The Alien movies hold a fascinating place in cultural history. They are stacked with iconic imagery, and the series is certified classic and in two genres simultaneously (horror and science fiction). Yet these genres are often viewed as intrinsically inferior, and most of the iconicity is concentrated in its earliest entries, leaving it as a well-known franchise that is rarely discussed. It has endured over forty years across eight entries (a ninth installment, “Alien: Romulus,” is on its way later this year), and given this, it has had an impressive number of contributors, each bringing their distinct visions.

Therefore, the franchise sometimes lacks cohesion, but this is not to take away from the very best it has to offer, bringing us to the central question. Which visions are the strongest? Which are best able to blend these two genres to create films that are as terrifying as they are thought-provoking, and which deserve critical reassessment, and which should have been rightfully left in the past? Let’s find out.

8. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

All Alien Movies Ranked - Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Arguably, it is the sole entry that is a complete misfire on all fronts. “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” is a direct sequel nobody was asking for. It extracts any hint of fun from its predecessor in favor of a dreary, unimaginative slog of an experience. On paper, the premise is simple. After the Predator spaceship crashes in Colorado, a small group of humans, too bland to make specific reference to, must stop the ensuing havoc wreaked by the warring Xenomorphs and Predators. Yet it constantly trips over itself by convoluting plotlines, leaving the shortest entry of the franchise feeling like the longest.

The film is appallingly inadequate at building any sense of tension. It never elevates itself above the concept’s inherent stupidity and does justice to neither of the properties it unceremoniously and carelessly tries to mesh together. Visually, it is easily the weakest of the franchise, its modern-day Earth setting lacking the impressive production design these films have become known for.

Whilst this may separate it from other entries, it is to the film’s detriment, feeling like an anomaly that should never have existed. No ideas are ever touched on with any depth, and its cheesiness, paper-thin characters, and expositional dialogue create an unshakable amateurish tone. The sheer soullessness of the project is highly visible. It is perhaps fortunate that it shrouds itself in darkness, whereby we never quite see the full extent of this complete atrocity.

7. Alien vs. Predator (2004)

All Alien Movies Ranked - Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Nobody could ever besmirch this film for false advertising, as it really is as simple as it sounds. But this is part of the problem. “Alien vs. Predator” is the definition of schlock. The story of a group of scientists traveling to Antarctica to explore a mysterious pyramid doesn’t tie any other aspects of the film together. Instead, it serves as a vehicle to get characters into the correct positions for the essential set pieces. However, none of them are very memorable, as it adopts a similarly dark aesthetic to its sequel. The action isn’t as mind-numbingly entertaining as it could have been, and the whole film falls apart as a result.

What propels it slightly above its sequel, though, is the setting, which is at least somewhat unique. The ancient pyramid is well-realized and used to its full potential, and the film is under no pretense of being something other than just smashing these two concepts together. It is child’s fanfiction for the most part, barring the gorier details, of course, and it is mercifully short with one or two touching moments. But, in general, it suffers from the same lack of characterization, overly expositional dialogue, and repetitiveness. It is a cash grab that should never really have been made, but it is far from unwatchable.

6. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

All Alien Movies Ranked - Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Despite being released eighteen years after the original, “Alien: Resurrection” has by far aged the worst and feels the most dated of all the entries on this list. It is ironic since, to date, it is the entry set furthest in the future. Two hundred years after the events of its predecessor, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is resurrected using Alien DNA and uses her newfound strengths to help a crew of mercenaries fend off Xenomorph attacks. Whilst Weaver initially was hesitant to return, she eventually decided to under the guise of being able to explore new sides of her character. Unfortunately, she couldn’t have been thrilled with the outcome: a CGI-coated mess of ideas and retreads of elements explored better in other entries.

Both on a science-fiction level, it fails, not exploring the complexities of any of the moral questions at play, and on a horror level, it lacks novelty to where everything just feels dragged out. In the worst way possible, it feels very late-90s, early-2000s Hollywood, reverting away from the franchise’s history of practical mise-en-scene. Therefore, the film is one of the least grounded of the franchise, with shallow characters and emotional beats that feel more contrived and out of narrative necessity than earnest attempts to connect the audience with whatever is going on. Ellen Ripley is still a very compelling protagonist for the most part. Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman, among others, were all decent additions to fill out a supporting roster, and the film does have its moments. But overall, it is one of the more messy affairs in an already very messy franchise.

5. Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Where “Prometheus” tried to actively expand the mythology of the Alien franchise in a fresh and intriguing way, its sequel, “Alien: Covenant,” does the opposite. Michael Fassbender’s David is still highly captivating thanks to Fassbender’s cold and impassioned yet striking performance. This time, he has begun experimenting with creating new forms of Xenomorphs, and every moment with him, especially in his interactions with Walter One (a newer android model also played by Fassbender), is electric. However, there are a lot of other elements packed into this film. While Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride, in addition to the rest of the supporting cast, are decent, they are one of the more forgettable collectives of the franchise.

