Most of the iconic sci-fi films from the ’70s and ’80s spun out into sequels, prequels, and crossovers, some of which were pretty good. However, there was no series quite so unique, so impactful, and so wildly varied as the Alien franchise. Ridley Scott’s original Alien film was chock-full of iconic, spine-tingling, hair-raising moments, and spawned three direct sequels. The franchise spans over three decades and boy does it show; each film has its own distinct tone and style, and their turns away from self-contained horror into expansive action thrillers reflect the changing trends in cinema throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s.
Despite these sequels hitting theaters alongside the emerging prominence of computer-generated imagery, they managed to hold firm – mostly – to their commitment to practical effects, which results in them still looking great – again, mostly. Despite a slew of production issues, writers coming and going, and first-time feature directors, this franchise has shaped up to be pretty darn brilliant, and the unique qualities of each film make for a delightful rollercoaster of a marathon. They all have a lot to love, and so we’ve taken a deep dive into the greatest moments from the Alien sequels.
Come On and Slam (Alien: Resurrection)
By the fourth Alien movie, the serialized narrative thread was getting pretty frayed. First, the untrained crew of a cargo ship was terrorized by a single alien for an entire film. Next, we saw a whole battalion of soldiers take on a nest of the buggers (including an alien queen). The third film showed us that a corrupt military is the real enemy, but also that aliens are still very much a threat. And finally, in 1997, Joss Whedon and Jean-Pierre Jeunet presented us with Alien: Resurrection. Set 200 years after the events of Alien 3, the United Systems Military have resurrected our protagonist, Ellen Ripley, by creating a clone from blood samples taken before her death. Clone Ellen’s DNA has been mixed with the alien queen’s for… reasons. Look, plot convolutions aside, this movie had some great moments, and this scene is perfectly suited to start off our list.
Ripley, still new to the world, is testing out her motor skills alone on the military space vessel’s basketball court – where else? After she slams another effortless dunk alone, the on-board group of hardened mercenaries (led by Ron Pelman as a pervy jarhead named Johner) arrive to harass and intimidate Ripley. Perlman steps onto the court, throws out some misogynistic trash talk, and proceeds to get completely humiliated. Ripley is wordless for the entire scene, elegantly taunting the cocky brute and keeping the ball just out of his reach, slowly stealing all the status until his confident advances crumble into creepy, wimpy comments.
Top this exchange off with a basketball to the groin, a smack in the chin, and a backwards half-court swish that every comment section on the planet cannot WAIT to inform you was totally real and nailed by the actress on her first try. It’s Sigourney Weaver’s wry smile, and her masterful combination of badassery and charisma that reminds us why this quadrilogy remains so close to our hearts. Sure, we come for the alien, but we stay for Ripley.
Related: Is Alien 5 Finally Happening? Sigourney Weaver Teases New Treatment and Ripley’s Return
Sniffy Sniffy (Alien 3)
The defining tactic of the eponymous alien can be summed up as: patient, silent stalking followed by unflinching, fatal brutality. Once a Xenomorph picks you as prey, you’re pretty much dead. End of conversation. They’re bigger, faster, stronger, and sharper than you by a mile, which is what makes even a single alien a severe threat to an entire planet of flabby humans. This context is crucial to the plot of Alien 3, as both a sole face-hugging alien and Ripley crash land on a planet which serves as a ‘maximum security male work correctional facility.’ The facility is completely weaponless. An egg has hatched. An alien stalks the air vents. The warden is an arrogant loser who doesn’t believe Ripley when she warns him of her previous encounters with the Xenomorphs. Hence the reason why the prison population of 161 quickly plummets.
Midway through the adolescent alien’s systematic murder of everyone on the planet, it makes it way to the medical bay, where Ripley sits opposite the prison doctor who’s telling her his life story and administering a shot. Meanwhile, a deep sense of unease builds as a burn patient in his hammock stares suspiciously at the curtain behind the good doctor. It all happens so fast. A figure appears behind the curtain, a look of realization passes from the patient to Ripley to the doctor who turns and gets swiftly one-punched in the skull by the Xenomorph’s secondary mouth thing. The hunched horror sidles up next to the terrified Ripley, opens its perpetually dripping gob, and sniffs her like a sinister Labrador. After a painstaking five seconds, the alien retreats for (at this point) unknown reasons, leaving us, the audience, looking like the burned guy in the corner absolutely losing his mind.
This Time, It’s War (Aliens)
Screenwriter and director James Cameron (The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar) was at the helm of the long-awaited Alien sequel, Aliens (1986). The first film was tense and slow-paced, as an almost silent Xenomorph stalks and picks off the crew one by one. The second film is a high-octane, balls-to-the-wall action thriller (and Weaver’s favorite) about Ripley and a team of highly trained (and heavily armed) Colonial Marines heading down to a military moon colony which has been overrun and infested with an alien nest. Finding themselves hugely outnumbered and having only discovered a single survivor – a young girl nicknamed ‘Newt’ – the team are desperate to get off the moon before they end up like their fallen comrades. Waiting for back-up and a way out of this hellhole, the crew barricade themselves inside the colony.
