In space, no one can hear you scream -- unless, of course, you're watching one of the “Alien” movies in space. This week marks the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s original “Alien,” a film that elevated a B-movie funhouse into something artistic and profound (and inadvertently launched one of cinema’s longest-running and most beloved franchises). To celebrate, here's a ranking of every chest-bursting, face-hugging film in the series.
8. 'Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem' (2007)
This is a clear cut case of fans thinking “well it couldn't get any worse” and then it geting worse. A sequel to the abysmal 2004 mash-up “Alien vs. Predator” (more on that in a minute), “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” featured a greatly diminished budget, a bigger emphasis on blood and gore, and direction from a couple of knucklehead former-visual effects guys (The Brothers Strause). While the idea of warring alien species invading a small town could have been cool and unsettling, it ends up being unsettling for all the wrong reasons. It's ugly, abrasive, poorly shot, and sluggishly plotted. (Although, if you want rubber monsters fighting like 6-foot-tall bobble-head dolls, you've come to the right place.) Maybe most egregiously is the way that these two films treat the alien creature, not as a cunningly lethal killing machine but as a doltish prop. The alien/predator hybrid creature, like the rest of the movie, is the stuff of bad fan fiction.
7. 'Alien vs. Predator' (2004)
Director Paul W.S. Anderson is a hack, for sure, but he's often able to conjure enjoyable trash that's fun but ultimately forgettable. In the case of “Alien vs. Predator” you just wish you could forget it. A mind-bogglingly inane remix of both “Alien” and “Predator” franchises that exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes both so special, the movie is a PG-13 monster mash that is set largely in a snow-clogged Egyptian temple. (I wish I was making this up.) This is one of the many WTF decisions Anderson and his confederates made, especially since the movie's primary focus is on the Predator creature, a species that are only hospitable to warm climates. Anyway the emphasis on the Predator means that the alien creatures, arguably the most influential and iconic creature design of the past few decades, are relegated to a second-fiddle baddie role, mindlessly killing for no apparent reason. How the mighty have fallen (into a giant frozen pyramid).
6. 'Alien: Resurrection' (1997)
We'd all heard the rumors: visionary writer Buffy the Vampire Slayer," had delivered a screenplay that Fox brass had declared the greatest of the entire franchise. And what's more, they had hired the equally visionary French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("City of Lost Children") to direct, continuing the franchise's tradition of hiring young talent to take on the sequels. And then we all saw the movie. An intriguing concept (a band of mercenaries onboard a military starship during an alien outbreak are forced to team-up with a genetically mutated clone of Ripley) goes nowhere fast, largely due to Jeunet's clumsy handling of the material that goes from extreme gore to attempts at dark humor (and back again) without much finesse. And once again the Fox marketing department promised we'd finally get to earth but, alas, that was another one of the many unfulfilled "Alien Resurrection" promises.
5. 'Prometheus' (2012)
Ridley Scott returned to the franchise he created more than thirty years later and made something wholly bizarre and unexpected. In a film that acted, ostensibly, as a prequel to the first film, it took some crazy narrative detours and ended up playing more like "Tree of Life" with giant rubber monsters. "Prometheus" screenwriter Damon Lindelof, working from an earlier draft, decided to make the connections to the original film looser and the entire narrative more elliptical. The result was a movie that seemed to alienate (pun intended) as many viewers as it attracted. Those looking for an honest-to-god "Alien" movie would probably have been disappointed but those willing to give into its weirdness, from its WTF opening to its operatic climax (rolling spaceship, giant squid-beast and all), were greatly rewarded. Especially if they wanted to see a summer blockbuster featuring its female lead getting a heroic space abortion right before the movie's third act.
4. 'Alien: Covenant' (2017)
"Alien: Covenant," the newest entry in the franchise, set in the "Prometheus pocket" of the universe, is also one of the most fascinating. Michael Fassbender gets to reprise his role from "Prometheus" and play a new, more docile robot named Walter; the black goo, Engineers, and everything you found troubling and odd in "Prometheus" is back and amplified heavily; and we even get some old school, really-for-real "Alien" set pieces, although clearly Scott's attention and focus has drifted to the more existential conundrums of creation, resurrection, and what makes us human.
3. 'Alien 3' (1992)
"Alien 3" isn't that bad. But it will go down as the movie that made me the angriest as a child. Because Fox marketing had released a kick-ass teaser trailer that riffed on the ad for the original film, promising that "In 1979, we discovered that in space no one can hear you scream. In 1992, we will discover on earth, everyone can hear you scream." BUT THE MOVIE NEVER GOES TO EARTH. If you watch the behind-the-scenes materials on the "Alien" box set, you'll see that the threequel was plagued with problems. Dozens of screenplays were developed and ultimately abandoned. Shortly before director David Fincher was hired, an entirely different version of the movie was being readied under the stewardship of Vincent Ward that would have taken place in an outer space monastery, on a wooden planet. Instead, we get Fincher's prison planet, full of cons we don't care about. Dark, depressing, and confusingly cast with a bunch of bald British people who all look exactly the same, "Alien 3" was seemingly a nightmare for everyone involved. For those who want to see what Fincher's version of the movie would have looked like without all that studio interference, take a look at the much-better "assembly cut" on that same Blu-ray set.
2. 'Aliens' (1986)
Behold, James Cameron's action masterpiece. The analogy goes that the first film was a haunted house movie, with a single creature picking off unsuspected crewmembers one by one. The sequel expanded that concept and increased the stakes and the results were glorious. Few sequels take what worked so well about the original film, combine it with something fresh, and create another classic. But "Aliens" is one of those films. Breathlessly told, brilliantly choreographed, and building to one of the most iconic showdowns of all time, "Aliens" is a film for the ages.
1. 'Alien' (1979)
Two short years after "Star Wars," Fox had unleashed another groundbreaking science fiction classic. This time, though, things were much grungier. Come aboard the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship returning from a seven-year voyage. Upon awakening from cryo-sleep, the crew discovers a distress signal, goes to investigate, and the rest is face-hugging, chest-bursting, blasting-out-of-an-airlock history. Of course nobody had ever seen anything like this before, courtesy of H.R. Giger's Alien designs that would inspire the entire franchise. Maybe the biggest surprise of all was the breakout performance from Sigourney Weaver, who survived while all the other men (and one other women) fell, becoming a strong science-fiction icon. This is a movie so influential it's hard to think of a time before "Alien." The fact that there's another sequel, being released almost 40 years later, is a testament to its power and mystery. It's also easier to appreciate that you can't make an "Alien" movie that'll ever be as good as "Alien."