37 years ago a little acidic alien burst his way out of John Hurt’s chest and into all of our hearts. Back in 1979 the world had never seen anything like Alien. The concept of science fiction films being treated seriously and budgeted generously was still a Star Wars-funded novelty. The marketing was brilliant. Aside from that great tagline (“In space no one can hear you scream”), no one knew a thing about the alien life cycle. The brilliant concept that Dan O’Bannon dreamed up, Walter Hill polished, HR Giger designed, and Ridley Scott directed was an instant pop culture phenomenon. Audiences were terrified, special effects took a huge leap forward, awards were passed out, icons were born, and Sigourney Weaver proved that women could kick alien ass and carry blockbusters as well.
A few summers later (well, seven to be precise) a young Canadian buck named James Cameron was hired to make a sequel, and in addition to pluralizing the mysterious title he ensured that Alien would become a franchise with legs. Since then, the xenomorph and its belly impregnating brethren have never left pop culture. There have been comics, video games, action figures, and probably tea cosies. Alien is one of the great sci-fi franchises of the 20th century and quite possibly the greatest movie monster that has ever been conceived. These are facts. You can look em’ up.
This week, the franchise returns to screens with Alien: Covenant and to celebrate, we here at CGM decided to provide you fine readers with a conclusive list of the alien franchise up to and including the latest flick. This is the definitive ranking. All other rankings are false. More importantly, aside from one title on this list, all of the flicks are a blast and very much worth watching.
8) Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
Remember one sentence ago when I said that only one Alien movie qualifies as outright crap? Well, here it is. The studio decided that one Alien Vs. Predator just wasn’t enough and rather than deliver a more ambitious battle between Fox’s most famous sci-fi monsters, a pair of special effects designers got a tiny budget to make the beasts battle again. So, the Alien and the Predator held a rematch in small town America. The plot was nonsense. The human characters were so two-dimensional that it would be an insult to cardboard to call them that. Worst of all, the movie was so cheap that one of the big battles between the iconic Aliens and the Predators took place in a grocery store. Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem is absolute garbage, but unlike its predecessor it was R-rated. So you get more gore. That’s something. Plus there’s the Alien/Predator hybrid… that was cool right? Ugh…let’s just pretend this one doesn’t exist and move on.
7) Prometheus (2012)
After years of promises, director Ridley Scott finally returned to the franchise he created in 2012. He’d long promised to tell the origin tale of the mysterious alien ship that the passengers of the Nostromo stumbled upon many years ago. We showed up for answers, but what we got was a pilot episode for a new franchise that wouldn’t actually provide those answers for several sequels (thanks Damon Lindelof, you always know how to tease and disappoint). However, if you can look beyond the braindead characters and pretentious dialogue, there is quite a bit to enjoy within Prometheus. After all, Ridley Scott delivered a deep, dank, dark, and meticulously detailed sci-fi world the likes of which few filmmakers could create. Michael Fassbender was fantastic as possibly the creepiest android in a franchise filled with them. The scares were solid, the new alien goo villain was memorable, and there were some intriguing philosophical concepts buried within all of the babbling nonsense dialogue. Sure, Prometheus was a disappointment, but it was also the most beautiful, thoughtful, and frightening R-rated horror/sci-fi Hollywood blockbuster since…well…the previous Alien sequel. Hype killed Prometheus’ reputation more than anything else. It could have been worse. Sure, it also should have been better…but it still could have been worse.
6) Alien Resurrection (1997)
Long considered the bastard failure of the initial run of Alien sequels, Alien Resurrection actually isn’t as bad as you remember. Sure, the concept of Ripley returning from the dead as a clone with a lil’ alien DNA was absurd (even though Sigourney Weaver clearly enjoyed the hell out of crafting her performance) and the “twist” to Winona Ryder’s character was a groaner. But other than that, this cartoony Alien romp is quite a bit of fun. Joss Whedon’s script is filled with his usual quips, delivered by an eccentric cast who are visibly having a blast (Ron Pearlman, baby!). The suits and effects are stunning (especially that nightmarishly bizarre Alien baby). French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) gave the film a pleasing Eurotrash comic book aesthetic and a breathless adventure movie pace splattered with gore. Sure, it’s a pretty empty trip through the Alien motions, but goddamn it, Alien: Resurrection is filled with colourful fun if you give yourself over to the silliness. Ain’t nothing wrong with a romp with chestbursters.
