This is a personal opinion of how I would rank the Alien movies from worst to best. Many of you will undoubtedly disagree, but don’t get upset or write in or anything; it’s only a bit of fun. Besides… in space, no-one can hear you complain.
8. ALIENS V. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007)
The massive success of the original Alien in 1979 spawned dozens of gore-soaked cheapo cash-ins, but the official franchise never really sank to that level of schlock horror… until now. The second film in the ill-advised Alien v. Predator franchise cast aside the slow building of tension that had served some of the previous films so well and replaced it with dismemberment, disembowelment and bucket upon bucket of gore. This looks like Hollywood’s most expensive video nasty and it’s hard to imagine anyone over the age of 15 looking on it as anything other than absolute drek. The bloody scenes in a maternity hospital are in appallingly bad taste and, like so many things in this movie, if they were intended to shock, they do so for all the wrong reasons. Even the movie poster looks like a straight-to-video cash-in.
7. ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)
Don’t let the fact that it’s not as bad as AvP: Requiem convince you that Alien vs. Predator is worth a watch. It’s better, but only marginally so. Dark Horse Comics successfully brought together the two monster franchises on the printed page, but what is successful in comics is not always so on the film screen. The movie ditches Dark Horse’s galaxy-spanning narrative in favour of an extra-terrestrial punch-up in a pyramid at the North Pole, with several 2-dimensional human characters thrown in the mix. This is a film in which the sum of its parts just don’t add up, with a bizarre visual logic that prevents characters from seeing things that are directly in front of them, just because they’re behind the camera. Both creatures have never looked more like men in rubber suits.
6. ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)
A classic example of how a movie can have all the best cast and crew and still be dreadful. Twice Oscar-nominated (not for this film) Jean-Pierre Jeunet directs a script by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon with an eclectic cast of top-notch actors including Dan Hedeya, Brad Dourif, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, and – never saying never again – Sigourney Weaver. Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon allegedly spoke hardly any English and learned all of his lines phonetically. On paper it must have looked like dynamite, but the finished result is very poor. There’s little synchrony between the live action aliens and the CGI ones and the attempt to create a new creature in the form of the human/alien hybrid Newborn just ends up looking a bit silly. Very disappointing and a tremendous misuse of all the substantial talent involved.
5. ALIEN: COVENANT (2012)
There’s a truly massive gulf between the bottom three movies on this list and the top five. Although it’s only one down in the queue, Alien: Covenant is nowhere near as bad as Alien: Resurrection. The second film in Ridley Scott’s revival of the franchise is a direct sequel to Prometheus, but suffers from the same ‘important cast members from the previous film are dead, by the way’ downer that affected Alien³. Perhaps stinging from accusations that Prometheus wasn’t ‘Alien’ enough, it’s clear from the production design and the music that with Alien: Covenant, Scott was attempting to recapture some of the magic of the first film. It has a strong beginning and a very strong ending, but becomes a bit too slow and introspective in the middle preventing it from achieving the steady build of tension that marks out the early films. Fortunately, strong performances from Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup and two versions of Michael Fassbender buoy up the weaker moments.
4. ALIEN³ (1992)
A deeply troubled production and general bad-will from fans who yearned for another Aliens-style military style shoot-em-up have led to David Fincher’s Alien³ never quite getting the love it deserves. It may be bleak and depressing, but it’s a very handsome film and although the script was chopped and changed dozens of times, it still manages to stay coherent. A 95% British cast of exceptional character actors help to sell a script that is much heavier on visuals than characterisation and in terms of emotive acting, it’s probably Sigourney Weaver’s strongest performance of all of her Alien films. Though I’d have loved to see Vincent Ward’s ‘Monks on a Wooden Spaceship’ version, this is the next best solution and it could possibly have been a classic without so much studio interference. There’s an extended version including cut material available on DVD, which restores Paul McGann’s significant role, explains why the Alien had hooves and generally makes a lot more sense.
3. PROMETHEUS (2007)
The Alien movie without any aliens – or at least, not the aliens you were looking for. I have more tolerance for Prometheus than most, because I’m pretty sure I can see in it what Ridley Scott was trying to do. The idea that the Xenomorphs were not only the ultimate weapon in a biological war of attrition that saw its creators develop numerous weapons of mass destruction (including the ultimate killing machine – man) but also the ultimate cause of their annihilation was pretty slick. Not giving a starring role to the creatures themselves was probably a big mistake and contributed towards the film’s lukewarm reception, but a strong multinational cast including Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender help to uphold the traditions of the series. The scene where Rapace tries to abort the alien (no, not that alien) foetus is a classic of the franchise, but unfortunately such scenes are a little too thinly spread across quite a long film.
2. ALIENS (1986)
A lot of people would put Aliens to of this list – and it’s a pretty close call – but as slick, breath-taking, action-packed and well-written as it is, the film is occasionally hamstrung by its mid-80s special effects. Unlike Ridley Scott, James Cameron likes to show off his effects and at the time they still weren’t quite worthy of such showboating. The back-projected drop-ship crash always makes me wince and the first chest-burster in the film still looks uncomfortably like a rod puppet. Still, these slip-ups are few and far between and the film easily stands even outside the sci-fi canon as the best action film of the 80s. And there’s no mistaking it’s an 80s film! For all its predecessor was filmed at the tail-end of the decade, Alien is very much a film with 70s cinematic sensibilities, whereas Aliens revels in the in-your-face brashness of the 80s. It also gave Sigourney Weaver the chance to show that she could genuinely act even in a big budget sci-fi movie.
1. ALIEN (1979)
Looking back over four decades, it’s hard to believe that the Alien we know and love was almost a Roger Corman-produced quickie called Star Beast. Fortunately, Corman advised Dan O’Bannon that his script deserved the kind of bigger budget that only a major studio could offer… and the rest is history. Ridley Scott wasn’t the obvious choice as director, being mainly known at that time for directing Hovis TV ads and the historical oddity The Duellists; but it was a match made in heaven and the ambitious young director from South Shields turned what could have been Galaxy of Terror into a work of art. Alien is the near-perfect film of its type, using clever camera angles and lively editing to obscure the limitations of its 1979 production values and using a thoroughly unlikely cast to turn a mismatched collection of space truckers into real, believable people. It’s almost flawless and for that reason, it will always be the top of this list.