James Cameron put it very delicately when he admitted that he didn't like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But he has no such restraint when discussing the sequel to his Aliens, the polarising Alien 3. It begins with the cruel discovery that Aliens' hard-fought survivors — other than Sigourney Weaver's Ripley — have all perished. "I thought [the decision to eliminate Newt, Hicks and Bishop] was dumb," says Cameron, who was at Comic-Con to celebrate Aliens' 30th anniversary. "I thought it was a huge slap in the face to the fans. [Alien 3 director] David 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."
Cameron has, however, been privy to Neill Blomkamp's script for a hypothetical Aliens sequel, which would ignore and replace the events of Alien 3, and he approves. Strongly. "I think it works gangbusters. He shared it with me, and I think it's a very strong script and he could go make it tomorrow. I don't know anything about the production, and I don't know what Ridley [Scott]'s doing. But hopefully there'll be room for both of them. Like parallel universes."
Cameron and Aliens co-producer Gale Anne Hurd know a lot about what makes a successful sequel — among their other collaborations is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. "The rule when we made Aliens was that a sequel would cost twice as much and make half as much. It never really looked like a particularly good business model, so they were relatively rare," Cameron says, noting that the Oscar-nominated Aliens helped change that attitude in Hollywood.
Hurd thinks sequels have "gotten out of hand" three decades later, and offers this advice: "As opposed to formulaic filmmaking, go to an auteur and have the auteur write the script, and re-invent the story while staying true to canon."
Cameron believes that sequels present a particular challenge. "I think there's a tricky balance when you're doing a sequel, between making it fresh, surprising the audience, but not surprising them with such a swerve that they feel that it's not honouring the first film. You've got to play to expectations, you've got to play against expectations. And I always think that it's about answering a question that you didn't know to ask. But when they see it, it seems obvious."