IN LOVING MEMORY OF BILL PAXTON
“Facing Terminators, Twisters, SHIELD, Predators and Aliens… you’ll always be our ultimate badass”
It’s amazing to think a franchise like Alien has been able to survive this long. The first two films were so good that we kept watching bad Alien movie after bad Alien movie. Let’s be honest, we all knew nothing would top the first two but we kept holding out for something good to come along. We Alien fans are like domestic abusive victims who never press charges despite the constant abuse we take time and time again. Despite all the heartache and knives to the back, we keep coming back for more no matter what. Both Alien & Aliens rank as two of my favorite films of all time. So I figured ranking this series seemed like a logical move given the recent Blu-Ray release of the franchise’s eighth installment, Alien: Covenant.
Now, Prometheus will also be included on this list as it does technically take place in the same universe and ties directly to Alien: Covenant. I don’t really consider it an Alien film due to the lack of Xenomorphs. However, it does still take place in the world and given all the bad entries in this franchise, it will do me good to acknowledge one that was actually good. With that said, here’s my definitive ranking of the Alien film franchise.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
#9: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Do I even have to explain why this one is at the bottom of the list? Listen, I can forgive the first AVP, despite its many faults. At least it did have some entertainment value to it as well as some cool shots and a nice score. However, with Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, the kiddie gloves are comin’ off. This trainwreck of a “thing” that somehow passes for a film was almost the tombstone in both the Alien and Predator franchises. This is a film that, I swear to god, pretty much prides itself on doing everything (and I mean everything) wrong. The setup is generic and god awful. An Alien/Predator hybrid runs lose in a suburban town… I’ve already lost you haven’t I?
Then a Predator comes to eradicate any evidence of the Predators and Aliens existing in said town because the giant Predator ship that came through the atmosphere, crash-landing on earth, went completely unnoticed for some reason. Pretty soon, the hybrid starts making his own alien children… I guess that’s a thing now. And, in the end, its up to a bunch of I Know What You Did Last Summer rejects to save the day as the Aliens and Predator do battle and the government drops a nuke on an innocent town because, why not? So with the positively retarded premise out of the way, let’s move onto the acting. What acting? Every actor in this film is god-awful. Even Rescue Me’s Steven Pasquale, who I know can act, was stuck in this mess delivering a terrible performance.
However, the terrible performances were probably due to the garbage script. When actors are forced to say lines like “I taught this slut everything she knows”, “The government doesn’t lie to people” and “What is this, The Titanic? Screw the women and children! Every man for himself,” how well can you seriously portray that with any sincerity whatsoever. But, that’s not even the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the directors, The Brothers Strause. Now, these two are visual effects masters and have proven that time and time again. A simple IMDB search will reveal that these two have serious credit in that area. However, these two can’t direct worth a damn. They couldn’t get good performances out of their actors, nor could they frame a decent shot.
I’ll give Paul W.S. Anderson credit, he at least made his AVP film look adequate. The action in this film is shot almost entirely in the dark. Therefore, when the Aliens are fighting the Predator, you can barely make out a thing going on. The whole film is like that. It was a terribly lit mess from start to finish. Another thing is that these brothers seem to have mistaken being suspenseful and horrifying with being disgusting and mean-spirited. Killing a kid, in the beginning, was a cheap shot on its own but having a pregnant women give birth to several new aliens was just despicable. As it stands, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is the worst film in this franchise by a clear mile and it needs a kick in the balls.
#8: Alien 3
You could argue that Alien: Resurrection and Alien vs. Predator are worse than this and, from a technical standpoint, you’re probably right. But, I’m sorry, I despise this film to no end. It makes me wish Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem never existed just so I could put this one as the worst. Granted, I wish that movie didn’t exist in principle but let’s not get into semantics. I remember seeing Aliens when I was six years old. Yes, that happened. I have loved that movie ever since. Then years later, my father told me there was an Alien 3. I pleaded and pleaded with him to let me watch it. I wanted to know what happened to these characters. Where could they go with the story after that? What route would they take?
