Message to E.T.: Phone 911! The nasty extraterrestrial in this summer's surprise hit Species is merely an advance scout for the armies of killer aliens poised to take over movie theaters beginning next summer.
There hasn't been such a run of otherworldly interlopers since the 1950s, when Cold War tensions produced a wave of hostile-invader sci-fi flicks. But whereas the A-bomb and Joseph Stalin inspired battalions of B movies, many of the upcoming F/X fests are A-list affairs that have major studios scrambling to give moviegoers the most or the most outlandish cosmic pestilence money can buy. Leading the hordes on the radarscope are:
Twentieth Century Fox's $60 million entry pits 15-mile-wide ''city destroyer'' ships and creatures that ''are more like locusts than evil beings'' against the world, according to producer-writer Dean Devlin (StarGate). Bill Pullman stars as the U.S. President, along with Will Smith, Randy Quaid, Jeff Goldblum, and Friends' Matthew Perry. ''We're basically doing a kick-butt John Wayne movie,'' says Devlin, ''but in the spirit of the Irwin Allen disaster pics of the '70s.'' Shooting began this month, with Fox aiming for a July 4, 1996, release that will likely beat its nearest competition.
Ex-Batman helmer Tim Burton is basing his big-budget invasion saga on a set of trading cards of the same name. (The Topps cards, first published in 1962, were pulled from stores because of adults' complaints about their gruesome depictions of big-brained fiends incinerating men, women, and dogs. They were reissued in a commemorative edition in 1994.) The deck is still being shuffled on a story line for the $60 to $70 million film, in part because elements of Independence Day's story proved too similar for comfort. But in tone, Mars promises to be unique, involving what insiders call ''incredibly funny'' stop-motion aliens who lay waste to Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and prominent U.S. landmarks. An all-star casting effort is under way think: It's a Mars, Mars, Mars, Mars World. On Burton's wish list: Hugh Grant to play a scientist and Warren Beatty as the President. Warner had hoped for a mid-August start; the best estimate now is for a fall shoot and fall '96 release.
Adapted from Robert Heinlein's novel, TriStar's $80 million-range action-sci-fi hybrid follows a sort of SWAT team as they planet-hop to fight giant arachnids. Director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier, and producer Jon Davison, who last teamed on RoboCop, start wrangling the creepy crawlers in early '96.
At the lower-budget end of the trend are: Shockwave, with Charlie Sheen playing an astronomer; DNA, with Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham and a predatory space creature resurrected from centuries-old genetic material; Men in Black, director Barry Sonnenfeld's (Addams Family Values) comedy, with Tommy Lee Jones as a Ghostbuster-style G-man; and What Planet Are You From?, in which Garry Shandling will riff and ruminate as an alien trying to mate on earth.
So far, only one future production has Spielbergian aliens you could (safely) embrace. In Contact, based on Carl Sagan's best-selling novel, mankind receives instructions on how to reach an advanced race in space. Shooting this fall under director George Miller (Mad Max trilogy, Lorenzo's Oil), it's ''very much not in the tradition of they're-coming-to-eat-us movies,'' says producer Lynda Obst (Sleepless in Seattle). ''We're asking, 'will we face the coming millennium with horror and tribalism, or is there some way out of this cycle of fear?'''
It's not likely, considering Hollywood's shortage of acceptable villains, says TriStar exec Chris Lee. ''There are very few hissable bad guys left these days that won't offend one group or another. And how many neo-Nazis and effete British arsonists can you use?''