Horror: Ranking the Entire Alien Franchise

In 1979 the world was introduced to a movie franchise that convinced fans that in space, no one can hear you scream. Alien!

A commercial towing vessel, the Nostromo, travelling through space intercepts a beacon of unknown origin and proceeds to investigate. The Nostromo lands on the mysterious planet of LV 426 and discovers that some things are better left undisturbed. The crew of the ship is soon hunted down by a terrifying creature that is hell-bent on destroying anything that stands in its way.

It was from this simple, yet terrifying, slasher in space story that one of the most iconic franchises in science fiction history was born. The Xenomorph has become one of the most recognizable characters in the world and has maintained longevity that has lasted for over 40 years.

Now, while the original Alien was a masterpiece of science fiction not that much can be said for some other entries into the franchise. Below we will take a look at the movies in the Alien franchise and see where they hold up against the original.

6: Alien Resurrection (1997)

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Two hundred years after Ripley met her demise on Fury 161 she was brought back from the dead by United Systems Military. They cloned her body to extract a Xenomorph Queen from her person so they can study and research the alien. Naturally, this is not something that goes very well, and soon the Aliens break loose and go on a killing spree throughout the spaceship where the research is taking place.

Resurrection was released five years after  Alien 3 and it left fans scratching their head. Alien 3 had wrapped up the entire franchise with the death of protagonist Ellen Ripley so there was no need to revisit the storyline. Bringing in Joss Whedon to pen the script was a fantastic idea and he did what he could with the material but it felt like this was a rehash of Aliens that did not need to be made.

The actors, Sigourney Weaver, and Ron Pearlman were the highlights of the movie and this shouldn’t come as a huge shock. Both are very accomplished in their career and they did what they could with the material given. There was a more comedic element to this story than from Alien movies of the past. Weaver and Pearlman did their best to work this comedy into the story but it took away from the horror aspect that made the previous three films great.

One of the biggest lasting impressions Resurrection made on the viewing audience was the decision to create a new Xenomorph creature. A hybrid of human and Alien was developed and the resulting creation did not have the same effect that the Xenomorphs from the original trilogy had.  There was no terror or unease when viewing this creature and that took away from the atmosphere that should have been created.

5: Prometheus (2012)

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In an attempt to reboot the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott gave us an origin story in Prometheus. A story, set in the late 21st century, where a group of scientists follows a star map discovered on Earth to a distant planet. On this planet, they hoped to discover the origins of the human race but instead find a more terrifying answer to where we came from. Beings called Engineers have created a sort of bio-weapon and were on their way to destroy humankind. Of course, this went poorly for the Engineers and the crew of the Prometheus soon find out why when they unwittingly unleash a terrible plague upon themselves.

While this movie is not a direct prequel to the Alien franchise it was described by Scott as being in the same DNA as Alien so it does have its place on this list.

The visual aspect of this movie alone keeps it out of the bottom spot on this list. A beautiful mixture of practical and visual effects make the scenery in this movie breathtaking. Every shot is awe-inspiring and makes Prometheus one of the most visually stunning of the Alien franchise entries.

The acting is also very strong from all parties involved. All of the leads in the movie have been nominated for various awards over their career so it came as no surprise that they created very engaging characters.

One of the glaring issues with this movie, however, is the sheer stupidity of nearly every character. These are supposed to be very intelligent people but at every turn, they are making decisions that any normal person would think twice before making.

As with Resurrection, there is a huge issue with the creature reveals at the end of the movie. Anyone watching that was expecting to see your typical Xenomorph was let down by a Xenomorph creature called the Deacon. It was a disappointment for those who were expecting your more traditional Alien.

4: Alien: Covenant (2017)

11 years after the events of Prometheus, we are greeted with the crew of the ship Covenant. While on their mission to colonize a new planet the ship meets with some disaster as a solar flare destroys part of the ship and kills most of the crew, including the captain.

While repairing the ship the crew intercepts a transmission from another planet that might be more habitable than the one they were heading towards. Against the protests from the remaining crew, the new captain decides to investigate this transmission.  Of course, this is a terrible idea that leads to death for most of the crew members.

Covenant had many similarities to Prometheus. Visually it was a stunning movie. The Engineer home planet was a perfect blend of practical and visual effects.  It was hard to imagine that Australia and New Zealand were used for some of the exterior shots on the planet. The world-building done for the movie was fantastic.

