For lovers of sci-fi cinema, there are a few landmark films. Of course, there’s the childhood whimsy of E.T., there’s the lofty, intellectual exercise of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the lexicon reshaping Star Wars. But for all the dazzle and wonderment those films inspire, even the most optimistic of sci-fi-fi fans can’t help but be drawn to the dark underbelly of the genre best encapsulated by Ridley Scott’s revolutionary Alien in 1979.
Now, we all feed that Alien fixation in strange, passionate ways. Maybe you endured the line at Disney World’s Great Movie Ride just to come face to face with a Xenomorph, or bankrupted yourself during Mondo’s recent “Alien Day” sale, or cringe when Ripley gets misquoted in Scream 2. Maybe you’ve even got yourself a cat and named it Ripley. But even the most devoted of Alien fans doesn’t have the time, patience or perhaps even endurance to push through the full filmography in the lead up to the highly anticipated Alien: Covenant. Thankfully, your friends here at CBR plowed through them all (Yes, even AVP: Requiem), and singled out the highest and lowest points of each film so you can feel refreshed, relive the best scenes and know what parts to skip if you decide to dip back in.
15. BEST OF ALIEN: THE CHESTBURSTER
It’s a tough call, and yet also the easiest. The original Alien is a near-perfect film, from it’s taught, allegorical script by Dan O’Bannon to the masterful directing of Ridley Scott to it’s engaging and empathetic ensemble cast, led by a fierce, empowering and game-changing Sigourney Weaver. Everybody has there favorite moments, from the escape pod to the claustrophobic air duct. In films like that, trying to pick one scene as the definitive high point feels akin to picking the best brushstroke on Guernica.
And yet…it’s so obvious. Like Kong on the Empire State Building or Rocky on the library steps, the infamous chestburster sequence was the lightning bolt that struck the ground, full of sound and fury, and burned Alien’s place into the history of cinema for decades to come. It was so shocking, so almost divine in its violence that it was, in many ways, the Psycho shower scene for the New Hollywood era.
14. WORST OF ALIEN: DALLAS DAWDLES
Make no mistake, this is by no means an atrocious scene. Dallas’ brief dalliance with the computer, just prior to the stellar air duct sequence, doesn’t stand out as notably bad. If anything, it’s chief sin is not standing out at all, existing as a brief bland drag in an otherwise utterly engrossing film.
Maybe it’s because, of all of the gorgeous, Giger & Giraud influenced art direction, this set is easily the blandest, a holdover from the cheapo sci-fi days of yore with its identical blinking lights and bland walls. The lack of atmosphere isn’t entirely to blame, though, as Ripley lights up the screen just moments later in the exact same setting. Instead, the small scene seems to suffer from glacial pacing centered around one of the less captivating cast members, like a leftover from O’Bannon’s earlier, much weaker space film, Dark Star.
13. BEST OF ALIENS: “GET AWAY FROM HER…”
Switching out the sexual paranoia of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion that influenced Alien for a Vietnam allegory drawing from works like Apocalypse Now, James Cameron brought a whole new audience to the Alien franchise. He didn’t bother attempting to replicate or “top” any of the iconic moments of the previous film, creating his own in the process, and evoking new emotions by swapping out engrossing everymen aboard the Nostromo for the textbook cannon fodder of the classic war films.
Yet while the many space marines are torn through and dismembered, none capture the heart of the jaded, woman-out-of-time Ripley like the orphaned Newt. Cameron managed to invest the audience in the fate of the plucky kid, so when our hero charges in on her power loader and utters the infamous line, you just wanna jump to your feet and applaud.
12. WORST OF ALIENS: RIPLEY DRIVES THE LOADER
Original or Aliens? Some feel Cameron’s sequel is superior, others feel its a dumbed down assemblage of cinema cliches. While such critiques are harsh, in this instance, it’s undeniable. Sure, we get that they needed to establish the existence of the power loader before Ripley can triumphantly mount it at the end. But surely an audience smart enough to follow a sexual psycho-drama in space just need a passing glimpse of a loader in order to be up to speed.
Instead, we’re treated to the cheesiest, most purposeless scene in the film, where Ripley asks Sergeant Apone if she can help with the loading to which he responds “I don’t know, can you?” and we’re treated to some hilarious reaction shots as the boys see that, golly, a dame can do man work. Sergeant, this woman worked on a freighter for years, how are you surprised she can use a lifter?
