The Alien franchise has its fair share of ups and downs. From the amazing first film to the abysmal Alien: Resurrection, watching the Alien films can be a roller coaster ride. That’s what makes ranking these films very difficult, as well. Maybe you enjoy the existential questions posed in Prometheus or you enjoy the weird Fincher experiment of Alien 3. Topping the list for many fans is the 1986 sequel, Aliens. Directed by James Cameron, Aliens gives audiences more aliens, more guns, and more badass Ripley. But is it really as good as people think?
First off, Aliens isn’t the best film of the series. There are many critics and fans that will tell you that Aliens is a perfect film. They feel like it raises the stakes, gives more action, and has a ton of memorable characters. However, this is no Godfather Part II. Aliens is still a sci-fi action-adventure film, with plenty of problems. For all the good in the film, there are parts that bring the whole thing down. Now, let’s take a look at some of those frustrating parts with 8 reasons why Aliens is the best, but also 7 reasons why it’s the worst.
15. BEST: MORE XENOMORPHS
Probably the biggest selling point for Aliens was in the title – multiple aliens. The first one just had a singular xenomorph, and that one alien killed pretty much an entire ship’s crew. What happens if you add dozens of xenomorphs? How could anyone survive if they were being hunted by a bunch of incredibly dangerous and scary monsters? That’s the whole premise behind Aliens.
Another great thing about having multiple xenomorphs versus just the one is that it allows for our heroes to win occasionally. Instead of them trying to kill one and failing time after time, Aliens allows for little victories. Face huggers are killed, xenomorphs are mowed down by the dozen, and our heroes are allowed to keep fighting. Other films in the series tried to add multiple xenomorphs, but Aliens did it the best.
14. WORST: MORE XENOMORPHS
We’ve established that having more xenomorphs is great right? Well, not completely. One of the most glaring weaknesses in Aliens is the fact that our heroes are able to kill xenomorphs entirely too easily. The whole idea behind the first Alien was that this one creature would take out an entire crew and could potentially wipe out humanity. If you follow that logic, there’s no way a group of people could not only kill one, but also kill dozens, right? Wrong.
Allowing our heroes to kill xenomorphs so easily takes away the tension just a little, and almost invalidates the first film completely. Remember when Ripley was scared for her life, creeping around the hallways of the ship in the first film? How she’s desperate to sneak by the creature because she couldn’t kill it? In this film, Ripley is just running headfirst into danger, guns blazing. Go watch the first film with that in mind.
13. BEST: NEWT’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RIPLEY
Newt is a crucial character, and driving force, for Ripley’s story in Aliens. In the director’s cut, we learn that Ripley had a daughter, but her daughter died at age 66. Ripley was never there to experience it because she was in stasis for 57 years. That’s heartbreaking. So, introducing Newt as a surrogate daughter for Ripley was a great idea. This allows Ripley to show a side of her that the audience hasn’t seen before. She’s a motherly figure.
Having Ripley care for someone else is almost what Ridley Scott was trying to do in the first Alien, with the cat Jonesy. Ripley risks her life for that dumb cat, and it seems silly. However, in Aliens, she’s risking her life for another person. Not just anyone, but a young, defenseless girl that Ripley basically takes in as her own. That leads to amazing moments, like the scene where Ripley tucks Newt in to sleep.
12. WORST: NEWT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DEAD
Let’s be real with ourselves, Newt should have been dead by the time the Colonial Marines and Ripley arrived on LV-426. Audiences are supposed to believe that a little girl, with no sort of survival training, was able to survive when everyone else at her colony died? That’s just ludicrous!
So, she lives in the air vents, collects tons of food, and avoided every single xenomorph? That’s unlikely, at best. What’s more probable is that eventually she made too much noise and a whole crew of xenomorphs captured her and put her with the rest of the colony. Not only that, but Newt shouldn’t have lived when she was captured towards the end. When all the marines were torn apart or captured, no one thought to rescue them. However, with Newt, not only is she rescued, but she’s not harmed after a run-in with a xenomorph.