It tries its best to recapture what worked about the earliest entries, and it works for the most part but feels a little hollow. Any attempts to introduce new elements do fall flat, though. However, with Ridley Scott back in the director’s chair once again, it does at least try to explore certain questions posited by the narrative rather than Joss Weadon’s more action-oriented approach. I appreciated the slower pace, and I actually think it is one of the better-paced of the franchise, not overstaying its welcome but allowing the right moments to breathe. It does just lack a sense of energy or passion, feeling like a studio ticking a checklist and ensuring the brand stays relevant until something more interesting comes along.

4. Alien3 (1992)

Alien3 (1992)

For an impressively average film, “Alien3”  is surprisingly infamous, mainly due to the input of David Fincher in his directorial debut. It is easily one of Fincher’s weakest, but it isn’t bad by most standards. Instead, it is frustrating. Weaver reprises her role as Ripley for the third time as her ship crashes on a desolate prison planet due to an intervention from a Xenomorph stowaway. The inmates, comprised of the likes of Charles Dance, Brian Glover, and Danny Webb, are a little one-note, and the horror can at times be too reminiscent of previous films, but the stakes are far from low, with a genuinely great final act that makes the stilted first two somewhat worth it.

Its messy production is evident on screen, as the film does feel like a collision of many under-developed ideas, but the part-prison, part-religious convent setting is perhaps the most interesting of the entire franchise. Nihilism is at the film’s core and undoubtedly the bleakest entry, which may be why critics panned it on the initial release. However, this is the kind of concept where this tone thrives. It is such a shame the first two acts are littered with weak writing and are a chore to sit through. With few tweaks and less studio interference, it could have easily been more remarkable if one creative was allowed to fulfill their complete vision rather than numerous collaborators bringing disjointed ideas to the table.

3. Aliens (1986)

Aliens (1986)

“Aliens” is sometimes touted as one of the few sequels that surpasses the original. Unfortunately, I disagree when it comes to James Cameron’s bombastic classic “Aliens.” Indeed, the most mainstream work of the franchise has a lot of respectable qualities. It contains what I would argue to be Weaver’s best turn as Ripley expands the mythology in an intriguing direction whilst able to cohesively weave together ideas around motherhood, family, and military intervention in a satisfying way. Everything about “Aliens” feels a lot bigger in scope than “Alien.” However, this has its benefits and drawbacks. The key benefit is that the scale of the threat can be increased. No longer is the Xenomorph going after a mismatched crew of scientists and engineers, but now its nemesis is capable and trained marines. The action is thus a grander spectacle to behold.

The primary drawback is that it loses that contained sense of tension that makes the first one really tick. The film is a little bloated, and I feel this franchise operates best with a slow-creeping tension, developing it through atmosphere creation rather than trying to convey horror with large set pieces. Many may also favor the silliness of this one compared to other entries. Still, I don’t think it is as conducive to telling a good story to try and play off both the ridiculousness of fighting cargo loaders and maintaining the severity of the threat.

2. Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012)

At the point when the franchise seemed to have lost steam completely, and every film was recycling ideas in a slightly less engaging manner, Ridley Scott arrived back in the directing chair and made 2012’s “Prometheus.” The narrative follows a team of scientists on their mission to find the Engineers, the supposed creators of human life. “Prometheus” deserves admiration for its ambition. Tackling metaphysical ideas of where we came from and the creation of Gods, “Prometheus” is more meditative and philosophical than any other entry. Yet, it still possesses a slew of the best horror action sequences in the entire franchise.

The pace falters at points, and the screenplay is overly reliant on the impressive visuals, but the cast all bring their a-game. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce make it arguably the most stacked cast of any “Alien” film, and their Hollywood capability is demonstrated well. The performances are given room to breathe, which means the film is never dull. This might not be the entry in the franchise for everyone, but it expands on the franchise and dares to try something new, proving that you can bring in all the new talent you like, but this franchise will still belong to Ridley Scott.

1. Alien (1979)

Alien (1979)

Like many franchises, the one that started it all remains the strongest. The original Alien film is just too iconic not to be respected as a seminal text in horror and science-fiction. By today’s standards, the story may ring a little formulaic. An alien finds its way onboard a contained spaceship, and the crew must work to stop it. However, not only did it arguably generate the formula, but the film is also a lot smarter than that, and the simplicity of the plot allows the ideas to flourish. It is a film that has aged tremendously thanks to strong characters, most notably Ellen Ripley, who has become a cinematic icon, and witty dialogue that at points lends the film some much-needed levity.

The characters also provide fresh perspectives on the ideas the film explores; the problems of capitalism are extrapolated and deconstructed in ways that we just don’t see from modern blockbusters. Thus, the film rewards us with multiple viewings. The practical effects are still very visually impressive and are responsible for some of the most memorable cinematic moments of all time. It maintains a strong sense of tension throughout with a concise plot and shrewd pacing. It is a slow, meticulous build-up that quickly transforms into one of the most riveting thrillers ever made. Though the franchise has delivered highs, it is hard not to feel that every subsequent film is merely trying to recapture what is so impressive about Ridley Scott’s original film.

Read More: The Original ‘Alien’ Film is set for Theatrical Re-release after Four Decades, ahead of the New Sequel

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