11. BEST OF ALIEN 3: THE PIPE SCENE
“Ripley, from Alien 3!” Let’s face it, odds are you remember that joke from Deadpool sooner than you remember anything from the actual film Alien 3. It gets a bad wrap. It’s not perfect, sure. Director David Fincher disowns it, and nowadays its more fun to play “Spot the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Star” than actually try and follow the tiresome story (for the record, both Tywin Lannister and the Eighth Doctor appear in the film).
But its worth a second look. Alien 3 might be Sigourney’s best performance, as she’s given rich material to sink her teeth into. This is exemplified by the fantastic scene where she hunts an alien down in a boiler room, spearing it whilst monologuing Captain Ahab style, only to discover it was really just a pipe that splits to spurt out a horde of insects, reminding Ripley of the parasite growing inside of her.
10. WORST OF ALIEN 3: THE CHASE
Ripley carries this film, but to elevate the anti-climactic climax that is the “chase” scene, she might have to find that power loader from the last film. Look, it feels cruel to mock the visual effects in an early ’90s blockbuster. But even the times the alien isn’t shown are just as painful, as Fincher opts to give us a POV shot from the alien’s perspective, treating us to one-off shots of a prisoner baiting the xenomorph and then sped-up POVs charging down repetitive hallways.
Perhaps such lazy visuals would be sufficient in a run-of-the-mill action film, but when a film has the pedigree that this does, and then has the audacity to crib from other classic sci-fi films like John Carpenter’s Escape From New York and The Thing, that seemingly begs the audience to hold the film to the same standard.
9. BEST OF ALIEN RESURRECTION: THE CLONES
You’re not gonna find some argument here that Alien: Resurrection is some misunderstood masterpiece. It’s a dumpster fire, a strange attempt to bleed a last sequel from a conclusively ended series, directed by a man who barely spoke English, and played for laughs. If Joss Whedon quit Twitter over some angry pseudo-activists misread of Age of Ultron, he might have put his phone in a blender to avoid the justified backlash his script would have gotten in the internet age.
Yet God bless Sigourney, who gives it her all, and when she’s allowed to just react, unbound by hammy lines or overreacting co-stars, she’s incredible. Indeed, the one memorable scene in Resurrection is almost wordless, as Clone Ripley wanders through the lab to see the failed experiments that came before her, stopping at a sentient, mutated reflection of herself begging for death.
8. WORST OF ALIEN RESURRECTION: THE “BABY”
Some more collectible-oriented sci-fi fans are likely familiar with Hot Toys, the ultra-detailed dollmakers from Hong Kong that produce figures for everything from Star Wars to The Lone Ranger. Their Alien line features countless pieces, with virtually every Alien, Predator and the like in their catalogue. But strangely, the Alien/human hybrid that serves as the “big bad” of Alien: Resurrection has never even gotten a prototype. Why is that?
Because it’s dumb. Plain and simple. The idea is dumb. Its design is dumb. Its story arc is dumb, and its death is so comically bad it circles back around to being unfunnily amateurish. The film is so unfocused it shambles and stumbles its way to the reveal of this confounding specimen, and when it finally arrives, it fails to do very much of any note.
7. BEST OF ALIEN VS PREDATOR: CELTIC PREDATOR FIGHTS PRIME ALIEN
Here’s where the canon gets a little muddled, as the Alien lore established here seems to contradict what would later be established by Prometheus. Here, we meet Weyland founder Charles Bishop Weyland, whose likeness would be replicated for the android Bishop in Aliens. Yet, Prometheus tells us Weyland’s founded by Peter Weyland decades later. In Prometheus, we see the proto-alien first come into existence in 2094, but the traditional xenomorphs already roam the buried pyramid in AVP…
But who cares, cause we’re just here to see Predators kill the hell out of Aliens, right? While we could single out the four-second shot where a Predator uses a Lebron-style reverse dunk to plunge a spear into a Queen Alien’s head, we suggest taking a look at the fight between the Celtic Predator and the Prime Alien, a xenomorph whose unique design allows it to secrete its acid blood from its skull to burn through nets.
6. WORST OF ALIEN VS PREDATOR: AVP BECOMES A BUDDY COP FLICK
Alien Vs. Predator is actually a surprisingly solid film with compelling characters, engaging action and a fairly clever story. The slow-burn reveal of why the Predator congregate in that area, why they breed aliens and how little the humans matter in the grand scheme, that they are mere cattle that mean nothing to a race once worshipped as gods, is an almost Lovecraftian idea. And who can forget that classic story where Cthulhu befriends a human and they go full buddy cop movie?