Well, be careful what you wish for would be the lesson learned in this scenario. Ripley is the lone survivor yet again, with Newt, Hicks, and Bishop being killed off in the very beginning. How dare you?! Fans were dying to know what happened to these characters. Instead, they just killed off the fan favorites from the last film in the very beginning. No rhyme or reason for them doing it, they just did it. I guess this was an attempt to bring back the feel of the first Alien but none of it works. So from the very beginning, this movie angered me. I popped it in as a kid in the best of moods. I was dying to see what would happen next and from the very first frame, this movie just pissed me off. It didn’t get any better.
On this prison planet, we meet a bunch of throwaways, stock, generic, idiot prisoner characters who all look the same, making it very hard to form a connection with any of them. The only one who has any personality outside of “Crazy Lunatic” is Clemens (Charles Dance) and he dies very early in the movie soooo… why did you even bother with this location? None of these characters are likable and I don’t care if they die. That’s not a good thing. However, Ripley’s not out of the woods yet as an alien begins wreaking havoc upon the prisoners. Oh, and she has an alien queen inside of her. Okay, let’s just analyze all of this.
How in the hell did an alien egg get aboard the Sulaco? The only reasonable explanation would be that The Queen laid it there at the end of Aliens but even that doesn’t make sense. The sac allowing The Queen to lay the eggs was destroyed. Also, The Queen was hiding in the landing gear of the drop ship, not in the locker room of the Sulaco. No matter how you spin it, from the very beginning, this film makes zero sense. Oh and if there was one face-hugger that impregnated a dog (an Ox in the Assembly Cut), where did the one that impregnated Ripley come from? I don’t know, nor do I even care. Why? Because the writers clearly didn’t.
Alien 3 was directed by David Fincher, an enormously talented director who went on to make The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Seven, and Gone Girl. He is an amazing talent and even he hates this film. Fincher doesn’t even consider Alien 3 to be his movie. He even goes out of his way to make sure Alien 3 is not brought up in interviews. He hated making the film so much that he once said: “No one hates Alien 3 more than I do.” When the director of the movie hates his own work, you can probably interpret that as a bad sign. Overall, Alien 3 is horribly lit, terribly shot and horrendously acted by people who drop the F-Bomb in every other sentence. It is a spit in the face to the fans and marked the start of a dark period for this once promising franchise.
#7: Alien: Resurrection
When Alien: Resurrection was first released, I actually enjoyed it. For the record, I was ten. Maybe it was because of the massive beating that Alien 3 put on my heart. That might have been a contributing factor. Watching Alien: Resurrection again as an adult, that’s the most logical explanation I can come up with. Now, Alien: Resurrection may be a worse film than Alien 3 but I find it to be more entertaining. At least this was an over the top kind of awful that I could laugh at. Alien 3 hurt me in the worst possible ways as a fan. All Alien: Resurrection did was give me a punch to the gut and run away. It didn’t feel good, but I can take it.
Ripley died at the end of Alien 3, taking the last remaining xenomorph (we think) with her. 200 years later, a military operation clones her to get the alien. Why did they wait 200 years to do that? How did they manage to get a decent sample of Ripley’s blood after 200 years? Why do they STILL want this thing knowing exactly what it’s capable of? How can you clone an alien when its blood is literally concentrated acid? Why would they even bother keeping Ripley’s clone alive after they already have the alien, knowing full well that she’ll more than likely try to stop them? Well, they don’t care to explain it so why question it, right? Anyway, the cloning has side effects giving the Ripley clone some of the alien’s DNA. Ripley now has acid for blood, can play basketball really well and… my god, I don’t care.
Of course, all the alien clones get lose, wreak havoc upon the crew and a group of space pirates and… one of them is Winona Ryder and… does anyone really care? The sin of Alien: Resurrection wasn’t that it was a generic, watered down version of Aliens. The sin of Alien: Resurrection was that it was a very stupid generic, watered down version of Aliens. And when I say stupid, I mean stupid. There’s a character in this movie that can ricochet bullets perfectly at any angle to hit a target. Yet, miraculously, he can’t hit an alien when it’s literally 3 feet in front of him. There’s that scene where the villain (or I think he was the villain, it’s not really explained very well) threatened to blow an android’s head off. Uh… Go ahead, she’s a-frickin’ robot, you idiot!
