“In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Just like that, there was a brand new level of fear unleashed upon the world in 1979. With the upcoming release of Alien: Covenant, which is technically the sixth film in the franchise, let’s take a look back at the previous films to see how they stack up.
As with my Fast And Furious ranking, the goal of this is to come at it from an objective standpoint, or at least as closely as I can get to one. If there’s a section where my personal feelings differ from the definitive order, that will be listed.
One more thought: Alien Vs. Predator and the sequel, Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, absolutely do not count as part of the franchise. There are no connections whatsoever to the main films except for the fact that the Xenomorph appears. This isn’t a Matrix or Indiana Jones scenario where people just try to hide the films they don’t like (I’m sorry, but Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull happened and it counts), these spin-off films are an entirely separate entity and will not be considered here. They’d be last anyways.
Oh by the way, definitely going to be some SPOILERS throughout this, so just consider this a warning for the entire list.
- Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet was brought on to helm this confusing mishmash of a film after producers were impressed with his visual style on films like Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children. Adding that kind of early talent to a Joss Whedon script seems to make sense when you put it all on paper, but the franchise was already put into quite the hole by the previous effort, and they struggled to find a coherent way to bring the narrative out of that slump. Having Sigourney Weaver play a clone of Ripley is a strange idea that was only invented because her character sacrifices herself at the end of Alien 3, and it didn’t make any real sense here. When you add on top of that just how confusing the tonal changes are, you really see just how messy it is. Jeunet works great in the realm of dark comedy, but that doesn’t really mesh with the Alien universe, which was based in horror.
That said, I do actually like watching Alien: Resurrection more than Alien 3 because of that. While the goofy scenes and campy dialogue make no sense, they at least keep things a little more entertaining than they could be otherwise. Plus, you get a couple points with me by letting an extra gruff Ron Perlman chew scenery, and he hangs upside down from a ladder while firing two pistols. That’s worth the viewing alone.
- Alien 3 (1992)
Just as it is weird to think that the director of Amelie made an Alien film, it’s just as weird to think that David Fincher made his debut with one. Luckily, every film he made after this was better.
Alien 3 is another sort of fascinating mess. It makes arguably the biggest mistake almost immediately by having the pod (that contains cryosleeping Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and Bishop) from the previous film crash, killing all but Sigourney’s character. There’s no real point in acknowledging the great characters that the audience loved when the film is going to immediately remove them, especially considering there is absolutely no payoff or narrative reason for it to happen. It kills any momentum within the first 10 minutes of the film.
It doesn’t help that the tone is so dour and bleak throughout the entire film. Nowadays, Fincher is no stranger to dark stories in film, but he always has a balance so as to not overwhelm the viewer. As a rookie feature filmmaker who had only directed music videos up until this point (very good music videos, by the way, no shade here), he hadn’t yet learned how to create that balance.
What makes the incomprehensible plot actually (somewhat) watchable is the supporting cast, which features the likes of Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance in prominent roles, along with Paul McGann and Pete Postlethwaite in smaller side roles.
- Prometheus (2012)
I already know what a lot of you are thinking. Trust me. I’m well aware of the general perception around this Alien prequel.
Yes, the chronology is all over the board and pretty hard to follow closely. Yes, character motivations can change at the drop of a hat, and that hat belongs to cowboy Idris Elba. Yes, the scientists in this film repeatedly make VERY stupid decisions. Yes, it is very easy to run to the side instead of just forward.
But please, for just a moment, look past all of that.
When Ridley Scott took the reigns back in his own hands, a fresh breath was delivered back into his old property. For the first time since the original, we were back in the world of horror. Despite the silly decisions made by some characters, the tension is real and consistent. Since it takes place before Alien, things aren’t the same, and we no longer know what to expect. What is found within the maze is all new, and so is how the crew of the Prometheus reacts to it. The dire surgery scene (yes, you know the one) is terrifying on a few levels, and the repercussions get even worse.
The cast is arguably the best overall since the original as well. Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, and Guy Pearce? You can sign me up for that even without mentioning Michael Fassbender, the obvious all-star of the film.
I’m not telling you that Prometheus is a perfect film, or even that you would be wrong to dislike it. I’m just suggesting another shot might not hurt.
- Aliens (1986)
I know that there are a lot of people out there who are going to have problems with this, but I’m very sorry that you’re misguided.
Aliens is great, it really is. It is a terrific action film and should be considered in discussions of action films. James Cameron’s best film has several incredibly shot sequences, a top-notch cast of character actors (Biehn, Henriksen, Reiser, Paxton), and one of the greatest lines in all of film.
The problem is that while lots of the pieces are great, those that remain are only fine. I don’t think any of Aliens is bad, I want to make that abundantly clear, but the script is honestly not all that great. It is certainly serviceable and does what the film needs it to do, but it doesn’t elevate anything or go beyond what is required. The cast is great, but the story that they have to tell doesn’t quite live up to their full potential. I know how stupid it sounds for my argument to essentially end up as “I know that it’s great, but it isn’t the greatest”, but it is really hard to come up with a better argument than that when the competition that you’re facing just happens to be…
- Alien (1979)
Here it is. Alien is a perfect horror film. It is absolutely one of the greatest horror films ever made. It’s my personal favorite horror film of all-time, in fact. It’s also one of the single best sci-fi films, and that’s quite the pedigree.
Ridley Scott’s second feature came out of nowhere in 1979, and has continued to be one of the most influential horror films. Scott’s handling of the ship geography is claustrophobic and tense, and the production design is phenomenal. The actual practical design of the Xenomorph itself is flawless and still legitimately scary to this day.
Sigourney Weaver was born for the role of Ellen Ripley, and Alien gave her the chance to create a long and successful career. She absolutely dominates the film from the beginning, even though her character doesn’t become the lead until the middle section. Ian Holm is deliciously twisted as Ash, who becomes an even better character multiple revisits to the film. John Hurt leaves an untouchable mark on history with a truly iconic moment in cinema. Even beyond those three, the cast includes Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, and Veronica Cartwright. Each and every one of them is great in their role, and all of them play fully formed characters.
When describing their discovery, Ash happens to sum up the film perfectly.
“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”
Alien is a perfect organism. This film lives and breathes, and it thrives off of making you uncomfortable in your seat while knowing you won’t dare look away.
If Alien: Covenant can have even a fraction of what made Alien an all-time great and a classic film, we’ll be in good hands. I believe in Ridley Scott.
What do you think about this list? Anything I failed to mention about the franchise? Excited for this new film? Please let me know down below in the comments.