Ranking the ALIEN franchise is tough, and it isn’t tough due to mediocrity or an uneven nature to the franchise, it’s tough because every single film in the series has – at the very least – been good. That’s a rarity in this genre. But ALIEN has managed to make it happen, and that makes it tough on anyone to assemble a ranking of the franchise that can be agreed upon unanimously. So, know in advance that you may not necessarily agree with this ranking, but find your solace in the fact that however they may be ranked here, they’re all bad ass movies!
ALIEN: RESURRECTION actually tells a pretty engaging story, it’s the dialogue and often outlandish maneuvers from the cast that damage the film… and the whole super-powered Ripley, that doesn’t sit too well with most viewers. Just the same, there are a number of sequences and qualities to be enjoyed in the film. Ron Perlman turns in a fine performance, as do Winona Ryder and Dominique Pinon. They shine in the film, no doubt. And while the underwater sequences could have looked radically improved with some stronger CGI, it is interesting to see the Xenomorph speeding through aquatic regions on the hunt for another victim. The story, written by Joss Whedon is inventive, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s vision for the film is admirable. In the end however, some of those rocky CGI shots damage the picture, and overall, RESURRECTION doesn’t feel cohesive to the other films in the franchise. Whedon and Jeunet distance this one from the established mythos and ongoing storyline just a little too much to win fans over unanimously.
ALIEN 3 was another franchise film that had a wealth of potential. With David Fincher at the helm you can anticipate strong direction, the problem is there are only a select few characters that are likable; a large majority of supporting characters are downright despicable. That’s a pretty big weakness for a franchise that has always boasted memorable and likable characters. Ellen Ripley’s challenge to survive not just the Xenomorph but a prison full of horny male inmates is a clever spin on the franchise, but the editing and pacing both feel a tad rushed, and Ripley loses some of her commanding presence (a quality we’ve all come to adore) when paired next to powerhouse performer Charles S. Dutton. Where it should Sigourney Weaver stealing scenes, it’s Dutton. That’s not a terrible thing, but Ellen Ripley is the life force behind this franchise, and she falls into the background – slightly – in this installment. ALIEN 3 is an enjoyable picture, regardless, and Weaver, Dutton and Charles Dance are all magnificent, but there’s a certain “it” factor that’s absent from the film, which knocks it out of contention for a higher position on this list.
PROMETHEUS is admittedly filled with plot holes and inconsistencies, but it’s an enormous success in the sense that it completely captivates and it does so without the inclusion of Sigourney Weaver. Noomi Rapace – while not quite as imposing as Weaver – does a great job of soliciting sympathy from the audience, and while she makes a few questionable decisions in the film, she does prove herself profoundly resilient and likable. Michael Fassbender also does a stellar job as the android David. In fact, truth be told, there are a good half-dozen strong performers in the picture. And it’s great to meet the Engineers and receive an answer about that strange capsule that appeared to house a human-like lifeform that we glimpsed way back in the inaugural franchise film. Again, the script is at times shaky, but the overall entertainment value of the film is excellent and strong enough to warrant a higher placement in a list of this nature.
Let’s just get this out of the way as soon as possible: ALIENS and ALIEN are essentially interchangeable as the best film of the franchise, and your personal pick likely depends on whether you prefer slow burn mysteries over action-packed horror flicks. Personally, mystery is where it’s at for me, and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN gave us plenty of that through two acts before unleashing balls to the wall insanity in the final act of the flick. But ALIENS, meanwhile, was insanity from start to finish. James Cameron gifted us what may be the greatest action film ever made, and he managed to recruit a group of young actors that impressed far beyond expectations. Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein all gave 200-percent to the project, fighting to match Sigourney Weaver’s technical genius, and by god, they succeeded. The ensemble is absolutely perfect. The betrayal sub-plot is terrific and the gruesome war that this team of bad ass MERCS engages in with the Xenomorphs is genuinely jaw-dropping. So even if you prefer mystery over action, you’re bound to adore this down-time-free extravaganza.
Watching a young Xenomorph explode from John Hurt’s chest left a lifelong scar on me. I can still remember the paralyzed feeling that overtook my body the first time I saw it. It was horrifying, but it was only one of many sublime moments in Ridley Scott’s classic film. And as already mentioned, ALIEN really relies on a lot of mystery and suspense rather than gratuitous violence or non-stop action. It was the perfect recipe, and the perfect cast was hired to make this nightmare all the more jarring. Tom Skerritt was a pitch-perfect captain (and Jesus Christ at his demise!), Ian Holm was a shocking android capable of anything, positive or negative, Yaphet Kotto was the greatest muscle the franchise has seen, with an absolutely indestructible will and unwavering desire to survive, and, of course, Sigourney Weaver was magic. There’s a reason ALIEN kicked off a stunning career for the gorgeous woman. The script is about as perfect as it gets, and the special effects were about three decades ahead of their time. ALIEN doesn’t just top this list, for many it tops the good old “All Time” lists.