Aliens is a 1986 American science fiction action film written and directed by James Cameron. It is the sequel to the 1979 science fiction horror film Alien and the second film in the Alien franchise. Set in the far future, the film stars Sigourney Weaver as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, the sole survivor of an alien attack on her ship. When communications are lost with a human colony on the same moon her crew first encountered the alien creatures, Ripley agrees to return to the site alongside a troop of colonial marines to investigate. Aliens also features Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, and Carrie Henn in supporting roles.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Cameron|
|Produced by||Gale Anne Hurd|
|Screenplay by||James Cameron|
|Music by||James Horner|
|Edited by||Ray Lovejoy|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$131.1–183.3 million|
Despite the success of Alien, its sequel took years to develop, being delayed by lawsuits over profits from the first film, a lack of enthusiasm from the studio, 20th Century Fox, and repeated changes in its management. Based on his scripts for The Terminator (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Cameron was hired to write a story treatment for Aliens in 1983. The project stalled again until new Fox executive Lawrence Gordon pushed for a sequel. Relatively inexperienced at the time, Cameron pushed to direct the film, and was given the role based on his success directing The Terminator. On an approximate $18.5 million budget, Aliens commenced principal photography in September 1985. Like its development, filming was tumultuous and rife with conflicts between Cameron and the British crew at Pinewood Studios over their different working habits and Cameron's relative inexperience. James Horner provided the film's score. The difficult shoot also impacted Horner, who was given little time to record the music.
Aliens was released on July 18, 1986, to critical acclaim. It was well-received for its action although some reviewers were critical of the relentless intensity of some scenes. Weaver's performance received consistent praise, and other members of the cast were positively received, including Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein who portrayed colonial marines. The film received numerous awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for Weaver, at a time when the science fiction genre was generally overlooked. The film earned $131.1–183.3 million during its theatrical run, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 1986 worldwide.
In the years since its release, Aliens has grown in esteem and is now considered to be among the greatest films of the 1980s, one of the best science-fiction or action films ever made, and one of the best sequels ever made. It has been called equal to or arguably better than Alien. Aliens is credited with significantly expanding the franchise's scope with its additions to the series' lore and factions like the colonial marines, which led to it appearing in other media like comic books and video games and the development of the Alien vs. Predator franchise. With its enduring impact on popular culture and a dedicated fan following, the success of Aliens has seen it represented across a wide variety of merchandise including video games, comic books, board games, clothing, music, books, toys, and collectibles. The film was followed by two direct sequels, Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997)—both were critically derided though financially successful—and crossover films in the Aliens vs. Predator franchise. The Alien series has since received prequels to Alien (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant), and a fifth direct sequel is in development as of 2020.
For 57 years, Ellen Ripley has been in stasis in an escape shuttle after destroying her ship, the Nostromo, to escape a lethal alien creature that slaughtered her crew. She is rescued and debriefed by her employers at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, but they are skeptical of her claims of alien eggs found in a derelict ship on the exomoon LV-426,[a] as it is now the site of the terraforming colony Hadleys Hope. After contact is lost with the colony, Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke and Colonial Marine Lieutenant Gorman ask Ripley to accompany them to investigate. Still traumatized from her alien encounter, she agrees on the condition that they exterminate the creatures. Aboard the spaceship Sulaco, she is introduced to the Colonial Marines and the android Bishop.
A dropship delivers the expedition to the surface of LV-426, where they find the colony deserted. Inside, they find makeshift barricades and battle signs, but no bodies; two live alien facehuggers in containment tanks; and a traumatized young girl nicknamed Newt, the sole survivor. The crew locates the colonists grouped beneath the fusion-powered atmosphere processing station. They head to the location, descending into corridors covered in alien secretions. At the center of the station, the marines find the colonists cocooned, serving as incubators for the creatures' offspring. The marines kill an infant alien after it bursts from a colonist's chest, rousing multiple adult aliens who ambush the marines, killing or capturing many of them. When the inexperienced Gorman panics, Ripley assumes command, taking control of their armored personnel carrier, and rams the nest to rescue Corporal Hicks, and Privates Hudson and Vasquez. Hicks orders the dropship to recover the survivors, but a stowaway alien kills the pilots, causing it to crash into the station. The remaining group barricades themselves inside the colony.
Ripley discovers that Burke had ordered the colonists to investigate the derelict spaceship containing the alien eggs, intending to become wealthy by recovering alien specimens for use as biological weapons. Before she can expose him, Bishop informs the group that the dropship crash damaged the power plant cooling system, and it will soon explode and destroy the colony. He volunteers to crawl through extensive piping conduits to reach the colony's transmitter and remotely pilot the Sulaco's remaining dropship to the surface.
Ripley and Newt fall asleep in the medical laboratory. They awake to find themselves locked in the room and with the two facehuggers, which have been released from their tanks. Ripley triggers a fire alarm to alert the marines, who rescue them and kill the creatures. Ripley accuses Burke of releasing the facehuggers so that they would impregnate her and Newt, allowing him to smuggle the embryos past Earth's quarantine. He would then have to kill the remaining marines so that no one could contradict his version of events. The power is suddenly cut, and aliens assault through the ceiling. In the ensuing firefight, Burke flees but is cornered by an alien and killed, while Hudson is captured after covering the others' retreat. Gorman and the injured Vasquez sacrifice themselves to stall the aliens; Hicks is injured, and Newt is captured.
Ripley and Hicks reach Bishop in the second dropship, but Ripley refuses to abandon Newt. The group travels to the processing station, allowing a heavily armed Ripley to enter the hive and rescue Newt. As they escape, the two encounter the alien queen in her egg chamber. When an egg begins to open, Ripley uses her flamethrower to destroy the eggs and the queen's ovipositor. Pursued by the enraged queen, Ripley and Newt reunite with Bishop and Hicks on the dropship. All four escape moments before the station explodes with the colony consumed by the nuclear blast.
On the Sulaco, the group is ambushed by the queen, who stowed away in the dropship's landing gear. The queen tears Bishop in half and advances on Newt, but Ripley battles the creature using an exosuit cargo-loader and expels it through an airlock into space. Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and the critically damaged Bishop enter hypersleep for their return trip to Earth.
- Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley:
The sole survivor of an alien attack on her ship, the Nostromo.
- Michael Biehn as Dwayne Hicks:
A Corporal in the Colonial Marines.
- Paul Reiser as Carter J. Burke:
A Weyland-Yutani Corporation representative.
- Lance Henriksen as Bishop:
An android serving aboard the Sulaco.
- Carrie Henn as Rebecca "Newt" Jorden:
A young girl living in the Hadleys Hope colony on LV-426.
The Colonial Marine cast includes Privates Hudson (Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Drake (Mark Rolston) Frost (Ricco Ross), Spunkmeyer (Daniel Kash), Crowe (Tip Tipping), and Wierzbowski (Trevor Steedman), and Corporals Dietrich (Cynthia Dale Scott) and Ferro (Colette Hiller). Al Matthews portrays Sergeant Apone, and William Hope portrays the Marines' inexperienced commanding officer Gorman. As well as the main cast, Aliens also features Paul Maxwell as Van Leuwen, a member of the board reviewing Ripley's competence, and Barbara Coles as the cocooned colonist killed when an alien bursts from her chest.  Carl Toop portrays the alien warriors.
Some scenes removed for the film's theatrical release were restored in subsequent releases. Additional cast credited for these scenes includes Newt's father Russ Jorden (Jay Benedict), her mother Anne (Holly de Jong), and Henn's real-life brother Christopher portrays her on-screen brother Timmy. Mac McDonald appears as Colony Administrator Al Simpson. Weaver's mother Elizabeth Inglis cameos as Ripley's daughter Amanda Ripley.
