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From Worst to Best: The Alien Franchise

May 16, 2017 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

From Worst to Best: The Alien Franchise

Greetings, fellow fanpeople, and welcome to From Worst to Best! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas for what will be the first in an occasional fill-in column for the 8 Ball. Much like that column, From Best to Worst will be a ranking column, but in this case instead of tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections, we’ll be looking at franchises and placing the entries from…well, worst to best. Yeah, the title basically gives the format away, doesn’t it? Anyway, keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my rankings are wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly.

This week the latest in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise hits the big screen as Alien: Covenant is unleashed. The film is intended to serve as a bridge between Prometheus and the original Alien franchise and has thus far received mostly positive reviews, although there have been some very notable exceptions (including our own Jeffrey Harris’ review). Like most iconic genre film series, Alien has had some lofty highs but has also hit some pretty low points as well. So, with that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

#7: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Before we get into the main franchise films, we have to address the elephant in the room…or we would if we could see it. There’s some debate over whether the Alien vs. Predator franchise should count as being part of official continuity with the main films, and I can certainly see both sides of the debate. Either way though, the two films certainly count as Alien films even if they’re qualified more as “crossover spinoffs.” The first Alien vs. Predator may have been somewhat debatable in quality — we’ll get to that in a minute — but there’s not much debating over how bad its sequel is. The reveal of the “Predalien” at the end of the first film gave fans cause for excitement but if they had any idea how poorly executed the Brothers Strause-directed sequel would be, they would have responded with a shrug. The Strauses took a dull script by Shane Salerno — filled with generic characters, recycled ideas and abysmal dialogue — and proceeded to make one of the most poorly-lit films in modern Hollywood genre filmmaking. As the cast struggles and fails to elevate their lame roles to anything engaging, the directing team upped the violence scale to get an R-rating but kept everything else at a distinctly straight-to-video level. AvP: Requiem sits at the nadir of Xenomorph-featuring films, and frankly it isn’t even all that close.

#6: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

While Requiem is undoubtedly the worst film featuring the Alien, it at least gets to hide behind the fact that it’s part of a spinoff. Alien: Resurrection doesn’t get that luxury. Proof positive that even Joss Whedon can be involved in something terrible, Resurrection arrived at the point that 20th Century Fox was clearly just trying to squeeze the franchise for every dime that it could. Whedon wrote the script for the film and has acknowledged the film’s flaws. While confirming that the film almost entirely used his script (except the ending), he said that the film was supposed to be more playful and tongue-in-cheek. “It was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong,” he said. “They said the lines but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong they could possibly do.” Now, with all due respect to Whedon — of whom I am a huge fan — I do have a difficult time figuring out how Resurrection would have worked even in a less serious tone. The story has some interesting aspects and the cast is fairly solid, but the whole thing screams “cash-in” and the story logic is practically nonexistent at times. Whedon is right when he says that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet did just about everything wrong; the human/alien hybrid clone is laughable and even Sigourney Weaver couldn’t make the scene where Ripley first encounters it. Alien: Resurrection is more entertaining that Requiem, but it’s still a fairly embarrassing entry in the franchise.

#5: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Few films have been clearer examples of how fanboys should be careful what they wish for than Alien vs. Predator. When Stephen Hopkins included a Xenomorph skull chilling out at the back of the ship in 1990’s Predator 2, fans went into a tizzy and speculation began as to when we would get an eventual team-up film. On the surface, the way to make this film should be obvious: you have Aliens, you have Predators, you have humans stuck in the middle. Insert some Colonial Marines into a situation where the other two races are and you have a badass-a-thon that doesn’t need an overabundance of story; just set things up nicely for ninety minutes of ass-kicking and bloody violence. Instead, we got a neutered would-be joyride where the humans were irritatingly-written scientists instead of marines, forcing one of them had to become a badass in a completely implausible manner so that a human can live to the end. The film has a ton of set up and while it’s not as bad on this front as its sequel, once we get to the action in the second half the movie’s lighting budget appears to have run out and nothing can be seen. The film’s tagline was “Whoever wins, we lose.” I don’t think moviegoers realized that it meant them and not the characters in the film.

