When you think of science fiction horror, you think of Alien. Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic single-handedly revitalised its genre after decades of B movie rubbish, while the design of its jet-black antagonist has permeated pop culture for more than four decades. To celebrate the legacy of sci-fi’s freakiest creation, Hammer’s ranked the eight Alien films from worst to best, from the game-changing original to Scott's own, controversial prequels over three decades later.
All eight Alien movies can be steamed online via Disney+ (opens in new tab).
8. Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
Film. Noun: “A series of moving pictures, usually shown in a cinema or on television and often telling a story.” According to the dictionary definition, Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem isn’t even a film. Its lighting is so uniformly black that it’s impossible to distinguish any moving image, and, even if anyone could, the action is shot so tightly and with such jarring cuts that it’d still disorientate. Then there’s the story. What story? The “Predalien” from the first Alien Vs Predator breaks out into civilisation, a Predator comes to prevent it from murdering the local populace of horny teenagers and then both get nuked. The end. What a waste of time in every conceivable sense.
7. Alien Resurrection (1997)
The fourth entry in the original series was greenlit to both capitalise on and remedy the errors of Alien 3. The franchise’s ostensibly “final” film made money ($160 million against a $60 million budget), but left many a fan apoplectic at its ending.
Resurrection lives up to its title by literally reviving protagonist Ellen Ripley, yet the invention and terror that defined the series’ highs don’t return. Instead, there are kills that transcend from horrifying all the way to comical (see Dan Hedaya’s military general picking his own brain out to confirm he’s been bitten) and batshit ideas like Alien DNA making people godlike at basketball. At least director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and screenwriter Joss Whedon would leave this behind by creating masterpieces like Amélie and The Avengers respectively.
6. Alien Covenant (2017)
Twenty years after Resurrection failed to course-correct the Alien series by listening to audience backlash, Covenant made the exact same mistake. Ridley Scott returned to the director’s chair for this follow-up to Prometheus, which many lambasted for being too distant and confusing a prequel to the 1979 original.
It’s blindingly obvious that Covenant is a story Scott never intended to tell. The film rejects Prometheus’s central theme of the lack of a divine creator in favour of slasher cliches far below even the worst Alien entries up to that point (such as an Alien murdering a couple mid-shower sex). Everything from the origin of the creature to the fate of the previous film’s characters is rushed into place, all before a twist anyone with a brain cell foresaw by half an hour.
5. Alien Vs Predator (2004)
The concept of 20th Century Fox’s two extraterrestrial baddies going head to head has been a thing since 1989, when it was the core of a Dark Horse comic series. And, in theory, the collision should have been great cinema. An unstoppable hunter going after the galaxy’s most dangerous prey: how do you fuck that up?
Well, Paul W.S. Anderson found a way. The Resident Evil and Event Horizon director was once again shackled by a PG-13 rating, vastly limiting what his two combatants could get away with onscreen. To its credit, though, Alien Vs Predator has some likeable performances, while the nonverbal communication between the Predator and protagonist Lex Woods is expertly done. Not a catastrophe, but far from a worthy crossover.
4. Alien 3 (1992)
Alien 3 was never going to be good. By the time production started in January 1991, five people had tried to write it, yet director David Fincher still didn’t have a finished script to work with. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth was kicked off the film after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and a completely alternate ending was shot, then scrapped.
That Alien 3 makes even a lick of sense is a miracle. The sequel even has some excellent ideas – trapping Ridley on an all-male prison planet sets the stage for plenty of more true-to-life horrors – while an ensemble cast including Charles Dance and Paul McGann does masterful work. At the same time, though, murdering almost all of Aliens’ survivors offscreen is an insult to the audience, and there’s no great genre shift à la the previous sequel to be found here.
3. Prometheus (2012)
Going into it, everything about Prometheus screamed that this prequel would be an instant classic. Fans had long been speculating the exact origins of the Alien species, and the original master Ridley Scott was back in the director’s chair. It could have been great.
In the end, it was...fine. Prometheus is a sci-fi story about the absence of God that asks seriously provocative questions about life’s purpose, which is supported by a killer score and ensemble cast. The direction and effects are also undisputedly great. However, the film’s links to Alien are so tenuous and so many questions remain that, as a prequel, it confuses much more than it clarifies. Sticking this on as a standalone philosophical sci-fi flick rather than as a stab at Alien 5 is strongly recommended.
2. Aliens (1986)
How do you make the sequel to one of the greatest horror films of all time? You make one of the greatest action films of all time instead. Director James Cameron’s decision not to redo the claustrophobia of Alien and instead up the ante to a human/monster firefight remains a master stroke, simultaneously different and complementary to the original.
Aliens completes the Alien lore by introducing the Queen, as well as the capabilities of a fully-formed hive, while the array of human marines tasked with exterminating them feel just as well-rounded. Lars Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein all join the cast and spout an onslaught of quotable lines. The theme of the surrogate family – formed by Ripley, Hicks and infant survivor Newt – is also a wholesome counterpoint to the rape and abortion-centred undertones of the first film. Had it ended here, Alien would today be remembered as the most flawless and complete series in all of science fiction.
1. Alien (1979)
With the exception of Frankenstein, nobody took the sci-fi horror genre seriously before Alien came along. It was a tag that had long been synonymous with low-budget B flicks and exploitation cash-ins: such dumpster fires as The Wasp Woman and Them!. Then Ridley Scott marched into 20th Century Fox, pitched “Jaws in space” and sparked its masterpiece.
On one level, Alien is a conglomeration of everything nascent in sci-fi and horror. Its premise of seven ill-equipped truckers getting picked off by an inhuman force is prime slasher territory, while the set design follows Star Wars’ lead in depicting a dingy cosmos. Off the back of these easy-to-follow tropes, Scott got to invent wildly.
With its maw within a maw and phallic head, the Alien itself was plucked straight from H.R. Giger’s nightmares. Even more distressing, though, is its parasitic life cycle. In a metaphor for rape, a “facehugger” smothers its host and only gives them a few hours of respite before a newborn creature bursts from their chest. Then the monster just kills and kills – as treacherous android Ash says, “the perfect organism” – with nothing less than the vastness of space able to stop it. True fucking terror.