Way back in 1979, director Ridley Scott launched one of the most successful sci-fi film series of all time with Alien, a terrifying space-set horror film that still stands as a landmark achievement of cinema history. Over the years, a number of follow-ups — including Scott’s own 2012 prequel Prometheus — have kept the franchise alive to varying degrees of success. For the record, we’re focusing on the core series and dodging the pair of films that pitted the xenomorphs against the Predator franchise.
5. Alien: Resurrection (1997)
After tying up Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) storyline in the previous film, this drab, pointless sequel centers on a clone of the iconic hero as she once again comes face to face with the alien creatures. The film — directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet — does what it can to innovate the franchise, but mostly, it just reeks of the studio’s desire to push out one more adventure featuring Ripley before Weaver tires of playing the character. Winona Ryder joins the cast this time around as the requisite synthetic member of the crew. Watch out for the bizarre (and not in a good way) human/alien hybrid.
4. Prometheus (2012)
At the heart of Prometheus is an intriguing concept that delves into heady themes like the origin of life, religion, and human nature. However, these are never fully explored in an adventure that makes little logical sense plot-wise and is populated mostly be uninteresting clichés in place of compelling characters. Only Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and Michael Fassbender’s android David have the chance to develop any kind of meaningful presence. Perhaps the film’s frustrating thematic elements will unfold to a satisfying result in the coming sequel, but as a standalone project, Prometheus is the very definition of a missed opportunity.
3. Alien 3 (1992)
One of the most divisive entries in the Alien series, this third installment is notable for a few reasons. Although it unjustly dismisses key characters from Aliens, the film does neatly serve as the concluding chapter in a trilogy centering on Ripley’s encounters with the xenomorphs and her struggle to keep them away from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Moreover, Alien 3 marks the directorial feature debut for David Fincher, offering plenty of hints at the atmospheric and gritty aesthetic he would later perfect in classics like Seven and Fight Club.
2. Aliens (1986)
On most other lists, Aliens would rank at the very top. This is the film that cemented Ripley’s place as the most memorable female movie hero and director James Cameron’s mastery of the thematic and visual storytelling of dystopian sci-fi action. His Terminator star Michael Biehn offers fine support as Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and it certainly offers more than its share of memorable moments and quotable dialogue. Moreover, Aliens‘s stylistic marriage between elements of sci-fi horror and war film has made the film a fan favorite among the series’ monstrous fanbase.
1. Alien (1979)
The original Alien film may not be as thrilling as its sequel, but what it lacks in crowd-pleasing popcorn fun, it makes up for in pure style and influence over the art of filmmaking in general. Along with Scott’s Blade Runner, the film remains one of the most indelible sci-fi films of all time, essentially serving as a slasher film set on a spaceship. The brilliant melding together of genre conventions, the surprising introduction of Weaver as the film’s hero and the ground-breaking design work by surrealist artist H.R. Giger ensure that Alien is a film that will be watched and studied for many more decades to come.
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