We’re right in the middle of some interpersonal drama when the power goes out. The crew switches gears and prepares for an attack as their radars reveal dozens of approaching aliens. They stand, dimly lit, guns trained on the sealed door, ready to blast anything that breaks through. The marines are calm and composed except private ‘Hudson’ (Bill Paxton) whose panic is palpable and exponentially increasing as the horde gets closer. Their trackers seem to suggest that the aliens are impossibly close – “five meters, man! FOUR!” Ripley’s eyes slowly rise to the ceiling, and a wave of realization and terror ripples through the room.
An absolutely nutty shootout follows. Dozens of aliens come crashing through the ceiling, others up through the floorboards. The soldiers scream battle cries and grimace down their gun’s sights while blasting away the approaching Xenomorph. Considering the amount of effort and sacrifice it took to kill a single damn alien in the first film, seeing this team hold their own against a full onslaught is both refreshing and exhilarating. You want to pump your fist. That said, the aliens still gain the upper hand pretty fast, and this shoot-out is punctuated with the losses and injuries of several well-loved characters. The whole affair is brimming with excitement and heartbreak that concludes with a noble sacrifice from two marines, the perfect emotional gut-punch to round out this ride.
Ripley’s Lava Dive (Alien 3 – Theatrical Version)
Many would argue that Alien 3 gave us the perfect ending for Ellen Ripley. Even Sigourney Weaver wasn’t interested in returning to the role for Resurrection (until she heard that she’d be playing a half-alien clone, allowing her to explore more of the character and put a new spin on our beloved protagonist). This perspective makes a lot of sense, and Alien 3 certainly does finish the story of human Ripley in a fitting and powerful manner for Sigourney Weaver. As the film reaches its end, Ripley is aware that the embryo of an alien queen is growing inside her. Don’t worry, that’s how they always reproduce. Although, do worry, because this is terrible news and the queen is liable to hatch, kill Ripley, and then kill everyone else. Luckily, a team from Weyland–Yutani (the mega-corporation which runs this and several other space colonies) has arrived to save Ripley, promising her that they can remove the embryo and destroy it. Ripley’s response? “Bullshit”.
If there’s one lesson that the Alien franchise is trying to teach us, it’s this: Do not trust giant corporations, or any government that’s basically a coalition of giant corporations. Weyland-Yutani have demonstrated across multiple films that they do not value human lives and are absolutely desperate to capture and exploit alien embryos for bio-weaponry. Thankfully, Ripley has learned this lesson and refuses to come with them. Instead, she makes the ultimate sacrifice and falls, Christlike, into a huge tank of molten metal. In the (better) theatrical version, the queen embryo erupts from Ripley’s chest as she falls, and our hero clings to the horrific hybrid, fighting through unimaginable pain to hold the creature in place and ensure that it dies along with her. This sequence is just perfect for highlighting the strength, willpower, and selflessness of the legendary Ellen Ripley. From the moment this species was discovered all the way to her very last breath, Ripley has been dedicated to the good fight, and to saving as many lives as she possibly can.
Mobile Suit Gundam (Aliens)
Presented with a chance to escape the infested moon and never look back, Ripley decides to plunge back into the fray to save Newt, (who is a bit of a brave heroine herself), and come to care for as a mother would. After pulling off a stone-cold solo mission in which she dispatches Xenomorphs, burns down their entire nest and the eggs inside it, and takes a good chunk out of the queen herself, Ripley manages to rescue Newt and carry her back to their ship. All is well, or so it seems. The queen has chased the duo and tears their pilot in half. Splitting up, Newt hides under metal floor grates and Ripley disappears from sight. We squeal and squirm as we watch the queen chase little Newt around the hanger, ripping up the floor and reaching for the child with her creepy, deadly, knifelike fingers. The queen is truly horrifying as she snarls and drips and rampages through the (gorgeously designed) set. Cornered, Newt lets out a piercing scream which puts other child actors to shame. It looks like game over until the bay doors lift to reveal Ripley wearing a large mechanical suit. It’s maternal instinct versus maternal instinct when she utters those famous, beautiful, elegant six words: “GET AWAY FROM HER YOU BITCH!”
These days, we’re familiar with the mech-suit vs monster dynamic, those epic battles between technology and biology chock-full of CGI punches and buildings being destroyed. This fight is not one of those; this isn’t Pacific Rim or Avatar (although clearly director James Cameron carried some ideas across). Ripley is wearing a loader suit – its primary function is moving heavy boxes on and off of shuttles. This is the equivalent of taking on a Predator by driving a forklift into it. This battle is amazing because it’s so labored, clunky but brutal, each hit carrying some serious weight, and there is a legitimate danger that the queen will overpower Ripley and end the franchise here and now. It’s only after a series of very near-misses that Ripley is able to force the queen out of an airlock, sending her tumbling into the great infinite void, finally finished. We’ve omitted a couple of details here, because to really feel the greatness of this scene, you need to go see it, and all these films, yourself.
Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson is partnering with Marvel Comics for a new Alien series launching in 2021.
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