Following the critical and commercial success of the science-fiction horror film Alien (1979), its production company, Brandywine Productions was eager to pursue a sequel. Even so, it took seven years for a sequel to be completed. Then-20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr., who had been supportive of Alien, was behind the proposed Alien II. However, before the project could progress, Ladd Jr. left Fox in 1979 to found his own production studio, The Ladd Company. He was replaced by Norman Levy. According to Brandywine co-founder David Giler, Levy was opposed to making the film because it would be a "disaster". Levy disputed this account, saying that he wanted to make Alien II but he was concerned about the production costs. The studio was also concerned that Alien's success was a fluke, that it was profitable, but not enough to warrant a follow up, and that audiences would not return for a sequel. There was also a declining trend in box office returns for the horror genre.
Development was delayed further when Giler and Brandywine co-founders Walter Hill and Gordon Carroll filed a lawsuit against Fox over unpaid profits from Alien. Using Hollywood accounting practices, Fox had declared Alien a financial loss, despite earning more than $100 million against a $9–$11 million budget. Fox argued that Alien was a low-earning film and a potential box office failure. Brandywine's lawsuit was settled by early 1983, on the agreement that Fox would finance the development of Alien II, but was not required to serve as the distributor.
In the intervening years, Fox had also installed new executives including studio head Joe Wizan. Wizan was receptive to a sequel, though other executives remained non-committal. By mid-1983, Larry Wilson, a development executive working for Giler, began looking for a scriptwriter. He came across the script for the in-development science fiction film The Terminator (1984) written by James Cameron. Alongside Cameron's collaborative scriptwriting efforts with Sylvester Stallone on Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Wilson was convinced to show The Terminator script to Giler, Hill, and Carroll. Cameron was asked to write a treatment—an outline for the story—for Aliens II. By November that year, Cameron turned in a 42-page treatment to Fox he had written over three days. The studio had a mixed reaction to it, with one executive claiming it was a constant stream of horror without character development. The project stalled again and negotiations took place to sell the sequel rights to Rambo developers Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna. The talks collapsed when neither side could agree to terms.
By July 1984, Lawrence Gordon had replaced Wizan as head of Fox studio production. With few projects currently in development, Gordon looked at sequels to Fox's existing properties and came across the Aliens II treatment. According to Gordon, it was an obvious project to pursue and he was surprised no one had already. Gordon also had a pre-existing relationship with Hill from their work on the action-comedy 48 Hrs. (1982). Production on The Terminator was delayed for nine months because star Arnold Schwarzenegger was contractually obligated to film Conan the Destroyer (1984). Cameron used the time to develop his treatment, expanding it to ninety pages—each representing one minute of screen time. Among other things, Cameron drew ideas from one of his own story concepts called "Mother" about an alien on a space station and involving a power loader suit. This version was more well-received by Fox executives and Gordon. However, Cameron wanted to direct the project.
Cameron was a relatively new director and the studio was reluctant to support his request. His biggest success at that time was a low-budget independent horror film, Piranha II: The Spawning (1982). Even to Cameron's surprise, The Terminator was released in October 1984 to unexpected financial and critical success, elevating his directing credibility, and Gordon hired him as Alien II's director. Cameron later said that his low expectations of The Terminator led him to spend much of his free time during its production on developing ideas for Aliens II. He also used that film as a practice run for some of his Alien II ideas to gain experience. Cameron turned down requests to direct a sequel to The Terminator so he could pursue Aliens II. Cameron's collaborative partner and then-girlfriend Gale Anne Hurd was not taken seriously as a producer. Fox did not believe Hurd would stand up to Cameron as his partner, but Cameron said she was the only person who would. She had several of her industry associates contact Fox executives to convince them she was a legitimate producer. Cameron said that people tried to convince him not to take the job, believing that anything good about the film would be attributed to Alien director Ridley Scott, and anything negative to Cameron; Cameron countered that he really wanted to make it. According to Scott, he was never offered the chance to direct the sequel, suggesting that he had been difficult to work with on the original. The film's release title, Aliens, reportedly came from Cameron writing "Alien" on a whiteboard during a pitch meeting and adding a "$" after it.
Cameron turned in the finished script in February 1985, just hours before a Hollywood writer's strike. The script was well-received, but Fox executives, including Chairman Barry Diller, were concerned about the cost. Fox estimated the cost as close to $35 million; Hurd said it would be closer to $15.5 million. Diller wanted to make the film but at the lowest possible cost, offering $12 million. Cameron and Hurd quit the project in response. Gordon continued to negotiate with Diller until the latter eventually relented, and Cameron and Hurd returned. In April 1985, conflict turned to the cast; Fox did not want Weaver to return because they expected her to request a large salary. Cameron and Hurd were insistent that Weaver return as the solo star, but Fox refused to agree, arguing it would damage their negotiating power with Weaver's agent. Cameron and Hurd again left the project, opting to get married and go on a honeymoon. When they returned, they learned that the Aliens project was ready to move forward. Cameron credited Gordon with Aliens ever being greenlit.
Cameron described watching the original Alien while still working as a truck driver. He said more than his own experience, he recalled the audience's reactions to what they were seeing on screen. At first he did not understand why Alien needed a sequel, believing it was a "perfect" film, and it would be difficult to recreate the emotion and novelty of the original. He and Hurd agreed to combine the horror of Alien with the action of The Terminator. According to Hill, Cameron said that if the first film could be compared to a haunted attraction, Aliens should be like a roller coaster. Cameron also believed in having a strong female heroine to differentiate his films from more typical Hollywood action fare; he wrote the script with a picture of Weaver on his desk. He referred to The Terminator and how he deliberately took away the normal protective forces from Sarah Connor so that she had to fend for herself. He had also always wanted to make a film about infantry in space.
Weaver rejected numerous offers to return and was only mildly interested after reading Cameron's script. She had to be convinced that Aliens was not being made exclusively for financial reasons. She reportedly received a $1 million (equivalent to $2.33 million in 2019) salary, and a percentage of the box office profits; the highest salary of her career at the time. Negotiations were reportedly so protracted that Cameron and Hurd told Schwarzenegger's agent they intended to re-cast Ripley, knowing that Weaver's agent would be informed; negotiations were settled shortly afterward.
An unknown actor was wanted to portray Newt. Henn was scouted by casting agents at her school in Lakenheath, England. She had no acting experience but Cameron said that she had a "great face and expressive eyes". James Remar was cast as Hicks on the personal recommendation of his close friend Hill, but he left shortly after filming commenced. This was explained as due to urgent family matters or creative differences with Cameron. Remar later admitted that he was fired after being arrested for drug possession. His relationship with Hill was damaged for over a decade. Hurd hired Michael Biehn the following Friday; he immediately agreed. Stephen Lang also auditioned for the role.
Paxton credited his casting as Hudson to a chance encounter with Cameron at Los Angeles International Airport. Cameron was shipping the Aliens script to Pinewood Studios, England, and Paxton remarked that he wanted a role. The studio was supportive of Paxton's casting because of positive feedback for his performance in Weird Science (1985). Paxton recalled running late for his audition, in which he had to pretend a cardboard tube was a rifle. He was concerned the character would annoy audiences until realizing he served as comic relief to release the audience's tension. Cameron re-wrote the role specifically for Paxton. Henriksen was worried about appearing as the android Bishop following the successes of Ian Holm in Alien and Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner (1982). He chose to play the character akin to an innocent child who pities the short-lived humans. He suggested unique pupils for Bishop when the character is alerted and had lenses mocked up, but Cameron felt they made Bishop look scarier than the alien. Biehn, Paxton, and Henriksen all worked with Cameron on The Terminator. Aliens was Reiser's first major theatrical role, following small parts in films like Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
The colonial marines cast was a mix of British and American actors. They had to undertake an intensive 3-week training period with the British Special Air Service (SAS). Al Matthews (Apone), a Vietnam war (1955–1975) veteran, helped train the actors; he educated them on not pointing their weapons at people as the blank bullets used could still cause damage. The training was intended to help the marines cast develop camaraderie and treat the rest of the cast (Weaver, Reiser, and Hope) as outsiders. Biehn's late addition meant he missed the training. He said he regretted being unable to customize his armor like the other actors; he inherited Remar's. Cameron provided a background dossier on each marine—for example, Vasquez and Drake were recruited from a juvenile prison.