There’s a human/alien hybrid that was so dumb looking, it made me wonder what was going through the minds of the people who designed it. Ripley (or her clone anyway), for no reason whatsoever, has this uncomfortable sexual chemistry with Winona Ryder. Yeah, not gonna lie, it sounds hot but it comes out of nowhere and just feels awkward. As Ripley’s clone, it should still feel like Ripley and yet it feels nothing like her at all. It feels like a new overly sexualized character that Joss Whedon pulled out of his side-bin of wasted time. The ideas presented in Alien: Resurrection doesn’t amount to anything in the end. The characters are completely forgettable and even Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s direction is lifeless and at complete odds with Whedon’s script. It’s more entertaining than the last film but entirely forgettable.
Sigourney Weaver asks a very good question in this film; “Who do I have to f**k to get off this boat?”
The real question is “Who do I have to f**k to get another decent film in this series?”
#6: Alien vs. Predator
Let me make this clear; Alien vs. Predator is a bad movie. However, for me, that’s all it is. It doesn’t fill me with as much rage as it used to. Maybe it’s that the sequel to this was so horrendous that this film just seemed better by comparison but I digress. Paul W.S. Anderson directed this spin-off of the Alien & Predator franchises, wanting to do it because he was a devout fan. Honestly, for as much as I rip into this director (you can read what I had to say about his Resident Evil franchise here), it was rather obvious re-watching this film that he poured his heart and soul into it. He’s clearly a fan of both franchises and he clearly gave it his all. It’s not a good movie but it’s important for me to recognize effort when I see it.
Paul W.S. Anderson not only went back to basics with guys in suits and animatronics, he also casted the film the same way Ridley Scott and James Cameron had casted their Alien films. He casted a group of wonderful actors but not actors that were too well known, Lance Hendrickson’s return to the franchise being the one notable exception. However, the thing that Anderson doesn’t emulate well from that choice is that those films gave us time to care about their characters. I loved Captain Dallas and his crew. I loved the Colonial Marines in Aliens. The only character we’re really given any time to care about is Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan). Not that the other actors are bad but the lack of depth to their characters doesn’t help them any.
Almost every time we get a moment where a character could rise above stock and generic, they’re killed off and we’re left not really caring. So, yeah, you have good actors but we don’t really care about their characters and it’s a massive letdown. The location of Antarctica is interesting for an Alien movie. I get the sense that Anderson was trying to create the enclosed, claustrophobic feel of the first film. To his credit, a pyramid is hidden under Antarctica that constantly shifts around is pretty awesome and it does lend the film some nice atmosphere. However, while good for an Alien movie, it makes no sense for a Predator movie. Predators have always shown up in areas of immense heat because they can only see in infrared. Why would they build a pyramid in the coldest place on earth?
Speaking of infrared, that leads to another plot-hole for fans of the second movie. In Aliens, it’s clearly established that the xenomorphs appear on motion scanners but NOT infrared. This is why the marines in that film weren’t able to see them in the walls. I will give him this though when the aliens and predators are fighting each other, it’s pretty awesome. That shot of the xenomorph tail impaling the predator out of nowhere is beautiful. So I guess that’s something you can take away from this movie. It features some cool fights between the two title monsters but they are sadly too few and far between. Also, when you had the predator teaming up with the Lathan for the “Sleigh Ride Of Friendship”, you lost me.
Alien vs. Predator is not a good movie but it’s certainly not terrible. It has its entertaining moments and I can see why it’s a guilty pleasure to some. However, it doesn’t really matter since both this film and AVP:R have been wiped from canon by Prometheus. I apologize to any fans of this movie but I for one am grateful.
#5: Alien: Covenant
Yeah, while I had really high hopes for this one, Alien: Covenant still left quite a bit to be desired. It suffered from a couple of the problems Prometheus had only worse. Furthermore, it also revealed some new revelations about the xenomorphs that were just bizarre. Let’s just start with the positives. The actors were actually quite great. Even Danny McBride, who was normally known for his obnoxious comedy antics, gave a very grounded and realistic performance for his character. It was actually quite impressive to see him do a role like this so well. Michael Fassbender, who played dual roles this time around, was the highlight of the film, although I don’t think there was any ever doubt of that.
