Rubber Forehead Aliens

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This is the forehead that defeated countless enemies and charmed numerous women. But also ended up getting smacked down a lot.

I'd buy a big prosthetic forehead
And wear it on my real head
Everybody wants prosthetic

Foreheads on their real heads
They Might Be Giants, "We Want a Rock"

The tendency for all sci-fi alien species to be one facial feature away from humanity.

Sometimes they're not even that far away. They look totally human and sound human. In some cases, this may well be a disguise, but in others this appears to be their natural appearance. See Human Aliens.

You'd think that alien species would be radically different—insectoids, three-legged wombats, giant cats, etc. -- but the effects budget only allows for latex and makeup, so we get humans with brow ridges, humans with extra nostrils, humans with Pointy Ears, humans with bony protrusions, and so on.

Gene Roddenberry gave more reasons for this in an interview once. Budget constraints aside, if you try to make aliens look completely alien, you'll firstly make them look ridiculous (cf. Doctor Who), and secondly make it doubly hard for the actor playing the alien to do anything mildly resembling acting. This has actually been isolated to extremely specific requirements: if an audience can't see an actor's eyes or mouth, their ability to empathize with or emotionally invest in that character is significantly impaired. This is one reason why Mooks, especially SF mooks like the Cylons or the Imperial Stormtroopers, are so often uniformed in face-obscuring helmets.

The Anime equivalent is the alien with Pointy Ears, colorful facial markings, or cutesy animal-like traits.

Rubber foreheads also tend to be paired up with Humans Are White for some reason, likely the fact that back in the 60s/70s it was easier to get a black, Latino, or Asian actor on TV by gluing something to their heads and claiming that were raceless otherworldly beings instead.

The next step past Rubber Forehead Aliens (catlike or buglike or lizardlike aliens that can still sit in chairs and hold weapons) is Humanoid Aliens, possibly overlapping with Intelligent Gerbils. Contrast with Starfish Aliens.

No real life examples, please; at least, not until we actually meet aliens.

Examples of Rubber Forehead Aliens include:

Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In UK advertising, the Tefal Eggheads. Later parodied by Ant McPartlain's actual forehead.

Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • In Crest of the Stars, the Abh were distinguished by their blue hair though some of them also had pointy ears.
    • This one does get justified, though, in that the Abh are in fact genetically altered humans, who even call their stellar nation the "Humankind Empire Abh" (or a variant, depending on how you translate it); the Abh see themselves as basically humans with a few different traits, while their (non-modded) enemies tend to see them as vile aliens, wholly different from humanity. One of the narrative thrusts of the work is examining just how human they really are - or aren't.
  • In Outlaw Star, the Ctarl Ctarl are essentially Cat Girls from space.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima does this with many inhabitants of the magic world; they look like normal people, but with horns or weird shaped ears or something. The rest are Petting Zoo People.
  • The Saiyans in Dragonball Z are pretty much just humans with tails in appearance; that turn into giant monkeys during a full moon.
    • They also have fur instead of hair, which is why it doesn't need to be cut.
  • Practically all aliens in Leijiverse. Mazone, Illumidas, Tokarga... they're all basically humans with slightly different skin colour, even the Mazone who are plants. Miime's race is unrevealed, but she's also fully humanoid apart from not having visible mouth in most? story versions.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Elves in Elf Quest are basically humans with pointy ears and four fingers. This is because their shapeshifting alien ancestors deliberately took on a human-resembling form before landing (they even reshaped their spaceship to look like a palace). But even before that (flashbacks), said ancestors already looked fairly human in shape, and would have qualified as Humanoid Aliens at least.
  • Though technically Human Aliens, Viltrumites from Invincible are also Hairy Upper Lip Aliens. All Viltrumites have black hair, and all male Viltrumites have mustaches, which makes it pretty easy to tell them apart from humans. In fact, one character simply removed his fake beard, showing his Viltrumite mustache, in a pretty hilarious reveal.
  • Lampshaded in some Space Agent Valerian book. There are quite a few non-human aliens but also a multitude of practically humans, to the point where it's mentioned that "one head, two hands, two feet, two eyes, could be anyone".