Vasquez was Goldstein's first feature film role. She credited her buff physique to being out of work and liking going to the gym. Cameron asked how much bigger she could get in four weeks, prompting Goldstein to begin eating and training more to gain an additional 10 pounds (4.5 kg). The Caucasian Goldstein wore dark contact lenses and underwent an hour of makeup to cover her freckles and darken her skin to appear more Latina. She also referenced material like gang interviews to develop her demeanor and accent. Ricco Ross (Frost) was already committed to the war film Full Metal Jacket (1987); its filming schedule overlapped for a week with Aliens. Cameron offered to let Ross join filming later, but concerned that Kubrick's projects often overran, Ross dropped out and joined Aliens. Ralston misled the filmmakers to help secure his part. He had finished filming the drama film Revolution (1985) and implied he was the next most prominent actor in it after Al Pacino. William Hope (Gorman) was cast as Hudson before Cameron and Hurd decided to go a different way with the character.
Cynthia Dale Scott (Dietrich) was an aspiring singer when she was cast. Colette Hiller (Ferro) was upset that she had to shave her hair short for the role as she was due to get married afterward. She made the filmmakers buy her a long, blonde wig, but never wore it. Trevor Steadman (Wiezbowski) was a stuntman rather than an actor, and the film was Daniel Kash's (Spunkmeyer) first film role. He offered Cameron his coat if he got the part. Kash also auditioned for Hudson. The actors stayed at the Holiday Inn, Langley, Berkshire during filming. Paxton described the actors' time outside work in positive terms. He said "God, we had the best time... We all hung very hard together. That's where I first met [Henriksen], who I fell in love with. [Matthews]... was a really good spirit to have around, with a great voice. And all these hilarious British characters, like [Steadman], the stuntman, who used to grab my bicep and go, 'Blimey, more meat on a cat's cock!'".
Principal photography began in September 1985. The budget was reported to be $18.5 million, before accounting for film prints and marketing costs. Filming was scheduled to finish in 75 days and took place mainly at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire near London, England. The site was chosen for its large sets. Among other films, the black comedy Little Shop of Horrors and Revolution were also being filmed at the studio; Al Pacino visited the Aliens set. Before Remar's firing, he accidentally blew a hole in Frank Oz's Little Shop of Horrors set with a shotgun.
The shoot was tumultuous. The American Cameron was unfamiliar with the traditions and practices of the British film industry like tea breaks that regularly interrupted the production for up to an hour every weekday. This frustrated Cameron because he was losing hours of filming every week. In his book The Making of Aliens, author J.W. Rinzler described Cameron coming onto the set as George Lucas had before him for Star Wars (1977), but Cameron was aggressive and sure of what he wanted which perturbed the crew. Cameron was also practical and if he wanted to modify a part of the scene such as lighting to meet his vision, he did it without involving the union-organized crew.
The crew was also dismissive of Cameron for his relative inexperience as they believed he had not done enough to earn such a prominent position and that Hurd had her job only because she was Cameron's partner. Cinematographer Dick Bush insisted on illuminating the alien hive brightly, counter to Cameron's request. Bush was eventually let go and replaced with Adrian Biddle. Similarly, the first assistant director Derek Cracknell would often ignore Cameron's requests. Gale described the situation as "[Cameron] would ask him to set up a shot one way and [Cracknell] would say, 'Oh no no no, I know what you want,'... Then he'd do it wrong and the whole set would have to be broken down." The situation deteriorated until Cameron and Hurd fired Cracknell. He responded by convincing the Pinewood crew to walk out in the middle of the day.
Cameron rang Fox for advice and became determined to move the production out of England until convinced otherwise by Hurd. She and Cameron gathered the crew together to discuss their grievances. Cameron explained the importance of the production to himself, and that any member of the crew who could not support it should step forward to be replaced. The situation was made more difficult because the number of films simultaneously in production meant the crew could not be swapped with another. The crew agreed to support Cameron as long as he was supportive of their scheduled working hours. The relationship between the filmmakers and crew never became pleasant. With filming concluded at Pinewood, Cameron was reported to have again gathered the crew to announce "This has been a long and difficult shoot, fraught by many problems... but the one thing that kept me going, through it all, was the certain knowledge that one day I would drive out the gate of Pinewood and never come back, and that you sorry bastards would still be here. Cameron later described most of the crew as "lazy, insolent, and arrogant". Paxton described their work as impeccable, but their attitude more laid back than the American crews they were used to.
The alien nest was filmed in the decommissioned Acton Lane Power Station in Acton, London. The alien set was left in place until filming for the 1989 superhero film Batman. While filming the dropship descent from the Sulaco, the roof of the set collapsed onto the cast and crew from it shaking violently. Most of the cast were unharmed but a large piece struck Cameron in the head, leaving him bloodied. The tight budget meant that Hurd forced Cameron to use his own money to pay for an early scene of a laser cutting Ripley free from her hyposleep chamber. According to Henriksen, Paxton was unaware he would be involved in the knife-trick scene until filming; Henriksen knicked Paxton's finger during the reshoot. Early establishing scenes were filmed near the end of principal photography, to capture the developed bond between some of the cast and their characters.
Some improvisation was encouraged during filming. Weaver would discuss tweaks to her character on set with Cameron as she believed she understood how Ripley would act and react. Weaver's line, "Get away from her, you bitch!" had to be done in one take due to the limited filming schedule remaining; she believed she had messed it up. Paxton believed he was not talented at improvisation but would discuss ideas with Cameron before filming. One of his signature lines, "Game over man, game over" originated from Paxton developing a backstory for Hudson in which he was trained on simulators. Henn found it difficult to act afraid of the aliens as she was fond of the actors in the suits. She pretended a dog was chasing her to feel scared. Other cast spent time with Henn between scenes, including Weaver and Paxton, whom would color or craft things with Henn. Biehn said that he and Paxton spent much of their free time together. Weaver chose to gift a bouquet of flowers to each actor on the filming day of their death scene; she gave Reiser a bouquet of dead flowers.
Post-production began in late April, 1986. Ray Lovejoy served as Aliens' editor. Several filmed scenes were removed from the theatrical release. Among them, a scene of Ripley learned about her daughter's death, and a scene of a cocooned Burke begging Ripley for death. Fox and Hurd suggested removing an extended opening sequence, detailing the lives of the colonists and Newt's family discovering the derelict alien ship and her father being attacked by a facehugger, because it ruined the film's pacing and mystery. Two scenes featuring James Remar as Hicks, shown from the back, were used in the film.
Cameron's final edit was 2 hours and 17 minutes long. Fox wanted the film to be under 2 hours long so that it could be shown more times per day in theaters, significantly increasing its revenue potential. Then-Fox production president Scott Rudin flew to England to ask Cameron and Hurd if they could cut another 12 minutes, but Cameron was concerned that any further cuts would make the film non-sensical; Rudin acquiesced.
