‘Cowboys & Aliens’ vs. ‘Attack the Block’: Invasion Movie Showdown

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 6th, 2013 at 1:48 pm,

 Cowboys & Aliens vs. Attack the Block: Invasion Movie Showdown

This past weekend brought us two similar yet very different alien invasion flicks – two similar but different genre mashing invasion flicks, if we’re being totally accurate. On the one hand, there was Jon Favreau’s big-budget ‘old west vs. outer space’ invasion flick, Cowboys & Aliens; on the other side of the movie spectrum was Joe Cornish’s low-budget ‘inner city vs. outer space’ invasion flick, Attack the Block.

While these two close-for-comfort films will likely have two very different lives at the box office, we want to look beyond the profit margins and examine the strengths and weaknesses of both films, the question of which is the more enjoyable of the two, and finally, some speculation about which has the best chance of longevity.

Of course this is all subjective, so at the end we’d love to hear what you guys think about each film, and both films compared to one another. If you’ve already seen both, feel free to hop to the comments now and let your thoughts be heard.

If you haven’t seen one or both films, make sure you read our Cowboys & Aliens review and our Attack the Block review to get some idea of what each film offers.


Cowboys & Aliens vs. Attack the Block


Attack the block Cowboys Aliens script Cowboys & Aliens vs. Attack the Block: Invasion Movie Showdown

The premises of these films look strikingly similar on paper: Aliens show up in two unlikely places (the old west and the inner city) and the startled locals must defend against the invading hordes. However, a premise is just the frame work for a story, and its in the telling of their respective stories that these two films are significantly different.

For whatever reason, Attack the Block achieves a feeling of tension and suspense that Cowboys & Aliens can’t sustain. That difference makes all the difference. Because both premises are so out there, it’s tension that keeps you engrossed in the movie and away from the more critical part of your brain which does all that bothersome analysis and question asking. Unfortunately, the momentum of Cowboys & Aliens‘ abduction/redemption storyline isn’t enough to keep you from seeing all the plot holes peeking through, while the narrative momentum of Attack the Block will keep you overlooking its flaws.

Finally, although both these films’ stories sound like they were pulled from the back covers of movies found at the bottom of a straight-to-DVD bargain bin, Attack the Block has a narrative that actually takes the viewer on a well-traveled journey (in terms of both plot and character development) and even manages to offer a few clever twists along the way. Cowboys & Aliens is a story we’ve seen so many times before (despite its unique blend of genres) and the “surprises” were ones a lot of us saw coming long before we even sat in the theater. It’s still grand in scale, just in a predictable way.

VERDICT: It may be smaller in scale, but Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block script packs the bigger punch. I put that down to the movie having one man in charge of the vision (Cornish both wrote and directed the film), as opposed to Cowboys & Aliens, which suffers from the “too many cooks” syndrome that has been playing Hollywood blockbusters. With half a dozen writers, and big names like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer offering their input, it’s a miracle that Jon Favreau (who started off much the same way Cornish is now) was able to string together all those ideas into even a semi-coherent vision.



 Cowboys & Aliens vs. Attack the Block: Invasion Movie Showdown

It’s hard to break this one down. Cowboys vs. Aliens has some familiar (even cliched) character archetypes (the strong, silent gunslinger, the tyrant who runs town), albeit with a few modern tweaks here and there (Olivia Wilde’s more…wild old west damsel). However, the while C&A has the drawback of overly-familiar characters, it has the benefit of some familiar actors playing them. The presence of Harrison Ford alone guarantees an audience will see the film; add the presence of a recently-ascended star like Craig, a hot young rising starlet like Wilde – not to mention Favreau, a.k.a. “the director of Iron Man” – and the star power behind this film is shining at maximum wattage, even if the characters themselves seem a bit dim.

Attack the Block doesn’t have any big names to tout (especially for us Yanks over here in the U.S.), but what it lacks in star power it certainly makes up for in colorful characters. From its street gang protagonists to its wacky supporting characters, Attack the Block offers a treat that has just about gone out of style in movies: a big cast of characters who are all interesting and enjoyable to watch. I could go on at length about supporting characters before I ever mention the main characters – that’s how rich and colorful the characters are. Of course, some people have raised the objection that the main characters are street hoodlums undeserving of viewers’ attention or compassion – guess those people are selectively ignoring all those beloved movies that have assassins, mobsters, outlaws, thieves, gangsters, crooked public figures, prostitutes, and other immoral types as protagonists. But that’s another discussion.