11. BEST: USE OF MOTION TRACKERS
One of the most inventive ways of building suspense in Aliens is the use of the motion trackers on the Marines’ guns. Used multiple times throughout the film, it was a quick way to warn audiences that something big was going to happen. This braces every viewer, making them wonder if our heroes are going to survive another battle.
The best use of it was in the famous Operations Room scene. Not only is the motion tracker showing movement, but also the entire screen is filled with incoming aliens. The Marines count down the distance, until suddenly they’re right there, but no one can see them. That is, until Hicks looks in the vents in the ceiling and sees dozens of xenomorphs moving towards them, and the best battle of the whole film begins.
10. WORST: RIPLEY TAKES A BACKSEAT
Audiences watch Alien movies because they want to see Ripley be a complete badass. The first film shows the transformation of Ripley from a normal crew member to a survivor. Through the course of Alien, viewers are experiencing everything through Ripley’s eyes. That’s why it’s so disappointing that for most of Aliens, that’s not the case.
The Colonial Marines are fun characters, for the most part (more on that later in the list). However, you are watching Aliens for Ripley, end of story. So it’s a shame that for the first 20 minutes, she’s reluctant to go anywhere. Then, for the next hour, she sits in a tank while the Marines do all the fighting. Finally, in the third act, she’s actually the driving force of the story. Aliens would have been better served if Cameron had given Ripley more to do.
9. BEST: XENOMORPH QUEEN
Perhaps the biggest revelation in all of Aliens is the idea of the Xenomorph Queen. Before then, viewers had seen the eggs that hatch the face huggers. We knew about how the face huggers implanted little xenomorphs into people’s chests. But how did the eggs appear? Well, they’re pumped out from a huge, scary Queen.
The design of the queen is best described as a xenomorph on steroids. Bigger in size, with a much more intricately designed head, the Queen is the stuff of nightmares. The Queen’s design really shows just how much H.R. Giger’s work contributes to the success of the franchise. Yes, Cameron designed the look of the Queen himself, but he based it entirely off of the template that Giger provided in the first film. The Xenomorph Queen is one of the best-designed aliens in cinema history. Period.
8. WORST: VASQUEZ
Created to be arguably the most badass of all the Marines, Vasquez comes off almost like a caricature. We are introduced to the character with her doing pull-ups and talking crap to the other Marines. It’s almost silly how over-the-top her line delivery is throughout the movie. She might as well have finished each line holding up a neon sign saying, “Don’t forget how badass I am!” Let’s not even discuss the incredibly silly posing she does with the oversized gun.
All that doesn’t even touch the worst issue surrounding Vasquez. The biggest problem is the fact that the actress literally covered her body in brown makeup and wore dark contacts throughout the film. Why’s that? Because the actress, Jenette Goldstein, is actually a freckly, white woman, and not the badass Latina she plays on screen. It’s the same sort of problematic casting that was taking place throughout Hollywood decades before Aliens was released, and unfortunately, decades after.
7. BEST: BISHOP
One of the hallmarks of the Alien films is the addition of an android to each ship. In the first film, Ash isn’t even revealed to be an android until almost the end of the film, when he tries to murder Ripley. However, Bishop is introduced as an android almost right off the bat in Aliens. He’s a part of the crew, and everyone accepts him as-is, mainly because he can do the cool knife/hand trick so well.
Bishop’s relationship with Ripley is one of the best in the film. At first, Ripley doesn’t trust him, after her Ash encounter previously, but over the course of the film, Bishop proves that he’s a very good crew member. He’s vital to the success of the heroes, and Lance Henriksen’s portrayal is one of the best android performances of all time. He’s so good, they even found a way to bring him back in Alien 3.
6. WORST: BURKE
There is a common trope in films that is very annoying every time you see it on screen – the evil “company man.” This is the person who acts like they’re on the hero’s side until the very end when they betray them for profit and, of course, show an act of cowardice that endangers everyone. Paul Reiser’s character Carter Burke is the epitome of this in Aliens.
Burke gets on Ripley’s good side by showing compassion and empathy when he tells Ripley about her daughter, but is hiding his secret agenda of wanting to study the xenomorphs, instead of killing them. And like any company man in danger, he runs away and locks the heroes out of the safe room during the Operations Room battle. He’s just a cookie cutter character, and such a common, annoying trope.