Film - Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • The movie This Island Earth's aliens were similar to humans except for huge foreheads and white hair. The actors literally wore rubber foreheads.
  • In Galaxy Quest, the character of Dr. Lazarus from the Show Within a Show is played by Alexander Dane (who is in turn played by Alan Rickman) wearing a rubber forehead. The Thermians, of course, think he is a real alien, even though his rubber forehead begins to show damage and develop holes over the course of the adventure.
    • The Thermians themselves are a subversion of this: on first appearance, they look like short-ish humans who have Vulcans for hair stylists. However, it turns out it's just an illusion; they're really Starfish Aliens.
  • The movie Trail of the Screaming Forehead takes this to the logical extreme. The aliens are foreheads that attach themselves to humans. The movie is pure, high quality B grade.
  • The Fifth Element has a variety of particularly tacky examples. The alien opera-singer sort of looked like a hybrid between an Asari, a Twi'lek and a Xenomorph.
  • The Battlefield Earth film featured the Psychlos, whose main distinguishing features were that they were big, had eyebrows that joined their hair, high foreheads, and dreadlocks.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Played with in Alastair Reynolds novel House of Suns; All of the civilizations in the Milky Way originally came from Earth, but over millions years (the novel is in 6.3 million AD) they have diverged somewhat. One of the characters seen in the story has a elephant-like trunk, and other humans are mentioned as having scales or full body hair.
  • Star Wars has a lot of humanoid aliens, most of which find the nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere found on human-inhabited planets tolerable, if not comfortable (there are of course exceptions to this rule, such as the Kel Dor, who must wear goggles and breather masks at all times on human-habitable worlds). There are also, however, several non-humanoids, including a handful of insectoids, a lobster-like species, more than a few quadrapeds or hexapeds... and one that looks like nothing so much as a floating brain. The most human-like aliens are called near-human, and are considered to have descended from humans (the blue-skinned, red-eyed but otherwise human Chiss are a typical example).
    • The Yuuzhan Vong basically look like big, muscle-y humans with a few deliberate errors- their skin tones are varying shades of grey rather than brown, they have talons instead of fingernails, their foreheads are prominent and sloped, and their hair is almost always black when they're not bald (which is more common among them than it is among humans). Artists also commonly depict them with pointed ears, though this is never described i the novels. Of course, since they treat ritualized Body Horror as a mark of high status, the higher-ranked a Vong is, the less humanoid they usually look.
  • The Psychlos in the book version of Battlefield Earth are vaguely-described, but come across as big, hairy humans, save for inexplicable "eyebones" and "mouthbones" instead of eyelids or lips.
  • Justified Trope in Anathem: the Urnudans, Latierrans etc are humans from the universe next door.
  • The Classic Space Opera The Lensman Series had human, humanoid and utterly alien species. Of course it also had a guiding sentient race that was controlling evolution on many different planets.
  • Justified in one of the earliest science fiction novels, "Last and First Men". The varieties of human aliens are a result of original humanity escaping from a dying Earth. For two billion years, humanity evolves through nine different stages and splits off into a smaller set of subgroups.
  • Wicked Lovely tends to go this route with a lot of The Fair Folk. Niall, for example, is described as having "too-sheer skin, like parchment by a flame, and too many joints."
  • The aliens in Deathscent by Robin Jarvis are somewhere between this and Humanoid Aliens. While both races look quite like humans - enough that when one first arrives the human characters don't realise what he is until they see him in the light - their biology is very different. One of them perceives the world primarily through sense of smell, has four nostrils (one of which is in the forehead) and speaks a musical Starfish Language.
  • A large number of The Culture alien species are near human. It was explained as a convergent evolution thing.
  • C. J. Cherryh's series Foreigner deals with the deceptively humanoid alien race known as the Atevi. While they look similar to us, they think entirely different then Humans.