5) Alien 3 (1992)
Now we come to a fraught sequel that no one hates more than its own director. David Fincher was just a music video and commercial director when he accepted the gig to make an Alien sequel. Rushed into production without a finished screenplay and filled with fights amongst its creators, Alien 3 was a troubled production that was disowned by almost everyone involved (especially Fincher, who has tried repeatedly to have his name removed from the credits). However, the truth is that Alien 3 isn’t as bad as its reputation suggests. Oh sure, the plot is wonky and the effects are dated, but Fincher shot the hell out of the movie. It’s one of the most morbidly beautiful and brutal films in the franchise, filled with stunning imagery and some absolutely terrifying Alien set pieces. Had the whole series ended here as intended, it may have been with the weakest movie, but it still would have been an appropriately harsh coda for one of the most horrific major franchises in Hollywood history.
4) Alien: Covenant (2017)
Ah yes, the latest edition to the storied Alien series. As much a remake of the original film as a direct sequel to Prometheus, Alien: Covenant is often an awkward mix of fan service and a stubborn continuation of rejected mythology. However, it’s also one of the most technically stunning blockbusters in the franchise and a viciously nasty exercise in horror from Ridley Scott. The sequel/prequel is mean and bleak, not just terrifying but downright depressing and unsettling in its exploration of life and death. It fills in some of the Prometheus blanks and sets the stage for further sequels that may or may not arrive. While it’s clear that Ridley Scott crammed in some extra Alien highlights to appease fans confused by Prometheus’ refusal to include any of the iconic monsters, there’s also no denying that this is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every conceivable way and proof that there may still life left in the series (provided that Scott fulfills his inexplicable dream to keep cranking out Alien prequels until the day he dies).
3) Alien Vs. Predator (2004)
That’s right, we’re ranking Alien Vs. Predator in the top three. Is it a flawed movie? Oh absolutely, the plot takes far too long to get going and pretty much all of the human characters are a waste of space until they die. However, other than the top two entries on this list, all of the Alien movies are flawed and at least Alien Vs. Predator is a hell of a lot of fun. Written and directed by guilty pleasure specialist Paul WS Anderson (the Resident Evil franchise, Event Horizon), AVP is a relentless blast of geeky goodness. The flick serves up a steady stream of Alien and Predator battles that are as giddily entertaining as promised and also serves up quite a clever concept for why these two iconic movie monsters tear out each other’s throats. This flick gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s not perfect. But what movie could possibly live up to the fan boy dream of an Alien Vs. Predator flick that was decades in the making? It’s about as amusing as any massive blockbuster titled Alien Vs. Predator was ever going to be and has been dismissed for far too long. This flick is a damn good time, provided that you can turn your brain off and let the nonsense unfold as the filmmakers intended.
2) Aliens (1986)
And now we get to the two stone cold masterpieces that created an icon. Aliens and its predecessor are essentially interchangeable as the high points of the franchise. What James Cameron did with his “more is more” and “more is war” sequel was turn a sci-fi/horror mash-up into a sci-fi/horror/action movie mash-up that is in the running for the most entertaining movie ever made. This is the movie where Sigourney Weaver became the badass action heroine to rule them all (earning a well deserved Oscar nomination in the process). This is the movie with iconic supporting performances from the likes of Lance Hendrickson, Michael Biehn, and the late great Bill “Game over, man” Paxton. This is the movie that introduced the Queen alien. This is the movie created the “third act as extended action set piece” blockbuster formula. This is the movie that really leant into the feminist reading of the entire franchise and spawned a million thinkpieces. Aliens is a work of spectacle filmmaking perfection and even though James Cameron would go on to become the king of the world in the 30 years following Aliens, he never made a more relentlessly inventive and entertaining movie than this. This is a genre movie masterpiece, pure and simple. If you haven’t seen Aliens, then you haven’t really lived. Fact.
1) Alien (1979)
Finally…yep…we’re putting the original Alien at the top of the list. It’s the most obvious choice, but also the correct one. This is simply one of the most perfect Hollywood productions ever mounted; a magical combination of young talents working at the peak of their powers on a scale that no science fiction or horror film had ever been mounted before. It’s a masterpiece of horror, featuring some of the most iconic scares ever committed to film that still work to this day. It’s an extraordinarily influential science fiction flick with world building and effects that have rarely been topped. The script is expertly constructed and tersely told by a magical team of Dan O’Bannon and Walter Hill. The cast is brilliant from top to bottom, headlined by Sigourney Weaver in a star-making role and anchored by brilliant character actors like John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton. The direction by Ridley Scott is perfection. Almost every scene is iconic. It’s viscerally thrilling and deceptively deep. Alien is a perfect movie. It hasn’t aged a day and will still hit with maximum impact if you can somehow find a person who knows nothing about the franchise mythology. The Alien series might never die, but the original film will never be topped either. Quite simply, Alien is a masterpiece, genre or otherwise. It doesn’t get any better than this.