Director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O'Bannon rocked the foundation of the science-fiction horror world with their groundbreaking film Alien in 1979. It spawned multiple sequels and spinoffs in film and various other forms of media. The Alien franchise is still running strong nearly forty years since its debut, and each rendition has offered audiences a slightly different style and tone with varied results.
The first two Alien films are considered the greatest of the bunch and certainly made for hard acts to follow. Nevertheless, each consecutive film in the series has its own unique take on the world created by Scott and O’Bannon, and despite their flaws, still make for entertaining viewing experiences. Check out a recap of all the Alien films (spoilers to follow) and where to find them streaming online!
8 Alien (1979)
Alien is set in the distant future and follows the story of the crew of the Nostromo, a spaceship on a mission to investigate a distress call from a nearby moon and upon their arrival, the crew uncovers an alien lifeform and bring it back to the ship with them. The alien, known as a Xenomorph, once fully formed begins a murderous rampage, hunting and killing all of the Nostromo’s crew members bar one - Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).
Alien was a milestone film for the genre, from its claustrophobia-inducing tone to the horrific creature designs by H.R. Giger, the film would become an instant classic and pop-culture phenomenon that would make a star out of Sigourney Weaver. This seminal work influenced many a sci-fi horror film that followed, but could never be replicated.
7 Aliens (1986)
With the success of Alien, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was to be released with iconic director James Cameron stepping in to take over the reins from Ridley Scott. Cameron coming off the momentum of his hit film The Terminator seemed like the perfect choice to take the franchise into a new direction. Aliens featured Sigourney Weaver reprise her role as Ripley and this time, she’s the only link between a group of marines investigating the now-colonized moon from the first film and the Xenomorph menace.
Cameron’s film sent Ripley and her marine squad all-guns-blazing against the alien threat, switching up Scott’s horror-centric tone from the first film to all-out action in the sequel, much to the delight of fans and critics. The focus on the action made Aliens more accessible to a wider audience, while still retaining all of the horrific aspects of the first film.
6 Alien 3 (1992)
Coming off a successful career directing music videos, David Fincher was brought on to direct the third film in the Alien franchise, Alien 3. The film sees Ripley crash-land on a desolate wasteland of a planet that’s housing a maximum-security prison. Ripley, the guards, and the convicts are yet again preyed upon by the deadly Xenomorph aliens.
Alien 3 failed to meet critical and fan expectations with its unoriginal plot and some questionable narrative choices. Add to that behind-the-scenes drama in the production of the film and it was not a good start for budding director David Fincher. The film is full of action and horror, albeit not to the standard of the first two films, so there are still elements to enjoy in this one, and thankfully, Fincher would go on to become a first-rate Hollywood director.
5 Alien Resurrection (1997)
Next in line in an attempt to take the Alien franchise back to its glory days was French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet with his film Alien Resurrection. The storyline in this 4th installment is set 200 years in the future and the military has brought Ripley back from the dead as a human/alien hybrid in order to extract an Alien Queen from within her for research purposes. Things don’t go as planned, however, and Ripley and a crew of space pirates are forced to battle the alien horde one more time.
Alien Resurrection took Ripley in a creative new direction, putting the character in an awkward spot with allegiances to both the aliens and the human race. The film fared better than Alien 3 but was still considered a failure, suffering from a mixed critical and fan reaction and poor box-office returns.
4 AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
The new millennium saw the Alien franchise go in a completely different direction with the crossover film AVP: Alien vs. Predator. The Predator in the title referring to the iconic monster from 1987's Predator. In it, a group of archaeologists on an expedition in the antarctic inadvertently find themselves in the middle of a war between two of the deadliest intergalactic species ever to grace the silver screen. Violence ensues.
AVP was critically panned and only made a modest return on its budget at the box office following its release in 2004. The concept behind the film should have made for a more successful outing, though its story (or lack of one) let it down. As a spectacle film, however, AVP offered a reasonable amount of entertainment value.
3 AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
Despite the lackluster response to 2004s AVP: Alien vs. Predator, a sequel followed a few years later with AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. This time around, the Aliens and Predators continue their fight on Earth in a small Colorado town, where the town’s citizens are forced to defend themselves amidst all of the death and destruction thrust upon their home.
Requiem received even worse critical reception and box office returns compared to AVP - the addition of an R rating failing to win the hearts of audiences and critics alike. The choice to add more blood and gore to this film did make for a more entertaining viewing experience overall considering the nature of the monsters in these franchises, but its average story held it back. It does hit the mark as a pure guilty-pleasure movie though.
2 Prometheus (2012)
With his franchise ending on a low note back in 1997 with Alien Resurrection, Ridley Scott decided it was time to revive Alien with a new film in the form of 2012’s Prometheus. Set in the same universe, Prometheus serves as a prequel to the events of Alien and follows the crew of the titular ship as they visit a moon that may hold the answers to the origin of life. What they find there is much more sinister and deadly.
Prometheus continues the Alien mythology by focusing on profound themes such as the aforementioned origin of life, as well as the relationship between man and God, and the introspective view of the self. The themes are deeper than any that came before it in this franchise, and with Scott back at the helm, Prometheus managed to reinvigorate the Alien series with some clever new ideas.
1 Alien: Covenant (2017)
The success of Prometheus prompted Ridley Scott to come back for its sequel, Alien: Covenant. The film follows a crew of a colony ship on a mission to find a new, habitable planet to populate. A mysterious message sends them off course and with some trepidation, they land on what appears to be the perfect planet for their needs. They soon discover, however, that there are alien monstrosities waiting for them.
Alien: Covenant further expands on the themes brought up in Prometheus while also upping the action. The action overshadowed some of the more interesting ideas in the film (especially in the final act), which somewhat lets it down, and there were some decisions made by the characters in the film that left the audience scratching their heads. Regardless of these flaws, Alien: Covenant was still a thought-provoking and entertaining sci-fi horror film worthy to bear the franchise name.