Alien Only Ever Needed One Sequel 

No one argues that Alien and Aliens are the best films in the Alien franchise. It's an objective, undisputed fact. After that, though, nothing is certain -- is Alien 3 a good movie? How bad is Resurrection? Do the Alien vs. Predator movies count? Did you like Prometheus? The debates go on and on.

A promo shot from Aliens, which we wish was the only Alien sequel. All Images: 20th Century Fox

They will continue this month, too, with the release of Alien: Covenant. Reviews (except ours) have been mostly positive but almost universal in their claims that the film goes a bit too far in explaining the wonderful mystery of the vicious alien who first scared the crap out of us in 1979.

I believe that's true, but I also believe we'd all be better off if things had never gotten this far. The Alien franchise should have stopped at Aliens. One original film, one sequel. Yes, Sigourney Weaver appeared in the next two; yes, Ridley Scott directed the last two. But those first two films represent the near-perfect marriage of original and sequel into a cohesive, amazing story. There was never a need to see what happened next. The only desire was to make more money.

I don't need to break down why Ridley Scott's 1979 original Alien is so good. Just watch it. Scott's first foray into science fiction not only has a scary, increasingly fast pace, it also holds its thrills for when it needs it, has relatable characters, and cool effects. Everything works.

The marines are one part of why Aliens is so good.

Gushing about James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens is also kind of pointless. Again, just watch it. The humour, the scares, the action -- it's all there in beautiful harmony. What is worth talking about though is how, even though Aliens stands on its own incredibly well, it's also the perfect sequel to Alien.

At the end of Alien, you have a lot of questions. What's going to happen to Ripley? How will the company react when they find out about the killings? Where did this alien come from and, most importantly, are there more of them? First and foremost, Aliens answers all those questions, and it does so in satisfying, but not too obvious ways.

Once she's rescued in Aliens, decades have passed for Ripley, adding a whole new dynamic to her character. The company doesn't care about the deaths, they just want to know more about the creature. We never find out where the alien comes from but we do learn a more about them and that there are more, as Ripley and the Colonial Marines go to LV-426 to investigate.

Answering those questions from the first film changes and informs the story. This isn't just nonsense exposition. Then the new story takes our main character out of her element, adds her to a great group of fresh characters, and throws a bunch more aliens at them. It's both an escalation and continuation of everything that came before. If Ripley's crew couldn't defeat one alien, how will these people defeat aliens, plural? Unfortunately for them, they don't, really. It's a bloodbath.

Who is cooler than Ripley?

And all throughout, the focus of Aliens is totally on the story of Ripley, the Marines, and their attempts to survive. References to the first movie are sporadic at best because Cameron isn't interested in setting up other films or giving more answers than needed. He wants this movie to be great, if not better than the first one. Whether he achieved the second part is debatable, but there's no doubt it's a stellar sequel.

Usually, the traditional criteria for a sequel is that it has to be bigger and Aliens is that in every way: There are more aliens, more action, a bigger climax, and bigger stakes. In Alien, the stakes are the survival of the characters, and it works. In Aliens though, it's so much more than that. You realise if Ripley and the Marines somehow fail, Weyland-Yutani will just keep sending people until they can get their hands on the creature. And if that happens, everyone could die. Ripley isn't only fighting for her life and the lives of everyone around her. She's fighting for, potentially, the universe. Without us seeing the outside world, the outside world is up for grabs on this small planet.

The sequel also gives more answers about the aliens themselves, but not enough to strip away their horror or their mystery. We learn they come from a queen, she's there, and she's pissed. But where did the queen come from? Are there more queens? That's insignificant. In the end, a few of our heroes survive and Ripley has defeated the ultimate boss, the alien queen, pretty much wiping out this line of creatures.

When Aliens ends, most questions we had about the first film have been answered and there aren't many others left. We can assume Ripley, Newt and Hicks survive, and hope they live the rest of their lives peacefully and without any more aliens. That's the ending. Are there more aliens out there? Probably, but humans won't see them. Ripley took care of that. The universe is safe. We don't care where they come from because it doesn't matter. They won't be back.

