A Brief, Messy History of Who Wrote 1979’s ‘Alien’

In space, no one can hear your screenplay.
Alien Nostromo Jacket

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why there are so many differences between Dan O’Bannon’s script for 1979’s Alien and the final film.

Who wrote the script for the sci-fi horror film Alien? Well, Dan O’Bannon, right? What is this, some kind of trick question?

Why yes, dear reader. Yes, it is. Unless you are eyelash-deep in the production lore behind Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, you might not even know that there is any controversy over Alien‘s byline. And who could blame you, the opening credits say “screenplay by Dan O’Bannon” and “story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.” How were you supposed to know that there was anything spicy going on behind the scenes?

Well, as the video essay below keenly underlines, most things in film are a collaborative effort. And that’s not a bad thing. Far from it. Sometimes you need a kitchen full of cooks to turn a Roger Corman-esque B-picture into a capital-b Blockbuster. The cooks in question? The aforementioned O’Bannon and Shusett, along with two members of Brandywine Productions: Walter Hill and David Giler.

If you and your corkboard get tied up in red string while watching this video, don’t worry. Most things that trigger Writer’s Guild of America arbitrations aren’t exactly simple. Remember: in space, no one can hear your screenwriting credit.

Watch “The Hidden Brains Behind Alien (1979)”

Who made this?

This video essay on who actually wrote Alien is by CinemaTyler. The Brooklyn-based creator has been providing some of the most in-depth analyses of auteur-driven cinema on YouTube for some time now. You can check out their YouTube channel here. CinemaTyler’s scholarship on Stanley Kubrick, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey, is noteworthy and absolutely worth seeking out.

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Meg Shields: Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.