The visuals were outstanding. If Alien: Covenant doesn’t get at least a nomination for best cinematography at next years Oscars, there is something very wrong. Lastly, Ridley Scott’s direction was top notch. Much like he did with Alien, this man took every opportunity to build tension and horror every chance he got. However, the good stuff stops there, unfortunately. First and foremost, the way they revealed the fate of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) was beyond pitiful. I loved this character and knowing that she went out in such a lazy manner was so disappointing. The characters in this movie are just dumb. I mean, if you thought the characters in Prometheus were stupid, you will be pining for them after this movie.
One character, in particular, was so dumb, she wouldn’t let a woman out of a room who she knew full well wasn’t infected. Then she proceeded to shoot things in an area where she knew gas was located. C’mon, really? No one, I don’t care how much danger they’re in, is this stupid. Katherine Waterston gave a good performance in the lead role of Daniels but her character might as well have been named Ripley-Light. Ridley Scott and the writers were so preoccupied trying to make this character so much like Ripley that they forgot to give Daniels an identity of her own. She has her husband die in the beginning (a character we never get to meet) and she’s sad for like ten whole minutes. Why do I care? Give me one reason?
Oh, and why do they go to this planet instead of the one they were heading to? Because they were too lazy to get back into cryo-sleep. I’m not even making a joke, that is literally what happens. It is such a dumb and lazy excuse, it’s hard to believe that John Logan helped write it. But the worst thing about the movie is the reveal of the xenomorphs creation. David, the android from Prometheus, killed the engineers and began experimenting with creating life. He used Dr. Shaw as the first host to create his little monstrosities. So, basically what the film is saying is that the Aliens in a series called Alien… aren’t really Aliens???? REALLY??? I’m sorry, I cannot be the only one who saw the flaw there.
However, despite all of its problems, Alien: Covenant manages to be entertaining enough to earn its number 5 spot. Believe me, I respect Ridley Scott wholeheartedly for trying new things with this otherwise dead as a doornail franchise. The writing isn’t that great but it has the ambition that I do admire. The characters are stupid but the acting is pretty damn good. The visuals and the scares are really enough to carry the movie, even if it does resort to slasher movie cliche’s in one or two scenes. The shower scene… I mean, C’mon Ridley Scott, you’re above that.
Yes, I actually really loved Prometheus. Say what you will about it, and I know many will, but after Alien 3, Resurrection and two AVP films, Prometheus represented a welcome change of pace for the series. That change of pace dropped the ball a bit with Alien: Covenant, but I digress. As I said, I don’t really consider it an Alien film per-say but for what it is, it does its job really well. This film takes place years before Alien as the Weyland Corporation sends a team to investigate the potential discovery of alien life. Instead of the film focusing on the xenomorphs from the other films, it instead focuses on The Engineers. Remember the space jockey in the chair from Alien? That was an engineer. What did they engineer? Us, apparently.
Prometheus raises great questions about the beliefs of human existence and focuses on themes of faith vs knowledge and religion vs. science. It is through and through a proper science fiction film that, in terms of its story, does what a science fiction film should do. It immerses its audience into its world and gradually builds on itself with ideas and intrigue rather than explosions and fan service. The acting is great, the themes are provocative and interesting and the visuals are spectacular. Even if I hated this film, I’d watch it just for the visuals. Over the years, I’ve come across many people who do hate this movie and for the most part, it’s for one of two reasons.
The biggest complaint I hear about this film is how dumb some of the characters are. If I’m being perfectly honest, I actually have a similar issue with the film. Some of the characters in this film make incredibly dumb decisions. For example, how does the guy who created the mapping equipment get lost? He’s the navigator and he got himself lost? Was that supposed to be ironic because it’s actually quite dumb? There are a few moments like this throughout the film that really doesn’t add up and it doesn’t help that most of the characters in themselves are pretty forgettable. Aside from Shaw, Weyland, Vickers, and David, the characters in Prometheus are very one-note and bland.
