Before I start, I haven’t included Prometheus on the following list because, although it does feature the birth of the xenomorph (albeit in a roundabout way), it feels more akin to a distant cousin to the series than an actual entrant. That’s just my personal opinion, if you disagree then feel free to sound off in the comments below.
Also, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead. So if you haven’t seen any of the following films (seriously?!), then you should probably stop reading now …
… Have they gone? Excellent! Let’s get started. Here is my attempt at rearranging the Alien saga from worst to first, starting with …
#4: Alien Resurrection
A mistake. If the series came to an end during the climax of Alien 3, it would have been an excellent trilogy with a fitting end. Alien Resurrection feels like a completely unnecessary chapter that doesn’t sit well in the overall Alien parable.
The “resurrection” of the title refers to Ripley, who is recreated in a lab hundreds of years after her incredibly selfless act during Alien 3. The reasons behind such a complicated experiment aren’t immediately apparent, something to do with recreating the alien queen that was gestating inside Ripley at the time of her death, which is obviously a terrible idea. Clearly humans haven’t learned anything since Ripley’s sacrifice.
There are some well-known actors accompanying Sigourney Weaver this time around, surprising considering the woeful story. Ron Perlman shows up with less than his usual screen presence, and Winona Ryder, though undoubtedly talented, struggles to share the screen with a heavyweight like Weaver. The only character that comes close to sparking interest is Michael Wincott’s Frank Elgyn, but he is killed off way too early for him to have any impact on the film.
The weakest film in the series, Alien Resurrection appears to exist only as a cash-in on the lucrative franchise.
HIGHLIGHT: Ripley discovers the failed attempts at resurrecting her.
#3: Alien 3
Alien 3 came out in 1992 to a mixed reception. Most reviews were heavily critical, claiming that it didn’t come close to the standards of Alien or Aliens. Admittedly it does seem a lesser film when viewed alongside the previous two, but that doesn’t mean that it’s terrible. After all, the bar was set ridiculously high, so Alien 3 was always going to suffer in that regard.
David Fincher was an unknown director when he took the helm for the Alien franchise. Revisiting this film after watching his more critically acclaimed works, namely Fight Club and Seven, there’s a very real sense of a promising director honing his craft.
There was seemingly nowhere Fincher could steer the franchise. Ridley Scott had started the series with an intimate, artfully created horror, and James Cameron used his turn in the director’s chair to forge an action epic. Fincher instead opted to strip the series back to its horror roots. A wise move, although stripping back so much apparently meant the off-screen deaths of three of the most important characters from Aliens, an obvious misfire that hampered the film early on.
Alien 3 does struggle a little as a horror, mostly because after seeing so many xenomorphs being disposed of in the previous entrant it’s hard to be scared by one solitary alien. The vaguely interesting characters are vastly improved by the talents of the cast. Pete Postelthwaite, Charles Dance, Brian Glover and Charles S. Dutton pad out an impressive, predominantly male cast.
If nothing else, Alien 3 should be experienced for the bold handling of Ripley’s character. Religious overtones abound in David Fincher’s debut feature, so it’s only fitting that Ripley becomes an almost messianic figure by the film’s entertaining, if unsurprising climax.
HIGHLIGHT: Ripley’s sacrifice
For many people Aliens is the best in the series and it’s easy to see why. The difference in scale between this and Alien is staggering. Here, James Cameron has opted to go for the “more is more” approach. More action, more testosterone, more characters, more spectacular set pieces, and it all equates to an incredible sci-fi epic.
The often cheesy, gung-ho military characters have become cult heroes, largely due to their infinitely quotable dialogue. The use of underrated actors such as Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton helped to wring every last drop of personality out of characters that could have easily descended into stereotype territory.
In a film full to the brim of gun-toting, trigger happy hard cases, Ripley is still the most macho person on-screen. It’s yet another interesting arc for such an intriguing character. The ultimate survivalist, Ripley’s continuous transformation from film to film easily makes her one of the best protagonists of all time.
With Alien being such a revered horror classic, it appeared that James Cameron, in all his astuteness, conceded defeat. He knew that he couldn’t craft a better sci-fi horror, so instead he opted to steer the Alien juggernaut in a completely different direction. It doesn’t reach the same levels of tension as the original, but Aliens was much more focused on all-out action and spectacle, which worked superbly.
HIGHLIGHT: “Stay away from her you bitch!”
The one that started it all. One of the most suspenseful movies ever made. Ridley Scott used every trick in the book to create a nerve-shredding horror masterclass. Alien is not just a film, it’s an experience.
Interesting, believable and, more importantly, relatable characters are thrust into a truly terrifying scenario. Trapped on the Nostromo with a truly frightening hostile alien, the crew are picked off one by one. With literally nowhere to hide, it falls on Ellen Ripley to stop the seemingly unstoppable creature.
The Nostromo is almost a character in itself. Crammed with narrow corridors, cramped rooms and impossibly intricate vents all smothered by darkness, it really is stiflingly claustrophobic. Although the Nostromo appears small on-screen, there are plenty of dark nooks and crannies that the xenomorph could hide in, and invariably does.
The story is simple, but the best stories often are. Ridley Scott has merely fleshed out a small group of fine characters and placed them in the path of a genuinely horrifying monster. What makes Alien so special is not just the simplicity of the plot, it’s the cohesion of everything. Everything from the lighting to the music all add to the experience. It’s a simple idea explored to its absolute fullest.
Bad acting can often cripple a movie’s effectiveness. Fortunately, Alien showcases some superb turns. Sigourney Weaver is obviously the standout as Ripley, but she’s assisted by excellent performances from everyone, most notably Ian Holm’s mysterious Ash and John Hurt’s Kane. Kane leaves a stronger lasting impression because of the deeply unsettling “chest-bursting” scene, a scene made more memorable by the brilliance of Hurt.
Alien is more than just a haunted house in space, it’s the pinnacle of Sci-Fi Horror that is yet to be bettered over thirty years later. A masterpiece.
HIGHLIGHT: The uninvited guest.
So there you have my take on the Alien quadrilogy. Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to let me know in the comments below.