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In Star Trek, Klingons, Vulcans, Bajorans, Ferengi, and Cardassians, just to name a few. In fact, the majority of all races encountered in every Star Trek series has two arms, two legs, a head, and a general chest area. The exceptions are usually Monster of the Week types.
    • For example, the Bajorans. Small ridges on the nose are the only visible differences between fully-clothed Bajorans and fully clothed Humans.
      • Of course, there is a reason for this, as noted above: the Bajoran makeup was designed the way it is specifically to make sure that the (numerous) Bajoran females who would appear in the franchise would all still be good-looking.
      • The Bajorans were also planned from the outset to be refugees. The minimal makeup was convenient for costuming large crowds and child actors.
    • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase" provides a tidy explanation (part Retcon, part Lampshade Hanging) for the prevalence of Rubber Forehead Aliens in the Star Trek universe. All the main races in the universe were created from "seeds" placed in their respective worlds' primordial oceans by an even more ancient humanoid race.
    • There's another Lampshade Hanging when the Bajoran Ro Laren, who has something of a chip on her shoulder, refers to herself as "the token bumpy-forehead".
    • Parodied in this article from The Onion.
    • Of course, Klingons only gained their rubber foreheads when the movies' increased budget permitted it. Prior to the Retcon, they were "Entire Bottle of Bronzer and Upswept Eyebrows" Aliens. In fact, until attention was called to it in Deep Space Nine, the Literary Agent Hypothesis was the official explanation: in-universe, they weren't considered to look exactly like humans. There just wasn't the budget to portray them as they actually looked. (There's actually an onscreen reference, sort of: a Klingon posing as a human was said to have been surgically altered to appear human (if we take what's onscreen at face value, it wouldn't take surgery, just a haircut).
    • The 2009 movie seems to be going out of its way to give us a new variation with the large eyed aliens.
      • It also makes the Romulans worse than the Klingons in the "where'd the foreheads come from?" department. They went from having ridges to to not having them to having them again to having lost them again. What the HELL? Also, keep in mind that while Klingons' gaining ridges after TOS has been referenced, and explained much later, there has never been any onscreen acknowledgment of the changes in Romulans.
      • The Klingon's appearance in a deleted scene of the movie is actually something of a Lampshade Hanging of this issue, as the Klingon's we see have ridged... masks (as in what the characters are wearing). We don't actually see their faces.
        • Even more curiously, photos of Victor Garber with his Klingon helmet off show that he had been given a ridged nose... even though it would have not been visible onscreen.
    • The Star Trek franchise has racked up several nominations (and wins) for awards in makeup because of how often they have had to pull some crazy stunts with the rubber. One nomination, for instance, was for a Ferengi who put bigger earlobes over her own to look male. That's right, prosthetics on top of other prosthetics.
    • When a character disguises himself as alien from a different species, this usually happens within the story via super-advanced, easily reversible 24th century surgery. In Star Trek: Enterprise though, taking place in the less advanced 22nd century, the glued on rubber foreheads of disguised NX-01 crewmen are even really just glued on rubber foreheads in-universe!
  • The early 1970s Roddenberry production Genesis II had post-humans with two navels as their "distinguishing characteristic". That was mostly a "screw you" towards the censors. For some reason, up until then navels were considered taboo.