Also, as with Prometheus, the performance of most of the cast was superb. Specifically, Michael Fassbender playing both the good and evil cyborg, David and Walter respectively. Fassbender showed his tremendous range in this movie by depicting two characters who were entirely different from one another.

What puts this movie ahead of Prometheus on the list is the reveal of the Xenomorph and face-hugger nearing the third act of the movie. This is, after all, a movie about the Alien so it was refreshing to see the more traditional creature being used. We all tune in expecting to see a Xenomorph tear through some people and that is exactly what we got.

3: Alien 3 (1992)

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While sleeping soundly in cryostasis, the survivors of Aliens are interrupted by a face hugger who starts an electrical fire aboard the EEV. This launches the EEV from the Sulaco causing it to crash land on Fury 161, a prison colony planet inhabited by only male inmates.

Ripley, being the only survivor of the crash, soon finds out that an Alien was on board and is now loose on the planet. She bands together with the inmates of Fury 161 to try and hunt down and kill the Xenomorph before it kills everyone on the planet.

Alien 3 was famously plagued by many issues that prevented it from becoming a fitting end to the original trilogy. The movie went through four scripts before filming even started and when it did the script was not finished. This is clear when watching the movie as it takes leaps in logic and many parts of it do not link up with information that was given in earlier scenes. It is a shame because some of the first script ideas could have made for a fantastic movie. There is an Assembly Cut out there that is worth a watch and gives us much better viewing of the third movie.

Weaver and the other actors were at their usual best during the movie. The characters were strong but not as fleshed out as they could have been but that is not at the fault of the actors themselves.

The Xenomorph in the movie was a different one than the previous two as it was born from a dog than a human being. It was an interesting take and the effects used to create the beast were quite good. This is to be expected when the effects man was recommended by the king himself, Stan Winston.

2: Aliens (1986)

After surviving her initial encounter with the Xenomorph, Ripley is picked up by a deep salvage team after being in cryosleep for 57 years. Upon returning to the space station outside of Earth, Ripley is informed that the moon they encountered the Alien on in the first movie is now home to a terraforming colony. After losing contact with this colony Ripley and a band of colonial marines set out to LV-426 to investigate the communication breakdown. They soon discover that the Aliens have run amok of the colony and have killed all but a little girl named Newt.

As far as most are concerned the top two movies on this list can be considered 1A and 1B so it is a matter of preference how one ranks them.

Coming off his success of Terminator, James Cameron was put in charge of making the sequel to an iconic horror movie, and he did a fantastic job. There is a tonal shift in this movie to more of an action piece but Cameron was able to still maintain a horror theme.

The acting in this movie may be the only thing, in this writer’s opinion, that could put itself ahead of the original. The supporting cast, Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn specifically are on top of their game. More importantly, this movie may be the best performance of Sigourney Weaver’s career. The fact that she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, for a role in a science fiction movie,  really goes to show how strong performance was and why it will go down as one of the all-time greats.

Bringing in special effects master, Stan Winston, was also a stroke of genius for this movie. Winston was able to create a terrifying Alien Queen as well as use various techniques to present us with as many worker Xenomorphs as possible. It helped to make the various action scenes pop.

1: Alien (1979)

There was no other choice when compiling this list. Alien was a movie that transcended the horror genre and has become a pop-culture staple over the last 42 years.

Many things went into making this movie the iconic piece of film history that it is and it all begins with the cast. The acting was superb throughout the film and the chemistry between all the actors was evident from the beginning. It also marked one of the first times in horror movie history that the lead was a woman. Sigourney Weaver turned Ellen Ripley into the face of this movie and going forward the franchise as a whole.  She was a strong character who did not depend on anyone to help her, she could take care of herself.

The writing/creation of the Alien concept is another main reason why this movie has had the staying power of nearly 50 years. This was an original concept at the time and it has maintained an influence over many movies that have come after it. There was not much in the way of science fiction/horror movies, at the time, and Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett blended these two perfectly. It was an inspiration for a generation of movies to come.

Of course, we can’t talk about Alien without mentioning the amazing design work, on the creature itself, by H.R Giger. Giger was a genius for how he created and brought to life a creature that was unlike any other that had been on the big screen.  It was a perfect blend of terror and awe and to this day the Xenomorph still evokes a feeling of unease from anyone watching an Alien movie.  

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