There are very few motion picture franchises with a reputation as lofty as Alien, which is pretty funny if you think about it. Alien and Aliens were both groundbreaking motion pictures that set new standards in the sci-fi and horror genres. The other six movies… not so much. There’s still quite a bit of debate whether any of the other movies are good at all, and even their defenders often have to admit that the Alien sequels and spin-offs have serious problems.
But the legacy of Alien is seemingly secure. Ridley Scott’s original thriller, produced in 1979, introduced audiences to realistic characters in an unrealistic situation, and introduced the world to a new form of alien life that defied all categorization. The image of the alien “xenomorph”, in all of its various forms, was so distinctive and shocking that it became instantly iconic. Even though it’s still a scary creature it’s hard to wrap your mind around just how bizarre it must have been to see these monsters for the very first time.
Seven years later, James Cameron took over the series for a motion picture that upped the ante, gave the series’ protagonist Ellen Ripley a storyline so textured that it earned Sigourney Weaver an Oscar nomination (a rarity in the sci-fi/horror genre) and transformed the whole series into an exciting new allegory for both motherhood and warfare. Aliens is widely considered one of the best sequels ever made and, like its predecessor, also one of the best MOVIES ever made.
If only the same could be said for all the other Alien movies. Brilliant filmmakers like David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and, recently, Ridley Scott all over again have struggled to capitalize on the immense good will that the Alien franchise has engendered amongst casual and hardcore fans. Whether you prefer Alien or Aliens, we can probably all agree that they’re the two best films in the series. But what about the other six movies, the mixed bags, the noble failures and occasionally the total crap? How good are they really, and how do they hold up against one another?
With Alien Covenant hitting theaters this weekend (we’ve already seen it), we figured it was a good time to take a look at the whole damned series and take stock of what worked, what didn’t, and whether the franchise still warrants its vaunted reputation. (We are, for the sake of clarity, including both Alien vs. Predator movies, but not the Predator solo movies; only films with a living, breathing xenomorph need apply.)
The Eight ‘Alien’ Movies: Ranked from Worst to Best