James Horner was acquaintances with Cameron from the formative years of their respective careers working under director Roger Corman. Aliens was Horner's and Cameron's first collaboration, one that Horner described as a "nightmare". He arrived in London to compose the score, expecting a six-week schedule. However, there was no film for him to score for as Cameron was still filming and editing Aliens, and Horner was given only three weeks to compose the score. The producers were unwilling to give Horner any more time, and he was scheduled to begin scoring another film, The Name of the Rose (1986) shortly afterward.
Horner recorded the score at Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra. The schedule was so short that the score for the climactic battle between Ripley and the queen was written overnight. Cameron first heard the score while it was being recorded by the orchestra; he did not like it. It was too late to make any changes to the score. Cameron's experience on The Terminator with composer Brad Fiedel's synth-inspired tracks had allowed him to feedback regularly and changes be implemented quickly, but with no experience managing orchestral music, he did not realize that by the time the music was written and being recorded, it was too late to make adjustments. Cameron opted to cut the score up, using pieces where he believed they fit best, inserted pieces of Jerry Goldsmith's score for Alien, or hired unknown composers to fill remaining gaps. In a later interview, Cameron said he thought it was a good score, but that it did not fit the scenes he had filmed. Horner's "alien sting" sound was initially only used once during the scene of the cocooned woman. Cameron thought it was too much, but eventually used it throughout the film. Unused segments of Horner's score were later used in the 1988 action film Die Hard.
Special effects and designEdit
Aliens' special effects were supervised by John Richardson and developed by Stan Winston Studio. Cameron avoided hiring too many Alien crew members because he did not want to be restricted by any loyalties to the first film. Even so, some crew did return, often having achieved a higher status in the intervening years, such as Crispian Sallis who went from Alien focus puller to Aliens set decorator. Artist Ron Cobb had also worked on Alien, but Cameron liked his work. Conceptual artist Syd Mead was recruited as Cameron was a fan of his work on films like 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984).
Ships and technologyEdit
Mead designed the marines' spaceship, the Sulaco. He conceived of it as a large sphere with antennae, but Cameron wanted it to be flatter as the full craft had to pass by the camera, and the spherical version would not work with the film's aspect ratio. Mead designed the craft as a commercial freighter carrying a military unit. As such, its exterior was designed with a row of loading doors and accompanying crane, but also with large gun fixtures to defend against potential threats. Mirrors were used as a cost-cutting measure; the reflections were used to artificially increase the number of sleeping pods aboard the Sulaco and add a further power loader. Cobb was responsible for designing the Sulaco dropship interiors, the marines' land vehicle, the APC, and exteriors of the colony and its vehicles. The Sulaco's dropship was designed to be life-size for use in the Sulaco set. A replica model was used for some shots. The APC was a disguised towing tug for a Boeing 747 aircraft. The alien derelict spacecraft was the same model as used in Alien. It had been kept in historian Bob Burns III' driveway since filming.
The marines' smart guns weighed 65 pounds (29 kg) to 70 pounds (32 kg). They were constructed from German MG 42 anti-aircraft machine guns that were attached to a camera steadicam rig and further augmented with motorcycle parts. Getting in and out of the smart gun rig was difficult and so the actors kept them on even when not filming. The pulse rifle was constructed from a Thompson submachine gun and a Franchi SPAS-12 pump-action shotgun inside a futuristic shell. The cast was given regular weapons training in guns and explosives. Weaver had not used a weapon before and was opposed to weapons in general. Cameron explained they were necessary, but secondary to the core narrative of Ripley bonding with and protecting Newt. She found using the weapons a strange experience and difficult both due to their weight and ensuring she did not pull the wrong trigger while using the different weapons.
A cast was made of Henn's body, face, and her stunt double's legs to construct a lightweight dummy for Weaver to hold when carrying a gun, as their weight combined with Henn's was too much for her to carry. Goldstein had also not handled a gun before and was holding her weapon incorrectly for close-up shots; Hurd stood in for her during these shots. The flamethrowers were functional. The art department had covered the sets in an unspecified substance to artificially age them, but when the flamethrowers were used, the substance vaporized, causing fire and heavy smoke. Goldstein struggled to breath and, as improvization was encouraged, Paxton thought she was acting until the same effect happened to him.
The nuclear explosion of the colony during the film's finale was created by shining a lightbulb through cotton. Reebok developed custom Reebok Pump footwear for Weaver to wear throughout the film.
Artist H. R. Giger, who designed the Alien creature was not involved in Aliens; he was reportedly unhappy about it. According to Hurd, Giger was already contractually obligated to Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), and Fox was not allowed to attempt negotiations with him. Special effects creator Stan Winston replaced him. As Cameron was a designer himself, he also contributed to designs, but he was not as concerned with the warrior aliens because they were only onscreen briefly during each appearance.
The aliens were portrayed by dancers, and stuntmen wearing lightweight costumes that would allow them to move quickly. Numerous 8 ft (2.4 m) mannequins were used for instances where the aliens were contorted into inhuman poses. Although it appears there are hordes of alien creatures in the film, there were only 12 alien suits in total, sometimes made of simple black leotards covered in molded foam parts for use in faster moving shots, and higly-detailed models for closeups that included articulated upper bodies and mouths. When the aliens are shot and destroyed, puppets were hung up and detonated. The aliens acidic blood was created from a combination of tetrachloride, cyclohexylamine, acetic acid, and yellow dye. Winston made slight modifications to the chestburster alien form by adding arms. He believed this made sense with the adult form having arms, and explained how it could drag itself out of a host's chest. Two chestburster puppets were used: a reinforced one and an articulated one for movement. A puppeteer punched the former through a fabricated foam latex chest; the scene took several takes because it could not pierce the pre-worn clothing.
Cameron was responsible for designing the alien queen. He worked with Winston to ensure the concept was viable. They went through different concepts including large puppets, miniatures, and costumes with multiple people inside. A frame was built large enough to hold two people and covered in black polythene bags and hung on a crane. The prototype was a success and Cameron went away to write the alien queen scene. The final alien queen was a 14 ft (4.3 m) puppet built out of lightweight polyfoam. Two people sat inside it to control the arms, while the legs were controlled by rods connected at the ankles, and a separate person whipped the tail around using a fishing line. The head was manipulated using a combination of servo motors and hydraulics controlled by up to four people simultaneously. The effect was further concealed through the use of lighting, steam, slime, and smoke.
The Stan Winston Studio had not used hydraulics before and considered it a learning experience. They were essential for moving larger parts of the queen puppet, including moving the head up and down. A foot press inside the queen's body could be activated to hydraulically move the tail up and down. Shane Mahan sculpted the head by sight alone based on a maquette as the technology did not then exist to scale up the model design by computer; it took several weeks to sculpt. Two heads were built: a lightweight but fragile one and a more durable one that could take some damage. Each was articulated with hydraulics and cables to control the queen's mouths and lips.
To create the effect of the queen piercing Bishop's chest with her tail, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis constructed a chest plate for Henriksen to wear with a rubber segment of the queen's tail flattened against it. The tail was pulled forward by wire, seemingly exploding through Bishop's torso. A rigid piece of tail attached to a body harness was used to show more of the tail having moved through Bishop, and Henriksen was leveraged upward to appear as if he was being lifted by the tail. To complete the effect, a dummy of Bishop was constructed with a spring-loaded mechanism that would forcibly separate his upper and lower body, appearing as if the queen had ripped him in half. Once separated, Henriksen's upper body was situated below the set and a fake torso attached up to his shoulders. The android blood was milk and after a few days of filming it had spoiled and gave off a foul odour.
