How Signs’ Divisive Ending Actually Borrowed From War of the Worlds

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Alien invasion films have often been held together by the basic concept that humanity must rise up to face the challenge and ultimately win out over the invading force. Sadly, that isn’t always how things go, and in recent decades, the outcome of an invasion film doesn’t serve as a metric of its quality. In fact, humanity could lose, and so long as the journey was impactful, it could still be a smash hit, but there are also some films that take a smaller approach to such a large-scale topic, like M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, which also feels similar to the end of another classic sci-fi story.


Signs followed a rural family living on a farm and trying to find their new status quo after the main character, a priest, lost his wife. As they navigate this stressful chapter of their lives, an alien invasion is set up in the background.

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Throughout the film, the scares are shown as suspenseful reveals that are powerful enough to convince a generation that what they’re seeing is real, but it’s the conclusion that has divided fans of the genre for years. This is because the ultimate weakness in these massive extraterrestrials was none other than water, and this weakness is a clever nod to another classic sci-fi story, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds.


In The War of the Worlds, a far more aggressive alien invasion takes place that almost eradicated most of the civilization. Even though humanity stood no chance against them, it was none other than the common cold that defeated the aliens. This was because they had never evolved to have natural defenses for Earth’s germs. It’s a simple conclusion to such a bombastic story, but one that shows how the Devil is always in the details, and it worked better in The War of the Worlds than it did in Signs.

In Signs, the big climax was set up through the main character’s wife, who died in a car accident. In the scene, she told her husband specific details that wouldn’t apply until the moment the aliens nearly took away their son years later. Because of the accident, he lost his faith and had to regain it and see the “signs” to help save his son. The setup was admittedly clever, but, coupled with a weakness to water, ultimately fell flat for some audiences. This could mainly be because the film asked the audience to accept a lot of coincidences in a movie already tackling an alien invasion.


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That said, the film maintained a thematic through line introduced in War of the Worlds Because it also showed how the most common resource was ultimately the alien’s downfall. Furthermore, it showed that for all of their advanced technology, they had no idea that such a simple state of matter would be their end. In a way, it’s almost humorous and also a great way to show that sometimes it’s a finer touch that’s needed to topple a massive threat.

Signs may not be Shyamalan’s most beloved film, but it showed without hesitation that he could handle an alien invasion story. More than that, even its most controversial aspect still showed that he knew the classics and was willing to homage them even in the smallest way. The War of the Worlds is still the standard for alien invasion films, and Signs simply made its mark in a clever way with an ending just as surprising as what Wells’ introduced.


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