‘Aliens’: James Cameron Reveals the Wild Way He Sold the Movie to Fox

Hollywood is brimming with legendary stories of how people “hit it big” or how a now-classic project came together. And all too often, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. Now thanks to James Cameron, fans know without a doubt that one of the most fun tidbits from his career is absolutely true. Here’s how Cameron pitched his idea for Aliens, the 1986 sequel to sci-fi movie Alien.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in ‘Aliens’ holds a weapon as director James Cameron looks on
Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron | Bob Penn/Sygma/Sygma

James Cameron stepped in for Ridley Scott on ‘Aliens’

When 1979’s Alien hit theaters, audiences weren’t quite sure what to think. The film essentially plays like a sci-fi version of a haunted house or slasher flick, with the titular creature ravaging the crew of the Nostromo one person at a time. And the movie introduced a number of elements which would change cinema forever, including Sigourney Weaver’s iconic hero Ellen Ripley and a beloved franchise still going strong.

But the task of expanding Alien into a franchise first fell to Cameron. At the time, the director was coming off of The Terminator. That would, of course, start its own series of films. With Aliens and later Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron would prove himself in the pantheon of great sequel directors. And in the case of the former, it’s his very different take on the material which helped Aliens stand out during development.

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The director famously gave the studio an epic pitch

If Alien is a horror film, then Aliens is a war film. As the story goes, Cameron‘s pitch to the studio executives at Fox broke down to the plural nature of the title. After all, Ripley and company face off against hordes of xenomorphs in the sequel. And Cameron allegedly sold his idea by turning the “s” in Aliens into a dollar sign, which he confirmed as a true story to CinemaBlend.

“Yeah, it’s true. It just popped into my mind in the moment. It was actually on the back of a script, or some kind of presentation document. And it might’ve been the treatment. I can’t remember. I was sitting with the three producers, and we were in the office of the then-head of 20th Century Fox. And I said, ‘Guys, I got an idea for the title. It goes like this.’ And I wrote, Alien in large block letters. And I put an “s” on the end.

I showed it to them. I said, ‘I want to call it Aliens because we’re not dealing with one. Now we’re dealing with an army, and that’s the big distinction. And it’s very simple and very graphic.’ I said, ‘But here’s what it’s going to translate to.’ And then I drew the two lines through it to make it a dollar sign. That was my pitch. And apparently, it worked! Because they went with the title. They never questioned it.”

In a long career of long shots that paid off, Cameron’s Aliens is perhaps the first major gamble. His sequel did indeed become a box office smash, out-earning its predecessor with $131 million worldwide according to Box Ofice Mojo. And Scott’s and Cameron’s movies remain a watermark the franchise has yet to match in the decades since.

James Cameron reunited with Sigourney Weaver on ‘Avatar’

Following Aliens, Cameron went on to make The Abyss and Terminator 2. David Fincher (Seven) — then making his directorial debut — stepped up for the inevitable Alien 3. But Cameron did work with Weaver again on a sci-fi blockbuster.

The actor appeared as Dr. Grace Augustine in Cameron’s record-breaking 2009 release Avatar. She’s also slated to return for the sequels but in an undisclosed role. The much-delayed Avatar 2 is currently set for release on Dec. 16, 2022.

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