John Richardson designed the mechanical power loader exosuit, with input from Mead. Like the queen, a prototype was built out of wood and polythene bags stuffed with newspaper to understand how the movement would work. The finished design was cumbersome that stuntman John Lees, garbed in a black skinsuit, operated it from behind. The battle between the queen and power loader was choreographed extensively, as Weaver battling against a large and unwieldy animatronic could put her at risk of serious injury. The camera was sometimes moved around to simulate the subjects moving faster. The scene of the queen running at Ripley was one of the more difficult shots and had to be framed correctly to conceal the wires and rods as these could not be visually removed in post-production. Miniatures were used for parts of the scene, using Go motion, a version of stop motion with an added motion blur.
The theatrical summer season started in mid-May 1986. The season was launching earlier each year as studios attempted to pre-empt competing studios with their biggest potential films. Fifty-five films were scheduled for release between May and September, including the action-drama Top Gun and comedy film Sweet Liberty. The season was not expected to break the financial records set in previous years due to few sequels (Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives), anticipated blockbusters or films by Steven Spielberg that had dominated the earlier half of the decade, and films starring popular comedians like Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase. Some industry experts also blamed the burgeoning home video market that had grown from 7 million rentals in 1983 to 58 million by 1985. Films expected to do well were aimed at younger audiences featuring comedy or horror such as Back to School, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and SpaceCamp. Even so, some films targeted at adults were also seen as potential successes, including Legal Eagles, Ruthless People, and the Sylvester Stallone-starring Cobra aiming to trade on its star appeal.
Comparatively, Aliens was seen as a potential sleeper hit based on positive industry word-of-mouth during filming, "enthusiastic" industry screenings, and favourable pre-release reviews. Its success was considered to depend on it being able to attract audiences outside of the young male and blue-collar worker audiences expected for the genre. Biehn and Paxton snuck into a press screening for Aliens as they had not been allowed to see the finished film. Aliens was marketed with the tag line "This time, it's war".
In North America, Aliens received a wide release on July 18, 1986. During its opening weekend, the film earned $10.1 million from 1,437 theaters—an average of $6,995 per theater. It finished as the number one film of the weekend, ahead of the martial arts drama The Karate Kid Part II ($5.6 million) in its fifth weekend, and black comedy Ruthless People ($4.5 million) in its fourth. Based on its opening 5-day total ($13.4 million, Aliens was anticipated to become the summer's top film, surpassing The Karate Kid Part II, Back to School, and Top Gun. These early figures were said to have exceeded Fox's expectations. The Los Angeles Times reported that there were lengthy queues to see the film, even at mid-afternoon on a weekday.
It retained the number one position in its second weekend with a further gross of $8.6 million, ahead of the debuting comedy-drama Heartburn ($5.8 million) and The Karate Kid Part II ($5 million). In its third it remained the number one film of the weekend with a gross of $7.1 million, ahead of the debuts of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives ($6.8 million) and comedy film Howard the Duck ($5.1 million). It fell to number three in its fifth weekend with a gross of $4.30 million, behind the debuts of the science fiction horror film The Fly ($7 million) and comedy film Armed and Dangerous ($4.33 million). In total, Aliens remained in the top ten highest-grossing films for 11 weeks.
By the end of its theatrical run, Aliens had earned an approximate box office gross of $85.1 million. This figure made it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1986, behind Back to School ($91.3 million), science fiction film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ($109.6 million), The Karate Kid Part II ($115.1 million), Platoon (138.5 million), action comedy Crocodile Dundee ($174.8 million), and Top Gun ($176.8 million). Industry experts suggest that as of 1987, the box office returns to the studio—minus the theaters' share—was $42.5 million.
Box office figures outside of North America are inconsistent and not available for all films released in 1986. According to box office tracking websites Box Office Mojo and The Numbers Aliens has been reported as earning between $45.9 million and $98.1 million. This gives it a worldwide total gross of $131.1 million to $183.3 million, making it alternately the fourth highest-grossing film of 1986 behind Platoon ($138 million), Crocodile Dundee ($328.2 million), and Top Gun ($356.8 million), or the third highest-grossing film behind Crocodile Dundee and Top Gun. According to Fox's own 1992 estimate, Aliens had earned $157 million worldwide. Aliens was considered to be a success.
Aliens opened to generally positive reviews. It appeared on the cover of a July 1986 Time magazine which labelled it "The Summer's Scariest Movie". Audience polls by CinemaScore reported that moviegoers gave an average rating of "A" on a scale of A+ to F.
Reviewers generally agreed that Aliens was a worthy successor to Alien. Variety and Walter Goodman said that it could not replicate the novelty of Alien, but Aliens compensated with special effects, filmmaking technique, and a constant stream of set-piece thrills and scary sequences. Variety added that Aliens was made by an expert craftsman, complimenting the more artistic endeavor of Alien. Sheila Benson said that Aliens was clever and ironically funny, but agreed it lacked the pure horror of Alien. She attributed this to an oversaturation of creature effects in the intervening years, particularly the 1982 science fiction horror film The Thing, which Benson said had taken alien monstrosities to an absolute extreme.
Rick Kogan wrote that Aliens demonstrated that science fiction horror could still be entertaining, following many poorly received Alien-derivative films. Dave Kehr and Richard Schickel called it a rare sequel that surpassed its originator. Kehr appreciated that the action was used to develop the characters. Schickel wrote that it had evolved Alien by giving Weaver new emotional depths to explore. Jay Scott said that Cameron had redefined the war movie into a mix of Rambo and Star Wars. He credited Cameron with having considerable talent. Kogan agreed that Cameron possessed a talent for action pacing and excitement, but Kehr believed that Cameron pushed certain elements too far as to ruin any believability.
Roger Ebert said the last hour of the film was "painfully, unremittingly intense" in terms of the horror and action to the point that he was left feeling emotionally drained and unhappy. He believed that it could not be defined as entertainment, despite his praise for the filmmaking craft on display throughout. Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Dennis Fischer said that these unrelenting scenes of action and suspense worked for Aliens as they had in The Terminator. The tension was created by placing the characters in successive, increasingly difficult situations. Even so, he said that Cameron mistook using over-long scenes as creating suspense. Gene Siskel was more critical, describing the film as "one extremely violent, protracted attack on the senses... Some people have praised the technical excellence of Aliens. Well, the Eiffel Tower is technically impressive, but I wouldn't want to watch it fall apart on people for two hours." Writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Jay Boyar called it the (franchise) of the 1980s, describing it as the most "intensely shocking" film in years.
Reviewers consistently praised Weaver's performance. Benson called her the film's "white-hot core" around whom's "defiant intelligence" and "sensual athleticism" Aliens was built. She remarked that it was positive that the Ripley character returned not out for vengeance but out of compassion for others. Ebert credited Weaver's sympathetic performance for holding the film together. Kogan compared her to a more attractive John Rambo—the action character portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. Scott offered a similar sentiment. He said that Weaver made action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger look like male pin-up models. Scott described her as the ultimate adventure heroine, balancing action with femininity and maternal instincts. While critical of the film overall as a "mechanical" and "inflated example of formula gothic", Pauline Kael praised Weaver. She said: "With her great cheekbones, her marvelous physique, and her lightness of movement, Weaver seems to take over by natural authority and her strength as an actress. Her surprisingly small, tense mouth holds all the suspense in the story... Weaver gives the movie a presence; without her it’s a B picture that lacks the subplots and corny characters that can make B pictures amusing."
Most of the cast also received praise, particularly Biehn, Goldstein, Henriksen, Henn, and Reiser. Even so, Benson was critical that not much time was spent exploring the new characters as had been provided in Alien. Schickel said that Henn played her character as endearingly brave and clever without self-pity. Benson complimented Horner's "rumitative, intelligent" music, but Ficsher criticized it for borrowing too much from Goldsmith's score and Horner's own work on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).