  • Babylon 5 had the Centauri, Narn, and Minbari, as well as quite a few (less-central) non-humanoid aliens.
    • The Centauri are closer to being Human Aliens thanks to the only real (visible and exterior) difference being the pointed teeth, ridiculous haircuts aside. The Narn are closer to Humanoid Aliens thanks to a more clearly alien look to them, despite a similar biological configuration (curiously, the Narn are one of the few species with eyes that aren't exactly the same as human eyes). A majority of B5 aliens, however, do fit this trope.
      • Straczynski had a lot of fun with this concerning the Centauri: when they made first contact with Earth, they actually claimed that Earth was a long-lost colony, due to the external similarities between the two species! Once the humans gave the Centauri a physical, however...
      • It is suggested at many points in the series that there are many less humanoid aliens both in the galaxy and on the station, but that they don't interact with the humanoid races as much.
    • The episode "There All the Honor Lies" lampshades and inverts this trope: an official Babylon 5 gift shop is opened in the station, and they sell very high quality alien species masks but also human masks for aliens to wear!
  • The Twilight Zone episode titled "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up". The setting of this episode is a rural restaurant. During the 25 minute episode, we wonder which one among a group of people is the alien. It turns out, we were seeing the alien all along, and that there were two of them. One alien has an extra arm (this one is from Mars). The other one has a third eye (he's from Venus).
  • Most "aliens" in the Stargate Verse are just humans, transported from Earth in antiquity. But of those that don't, some - particularly other species used as hosts by the Goa'uld - still fit this Trope. The Unas are just Humans with Scales, for example.
    • And chin spikes, and only 4 fingers, which puts them more in the Humanoid Alien category. Wraith fit well enough though, once to get past their (justified) Bizarre Alien Biology.
    • Inverted by a Wraith in the episode Vegas. He uses cosmetics to turn himself into a Rubber Forehead Human, which of course goes completely unnoticed.
  • Parodied by Bill Bailey in Space Cadets. Interlock fingers of both hands. Place palms on foreheads. Voila! Instant Klingon.
  • Space Precinct loves it some actors with rubber heads on. The sheer contrast between big rubber head and undisguised human body gives the whole thing a farcical charm.
  • Alien Nation
  • Used in Power Rangers on those rare occasions when aliens aren't either people in full-body rubber suits or regular actors using a silly name. Aquitians, for example, have a purple... thing on their head (external braincase?), and Xybrians have green hair and a gem embedded in their forehead.
  • In spite of its subversions of this trope, Farscape has a few species of these floating around.
    • Nebari look basically human except for their monotone grey skin and the fact that their hair colour depends entirely on their gender.
    • Delvians look like hairless, blue, scaly humans.
    • Khalish have intense blue-green eyes and a few transparent scales on their temples.
    • The Luxans have a fairly elaborate tentacle-featuring face prosthetic, but still count as an example of this trope.
  • In the Cousin Skeeter TV movie "New Kids on the Planet"
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have a lot of demonic races that are essentially humans in various different colors of facepaint. However, this is partially justified because almost all demons that appear are possessing or have interbred or been contaminated by humans. The few Pure Demons that have appeared didn't look remotely human:

