The Alien Franchise, Ranked!

When anybody talks about sci-fi horror, somewhere in the conversation you’re going to have to talk about Alien or any of the other movies in the series. It’s become an iconic part of our society and culture, being parodied, imitated, or lauded by almost every major outlet out there. And for good reason: it came to us at a time when sci-fi was all up-front in its delivery, and seeing a nerve-wracking, claustrophobic thriller was a completely new experience. For this reason (and the fact that the movies are all awesome), we’re counting down all of the current movies in the Alien franchise, from worst to best.

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Honestly, this is one of the hardest lists I’ve ever had to write, namely because choosing the best Alien movie is like choosing the best type of chocolate: they’re all amazing and are regarded as a staple in their genre. Even the lowest-ranked film on this list (we’re getting to that in a second) is still a fun, enjoyable movie in its own right, regardless of the standards set by previous films in the series. So really, it’s more like a walk down memory lane. With a magnifying glass. So like a field trip? To LV-426? I guess the metaphor got a little lost there.

Anyway, lots of spoilers ahead! Here we go!

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5. Prometheus

Oh, you thought I wasn’t including this movie on the list, huh? Just cause it doesn’t have the word “Alien” in the title doesn’t mean it’s not a part of the series! And no, Ridley Scott, I don’t care what you said in interviews, it IS a part of the series canon, and I’m simply not taking no for an answer here.

While Prometheus is a fine romp through sci-fi horror territory, it falls into the trap of trying to answer too many questions while simultaneously posing too many others. “Oh, so that’s how the Engineers came to the planet! But wait, did they create all life? What about their tech? Come to think of it, why was the one trying to kill them? How did David know how to read their language? What was his deal with his motivations for turning against the crew?” There’s plenty of good things to be found in the film – the alien C-section scene is amazing and also terrifying – but there are so many head-scratchers in the plot that the good parts are hard to savor. 

4. Alien: Resurrection

I’m not gonna lie to you, dear readers – I consider myself somewhat of an Alien: Resurrection apologist. This movie has so many things that I love: Sigourney Weaver, Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif, and Dominique Pinon all with starring roles; Jean-Pierre Jeunet directing; Joss Whedon writing the script; it sounds like a match made in heaven, at least on paper.

When it came time to make this movie, however, something just didn’t click. It’s often ranked as one of the worst in the series, and it’s my opinion that the reason sits largely in the pacing and plot of the movie itself. Things seem rushed in some spots and languished in others, and the newer creature designs are generally unattractive and strange (not in a good way). Even so, there are many, many things I love about this film. The direction and cinematography all look stunning and considering what they had to work with, the acting is fun and easy to ride with. Plus, there’s that sweet basketball shot, which you just can’t deny. 

3. Aliens

I’ve already written a piece about how awesome this movie is, and how much time and care were put into it, and it really shows: this movie kicks ass. Definitely the most action-oriented of any of the Alien films, Aliens takes everything the original did and cranks the dial up to 426. The Starship Troopers novel’s influence really shows here: if the xenomorphs are really so threatening, let’s get a bunch of soldiers down here and blow them all up! Perfect!

Of course, the real draw in this film is that you have an amazing set of supporting characters that are fun and exciting to watch. Obviously, Ripley is always fantastic, but now you have a child for her to take care of and a bunch of marines to hang out with. Couple that with some pretty mind-blowing set-pieces and the Momma Battle to end all Momma Battles, and you’ve got a solidly excellent piece of sci-fi action on your hands.

2. ALIEN3

The fact that this movie even exists is somewhat of a miracle. The production was notoriously plagued by setbacks and changes, at one point even allegedly shooting without a working script. The beginning of the film basically takes all the surviving heroes of the previous installment and kills them off-screen. And at the end of the movie, our last surviving hero offs herself, thereby ensuring the most depressing ending you could ever hope for. And yet, ALIEN3 still stands, serving as a solid entry into the Alien series.

While Aliens works by contrasting itself from Alien, the thing that makes ALIEN3 work so well is the way it takes us, the viewer, back to what made the original Alien so damn terrifying – take an enclosed space, give us just one monster, and watch as a gang of humans try and outsmart it and survive. The added element here is that Ripley is the lone female on a planet of men, which adds plenty of tension to the film: will she be able to convince the men to help her defeat the xenomorph? Or will they become additional enemies for her to have to overcome? It’s not an easy movie by any means: the journey is harrowing and exhausting, and yet entirely unique and absorbing, making ALIEN3 a memorable and rewarding experience.

1. Alien

For a while, I was considering not putting Alien as my top choice. I thought about the plot, which I’d seen a dozen times; the acting, which while adequate, definitely had some cheese-ball in it; the pacing, which was slow and deliberate. I thought about all of these things, and I thought about how dated they all felt.

But then I remembered the high points of the film: the chain room; the final scene; the moment when you learn that someone is actually a backstabbing, xenomorph-worshipping android; and, holy of holies, the first time you see the alien baby rip its way out of John Hurt’s throbbing, bloody chest. From that one scene, the entire film turns into something else entirely: a thriller, a slasher, a true horror film in space, where the monster can be anywhere, kill anyone, and basically do anything. And remembering all of this, even nearly two decades after I’d seen it the first time, is what re-established Alien as the number one in the series: for its originality, for its suspense, for gifting us with Ripley (and, by consequence, Sigourney Weaver), and for making us fear the blackness of space. And for making us fear Ian Holm.

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About Seth Hansen

Seth is a writer and musician living in Los Angeles. When not explaining to strangers why John Carpenter's The Thing is the greatest horror movie ever made (trust me, it is), he's usually playing violin or hanging out in record store clearance sections. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook!

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