Two years after the mammoth success of “Star Wars,” there were a number of sci-fi movies clearly hoping to cash in. Disney attempted to start their own space franchise with “The Black Hole”; the “Star Trek” crew headed to the big screen, as did Buck Rogers; and even James Bond went into orbit with “Moonraker.” But the one that really, truly stuck was “Alien,” a sci-fi horror movie from a little-known commercials director whose first feature film, “The Duellists,” had been critically well-regarded but mostly ignored by the public.
Its cast were mostly unknown (“MASH” actor Tom Skerritt was the biggest draw), its marketing enigmatic, and its R-rating ruling out the kids that made “Star Wars” a phenomenon. But Ridley Scott’s film proved a critical and commercial smash, the sixth-biggest-grossing movie of 1979 and an Oscar winner for its visual effects, and it spawned an unlikely franchise that’s now 38 years old and going strong, with the latest installment “Alien: Covenant” already open internationally but hitting U.S. theaters Friday (read our review here).
The series has had its ups and downs (particularly if you count, as we do, the two lousy crossover films with the “Predator” series), but with ‘Covenant’ something of a return to form, we thought we’d look back at the history of the franchise by examining our favorite scenes, beats and moments across the eight films so far. Take a look at our list below, and let us know your own favorite “Alien” scenes in the comments. Spoilers for all the films, obviously, but ones for ‘Covenant’ are clearly marked for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.
25) “Prometheus” – The Exploding Head
Ridley Scott might be an acclaimed, Oscar-nominated filmmaker widely considered one of the finest visual stylists working, but there’s always been something of the little boy playing with spiders about his work, a gleefulness in the gore, whether in the original “Alien” or something more recent like “The Counselor.” “Prometheus” has one of the most enjoyably silly examples of this, as the ship’s crew attempt to reanimate the head of a decapitated Engineer with electric impulses. Its twitches and blinks as it moves are at once goofy and oddly pathos-inducing (the pained expression on its face is quite something), culminating in a pleasingly splattery eruption of the creature’s brain.
24) “Alien: Resurrection” – The Sacrifice
Although Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ‘Resurrection,’ the fourth film in the franchise, is comfortably the worst not to have a Predator in the title, the French helmer of “Amélie” is a great director of moments if nothing else, and his film, while a mess, has quite a few. An early highlight sees this film’s particular dumb-ass, god-playing scientist (Brad Dourif) make the fatal mistake of housing some of the xenomorphs in the same cell, where they show a new and terrifying level of intelligence by murdering one of their own in order to use his acidic blood to escape into the rest of the ship. Dourif’s face, shortly before he’s pulled away by the creatures, is the visual equivalent of Bob Peck’s “clever girls” line from “Jurassic Park.”
23) “Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem” – The End Credits
The second of the two “Alien Vs. Predator” movies, the Brothers Strause’s 2007 sequel that sees the creatures, including a PredAlien hybrid, menace a small Colorado town, peaks later on with the end credits. Not because they’re cleverly done, or because they contain some fun easter eggs, but just because it signifies that the movie is over. Making Paul W.S. Anderson’s earlier mash-up look like Tarkovsky’s “Solaris,” it takes one of the dullest collections of characters ever assembled on screen, puts them in the hands of mostly untalented actors (and poor John Ortiz), and then kills them off in badly lit, incomprehensible action scenes. The only thing the film has going for it is an R rating, but even its PG-13 predecessor stacked up some more inventive kills.
22) “Alien: Covenant” – The Entry Of The Gods Into Valhalla
I watched eight “Alien” movies in preparation for this feature, and half of them are not very good, so you would think that by the time “Alien: Covenant” came to an end, I’d be praying for a permanent end to the franchise. So credit to Ridley Scott’s latest for coming up with a conclusion that had me legitimately excited for where the series goes from here. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Tennessee (Danny McBride) have managed to dispatch the last xenomorph (by, hilariously, dropping two trucks on it), and are ready to start heading back to their original destination to begin colonization. But just as her cryosleep pod is sending her off to dreamland, Daniels realizes that the android who’s running the show isn’t friendly Walter (Michael Fassbender), but genocidal would-be-god David (Michael Fassbender). I’d argue that Scott doesn’t quite set up the twist well enough: he cuts away from their fight early enough that it feels like the reversal is coming. But it’s still pretty chilling, particularly once David whacks some Wagner on and vomits up a couple of xenomorph embryos. Whatever happens in the third of the David trilogy, it’s unlikely to be good for those few thousand colonists on board.
21) “AVP: Alien Vs. Predator” – The Predator Fights Back
Of the many hypocrisies of the MPAA, their approach to sci-fi violence isn’t the most egregious, but it’s one of the more blatant. You can do pretty much whatever you want to an alien or a robot (if the fights in “Transformers” movies involved people, they would look like a Takashi Miike film), but show the actual real-world consequences of violence and you get bumped up to an R. Still, Paul W.S. Anderson’s unnecessarily acronymed “AVP: Alien Vs. Predator” was at least a beneficiary of this. Released as a studio-mandated PG-13, it mostly feels toothless and compromised (actually some of the least of the film’s problems), but when the title creatures clash, it at least lets some green gore fly. Perhaps the most satisfying of these moments is when the heroic Predator is surprised first by a facehugger, then by a fully grown alien, cutting the first clean in half with a throwing star, then decapitating the second. It’s all a bit juvenile, sure, but it’s satisfyingly icky in a way that little else in the film ever proves to be.