5. BEST: BILL PAXTON
Of all the Colonial Marines, Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson is the most memorable, without a doubt. He’s the heart and soul of the crew. Hudson is the one who says basically everything the audience is thinking. Plus, Bill Paxton is acting the crap out of every scene, chewing up scenery left and right. Unlike the over-the-top and borderline offensive Vasquez, Hudson feels more like a real person and not an action figure.
The most memorable lines from the film are pretty much all Hudson lines. “Game over, Man. Game Over.” “We’re on an express elevator to Hell, going down!” These are iconic lines that, without Bill Paxton, could have been insignificant and perhaps even corny. Because Hudson is a little campy and silly, he became a fan favorite and one of the best roles of Paxton’s career, which is frankly saying a lot.
4. WORST: BILL PAXTON
Yeah, you read that right. Bill Paxton is equally one of the best things about Aliens, and the worst. Fans of Aliens always remember the best parts of Private Hudson. The funny one-liners are put in clip montages all over YouTube. However, what people tend to forget is how annoying Hudson is throughout most of the film.
There isn’t one line delivery by Bill Paxton in the whole film where he isn’t putting on some sort of weird performance. He’s either screeching, making funny faces, or both. Even in his death scene, he is annoying and laughably campy. It’s surprising that no one in his crew shoots him after five minutes. On top of the annoying character traits, he also is the biggest wimp in the crew. Hudson is the first to just give up when everyone is trying to regroup. He’s far from the “ultimate badass” he wants everyone to think he is.
3. BEST: RIPLEY FULLY BECOMES THE BADASS
Ripley can be summed up in the image seen on various posters for the film. She’s holding a massive gun in one arm and carrying Newt in the other. She’s just the biggest badass in a whole movie filled with hardcore fighters. She is able to take out the worst creatures in the universe, while also being a motherly figure to a little girl.
Aliens is the true beginning of Ripley becoming the feminist icon. As a survivor of a tragic situation, Ripley doesn’t just curl up in a ball and cry, she does everything she can to warn everyone. When she’s given the opportunity to take them out for good, she jumps right back into the fire. Even when the best Marines available are dying and cowering all around her, Ripley steps into the leadership role with no hesitation. Plus, there’s that incredible fight at the end (Stay tuned for the end of the list!).
2. WORST: RIPLEY SHOULDN’T BE THAT BADASS
We all love Ripley. She’s amazing. However, there’s really no reason given in Aliens to support her transformation, as great as it is. In Alien, Ellen Ripley is introduced as a warrant officer on a commercial freighter. She has zero weapons or combat training. Then, with literally no explanation, her title is changed to Lieutenant First Class at the beginning of Aliens.
That’s just a continuity issue, perhaps, but the reason this is one of the worst things about the film is how Ripley goes from never shooting a gun to being better at guns than most of the Colonial Marines. At the beginning of the film, Hicks has to show Ripley how to fire a weapon. Then, over the course of two hours, in the third act, Ripley is in an elevator combining multiple weapons to form a super gun. She then goes and destroys multiple xenomorphs and the Queen. There’s no way that’s possible.
1. BEST: CARGO LOADER FIGHT
It’s almost impossible to watch Ripley emerge from the dark doorway in her cargo loader robotic exo-suit and not cheer. No matter how unlikely it is that she was able to fire a gun and kill xenomorphs, the audience is fully aware that she knows her way around the cargo loader. Cameron shows Ripley moving around in it quite well at the beginning. Honestly, the moment you see her in the exo-suit, you know later something amazing is being hinted at.
Seeing Ripley in her exo-suit fighting the biggest, scariest xenomorph of them all is one of the most iconic scenes in all movie history. Not only is the battle the highlight of the film, with the action and special effects that were way ahead of its time, but Ripley says the most iconic line in all of Alien’s history: “Get away from her, YOU BITCH!”
What do you think? Is Aliens the best film in the xenomorph franchise, or is it just overrated? Let us know in the comments!