At the 1987 Academy Awards, Aliens received two awards for Best Sound Effects Editing (Don Sharpe) and Best Visual Effects (Robert Skotak, Stan Winston, John Richardson, Suzanne Benson). Weaver received a nomination for Best Actress (losing to Marlee Matlin for romantic drama Children of a Lesser God). This was the first time an actress had received a Best Actress nomination for appearing in a purely science-fiction film, at a time when the genre was given little regard. It received a further four nominations: Best Original Score for Horner (losing to Herbie Hancock for the musical drama Round Midnight); Best Art Director for Peter Lamont and Crispian Sallis (losing to Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar and Elio Altamura for the romance film A Room with a View); Best Editing for Ray Lovejoy (losing to Claire Simpson for Platoon); and Best Sound for Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter, and Roy Charman (losing to John K. Wilkinson, Richard Rogers, Charles Grenzbach, and Simon Kaye for Platoon). Weaver's nomination was and remains as of 2016, a rarity for the action or science fiction genres. At the 44th Golden Globe Awards, Weaver was nominated for Best Actress in a Drama (again losing to Matlin for Children of a Lesser God).
At the 40th British Academy Film Awards, Aliens received the award for Best Special Visual Effects and three further nominations: Best Production Design (losing to A Room with a View); Best Makeup and Hair for Peter Robb King (losing to Sohichiro Meda, Tameyuki Aimi, Chihako Naito, and Noriko Takemazawa for the war film Ran); and Best Sound (losing to romantic drama Out of Africa). At the 14th Saturn Awards, the film won eight awards: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actress (Weaver), Best Performance by a Young Actor (Henn), Best Supporting Actress (Goldstein), Best Supporting Actor (Paxton), Best Special Effects (Winston and the L.A. Effects Group), and Best Director and Best Writing (both for Cameron). The film also received a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
Aliens was released on VHS in February 1987, priced at $89.98. When the film was shown on TV on the CBS in 1989, it was an extended cut including some of the scenes deleted from the theatrical release. A complete extended edition was released on LaserDisc in 1991, re-adding more deleted scenes including the opening of Newt's family investigating the derelict spacecraft. The extended cut is 157 minutes long, versus the theatrical cuts 137 minutes.
The extended edition was released on VHS and DVD in 1999 as part of the "Alien Legacy" boxset containing the other three available Alien films: Alien, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. The DVD version was also sold separately. Both versions included additional behind-the-scenes footage. The 2003 "Alien Quadrilogy" nine-DVD boxset including all four films plus an additional disc for each film containing their respective behind-the-scenes footage and featurettes including a 3-hour documentary Superior Firepower: The Making of 'Aliens. The theatrical and extended cuts were available for each film. The Aliens disc included commentary by cast and crew members including Cameron; Weaver did not participate. Each film was sold separately, including its respective bonus disc, in 2004.
The film was released on Blu-ray disc in 2010 as part of the "Alien Anthology" boxset, featuring remastered footage, the theatrical and extended versions, and featurettes found in earlier releases. It was released separately on Blu-ray disc in 2011. For the film's 30th-anniversary, it was released on Blu-Ray disc and digital download. The version included a new interview with Cameron about his inspirations for Aliens. Alongside the theatrical and extended versions, the release offered a limited edition lithograph depicting Ripley in battle with the alien queen, an art book focused on the Aliens comic books by Dark Horse Comics, and collectible cards featuring concept art by Cameron. A limited edition vinyl record soundtrack was also released in 2016; just 75 copies were made available.
Merchandising for a film was a relatively new concept popularized by the Star Wars film series. Kenner had attempted to release figures based on Alien in 1979. Only an alien action figure was released and was quickly withdrawn when it was deemed too scary for children. Aliens was considered a different prospect, despite its adult-orientated content, as it focused more on the action and featured marines instead of average workers fighting a larger number of aliens. The toys were intended to tie into an animated children's cartoon Operation Aliens scheduled for release alongside Alien 3 in 1992, and a series of mini-comics by Dark Horse Comics. Figures included colonial marines and different alien hybrids.
In the years since its release, Aliens' enduring popularity has seen it represented across a wide variety of merchandise aimed at younger and older audiences, including: action figures, punching bags, video games, comic books, clothing, and board games. National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has released figures based on the film, including Newt, Burke, and Cameron dressed as a colonial marine. NECA revived the original Kenner designs in 2019, releasing higher quality models.
Aliens has received several video game adaptations. The earliest adaptation, a first-person shooter called The Computer Game (1986), was released for multiple platforms. A separate game of the same name was released in 1987. A side-scroller, Aliens (1987), was released exclusively in Japan for the MSX. A 1990 arcade game, Aliens, allowed players to play as Ripley or Hicks, battling against alien variants. Some levels required the player to control Newt. Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure an adventure game that focused on puzzles instead of action, was released in 1995. A first-person shooter, Alien Trilogy, (1996) was based on Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. Aliens Online (1998), was an online game that allowed players to play as colonial marines or aliens. Aliens: Colonial Marines, released in 2013, is a first-person shooter that serves as a canon narrative sequel to Aliens, focusing on the marines sent to search for the original team sent to the colony. There have also been several games that use the Aliens branding or serve as side stories or sequels to the events of the film, including: Aliens: Thanatos Encounter (2001), Aliens Infestation (2011), a 2006 arcade game, Aliens: Extermination (2006), and the Aliens vs. Predator game series. Additionally, Aliens themed pinball levels were released for Pinball FX 2, as a standalone game called Aliens vs. Pinball, and for Sci-Fi Pinball, alongside other science-fiction franchises.
There have been numerous comic books based on and continuing the story of Aliens, mainly published by Dark Horse Comics since 1988. By 1990, Dark Horse released a crossover of the titular aliens and those of the Predator franchise, in turn creating a separate derivative Alien vs. Predator franchise with its own films, video games, and comic books, leading to further crossovers with characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Judge Dredd, Wildcats, and the Terminator franchise. The boots designed by Reebok for Ripley were made publicly available in 2016. Other versions were released included boots based on the power loader, Bishop, the colonial marines, and the alien queen. In August 2020, author J.W. Rinzler released The Making of Aliens, a 300-page behind-the-scenes book containing interviews with the cast and crew, and previously unseen photographs. A board game, Operation Aliens was released in 1992. In it, players as cast as a colonial marine or Ripley and tasked with locating a self-destruct code to destroy an infested spaceship.
A central theme of Aliens is motherhood. Where Alien can be seen as a metaphor for the horrors of childbirth, Aliens focuses on the maternal feelings Ripley has for Newt. A scene showing Ripley learning of the death of her own child during her time in stasis was cut from the theatrical release but restored in the extended edition. This helped explain Ripley's motherly attention for Newt, having lost her own child. Similarly, Newt has lost everything of value like Ripley. The two form a new family from the remnants of two old ones. This is reflected in the alien queen who is mother to the alien creatures. There is no paternal figure, both are highlighted as single mothers defending their young. The alien queen seeks out personal vengeance against Ripley, who destroyed her brood and her means of reproduction. Richard Schickel believed that Alien was about survival, while Aliens is about fighting to ensure someone else's survival.
