As terrifying as 1979's "Alien" was, the scale and breathless intensity of "Aliens" -- released 30 years ago this week, on July 18, 1986 -- made the original seem like a chamber drama. Or, as franchise mainstay Sigourney Weaver put it, "It made the first 'Alien' look like a cucumber sandwich."
James Cameron's overstuffed hoagie of an interstellar horror thriller proved that 1984's "The Terminator" wasn't a fluke and made him into an A-list action/sci-fi director. It also made Weaver into the premier action heroine of our time, and it transformed "Alien" from a cult hit into a franchise whose sequels, prequels, and spinoffs continue to this day. Still, there's a lot you may not know about the drama behind the scenes. Here's the dish behind Ripley's finest hour. 1. James Cameron (above) received two job offers on the same day: to write the screenplay for "Rambo: First Blood Part II" and to write and direct "Aliens." Maybe that's why there's some similarity between the movies. Cameron has said he wanted to make "Aliens" feel like a Vietnam War film, with the Marines comprising a battle-weary platoon under attack from a technologically inferior (but relentlessly determined) native force. (For good measure, he had the cast read Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers.") Weaver jokingly referred to the Ripley of "Aliens" as "Rambolina."
2. Weaver almost didn't make it into the movie. Cameron wrote the script around Ripley without knowing that 20th Century Fox didn't have a deal in place with the actress. The studio ordered him to write her out of the picture, but he threatened to walk instead.
Eventually, the studio acknowledged Weaver was essential to the film and agreed to pay her $1 million, her biggest paycheck yet at that point in her career. It was about 30 times what she was paid in 1979 for the initial "Alien," when she was an unknown.
3. The filmmakers didn't want the girl playing Newt to seem too polished and professional, so their casting search led them to untried nine-year-old Carrie Henn (above). Henn has since said she thoroughly enjoyed making the movie, but despite receiving rave reviews, she never acted professionally again and instead became a schoolteacher.
4.Lance Henriksen had to film the knife trick twice. The fear on Bill Paxton's face was real, since he didn't know before the day of shooting that Cameron was going to have Henriksen do the trick on Paxton's hand. Nonetheless, the director didn't think the sped-up footage looked plausible, so he planned a reshoot for the next day. Supposedly, Henriksen came to work hungover, and this time, he accidentally cut Paxton's pinky and drew blood.5. Shooting at England's Pinewood Studios, Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd (left) had a hard time winning the loyalty of the British crew. They hadn't yet seen "The Terminator," so they regarded the director as a relative amateur. And they didn't take Hurd seriously because she was Cameron's wife, and they assumed she was hired only out of nepotism. Also, they routinely took tea breaks in mid-afternoon, leading Cameron to grumble about their work ethic. Eventually, Cameron quashed the mini-rebellion by firing and replacing the cinematographer.
6.Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez (above), didn't really know how to handle a firearm, so when you see close-ups of her shooting her weapon, you're actually looking at Hurd's hands.
7. Weaver, too, was no firearm expert; in fact, she didn't think Ripley should wield a gun at all. But Cameron took her to a firing range, and she soon decided that shooting was fun. "Another liberal bites the dust," Cameron joked on the DVD commentary.
8. The alien queen was an elaborate puppet created in the workshop of legendary monster designer Stan Winston. It was 14 feet tall and required 16 operators, manipulating it with a combination of control rods, hydraulics, radio controls, and a crane.
9. "Aliens" cost just $18.5 million to make, which seems like an absurdly low figure by the standards of today's summer blockbuster sequel filmmaking. (Nowadays, it would cost 10 times that.) It returned $85 million in North America (and a total of $131 million worldwide) to become the seventh highest-grossing film of 1986.
10. The movie was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Actress for Weaver (a rare honor from an Academy that usually ignores performances in sci-fi and fantasy features), Best Score (even though composer James Horner had to rush to complete the music before having seen the whole movie), Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Art Direction. It won for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects.
11. In 2011, Weaver told Moviefone that, while she'd love to make another Ripley movie, she despaired that it would ever happen. Now, however, the 66-year-old actress is attached to a sequel from "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp. The new film (above), if it ever gets off the ground, will ignore the events of 1990s sequels "Alien 3" and "Alien Resurrection" and pick up where "Aliens" left off. To quote Vasquez, "Let's rock!"