#4: Alien 3 (1992)

Not every Oscar-nominated director hits out of the park their first time at bat. Case in point: David Fincher and Alien 3. At the time of its release, the third film in the franchise was critically savaged and many of the critics pointed at a young music video director’s being put behind the helm as an example of how troubled the movie was. But the problems with the film have little to do with Fincher and, to be honest, the film isn’t nearly as bad as its initial reputation suggests. That’s not to say that the film isn’t deeply flawed, but there is a fair amount of fun to be had thanks in no small part to Sigourney Weaver’s elevation to a newer level of badass as Ripley here. The script from David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson is a bit of a mess at times, largely as a result of studio meddling, but the characterizations are largely solid and the prison setting gives Fincher ample opportunity to wring thrills out of the action scenes. While Alien 3 isn’t an amazing movie, it’s still fun and worth a watch, if not necessarily adulation.

#3: Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus got a very fractured reaction from fans in 2012. Upon the release of the film, which 20th Century Fox’s marketing team effectively built up as the long-awaited Alien prequel, there were reactions across the spectrum. Some people seemed to unfairly compare it to the original Alien, which it certainly didn’t (nor could it) live up to. That’s not to say that comparisons of the film to Scott’s original are unsurprising. The director set out to create a film that would serve as a prequel to Alien and it shifted somewhat, becoming in his words “a film with Alien’s DNA.” It’s an interesting sort of mix of three genres; the first part is basically a sci-fi drama, while the second half goes more into the sci-fi horror/thriller that Alien fans know and love. The third act changes to the sci-fi action/horror of Aliens. That makes a film that isn’t for everyone and there part certainly parts that drag; there is unnecessary melodrama in the script and the characters could be more fleshed out. But there’s a lot more to enjoy than to hate, really. Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender are the most interesting performers in their respective roles as Meredith and David, both the cast is fine all the way through and make what would occasionally seem unsympathetic roles more so. The horror is appropriately squeamish when it comes, particularly the self-Cesarean section scene, and the action is staged with Scott’s confident hand. Despite a couple moments I didn’t love, Prometheus is generally a pretty good film and one that stands up well within the overall series.

#2: Aliens (1986)

The big debate among Alien fans will always be between the first two entries, and the end result generally comes down to whether you’re more of an action or horror fan. Either way, you can’t deny that James Cameron created one of the greatest science fiction action films of all-time in Aliens. Cameron took Ridley Scott’s original and, on a fairly small $18 million budget, created a big, bold and fun blockbuster that kept just enough of the original’s horror to leave a creepy edge. Sigourney Weaver truly steps into her own as Ripley here, transitioning her way from Final Girl into action badass. She’s backed up with an ensemble team of fantastic actors who embodied instantly-iconic characters: Michael Biehn as Hicks, Lance Henriksen as Bishop, Bill Paxton as Hudson, Jenette Goldstein as Vasquez and even Paul Reiser as the slimy Carter Burke. Aliens is one of the true greats of the rise of sci-fi blockbusters in the 1980s and 1990s, standing as one of the best films not only of the franchise, but of the genre as a whole.

#1: Alien (1979)

There really was no other choice here. As good as Aliens is, the original set the stage and set the bar for science fiction horror. There’s so much to praise about this film that it almost deserves its own column. H.R. Giger’s iconic design for the Xenomorph is just flat-out terrifying; they are perfect killing machines that have absolutely no conscience because they aren’t human in any way. Many space features like to humanize their monsters, but not this one. The Xenomorphs are animals fulfilling their life cycle, pure and simple. It’s just unfortunate for us that their life cycle involves dead bipedals. Scott also uses the Nostromo’s environment to great effect; it feels very claustrophobic, particularly when Dallas gets down in the tubes to flush it out. In fact, the Nostromo almost feels like more of a Xenomorph home than a place for humans with its hiding places, dark places and lots of tubes and hoses hanging down. It’s a film where technology seems to turn against the heroes and even the android is a threat. You have a great “final girl” as well in Ripley. Like so many other great genre franchises, when it comes to Alien the original is king.

And that will do it for us this week! Until next Monday, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.