Yes, for some odd reason, AVP felt it needed to make a Predator the clear hero and, despite minutes earlier establishing how little humans matter, has the Predator dubbed Scar not only arms our human hero with makeshift weapons, but even communicates with her via pantomime before dropping a bomb as they both do a side-by-side hero run.
5. BEST OF AVP REQUIEM: PREDATOR HOME WORLD
Now, we were all taught that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Unfortunately, when you’re a website who has taken on the daunting task of finding the good in even the worst of the Alien movies, that’s not a luxury you’re afforded. So instead, you have to try and see something good in a movie so poorly shot that you can’t actually see much of anything in it.
That said, the idea of a Predator who functions as a “cleaner,” a la Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction (the crew even nicknamed the character Wolf after Keitel’s character) isn’t the worst set-up, and indeed, for a full 50 seconds, the infamously bad sequel pulls off an amusing scene. We travel to the rarely seen Predator home world of Yautja Prime as we see “Wolf” observe the outbreak aboard another Predator ship, then rise up almost beleaguered to suit up and go to work.
4. WORST OF AVP REQUIEM: THE MATERNITY WARD
Even though most of the film is unwatchable by virtue of its dreadfully dark cinematography, one of the few scenes that’s well lit is unwatchable for a very different reason. The decision to have the Pred-Alien (the xenomorph that burst out of a Predator) travel to a maternity ward to breed is an odd one, but seeing as we know very little about Predator reproduction, we can kinda go along with that.
Once the scene itself commences, everything about the “impregnation” leaves the audience at the very least wondering “why?” It’s a cringe-inducing scene, and not in the intended way. Maybe its the distinctly B-Movie vibe the rest of the film gives off, but this particular scene comes off gross, and everything about its crass and illogical premise spits in the face of the franchise harder than the Pred-Alien spits its mouth-seed down the throats to turn their already human babies into aliens.
3. BEST OF PROMETHEUS: DAVID STANDS ALONE
Let’s give credit where credit is due: director Ridley Scott returned to the director’s chair and decided to go in a very different direction with his new film in the franchise rather than just retread the old material like a band on a reunion tour. But much like when near-octogenarians attempt to try something totally new, the result was fairly underwhelming. Prometheus is a mess of a movie, there’s no denying, and it is a bit too smart for its own good sometimes.
One notable scene, however, is the introduction of David as he occupies himself with sport, tidying his hair, emulating the film Lawrence of Arabia. He’s searching for meaning, identity, a yearning that grows over the course of the film. The rest of the film may have faults, but this early, deliberately paced character study was a nice reminder that the man who made us love the Nostromo crew was back in charge.
2. WORST OF PROMETHEUS: THE SEDUCTION OF CHARLIZE
Logan Marshall-Green’s utterly illogical archeologist repeatedly putting himself in harms way. Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron attempting to outrun the massive rolling ship instead of just stepping aside. Everyone’s got a glaringly bad scene they point to as “the worst,” but we’re here to tell you there’s one worse for how inconsequential it is.
Shortly after we watch Rapace and Marshall-Green’s scientists have sex, setting up the later alien pregnancy, we inexplicably cut in on “laid back cool guy” Idris Elba playing an accordion as the “ice queen” Charlize Theron enters. They banter ever so briefly about matters related to the plot, until talk turns to sex. She rejects his advances, he makes a crack that she’s a robot, and she invites him to her bedroom. The scene, and its subsequent implied action, are never brought up again.
1. BEST OF THE REST: COVENANT PROLOGUES
Everybody all up to speed on their Alien movies now? Memories refreshed? Well, if you’re chomping at the bit for more, Alien: Covenant has decided to whet our appetites by releasing two prologue shorts tying into the new film. The first of these, entitled “Last Supper,” introduces us to the new crew in a similar fashion to how we first met the Nostromo crew; just watching blue collar folks pal around, unsure of what’s to come and indifferent about anything beyond getting buzzed.
The second, “The Crossing,” once again shows us Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, still in the company of David, who has since had his head reattached to a new body. While the short only teases that their journey has continued, it does provide a great juxtaposition between the David we’ve come to know in Prometheus and the new model of android, Walter, also played by Fassbender.
What’s your favorite scene in an Alien movie? Sound off in the comments!