It’s always time to talk about classics. So, in eternal celebration of science-fiction horror, here’s every Alien film, ranked from worst to best.
In 1979, Ridley Scott and team introduced the world to one of the most immutably badass and supremely terrifying creatures of all time. With Sigourney Weaver as series mainstay Ellen Ripley, Alien changed from a singular vision to an expansive universe, incorporating and assimilating each writers’ and directors’ attempts at grasping the franchises’ potential. Though this series has seen some very low lows, it still remains a relevant, inviting, and fascinating universe. And while most entries are fairly stagnant in conversational rankings, there are always room for surprises; without ado, here’s every Alien film ranked from worst to best.
This list does not include Alien vs. Predator (2004) or Alien vs. Predator Requiem (2007).
6. ALIEN: RESURRECTION
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer: Joss Whedon
Cinematographer: Darius Khondji
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya
After the ending of Alien 3, 20th Century Fox was feeling uneasy about how to continue the Alien franchise. As director after director passed on the project citing the definitiveness of Fincher’s ending, writer Joss Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet eventually settled on the revival of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as hybrid clone 200 years after her death. While the introduction of a xenomorph genetic memory, crossbreed cloning, and space mercenaries aren’t the furthest this series has stretched in its franchise accommodations, Whedon and Jeunet did inject one particular element this series assuredly didn’t need, humor. Personal taste does vary, especially if one enjoys what is essentially a poor Firefly prototype, but many (myself included) would rather face a xenomorph than watch Alien: Resurrection’s basketball scene again. There’s still room for appreciation, here, with Jeunet’s serviceable action scenes, and the practical effects are solid, but Alien: Resurrection is undoubtedly the worst of the mainline series.
Stream Alien: Resurrection:
5. ALIEN: COVENANT
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Logan, Dante Harper
Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir
After the antithetical approach of Prometheus and Neil Blomkamp’s departure from Alien 5, Ridley Scott’s return to the director’s chair wrought out a decidedly binary entry. Attempting to merge and update the more overt horror of the original Alien while also continuing David’s (Michael Fassbender) journey from Prometheus was no small feat. And it’s in this split fan-service that Scott lost focus, forcefully linking two entirely separate films until neither party’s expectations are either meet or sustained. Covenant’s first hour is its best, with the sheer ferocity and aggressiveness of the neomorphs/xenomorphs on Planet 4 as a true highlight. Yet, as interesting a character as David (Michael Fassbender) is, the filmcan’t find substantial purpose in his sinister actions that wasn’t already explored in Prometheus. Alien: Covenant is certainly the angriest of any franchise entries for its merciless creature violence alone, but it’s also easy to feel Scott’s own anger at his limitations radiating off of it – he’d clearly prefer to continue on with his pseudo-religious, philosophical musings on creation and hubris, and instead he buckled under the pressure of audience and studio demands for a return to more traditional form.
Stream Alien: Covenant:
After over 30 years, Ridley Scott returned to his creation with an unprecedented take. Borrowing the DNA of Aliens as a template for a film on the hubris and insignificance of mankind, Prometheus shares more in common with Alien 3’s dour philosophizing than the series’ original formula. There’s so much of Prometheus that doesn’t work. Aside from the excellent David (played with grace and precision by Michael Fassbender), many of its characters are shockingly inept at surviving, it’s both overlong and fairly meandering, and it poses far more questions than it answers. But despite these trappings, Prometheus is nihilistic bliss. Scott stretches his ego to fascinating heights, taking grandiose jabs at the irrelevance of humanity’s origin, the necessity for death, and the horror of even bothering to exist at all. Prometheus nearly fails in its entirety as an entertaining film, but as a sermon from one of science fiction’s most inspired and weathered veterans, it’s a undeserved blessing.
3. ALIEN 3 (EXTENDED EDITION)
Director: David Fincher
Writers: David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Cinematographer: Alex Tomson
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen, Charles S. Dutton
Much has been reported about David Fincher’s studio struggles while trying to bring Alien 3 to fruition, and though the director himself has outright disowned his debut feature, it still remains a fascinating departure from expectations. Fincher’s film works far better as a template for Prometheus’ more cosmic musings than as a follow-up to Aliens. Set within the desolate, industrial underbelly of Fiorina 161, Alien 3 features arguably the most effective cast of the franchise, with Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton, and Sigourney Weaver all confidently conveying the overwhelming, apocalyptic dread of what remained of Fincher’s vision. Though the atmosphere is perfected, the CG xenomorphs haven’t aged particularly well, especially with the added scenes in the extended cut. And while the extended cut is frankly the only proper way to view Alien 3, it does admittedly make the film exhaustingly long. Neither concise, pandering, or truly complete, Alien 3 is still phenomenally intriguing for its distinct tonal shifts, gloomy production work, and visionary direction.
Stream Alien 3:
2. ALIENS (EXTENDED EDITION)
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cinematographer: Adrian Biddle
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Carrie Henn, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
Following up the success of the original Alien is nigh impossible, but James Cameron succeeded in ushering in a fresh take on Scott’s masterpiece. Stretching his inflated budget well, Cameron turned Aliens into a blockbuster spectacle: the xenomorph population was multiplied indefinitely, the stakes were higher, the businessmen were sleazier, the human characters louder and rowdier. Every element of Aliens is intended for maximum entertainment and is largely successful. Yes, the extended version adds even more runtime to an already quite lengthy feature, but Cameron’s cohesive vision and the team’s technical prowess result in a seriously impressive feature. It’s a testament to how successful Cameron is at crafting entertaining set pieces, that even though Aliens lacks the meaningful weight of Alien 3 and Prometheus, it’s a rousing good time.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Dan O’Bannon
Cinematographer: Derek Vanlint
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Tom Skerrit, John Hurt
Some classics can’t be beat. It’s been over 40 years since Ridley Scott’s masterpiece forever influenced science-fiction horror, and it remains a gold standard for the genre. Dan O’Bannon’s script is harrowingly successful, swapping the standard female victims of horror films prior for themes of male impregnation and positioning Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as the sole survivor. Alien’s cast too, is genuinely special. They are no space mercenaries, trained marines, or religious criminals; instead, they’re only maintenance and shipping workers, people wholly unprepared and undeserving of the xenomorph’s cold, unrelenting wrath.
Alien is also the scariest entry of the series, with Scott’s limited budget and effects resulting in a sinisterly shadowed stalker rather than an straightforward Xenomorph assault. The integration of analog technology, in conjunction with the immediately iconic design of the xenomorph itself already positions Alien as one of the finest genre hybrids of its time, but with the accompanying work of its believable cast, fascinating gender implications, and impeccable atmosphere of isolation, Alien rises above genre classification to become one of the greatest films of all time.
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