The second complaint I hear about this movie is that it was advertised as an Alien prequel and wasn’t. I certainly understand these frustrations as the same thing annoyed me after my first viewing of the film. However, as I’ve been saying, it’s better to not think of Prometheus as an Alien film. It doesn’t setup the first movie and doesn’t contain any xenomorphs. What gets Prometheus through is not being a film in a franchise but rather its own unique animal. We should actually be grateful that a director like Ridley Scott can still make good sci-fi like this. The story takes center stage. It’s a story-driven movie that kind of puts most of its central characters on the back-burner. It may contain a barrage of bland characters but it’s an original story and a great piece of filmmaking. We should be glad it exists.
#3: Alien: Isolation
While none of the film sequels ever really reach the gravitas of the original two films, this video game managed to do it all too well. My god, why wasn’t THIS made into a movie? Yeah, making the main character into Ripley’s daughter was a bit cheap but it’s still better than predator pyramids, space pirates or aliens invading a suburban town. Those things happened… and we let them happen. Alien: Isolation is a video game that will make your heart beat out of your chest at every corner. It brilliantly brings back the claustrophobic atmosphere of the first film but still maintains a well thought out story that works as canon with the series in its own right.
Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of Alien, with Ellen Ripley still many years from being found in the events of Aliens. It sees Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, looking for closure about the disappearance of her mother. When she’s told that the flight recorder of the Nostromo has been found, she goes to retrieve it to find said closure. However, what she finds instead is a ship with a body count and no communications. With an alien on board, Amanda must fight for survival while also searching for the truth about her missing mother. It does feel a bit coincidental that Ripley’s daughter would fight aliens just like her mother but when the character is this well-developed and cool, it’s really hard to care about these things.
The gameplay is fantastic and feels like a classic Resident Evil game in many respects. It throws many twists and turns and ultimately feels like a true sequel to the original film. Only now, you get to play as the main character and can attack the alien with either a revolver, a shotgun or a flamethrower, depending on how far you’ve progressed in the game. Throwing those pipe bombs helps a bit too. Also, like the original film, the Alien can literally pop up anywhere, keeping the player on their guard constantly. The graphics are beautiful to look at and I can’t commend the design team enough. The Alien alone gives me chills whenever it appears.
But where the game really succeeds is with its main character. Amanda Ripley isn’t her mother but what character in this series is? If anything, she feels exactly like Ellen Ripley from the first film. She’s just a woman trying to survive only Amanda is given a bit more depth as the truth about her mother is her driving force through the whole game story. Yes, I said it, if we’re comparing Amanda Ripley in Alien: Isolation to Ellen Ripley in Alien, Amanda is more developed and more interesting. Send me the hate mail at your leisure. Alien: Isolation not only gave this series back its dignity but gave us another Alien story the fans could be proud of. It remains one of the best survival horror games I’ve ever had the privilege of playing and I highly recommend it.
It’s sad that movies can’t live up to the original two films but a video game can. What happened?
Look, let’s not beat around the bush here, Ridley Scott can do whatever he wants with the Alien franchise. After all, he is the one who started it all. But no matter what entry he makes and no matter how many times he tries to capture the magic of this horror masterpiece, he never will. Alien remains, to date, my favorite horror film of all time. Many claims that it’s technically a science-fiction film, a statement I respectfully disagree with. Aliens is a science-fiction film. Alien is a haunted house in space. It contains sci-fi themes and situations for sure but it focuses mainly on claustrophobic horror to scare its audience.
Alien sees a group of truckers in space, awakened early from their cryogenic stasis to answer a mysterious distress call. They land on a planet only for one of their crew members, Kane played by John Hurt (R.I.P. good sir), to come back on board with some sort of parasite attached to his face. It later comes off and seemingly dies. However, right before they head back into cryo-sleep, an alien bursts its way out of Kane’s chest. Now the creature is loose on the ship, growing rapidly and ready to feed on anything in its path. In space, no one can hear you scream.
What Alien does so effectively is its ability to make you care about the characters involved. Ridley Scott spends about 45 minutes on actual character build up before we even see the Alien. Right off the bat, we know these characters and can identify with them so that when the alien gets loose, we actually care about their survival. Most horror movies these days resort to the same bad cliche’s, ultimately resulting in inferior products that simply aren’t scary. Alien doesn’t resort to cheap thrills, CGI or jump scares and relies solely on the likability of its characters and its intense claustrophobic atmosphere.
