogu as the main character, audiences may learn more about their race in the near future.

The species is quite rare, and very sensitive to the Force. Their power and discipline in using it are a big part of their appeal—and a small part, perhaps, is owed to downright cuteness.

 

The Reapers

Franchise: Mass Effect
Native Planet: Unknown
Notable Members: Sovereign, Harbinger

The Reapers, unlike any of the other alien races on this list, are both sentient creatures and spaceships.

They create highly-advanced feats of technology, in the hopes that other alien lifeforms will discover them and then advance their planet’s capabilities. The Reapers’ ultimate goal is to execute and collect all sentient species in the galaxy, by harvesting them at the peak of their evolution.

Once a species—and its tech—is harvested, the cycle repeats.

The reason for this cycle remains obscure, even to the Reapers themselves. Nonetheless, they’re determined to finish their mission.

 

The Borg

Franchise: Star Trek
Native Planet: Various/Unknown
Notable Members: Jean-Luc Picard, Third of Five

The Borg is a collective made up of conquered species, from all across the galaxy, assimilated into a hivemind.

It’s therefore unproductive to talk about the Borg as a separate alien race: their existence is based on forming a conglomeration with other races.

The Borg seem to single-mindedly analyze and absorb new races whenever they encounter them, since they cannot reproduce themselves.

The sole defining physical feature of the Borg is their mechanical implants. When a creature is assimilated into their collective, they are forcibly given implants that allow their mind to be controlled.

 

The Angels

Franchise: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Native Planet: Unknown
Notable Members: Adam, Sachiel

A group of beings known as the First Ancestral Race created two types of life: an Adam seed, and a Lillith seed. Both seeds were sent out to populate other planets in the universe, one of which was Earth.

When humans manage to capture one of these Seeds, they’re subjected to an invasion of Angels who wish to eradicate all humankind.

 

Heptapods

Alien species Heptapods, abstract rendering of a tentacled creature suspended against plain gray-blue background.
Image Credit: ugnvs on Deviant Art.

Franchise: Arrival
Native Planet: Unknown
Notable Members: Abbott, Costello

The Heptapods’ reason for visiting Earth is never fully explained. However, they are benign and work with a linguist to teach their language and help the humans communicate.

They resemble extremely large, seven-legged squids, hence their name. The Heptapod language involves viewing time as circular. After mastering it, humans can see their own future.

This implies that the Heptapods can also see the future—and that those visions might, for whatever reason, drive their desire to help advance humanity.

While their physical design isn’t exactly novel, the linguistic and consciousness theories in Heptapod lore make them stand out as one of the best alien species in any sci-fi media.

 

via GIPHY

One of the key elements for a good science fiction story is how the creator makes their aliens. It’s more than physical appearance: backstory, origin, even speech all play a role.

Perhaps the most crucial element of what makes a good alien species, however, is their motivation. Are they enemies, bent on destroying humanity? Advanced beings, far beyond anything we could possibly understand?

Or are they just like humans, struggling to survive and make their mark in a chaotic and uncaring universe?

For more science fiction recommendations, check out the top movies or books in the genre, or the best alien and outer space movies now streaming.