That's where it should have ended. Right there. One perfect movie followed by a bigger second movie that lives up to the original, expands on it, and brings everything together. But, of course, the Alien franchise doesn't end there and things immediately get very bad.

This moment from Alien 3 should never have happened.

It's right there in the opening credits of Alien 3 when both Newt and Hicks are killed unceremoniously. Any happy thoughts you had about that last film? Gone. Ripley is impregnated with a queen alien and has to kill herself, only to be resurrected in another film. Then there are the Predators, the Engineers of Prometheus, and, finally with Covenant, the answer to the question we never actually wanted to be answered: Where do the aliens come from? It's an answer that could have been simple enough to ignore, but instead could never be satisfying enough to surprise.

Say what you want about any of the Alien movies after 1986, but I think that's where it ended. Maybe not in reality, but creatively. Alien and Aliens compliment each other as well as almost any two films you can imagine. They define what makes an Alien movie great. Too bad no other Alien film has managed the same.

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Comments

    Given Alien 3 was one of the best theatre going experiences ever I will have to disagree. The audience I saw it with at the time were freaked and screaming and totally getting into it.There has always been a diversion between what Aliens fans wanted and what the Alien films were. For me all the films have been directed by different and diverse directors. Each film was a variation on a theme.

    Alien a true classic horror that just happens to be in space. Aliens which was the complete anti-film to it. It couldn't be more different. That is why it works so well. By the time Alien 3 came out, there was no way it could even remotely up the action so they went completely in a different way. Small. Psychological. No weapons. I absolutely loved it because I didnt compare it to the other.

    Then when the fourth one came out once again it took a completely different tangent. European art fused with Hollywood. The script was funny and witty. The action set pieces were interesting. The problem lay in the type of people who watched Alien films did not want interesting and quirky, they were not the same people who would have seen or liked City of Lost Children or Delicatessen.

    Once again Prometheus only real mistake was the audience wanting one thing but that was not the the film Ridley was making. As I said the other day most days I wonder if Alien fans are really fans of Alien movies or just Aliens the movie. Liking the films in spite of their flaws. Just like Doctor Who fans who hate everything after David Tennant. Are they really Doctor Who fans fans of just ones of David? Some Aliens fans havent liked film since 1986... thats what 30 years. At what point does the problem lie with your own tastes/expectation, not so much the film itself?

      thanks for the reminder i so need to rewatch City of Lost Children and Delicatessen..

      as for Prometheus, i know someone who worked on it and he said Ridley Scott kept changing things so much the cast and crew were not only relieved to be finished they in many cases didnt have a clue what was going on

      the type of people who watched Alien ..............were not the same people who would have seen or liked City of Lost Children or Delicatessen

      Au contraire, they are exactly the same people.
      Alien Resurrection is the odd one in that comparison. Joss Whedon's script has holes big enough to fly the Auriga through, with some dialogue belong in 80's action films. I watched the "Special Edition" last week, it's moronic and should be ignored, stick with the theatrical cut as the director intended. It's a clunky slasher film that doesn't really know what to do with itself.

        I've said this before, but I didn't mind 3 and 4. They weren't as good as the first two, or even Prometheus but they were interesting movies that had their own ideas they were working on. I think in both cases there were some poor decisions made that really spoiled the movies dropping them from solid "good" movies to just "ok" movies. The decision to off Newt and Hicks offscreen before the movie even started was terrible and alienated (pun intended) a ton of fans. And the bioengineering in 4 was a logical progression of the "what if WY gets hold of one".

        To be honest though, I think the perfect Alien 3 would have been where Dark Horse took it - to Earth. I'd have probably tried to establish at least Ripley and Newt on Earth in a troubled family (ie: still recovering from the trauma) preferably with Hicks in contact but not romantically involved. Then destroy their precarious tranquility by unleashing the Aliens on Earth so the planet (or at least their city) is overrun. Make the movie essentially into an invasion movie with their goal being escape - get to the spaceport save their family and get the hell out of there.

    After watching all the alien and related films i have to agree, my head canon has the series stopping at the end of aliens, i still vividly remember sitting down at the cinema to watch alien 3 seeing hicks and newt killed off screen and thinking "WTF?"

      I was so pleased. Especially Newt. Then again I knew goign in, they made it very clear they werent in it in the advertising.