Newt's capture by the aliens forces Ripley to accept that her maternal instincts are so strong that she is willing to die to save her. This demonstrates a selfless motherhood contrasting against the queen's selfish motherhood.  Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Nancy Weber opined that as a mother, she saw in Aliens the constant vigilance required of herself as a 1980s mother to protect her own child from different predators, sexism, and threats to their childhood innocence. Weber appreciated the change in female characters between movies, highlighting the hysterical Lambert of Aliens against the tough Vasquez of Aliens who sacrifices herself for her team, not just the protagonist. Despite the focus on motherhood, the nuclear family is represented in Aliens, with a mother (Ripley), father (Hicks), daughter (Newt), and a loyal, self-sacrificing dog (Bishop).
Charles Berg argues that the depictions of aliens in the science fiction genre that grew in popularity throughout the 1980s, represented American fears of immigrants or the "other". In Aliens this can be seen as the Caucasian single mother Ripley who must confront the dark-skinned alien queen with an endless brood. Tammy Ostrander and Susan Younis similarly evoke fears of overcrowding, dwindling resources, and pollution. They suggest that the alien queen serves to demonize motherhood and make it less attractive. The creature represents mindless, unchecked maternal instinct that spawn armies of children regardless of the lives that must be sacrificed to ensure their survival. Despite imminent destruction by the colony exploding, the queen continues to reproduce. The aliens life cycle taints the reproductive cycle. Creation involves rape, birth involves a violent death. In destroying the aliens and their queen, Ripley rejects the unchecked proliferation of their species and in turn sets an example for her own.
Ripley has been compared to the action hero John Rambo, being dubbed Ramboette, Rambette, Fembo, Ramboline, and Weaver dubbed herself Rambolina. Writer Mary Lee Settle said that females on television and film had evolved from escapist fantasy to more accurately reflect their audiences. Guns, which can be seen as phallic male symbols, were robbed of this meaning when wielded by Weaver. Schickel described Ripley as someone who continuously transcends the customary boundaries imposed on her gender where females exist in service to the male hero. In Aliens, the male characters are all neutralized by the film's denouement, leaving Ripley to face the queen alone. Cameron has stated he does not like cowardly women archetypes and deliberately takes away their expected protectors to force them to fend for themselves. He noted having done the same thing for Sarah Connor in The Terminator. He was also pragmatic, calling the constant use of male heroes "commercially shortsighted" in an industry with an audience that is 50% female, and where "80% of the time, it's women who decide which film to see."
The growth of female-led action films following the success of Aliens reflects the increasing by society that women were entering non-traditional roles, and the divide between professional critics who perceive the masculinization of the heroine, and the general audiences that embrace, emulate, and quote Ripley, regardless of gender. The excessive masculinity of heroes defined by well-muscled actors like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, was replaced by independent women capable of defending themselves and defeating villains, in films like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Cameron's own Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Even so, these female characters are often presented or coded as more masculine by doing stereotypical male actions, and the more emphasized muscled physiques of characters like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. These characters were dubbed "hard bodies", separating them from typical, feminine "soft" bodies. The phallic symbolism of the gun is co-opted by Ripley and Sarah from the male hero. In Aliens, once Ripley has seized command of the marines and is no longer a passive outsider, the traditional male hero Hicks then instructs her on the use of their weaponry. The comparisons of Ripley to Rambo deliberately conflate her image with that of the male, muscle-bound, gun-wielding action hero. To balance the masculine traits of the heroine, Cameron imbues Ripley with maternal instincts. This also serves to counter homophobic audiences who could read the masculinized female as lesbian or butch. These traits in the main character are offset by the more openly masculine coded Vasquez, a less important character. Vasquez, who has short hair and larger muscles, is introduced to the audience by immediately working out. At the same time she is asked if she has ever been mistaken for a man. The implication is that she is carrying out exclusively masculine actions.
Aliens is often seen as an allegory for the Vietnam war. The marines, like the United States, have superior weaponry and technology, but this proves ineffective against the unseen local enemy. Like some veterans of that war, Ripley is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the events of Alien. Writer Joe Abbott contrasted the depiction of the military in Aliens to the 1954 science-fiction film Them!. In both, humans are beset by a monstrous invasion, but in Them!, the military are the heroes despite being responsible for the infestation. Abbott argues that as it is set in a post World War II American society, Them! conveys a military that is competent and a state authority that demands, and receives, compliance from its citizens. This is shown to be the correct action as the military succeeds. In a post-Vietnam war society, the image of the military is tarnished and subject to more scrutiny. Thus, in Aliens the military is shown to be ill-equipped, bumbling, and incapable of combating the threat posed by the alien creatures. Co-operation from citizens can no longer be demanded or expected, and it is Ripley, the independent contractor from outside the state and military infrastructure, who intervenes and saves the day. Unlike Them!, in Aliens the military is not at fault for creating the problem, is the company, Weyland-Yutani. The power of the state has been superseded by the company, which similarly demands conformity for reward and progression. This represents a growing mistrust of large corporations. The company is represented by Burke, a self-interested opportunist. Ripley is elevated in stature throughout the film to benefit the community, Burke works to undermine it for the company. The greed of men in Alien and Aliens is the catalyst for the alien infestation. In Aliens, Newt's father disregards any safety measures so that he investigate the alien derelict without interference, ensuring that any profits will be owned solely by himself. He is then attacked by a facehugger, becoming the initial infection point.
Weaver believed the film is about confronting trauma to obtain closure. This can be seen as a reflection of the era of Ronald Reagan's United States presidency and contemporary conservatism that says the hero must return to confront their fears because they have ethics and morality on their side. Comparing Alien with Aliens, Roger Luckhurst said that "Even if Alien was a piece of leftist science fiction, the core of (its) myth could be inflected the other way. [Cameron's] Aliens would be a defiantly Reaganite version of the story—pumped, militarized, libertarian and driven by a staunch defense of the nuclear family." Abbott considered Aliens to adhere to a radical politics ideology and condemn centrism, believing these types of films were more popular because the represented audiences' dissatisfaction with the social status quo. The film places power in the individual (Ripley) instead of institutions like the military, corporation, or government.
Aliens is now considered one of the greatest science fiction action films ever made and one of the best films of the 1980s. It is a cinematic touchstone that has maintained an enduring legacy and remained influential on films that followed it. The Terminator was a success for Cameron but the critical and commercial success of Aliens made him a credible blockbuster director. The film is also responsible for expanding the Alien series into a franchise that spans a wide a variety of media like video games, comic books, and toys. While the alien creature and Ripley character were originated in Alien, Cameron developed the film lore to expand on the creature's life cycle, added new characters and factions like the colonial marines, and expanded the in-universe setting.
At the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, many of the cast and crew reunited to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary, including Weaver, Biehn, Paxton, Henriksen, Reiser, Henn, Cameron, and Hurd. Cameron said that he normally would not participate, and did not do so for The Terminator's anniversary, but he considered Aliens to be more special because of the impact on his career. Asked why he believed Aliens' popularity endured, Cameron said:
"I have to take my filmmaker hat off and look it as a fan and think, 'Well, I really like those characters....' There's certain lines, moments, you remember moments. It's satisfying, it ends in a satisfying way... But I actually think it's those characters. We can all relate to Hudson running around 'What the hell are we gonna do now man? What the f*** we gonna do?' We all know that guy."
Hurd believed it was the experience itself, saying "It's a great midnight screening movie because you can talk back to the screen and you can have this group experience. It not only makes you feel something, it makes you cheer, it makes you jump. When you think of all the things that something can do, which is projected on a screen, it ticks all those boxes and it makes you laugh."
Despite her sudden fame, Henn opted to not pursue acting so she could stay close to her family. She also said that some people were hostile towards her for her fame and expressed uncertainty over whether or not people liked her just for being in the film. She went on to become a teacher. Henn maintains a relationship with Weaver, and still keeps a framed picture of the pair gifted to her by Weaver after filming.