The look of the Alien, designed by H.R. Giger, is enough to scare anyone. The fact that it wasn’t some random CGI creation and instead of a man in a suit, only makes the intense moments feel that much more real because the creature is really there on the screen. The actors aren’t reacting to anything. This thing is right in front of their eyes. Ridley Scott masterfully shoots most of the Alien‘s scenes in darkness, making it seem like a real creature instead of someone in a suit. But even in the darkest scenes, the lighting is so perfect that you can still make out everything happening. This thing could be around any corner and you never know when it will pop up next.
The actors involved are all perfectly casted. John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright and Tom Skerritt are all wonderful. This film even launched Sigourney Weaver into superstardom, playing the beloved character Ellen Ripley. It’s funny to note that while Ripley has become the iconic heroine of the Alien franchise, Ripley wasn’t built up as the main character in this film. In fact, none of the characters were. Every one of them got equal screen time, making it harder to deduce who was going to live and who was going to die. That’s expert filmmaking in my book, especially when compared to most of the other films in this franchise.
Yeah, yeah, I’m sure most of you saw this coming but, when you really think about it, how could Aliens not top this list? Aliens represent one of the greatest sci-fi action films of all time, as well as one of the best sequels ever made (if not the best). Not only does it further the story of the first film, it completely switches genres from horror to science fiction and never once does it ever feel out of place. The Aliens themselves are as horrifying as ever and director James Cameron takes the first film and cranks the amazement up to 10 with intense scenes drama, action, and horror.
57 years after Ripley’s incident with the Alien, she is found in cryo-sleep and awaken to an unknown future. Her daughter is dead, he reputation is in the gutter, not a soul believes her about the alien and she’s left with a series of horrifying nightmares that plague her every night. Unfortunately, LV-426, the planet from the first film, has been long since colonized and Ripley’s former employers have lost contact with the colony. Wanting to face her demons, Ripley reluctantly goes on a mission with a group of space marines to the planet, only to discover that it is crawling with Aliens. With little time left, Ripley and the marines must try to escape the planet by any means necessary.
Where to even begin with this movie. James Cameron obviously took a note from Ridley Scott’s playbook, having the first act focus on the characters, leading up to the aliens appearing in the second act. Cameron really focuses a lot on the characters and makes even the ones who don’t last long memorable and likable. It would have been all too easy to make them generic commandoes but thankfully Cameron didn’t go that route. No… we had Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Joss Whedon for that. Bill Paxton is hilarious as Private Hudson (may he rest in peace) and gets some of the more memorable lines in the movie. There’s a nice subplot with Ripley not trusting the android, Bishop (Lance Hendrickson), due to events from the first film. Michael Biehn as Hicks even has some nice moments with Ripley.
However, it’s really the mother/daughter-like relationship between Ripley and Newt (Carrie Henn) that remains the heart of the film. Many people forget that Ripley wasn’t really a badass in the first film. She had the personality of one but physically she was no different than the other crew members. James Cameron gradually makes Ripley more badass as the film goes on as she protects this little girl from peril and learns to be a mother once more. This is a character who has been broken and stripped of everything and she literally has to fight, not just for this little girl, but for the ability to sleep at night. Newt herself is a fascinating character, a nine-year old girl who survived for months in a compound with aliens, without being seen or captured. God, I hate Alien 3 for killing her. Shame!
When the Aliens do show up, it’s in a gloriously creepy and atmospheric setting that puts the marines in absolute peril. The scenes of these aliens coming out of nowhere are beautifully shot and the action is some of the best ever put to film. Cameron never lets up on the tension and it only keeps rising to a climax where Ripley is forced to have a stand-off with the bitch herself; The Alien Queen. Yes, I know that no one could survive crawling out of an airlock but here’s a secret… I DON’T CARE! It looks amazing and I’ll allow it. Also, let us not forget about James Horner’s epic score. Bishop’s Countdown still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. In the end, in many cases, you can’t beat the original. Aliens is one sequel that certainly did.
So how would you rank this series? Please let us know in the comments below and stick around for more articles at TheNerdStash.com.