VERDICT: Tie. It all depends on what you’re looking for. Some people go to movies to see familiar archetypes and heroes. Some people don’t like seeing hoodlums as heroes. Some people like to see fresh and original spins on cliched archetypes. Some people appreciate a good character no matter who they are, or where you find them. It all depends on taste.

Action and direction…

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  1. cowboys and aliens is wayyy better

    • What did you think of Attack the Block? If it wasn’t as good, was it still a good movie?

    • how the hell Attack The Block is not good aswell. i seen Attack The Block here in the UK and its a good movie.

      • I’m interested to know as i’m rooting for Attack the Block to be really good. I just want it to succeed as Shaun of the Dead did. I’d love some of Joe Cornish’s genius to rub off on hollywood.

        • the movie is very entertaining. the problem i feel the US audience might have is our British slang and them kids. them kids u start of not liking them at first but after they show what type of family life they have u start to like them i.e. one of the kids is actually a mummy boy LOL.

          also the aliens in the movie is actually so different its actually good. the glowing teeth works great in the movie cause the setting in the movie is at night.

  2. I wanted to see AtB. Sadly no theater in my area was playing it. Even looked in two other cities around mine and still none. Limited releases suck when you really want to watch the film.

  3. I saw both this weekend and enjoyed both but thought Attack the Block was the better of the two imo. Even though C&A had veteran actors I just felt the A.T.B. had more developed characters. I also thought it was tighter as an overall movie than C&A. Maybe that goes back to the whole “too many cooks in the kitchen” point you made.

  4. the truth is Attack the Block has a cult classic sci-fi horror style that can live on forever

    Cowboys and Aliens is just a big budget Hollywood movie that can come and go right way.

  5. I think “Cowboys & Aliens” would have been better, if they only have filmed it in a more tongue-and-cheek manner.

  6. Attack the Block was better; it had the hungry energy of a young director and an underground hit. It had better flow, was fresher. That said, by the end credits I could only roll my eyes due to the same plot holes we always see (the aliens are stupid and loud, no wait, they’re sly and highly intelligent). In this case, they follow female pheromones – except when they just kill anybody. They’re fast except when they’re slow. They are after mating except when they just want to eat a human. They can break down doors/walls of any strength but can’t get into a dumpster with a plastic lid. They’re impervious to bullets some of the time. They have mastered space travel but can’t operate elevators. They’re all after the one female except for the one who;d rather spend hours in front of a dumpster. They can track and follow any human except when Sam escapes the weed room and then they just ignore her. ETC. There were a couple plot holes with the humans as well.

    • @Jensen

      In order of your complaints:

      1) “The aliens are stupid and loud/quiet and intelligent” I didn’t see a lot of intelligence from these guys. Though I should also point out that humans don’t exactly have a single personality either.
      2) “They follow the pheremones/except when they kill someone” As explained near the end of the film, the people they kill ALL got pheremones on them. There was a bit of a plot hole where one of them attacked the girls, since we see they get to run clear of the block unharassed not long after. Then again, that may have been a reaction to it getting covered in a bedsheet and whacked with a lamp.
      3) “They’re fast/except when they’re slow” Humans can stalk prey. Or they can sprint at them. Or they can ambush them. This isn’t really a plot hole as much as that the aliens don’t just charge blindly at people every time.
      4) “They are after mating/except where they want to eat a human” They want to mate with the female. There is no female, because Moses killed it. Moses smells of female alien. Whoever touches Moses smells of female alien. Male aliens attack creatures that smell of female alien that are not female aliens.
      5) “They can break walls and doors/cannot break a plastic lid” They had a run-up for the doors (I don’t remember the wall part happening). The refuse bin, meanwhile, has the plastic lid above it. The creature couldn’t have rammed it open just by jumping up and down.
      6) Sometimes humans don’t die of bullet wounds, either.
      7) They haven’t mastered space travel. They arrived on Earth in spores, not spacecraft. Something might have put them in space, but it wasn’t them.
      8) Again, pheremones. The guy in the refuse bin smelled of female alien.
      9) Sam escapes the weed room because they -can’t- track and follow humans unless they have female alien pheremones on them.

      So in conclusion, most of those ‘plot holes’ were just that you missed the part of the movie where it takes pains to spell out to you exactly what is going on. This includes an allegory to butterfly mating, and the fact that the pheremones glow blue under UV lights.

      If you read this two years after you posted, I salute you.