Since Ripley and those pesky xenomorphs burst onto the scene in 1979 like the baby alien from Kane’s chest, the Alien franchise has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning sequels, prequels, and plenty of poor knockoffs. (We even celebrated “Alien Day” on April 26th.) With IFC airing Alien 3 this month, we decided to rank every Alien film from terrible to terrifying. Where does your favorite fall on our list? Read on to find out.
7. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
The word “requiem” brings to mind death, and this unnecessary gore fest sequel to the already pretty terrible Alien vs. Predator is proof the series should be put out of its misery lest it kill all our warm, fuzzy feelings for the Alien and Predator franchises. AvP: Requiem attempts to have slightly more exposition and plot than its predecessor, but the film gets bored with it quickly, resorting to buckets of blood and cheap scares all shot in very poor lighting that is meant to look moody but winds up making you strain your eyes instead in order to see any of the “action.” The humans all do their best with shoddy dialogue and stereotypical, one-dimensional roles. There’s a perverse pleasure to watching this train wreck unfold, but AvP: Requiem is a film that is far more shock than anything resembling awe.
6. AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Overstuffed with hollow CGI, the one thing Alien vs. Predator has going for it is it delivers exactly what’s promised in the title. If you’re looking for any semblance of a real plot, look elsewhere, because this movie isn’t for you. Oh sure, fan favorite Lance Henriksen shows up as billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland – the man on whom his android character’s appearance in previous films was based – and assembles a team to investigate a mysterious, shape-shifting pyramid buried under the ice in Antarctica, but the humans are mainly here to be playthings and add to the body count in this extraterrestrial showdown. Like Godzilla vs. King Kong, the popcorn-worthy enjoyment of Alien vs. Predator comes from seeing two big baddies going at it with cloaks, daggers, and facehuggers, even if the whole thing is pretty silly. Best to forget the two excellent series this film pulls its main monsters from and just settle in for the schlocky carnage.
5. Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Not even a script from beloved sci-fi scribe Joss Whedon could save this semi-fun clunker set 200-some odd years after the events of Alien 3. This time around, poor Ripley has been cloned using DNA from blood samples taken before her death and impregnated with an alien embryo. As a result, she has super-strength, acidic blood, and a sixth sense to feel the xenomorphs. But despite the added welcome presence of Winona Ryder as an oddly empathetic synthetic and tough guy Ron Perlman, the film is mainly recycled scenarios from previous installments and an excessive amount of gore. Sigourney Weaver, for her part, commits fully to a sequel unworthy of her talents. This one should have just stayed dead; no resurrection required.
4. Alien 3 (1992)
Director David Fincher’s feature film career got off to an inauspicious start with this jumbled if intriguing third installment in the series that features a bald Ripley butting heads with both a renegade xenomorph and the ex-inmates of a penal colony when her escape pod crashes on Fiorina “Fury” 161. The film unsuccessfully tries to be too many things at once: a meditation on faith, an indictment of corporate greed and ego, an exploration of PTSD, and an old-fashioned horror movie.
Unfortunately, these loose threads of interesting, complex ideas are never given the chance to fully develop; too much studio meddling throughout production led to a patchwork script that is promising but messy. Like many of Fincher’s later films, Alien 3 has a pervasive atmospheric bleakness in every frame that actually works quite well for its rather fatalistic plot, creating a rather beautiful visual style that stands apart from the other films in the series. Weaver is still the main attraction, and she delivers…quite literally. There’s only room for one Queen in this series, and Ripley makes damn sure she’s it. RIP to them both.
3. Prometheus (2012)
Critics and fans were split on Ridley Scott’s 2012 return to the franchise due to its ambitious, philosophically-heavy plot from screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts that raised more questions than answers. However, Prometheus is perhaps Scott’s most visually stylish film of late with tastefully-employed CGI intermixed with practical effects to achieve an equal sense of wonder and isolation, not to mention a bloody scene featuring Noomi Rapace that rivals Alien for its shock and gore factor.
Though not, in Scott’s words, a “direct prequel” to Alien, the film has plenty of visual, narrative, and musical nods to the original peppered throughout while still successfully existing as its own unique story within the larger Alien universe. While it lacks some of the nuance of Alien, Prometheus manages to capture much of the same atmospheric, chilly tone. One thing critics and fans could unanimously agree on: Michael Fassbender’s standout performance as creepy, conniving, Peter O’Toole-obsessed android, David, who will return in the 2017 follow-up, Alien: Covenant. Big things have small beginnings, indeed.
2. Alien (1979)
Pitched to studio execs as “Jaws in space,” Scott’s first cinematic voyage into the place no one can hear you scream is a modern masterpiece of slow-building suspense and downright terror. Much like in Jaws, Scott’s sparing use of the actual alien until late into the film ramps up the tension, putting the Nostromo crew and the audience alike on edge as does Jerry Goldsmith’s atmospheric, haunting score.
Every element –- from H.R. Giger’s iconic creature design to Michael Seymour’s production design of the sets –- gives the film a chilly, claustrophobic yet elegant feeling unmatched by a sci-fi film since. While Sigourney Weaver’s tough-as-nails Ripley would go on to become the breakout heroine of the series, Alien is truly an ensemble piece with each character getting plenty of screen –- and scream –- time. From its still-shocking “chestburster” scene to Ripley’s frantic race against the ship’s self-destruct sequence, this one set the stage for future sci-fi films in bold, exciting ways.
1. Aliens (1986)
James Cameron’s follow-up to the original is heavier on the action than the suspense but equally as thrilling and scary, turning Ripley’s survivor of the first film into an all-out badass warrior much like he did with Sarah Connor in the Terminator series. Weaver earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her strong, layered performance as the embattled but relentless Ripley, and Cameron’s screenplay and direction gives her a level of respect and bravura usually reserved for male action heroes.
Cameron takes the seeds of Ridley Scott’s original ideas and makes them bloom into a fully realized world of militarized forces, sinister corporate agendas, and true dystopian nightmares. The standout supporting cast featuring Cameron favorites Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn as well as Paul Reiser, Carrie Henn’s orphan Newt, and Lance Henriksen’s iconic android Bishop hold their own and add to the emotional heft of the film. The heart-racing action sequences balance out the slow-build to the mother of all climactic battles at the end. A technical marvel in its time that still looks impressive today, James Cameron’s sequel dares to actually have a heart in the midst of its chilly futuristic setting. For the rest of the films in the series, it’s game over, man! Aliens blows them all out of the airlock.