      Newt and Hicks had to die in 3.
      The girl who played Newt had left acting. Plus she had grown up quite a lot in the years between filming 2 and 3.
      Hicks was still severely wounded from the acid burns to be able to do anything other than lay in a hospital bed.

    The first two were great.. I actually liked the third too. It really threw the story in a different direction and showed that a lot of mad shit was possible.. it got the viewer thinking a lot more.

    Unfortunately the rest were pretty average.. Alien v Predator was a great concept, but the acting was so poor and the story very predictable. Prometheus.. to be honest I watched it not even knowing it was an Alien movie until half way through. I liked it up until the Alien tie ins - they seemed so unnecessary and just threw the whole story on a spin and gave more questions than answers. It was an ok movie but very frustrating. I still haven't seen covenant but I'm hoping it ties the whole story together and wraps it up.. that will be the only saving grace for the series.

    I think Alien 3 was just one of those creative projects where the idea was much more brilliant than the would-be execution. In spite of all the flaws of the final movie, when I first read about that wooden planet prison draft, I felt it was a fantastic idea. I love dark stories myself, and that draft had Ripley having everything taken from her - Newt, Hicks, and what's left of her life with her daughter - all because of this one Xenomorph. In that draft, I remember the Xenomorph being compared to a demon of sorts, and I felt, symbolically speaking, it worked very well with how Ripley was tormented by it, the Xenomorph demon haunting her throughout three movies. The whole redemption aspect of the wooden planet monastery just added a lot more layers to that idea, giving the story a spiritual vibe where Ripley is making a final stand, spiritually or otherwise, against the demon that is the Xenomorph itself.

    I think it was a terrible lost cause that the movie got butchered like that. In an ideal universe, I would love for Fincher to remake this movie, even if it will never happen. I want to see his vision redeemed. I would love to see all the philosophical stuff of the original Wooden Planet draft incorporated into the story if possible, as that remains my favorite part of Alien 3 yet. Even though a lot of that stuff was taken out in the final cut, you could still see bits of that atmosphere, that vibe scattered about the world Fincher created.

    There was one line in Alien 3 that I couldn't quite remember accurately. Ripley told the prisoners something like, "You think they care about a group of prisoners seeking redemption?!" when Weyland and his company was going to seize the Queen Alien for their own agenda. It kinda reflects just how desperate this group of prisoners are in this desolate world, and yet how they manage to grasp onto what little hope they had. And in contrast, the Xenomorph, the demon, worked perfectly as the antagonist to their shimmer of hope. It was a great obstacle to see if these religious folks would fall into despair or stand strong against the demon. A lot of cool stuff there to think about.

    For me, the second and fourth are my favourites, thoroughly enjoyed the first Alien vs Predator as well.
    One was groundbreaking for it's time, and is really well made, but I find it too slow going personally.
    Three was more of a drama, and the alien CGI for most scenes was just so unrealistic for me! It's actually whats disappointed me about Covenant, using CGI aliens has made the tension a lot less real.

    I have really enjoyed the Alien series, especially 2, the first movie I saw in the theatre. I took my younger brother to watch that, he was only 10 and paralysed with fear, peed himself. He was so scared he slept in my room for 2 weeks until he stopped having nightmares.

    Covenant really shows that this and Prometheus are a complete reboot of the series as apposed to prequels. There is no way that you can reconcile this with what occurs in AvP1.

    Covenant had a lot of potential but never capitalised on any of the opportunities that were there. There was never any suspense created and the movie seemed to largely focus on the creation of the original alien.

    Overall I don't think the movie works very well.

    I like how they went full cycle with genres.

    Alien - horror
    Aliens - action
    Alien3 - drama
    Alien resurrection- comedy.

    I'll cut alien 4 some slack it was out there but the director, it was his style. He has those elements in other films he has made.

    Alien3 got rewritten so many times, there used to be a sneak peak trailer about aliens making it to earth, but budget constraints meant it was never made.

    As far as the avp go, they aren't considered canon, in the alien universe predators don't exist, no other alien life forms do.
    But in predator canon aliens exist, so the avp movies are more well there's not really a predator canon, that's one of the good things, any thing goes.

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