For almost 40 years, we’ve found terror (and other strange things) in the eight films in the ‘Alien’ franchise. It’s about time we ranked ’em.
Think about it. How many film franchises have survived, let alone succeeded in four different decades? That short list includes a few likely candidates — Star Wars is one. If George Lucas and Steven Spielberg get their way, Indiana Jones may become another one soon enough. That is to say that the Alien franchise breathes rarified air. And not just because it’s set elsewhere in the universe.
From 1979 to this very weekend, the Alien franchise has been a mainstay for horror hounds, sci-fi nerds, and fans of those terrors that lurk in the not-so-well-lit corridors of a spacecraft.
With the release of Alien Covenant, we are presented with the opportunity to look back at the entire franchise, warts and all. And place these 8 films — yes, even the ones with the Predators — into greater context.
We’re doing so this week in two parts. Part one is a podcast episode in which contributor Theo Broxson and I talk through the notion of ranking these 8 films at greater length. We’ve taken into consideration insight from other members of the FSR team and various resources around the web and have come ready to debate the placement of each film.
As you can hear on the pod, this is not something we take lightly. Plenty of healthy debate goes into finalizing these lists. Each one of these films represents years in the lives of their creative teams and the blood, sweat, and tears of their crews. So even though we’re just a bunch of idiots on the internet, we try to approach a list of this nature with reverence. Also, I’ve reserved the right to change my mind between the podcast recording and now. You’ll see what I mean. That said, in the end, it’s up to me to commit the final, definitive rankings to print with digital ink. So here we go…
8. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
Given how poorly lit this film was, it’s hard to say that we’ll ever really know if it were good. Maybe someday the Brothers Strause will go back and tune up the contrast for one of those black-and-white cuts that are all the rage. Maybe no one really cares that much about the AvP sequel. What we can say is that to its credit, Requiem did redeem some of the ill-will of AvP‘s PG-13 rating by hinting at a lot of very poorly lit brutality. It’s unfortunate because the concept is a lot of fun, but someone has to be last.
7. AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
There’s a weirdness to Paul W.S. Anderson’s contribution to the franchise. Not just that the story is strange or the visuals of seeing a Xenomorph figure through the heat-vision of the Predator mask is a unique proposition. The very existence of AvP is out there. It originated from a comic book story by Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the original screenplay for Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece that can be seen much further down this page. It was then taken by Anderson and Shane Salerno and turned into the PG-13 schlockfest we see in the final version, filled with Aztec mythology, Predator rites of passage, and a new origin story for Xenomorphs. Looking back, it’s a product of a time when studios wanted to make horror movies for which 13-year-olds could buy tickets, but they never stopped to think about what made the franchise so successful in the first place. AvP may be the ultimate cautionary tale for bad crossover ideas, but it’s also a time capsule for a different kind of bad movie. The ambitious, hugely misguided swings at being the weirdest kid on the block. Never change, AvP.
6. Alien 3 (1992)
If David Fincher doesn’t like this movie — and trust me when I say that he doesn’t — how are we supposed to rank it any higher than some of these other films. Their directors, for better or worse, at least felt pretty good about what they made. The other problem with Alien 3: it’s the tale of two films. Are we rating the original theatrical cut? The special edition? The even better double secret special edition that still exists in David Fincher’s mind? Sorry, we have to look at the theatrical version of this movie and that version is hot, wet, and on fire. It may have given us one of the sexiest single frames of the entire franchise (pictured above), but there’s not much else here to work with. Apologists can crow about studio interference, directorial independence, and the value of unrealized visions all they want, but it won’t make those Xenomorph-running-down-the-hall effects any better.