There’s a scene in the 1970s-era low-budget cult horror film “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” that gets me every time. It’s the scene when the menacing vegetable-that-is-really-fruit crawls (explodes? rolls? squeezes? grows up from a vine?) up from a kitchen garbage disposal and kills the unsuspecting woman at the sink. I howl, my kids howl, if you are in a theater, everyone around you howls — how can you not in the face of rampaging nightshades?
In “Plan 9 from Outer Space” evil aliens attack Earth to resurrect the dead and wipe out the living. The truth is, it is an AWFUL movie, one which sits on more than one major worst movies of all time list. It’s terrible from start to finish, from costumes to the backdrops to script. And that’s also why it’s so fun. It’s ardently over-the-top actors smack on the same funny bone as the idea of terrorizing tomatoes, which is why viewers young and old still flock to see Plan 9 when theaters bring it back from the dead and put it on the big screen.
A romp of a SIFF series
And that is exactly what Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) will do September 1 to 30 during the They Came from Outer Space film series at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian. Along with the B-level horror movie classic Plan 9, SIFF will be screening numerous films all touching on the space theme. While several are rated R, most are PG or PG-13. And while even those may be too scary for sensitive kids and those under age 8, most are good late elementary, tweens and teens. And good for parents, who will recognize lots of movie scenes that made them jump or thrill in theaters growing up. My only quip with the series is that the tomatoes are missing — although I get it. The deadly tomatoes are mutated from normal ones, no from outer space.
Ratings and Commonsense Media recommendations
Below are the films in this series that we recommend for kids 8 and older, along with the Commonsense Media age recommendation where possible. Common Sense Media reviews and provides ratings for films identifying an appropriate age range.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957): When aliens in flying saucers attack California and attempt to conquer the planet by resurrecting corpses in a Hollywood cemetery, local residents don’t know what hit them. Schockly from beginning to end makes a fun romp. My kids were around age 8 when we caught this film. Nobody was scared. No rating. Best for kids 8 and up.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) . It’s time for a new generation of kids to fall in love Elliott, as he discovers and befriends a friendly alien stranded on Earth. Together, they embark on a heartwarming and magical adventure that teaches the power of friendship, love, and the boundless wonders of the universe. Steven Spielberg’s iconic film continues to captivate audiences of all ages. I’ve seen this film numerous times with kids from age 5 and up. Nothing by love. Rated PG. Commonsense Media gives it 5 stars and recommends it for age 7 and older.
The Blob (1958). In the sci-fi horror film The Blob, a small town is terrorized when a gelatinous alien entity crash-lands from space. As it devours everything in its path, a brave teenager must lead the fight to stop the ravenous menace from consuming their community. A classic tale of fear and survival unfolds. No rating, however, very sensitive kids (including my dad when he was 8) may find the film disturbing. My dad said he couldn’t sleep for a week when he saw it as a child. I suggest ages 10 and up.
Note to parents: Don’t mistake the 1958 version of the Blob with the 1988 R-dated They Came From Outer Space: The Blob (1988) which is also playing in this series.
Arrival (1997). linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) deciphers an alien language when mysterious spacecraft land on Earth. As she unravels their intentions, she experiences mind-bending revelations about time and humanity’s future. A visually stunning and intellectually captivating exploration of communication and connection. It takes a big of maturity to understand what is happening from a science perspective. Rated PG-13. Commonsense Media gives it 5 stars and recommends it for ages 11 and older.
Little Shop of Horrors / Director’s Cut (1986). A peculiar plant named Audrey II arrives at a struggling flower shop. As it grows, it develops a taste for human blood, leading the timid assistant, Seymour, on a wild and hilariously horrifying journey of love, success, and moral dilemmas. Don’t miss the sing-along screening on September 22. Rated PF-13. Commonsense Media give it 4 stars and recommends it for ages 12 and older.
Mars Attacks! (1996). A fleet of Martian spacecraft surrounds the world’s major cities and all of humanity waits to see if the extraterrestrial visitors have, as they claim, “come in peace.” U.S. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) receives assurance from science professor Donald Kessler (Pierce Brosnan) that the Martians’ mission is a friendly one. But when a peaceful exchange ends in the total annihilation of the U.S. Congress, military men call for a full-scale nuclear retaliation. Presented on 35mm. Despite how funny it is, there are a lot of mature themes in this one. Commonsense Media gives it 4 stars and recommends it for ages 13 and older.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Mysterious UFO sightings ignite a global phenomenon. As ordinary lives are touched by extraordinary events, one man’s obsession with deciphering the alien message leads him on a transformative journey of discovery and connection beyond the stars. Rated PG. Commonsense Media give it 5 stars and recommends it for ages 8 and older.
It Came From Outer Space (1953). A small town witnesses a meteorite crash, but it conceals a startling truth—it’s an alien spacecraft. As fear grips the community, an amateur astronomer must convince the residents of the impending extraterrestrial threat. A thrilling tale of mystery and suspense unfolds. No rated. I’ve seen this film with kids ages 6 and 8 and neither was scared. The black and white helps reduce any realism.
Fantastic Planet (1973), an animated film, it rated PG, has mature themes of racial and cultural intolerance stand at its center. According to Commonsense Media, “Frequently disturbing imagery and odd sexual scenes make this one appropriate only for older kids. Kids will see alien creatures eat each other and human-like creatures get stomped on by much larger aliens and killed by alien contraptions. A humanoid casually kills an animal with a knife. Some scenes show large groups of people killed en masse . . .” For these reasons Commonsense Media recommends it for ages 13 and older. They give it 4 stars.
Men in Black (1997). NYPD officer James Edwards (Will Smith) becomes Agent J, joining a top-secret agency that polices alien activity on Earth. Partnered with the no-nonsense Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), they embark on a wild and wacky adventure to protect the world from extraterrestrial threats. Rated PG-13. Commonsense Media calls the film “lots of fun, but too scary for some kids,” gives it 4 stars and recommends it for ages 12 and older.
Contact (1997). Radio astronomer Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) receives an enigmatic message from space, leading her on a profound and exhilarating quest for extraterrestrial intelligence. As she grapples with the cosmos, the film explores faith, science, and the boundless wonders of the universe. Rated PG. Commonsense Media notes its “thoughtful adaptation of Sagan novel; violence, peril,” gives it 3 stars and recommends it for ages 10 and older.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). A mysterious alien presence begins replacing humans with emotionless duplicates. As fear and paranoia grip San Francisco, psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) must navigate a terrifying world where trust is scarce, and survival is uncertain. Brace yourself for a gripping tale of suspense and suspicion. 4k restoration. Rated PG. Some kids (including mine) found this film nightmare inducing. I recommend it for those ages 10 and older.
The R-rated films
Some mature older kids may enjoy the R-rated films in the series. Those films include: The Blob (1988), Alien vs Predator, Predator, and Attack the Block. These films have plenty of alien violence and other mature themes.