Aliens has influenced popular culture. Its elements like a team of grunt soldiers being dismantled by a villain have been replicated to the point of becoming cliché. This is similar to Horners' influential and often imitated score, which regularly featured in action film trailers over the following decade. The film's influence can often be seen in video games, particularly those in a science-fiction setting, inspiring the look of ships, armor, and weapons. It also turned the Ripley character into a post-feminist icon, a proactive hero who still retained feminine traits.
The film is also considered to be highly quotable, such as Paxton's "Game over man, game over". In particular, Weaver's line, "Get away from her, you bitch", is considered one of the film's most iconic, and has been referenced often in other media. Though the films are unconnected, Paxton is also remembered for being the only actor to play characters killed by an alien, a Terminator (in The Terminator), and a Predator (in 1990's Predator 2). The ensemble cast's popularity led to many of the cast appearing together in other films afterward, including Henriksen, Goldstein, and Paxton in Near Dark (1987) and Goldstein and Ralston in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). Ironically, Biehn lost a role in Cameron's Avatar (2009) because Weaver was cast, as Cameron did not want to associate the film with Aliens.
The 1989 Italian film Shocking Dark is largely a remake of Aliens, including much of the film's plot and scenes, with a Venice setting, and incorporating elements of The Terminator. Outside of Italy, it was released as Terminator II. It has been named by director Roland Emmerich as one of his top ten science fiction films, alongside Alien.
Aliens is considered one of the greatest films ever made, and one of the best science-fiction, action, or sequel films. It is listed in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which says:
[Weaver]'s Lt. Ellen Ripley gets madder when maternal and becomes the greatest sci-fi action heroine ever in [Cameron's] sensational follow-up to Alien (1979). One of cinema's greatest sequels, Aliens picks up... fifty-seven years later... and the traumatized Ripley is sent back with an untrustworthy company man, a team of swaggering Marines (including Cameron favorites Michael Biehn, Bill "Game over!" Paxton, plus Jenette Goldstein’s terrific tough cookie Vasquez), and another ambiguous android (Lance Henrikson as Bishop). If Alien was a haunted-house-in-space frightener, Cameron's relentless, furiously intense thrill-ride... is the fort under siege in space...
In 2008, Empire ranked it number 30 on its list of the 500 Greatest Movies of all Time. The film's characters have also been recognized. In 2003, the AFI ranked Ellen Ripley as the number eight heroic character on its 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list. Ripley also appeared at number nine on Empire's 2006 list of its '100 Greatest Movie Characters'.
Aliens is considered one of the best sequels of all time, that is arguably equal to or better than its originator Alien. Slant Magazine said that it excelled Alien in every way. Den of Geek listed it as the best blockbuster sequel ever made, saying that even as a standalone film it is a remarkable piece of cinema. In 2017, they ranked it the second-best film in the series, behind Alien. In 2011, Empire listed it the greatest movie sequel ever
Several publications have listed it as one of the best science-fiction films ever made, including: number fourPaste; number five by Syfy; number 7 by IGN; number nine by Empire; number ten by GamesRadar+, number 13 by Rotten Tomatoes; number 27 by Business Insider; and unranked by Time Out. Similarly, it has been listed as one of the best films of the 1980s by publications including: number one by Consequence of Sound, number six by ShortList and Time Out, number seven by Empire, number 20 by GamesRadar+, number 49 by Parade, and unranked by Cosmopolitan, Highsnobiety, and Marie Claire. Several publications have listed it as one of the greatest action films of all time, including: number one by Timeout; number two by Empire, and Entertainment Weekly; number three by IGN; number 12 by Men's Health; and unranked by The Standard. The British Film Institute called it one of the greatest 10 action films of all time, saying it is "A matriarchal masterpiece of God-bothering structural engineering, there’s really little that Aliens doesn't get right; from its slow-burn exemplification of character and world-building through to its jab-jab-hook-pause-uppercut series of sustained climaxes, Cameron delivers a masterclass in action direction. Readers of Empire listed the film number 17 on its 2017 list of the 100 Greatest Movies.
Contemporary review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes offers a 97% approval rating from the aggregated reviews of 76 critics, with an average rating of 9/10. The consensus reads, "While Alien was a marvel of slow-building, atmospheric tension, Aliens packs a much more visceral punch, and features a typically strong performance from Sigourney Weaver." The film also has a score of 84 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 22 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Despite the character's popularity, the casting of Jenette Goldstein, a white Jewish actress of Russian, Moroccan, and Brazilian descent, as Vasquez, a Latina character, has been considered problematic. Goldstein has admitted that she considers herself unrecognizable compared to Vasquez on film, but that a muscular actress was required and they could not find anyone else with Goldstein's physique.
Aliens' success resulted in immediate discussions for a sequel after its release. Even so, Alien 3 was not released until 1992, following its own tumultuous development, multiple writers, and multiple directors; Cameron did not return as he was pursuing other projects. The film was directed by David Fincher and based on a narrative by Giler, Hill, Vincent Ward, and Larry Ferguson. Its narrative follows Ripley after she becomes trapped with an alien creature on the prison planet Fiorina 161. The film was financially successful but derided by critics and by fans who were upset that Hicks and Newt were killed off-screen before the film. Following its release, Fincher disowned the film, citing studio interference. Biehn called Hicks' off-screen death one of his greatest disappointments. After learning of his character's fate, Biehn refused permission to use his likeness in the sequel. Weaver also lamented the lost story potential between Ripley and Hicks. Regarding the treatment of his characters, Cameron said,
I thought [the decision to eliminate Newt, Hicks, and Bishop] was dumb... I thought it was a huge slap in the face to the fans. [Fincher] is a friend of mine, and he's an amazing filmmaker, unquestionably. That was kind of his first big gig, and he was getting vectored around by the studio, and he dropped into the production late, and they had a horrible script, and they were re-writing it on the fly. It was just a mess. I think it was a big mistake. Certainly, had we been involved we would not have done that, because we felt we earned something with the audience for those characters.
In 2019, William Gibson's early script for Alien 3 was adapted into an audio drama with Biehn and Henriksen voicing their respective roles. Gibson's version focused on Hicks as the protagonist, dealing with the Union of Progressive Peoples faction and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation who are experimenting on alien remnants on Bishop's damaged body.
A third sequel, Alien Resurrection, was released in 1997. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet based on a script by Joss Whedon, the film was, like Alien 3, a financial success but received negative critical reviews. In its story, a clone of Ripley is created in order to harvest an alien queen embryo that was inside the original Ripley when she died. Whedon later disavowed the project. A fourth sequel had begun development by 2002. Both Ridley Scott and Cameron were interested in being involved until Fox decided to develop a crossover film, pitting the series' aliens against the titular alien race of its science-fiction property Predator. Directed and written by Paul W. S. Anderson, the film was poorly received but a financial success. It was followed by a 2007 sequel, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem which became the least financially successful and worst-reviewed film in either franchise.
Scott returned to the series for 2012's Prometheus, a prequel set before the events of Alien, and its sequel Alien: Covenant. Both films were modest financial successes but received a mixed reception. Scott has said he intends to pursue a sequel to Alien: Covenant. A fifth direct sequel to the main Alien films is in development as of 2020, based on a story by Giler and Hill, with Weaver expected to return as Ripley.
A 2017 audio drama, River of Pain, was released in 2017. Its five-hour long story takes place between Alien and Aliens, covering the early days of the LV-426 colony and its downfall to the aliens. Actors from the film returned to voice their characters, including William Home, Mac MacDonald, Stuart Milligan, and Alibe Parsons.
- Also referred to as Acheron.
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- List of films featuring space stations
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