The Mayor's final form, a giant insectoid serpent.
The demon below the Hellgate, a mass of tentacles with a never seen "true face".
Illyria, a metal-clad, taloned mass of tentacles.

  • Likewise, most of the demons on Charmed looked like humans decked out in heavy makeup, ear extensions and snaggle-teeth.
  • The Coneheads from Saturday Night Live were conceived as a parody of the '50s B-movie Rubber Forehead Alien.
  • Played straight in Hyperdrive.
  • Some of the aliens in Doctor Who fit in this category. According to The Writer's Tale, the aliens that were to become the Vinvocci were called the Prostheticons in the rough draft.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Warhammer 40,000 the Eldar straddle the line between this and Humanoid Aliens. They are thin, graceful, pointy-eared (Elf expies In Space!), but their body structure is much more lithe and spindly.
    • The in-universe setting book Xenology references this; while the Eldar and Tau, and to a lesser extent the Orks, look outwardly like slightly modified humans inside the races are nothing alike. The Tech-Priest doing the dissections is extremely confused by this, especially since his other subjects aren't remotely humanoid.
  • Space Munchkin the RPG parodies this trope with the "Bumpy Headed Alien" racial choice. You choose, among other things, your facial bumps, the concept your entire species is devoted to, and the one aspect of human culture your species doesn't understand ("we do not have a word for this thing you call 'hygiene'")
  • Teenagers From Outer Space divides aliens into Near Humans, Not Very Near Humans, and Real Weirdies.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Split race in the X-Universe games are tall human-like aliens with very rough looking narrow faces, and odd colored skin.
  • The dominant race in the Jak and Daxter series are basically humans with excessively long pointy ears.
  • Subverted in Phantasy Star with Newmans/Numans, and later Beasts in Phantasy Star Universe. Sure, they look human enough, save for their ears and (in the case of Beasts) their harelips and eyes ... but they aren't actually aliens at all. They're actually genetically engineered humans.
    • Played straight, though: The three planets' humanoid species are Parmanian/Palmanian (humans), Motavian (furred, beaked humanoids), and Dezolisian/Dezorisian (Rubber Forehead Aliens with green skin).
  • Mass Effect: Asari fit the trope perfectly, being blue-skinned alien space babes. Although their tentacles are actually on the back of their heads, where a human would have hair. It should be noted that, while they wear the same armor as humans in-game, every race sees them as their equivalent of blue-skinned alien space babes except possibly the Krogan, who still see them as attractive.
    • In Mass Effect 3, if a male Shepard romanced Tali and saved the quarian fleet, Tali will leave a photo of herself without mask or helmet on his nightstand. It turns out that were it not for the skin markings, the three-fingered hands, and the avian legs, she could pass for human.
    • On the technical side, the developers of Mass Effect admit that their alien designs were limited to bipeds with human proportions because of the Unreal engine's combat system. In fact, even the tridactyl, digitigrade Turians are still built on a human skeleton.
  • In the Star Ocean games, Nedians and Expellians are identical to humans, while Roakians all have tails (and there are "Lesser Fellpool" who are more similar to cats, including cat ears. Interestingly, Roddick makes sure the Earthlings know that they're related to cats rather than monkeys, seeming to indicate that they descended from them. The third game introduced a bunch more alien species, some of which are humanoid dolphins, dwarves and such, others of which look practically identical to humans.
  • Miriam in Shining Force Feather might be a living Lampshade Hanging. She meets our protagonists and is immediately amazed, as she hasn't ever seen a human before. Never mind that Miriam is an elf, and that the only difference between her and Jin are her pointy ears, slanted eyes, and skinnier build. One scene later, she meets Alfin and is equally wowed, as she's never seen a Core Unit before, despite that Core Units are... Ridiculously-Human Robots. Meanwhile, she meets all the varieties of Petting Zoo People with no more than chipper enthusiasm.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in Freefall: Sam Starfall looks humanoid, but it's really a suit to let him operate in an Earth-like environment. We don't get to see his true appearance, but it involves tentacles, and humans apparently find it disgusting.
  • The trolls in Homestuck make reference to a lot of Bizarre Alien Biology endemic to their species, like "chitinous windholes", "auricular sponge clots", "porous cranial plates", and various colors of blood, but outwardly just look like grey-skinned humans with yellow-orange eyes, horns, and fangs.

Web Originals[edit | hide]

  • The Pelkons from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe are humanoid, and have the right number of fingers and toes and such, but their eyes are pure milk-white, their hair is thicker and more brush-like, and they have spots like a leopard. on their forehead that run down the back of their necks and across their shoulders.
  • In the Homestar Runner episode "buried", Strong Bad unearths what he believes to be an alien artifact. He states that the earth was colonized by extraterrestrials, and that it explains "why all beings look the same except for slight differences of our foreheads!"

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Warhok and Warmonga, the Proud Warrior Race aliens who appear in season four of Kim Possible are an animated version of this. They're nine feet tall and have green skin.
  • In another animated example, the cast of Futurama is virtually all two-arms two-legs one-head humanoid (for most of the time). This is probably more to make it easier to animate jokes for them than anything else, as the show has otherwise shown a fair amount of ingenuity in depicting odd aliens (sentient nebulae, swarms of flies, etc). Subverted with Leela, who is revealed in an early season to be a human mutant who was raised to think she was a Last of Her Kind alien.
  • Starlee from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward. Her race look almost exactly like humans, except for having blue skin and pointy ears.
  • Starfire of the Teen Titans has orange skin and Bizarre Alien Biology, but looks otherwise human enough to have a relationship with the resident Badass Normal. She also has superpowers, of course.