To celebrate the almost 40-year-old franchise, we watched every movie set in the space-exploring, chest-bursting, acid-bleeding, strobe-lit universe of the Alien franchise in less than a week—even the Alien vs Predator flicks, which are dumb and bad in the most mundane way. Here they are, from best to worst.
First and foremost, every one of these movies is about fucking. Created by surrealist H.R. Giger, the now legendary "xenomorph" is a giant fanged penis demon possessed with a smaller fanged penis that it plunges into the heads of the hapless space truckers of the Nostromo, a group of fully realized workmen and women who just wanted to haul their cargo of ore across the galaxy in the peace of cryosleep.
But Scott's treatise on gender politics goes farther than skull deep.
You'll notice that all of the horror and mayhem so masterfully captured in the beautifully claustrophobic Nostromo would be preventable but for the machinations of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, whose icy servant Ash (Ian Holm) undermines the film's hero, Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), by ignoring her attempts to quarantine Kane (John Hurt) when his throat gets occupied by the proboscis of the alien "facehugger." Though this is a film rich with monstrous horror movie violence, its most shocking moment isn't the chest-bursting scene, but Ash's attempt to suffocate Ripley with a rolled up dirty mag. Critic's Rating: 4/4 stars.
Aliens (1986, directed by James Cameron)
Scott's ideas, particularly the corporate violence propagated by Paul Riser's wonderfully slimy '80s suit Carter Burke, become a little more apparent in Cameron's sequel. Loved at least as much as the first—though ignore anyone who tells you Aliens is superior—Ripley's return to alien-infested planet LV-426 is pure energy: a compressed whirlwind of staccato gunfire, strobe lighting and screaming, punctuated with furtive glances between musclebound marines, Bill Paxton's dudeisms and Ripley's motherly doting over cute-kid Newt (Carrie Henn). Critic's Rating: 4/4 stars.
Prometheus (2012, directed by Ridley Scott)
Scott must've come to Jesus in his autumn years, because 35 years later he uses Prometheus to explore questions of faith in the age of science through a crew of scientists traveling to a distant moon to find the origin of human life.
Don't you worry, there's still a ton of gruesome penetrative imagery, and by this time the ideological palette is less phallic: you likely forgot Shaw's (Noomi Rapace) nasty, thrilling C-section, and the (spoiler) vagina monster it spawns. Though Prometheus' rushed second and third acts abandon all of the hind-mindedness of the first, this film's reputation unduly suffered from stratospheric expectations. Prometheus is overambitious, but it's as good of a poor man's Solaris as we're going to get. Critic's Rating: 3/4 stars.
Alien: Covenant (2017, directed by Ridley Scott)
On its way to planet Origae-6, a solar flare damages colonizing ship Covenant, killing its captain and waking the rest of its crew. While the ship's pilot, Tennessee (Danny McBride), is out conducting repairs, he receives a signal from a nearby habitable moon, which newly in charge Oram (Billy Crudup) decides the crew should investigate to the protestations of 2IC Daniels (Katherine Waterston).
Surprise! Things go to shit when two of 15 crew members inhale spores from alien fungus, rapidly spawning fleshy, apelike monsters who would make short work of everyone but for the efforts of ostensibly benevolent android David (Michael Fassbender), the only survivor from the events of Prometheus, who whisks the survivors to his creepy hidey-hole.
The action in Covenant is bloody and kinetic, given more camera time than the series' earlier films. However, Covenant lacks the expansiveness of its predecessor or the claustrophobia of the early films. The crew is at least six members too large, no one except scene-stealingly hilarious McBride having any room to breathe before being mauled to death. Scott's also taken to recycling the series' visual motifs and action sequences, Alien: Covenant's final battle being a twist on Ripley's confrontation with the queen in Aliens that trades exosuit for landing vehicle. Though it's excellent fan service, Covenant does not deliver the beautiful horror of the Alien series' best. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars.
Joss Whedon wrote a viciously misanthropic, pitch-black comedy that's much smarter than it looks. Jeunet, who'd next direct Amile, sets it off with buckets of gore. It's the future, and Ripley is now a superpowered misanthropic anti-hero who has realized that humanity, not the aliens, are her true enemy. She must lead a group of space smugglers—including Ron Perlman's delightfully oafish bruiser Johner—out of an alien-infested military spaceship. Yes, this film is ugly—and its bland ending was marred by studio interference—but it's great for a sloppy hybrid of Robocop and The Fifth Element. Critic's Rating: 2/4 stars.
Ripley crash lands on a planet full of bald, religious convicts with cockney accents, and the resultant 2 hours is excruciatingly dull, joyless and nonsensical. Plagued with production problems and disowned by Fincher, you're better off reading about what this film could've been on Wikipedia than watching it. Critic's Rating: 1/4 stars.
SEE IT: Alien: Covenant opens at Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Cinemagic Theatre, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Living Room Theaters, Lloyd, Tigard, Vancouver.