Alien vs. Aliens: Which One is Better?
With Alien: Covenant just around the corner, I wanted to take a look back at the two best films in the franchise. These, of course, would be Ridley Scott’s iconic isolated horror classic, Alien, and James Cameron’s action paced sequel, Aliens. Both movies are taken in high regard and are both considered classics universally among moviegoers. However, is one better than the other? Are they even comparable? If you think about it, each film is held differently to its core fanbase. Alien being the one that started it all, filled with tension and scares throughout. Aliens is the big budget war film with great characters and exciting/terrifying moments until the last frame. Personally, I am partial to one of these masterpieces, which I’ll get to in a bit, but what type of genre works best for this universe? Let’s dive into Alien vs. Aliens: which one is better?
It was the year 1979 when Alien first premiered on the silver screen. The marketing was exceptional, diverting from plot points, with an ominous feel. “In space, no one can hear you scream,” is the iconic tagline for the sci-fi monster movie, which perfectly sums up what the actual story is about. Once Alien begins, we are treated to long, eerie tracking shots of the spacecraft, while the crew remains in hypersleep, which is soon disrupted by a distress call from “Weyland-Yutani,” (the company they work for). Needless they need to find out what the distress is all about
When the face-hugger scene happens, it becomes an all out horror genre film, which still scares me to this day. The tension and the moody atmosphere is a constant presence in Alien, which I consider to be a character itself. Scott’s classic also does an excellent job giving off little details about the alien once it bursts from Kane’s chest. Small breadcrumbs are slowly fed to the audience before we even see the alien in adult form. The pacing never stops to explain in great detail about the creature, nor does it need to. We know exactly what to be afraid of, and never know when it’s going to show up.
Aliens has a much different, even welcomed tone to it. The film takes place 57 years after the events in the previous film, with Ripley being awoken to learn that the planet her and herself and her former crew landed on has been terraformed by Weyland-Yutani. Ripley now has to accompany a group of colonial marines to figure out what’s going on. This is when Aliens becomes very different from its predecessor. Instead of scientists simply trying to survive, we now have a crew looking to kill the xenomorphs on command. James Cameron packs the sequel with big budget explosions, 80’s cheesy one-liners and of course, the great Bill Paxton.
Despite the changes, the horror element of the series remains present. The thing is, since we already know what the Xenomorphs are capable of, while also having a good number of them to go against; that element slowly loses steam. The aliens look great, and James Cameron can shoot terrific action sequences until the cows come home. However, with tone, cinematography, and aesthetics; Ridley Scott’s Alien has the upper hand.
The general plot and story for both films are fairly straight forward and basic. Alien revolves around a commercial spaceship Nostromo, a seven-member crew are woken up from the hypersleep, and the spaceship subsequently descends on the moon. While exploring the moon, a three-member team of the crew discovers a derelict spaceship and a huge chamber inside it containing thousands of eggs. When a curious team member, Kane, goes too near the egg the parasite inside the egg attacks him, rendering him unconscious. He is brought back aboard; the spaceship takes off. After a little while, the parasite dies, and his host wakes up seemingly unruffled.
Aliens, on the other hand, is quite different in plot, but not groundbreaking by any means. Aliens is a non-stop, high-tech, war movie, with Space Marines. Ripley is found in deep space by a salvage ship, 57 years after narrowly escaping with her life – and her cat – at the end of Alien. She then discovers The Company has colonized the moon where the alien was first encountered. When contact with the colony is lost, The Company send a team of Space Marines, with Ripley as an “advisor,” to find out what has happened.
What Aliens does better (in my humble opinion) is fleshing out the character of Ripley. She is now the unintentional caregiver to a young child, Newt, who was the sole survivor of a mission to the moon with her family. Her parents and brother were killed by the colonized Xenomorphs, leaving her alone on the infested moon. Ripley takes Newt under her wing, adding some much-needed layers to the mysterious yet tough as nails Ripley.
As I said, both of the film’s plot lines are pretty bare bones, and that works for each film, respectfully. When it comes down to it, both Alien and Aliens overcome their generic storylines and surpasses it with excellent pacing and well-realized characters.
Let’s face it; both movies have an excellent cast of unique, mysterious and likable characters that surpass most movies in the same genres to this day. Both ensembles are entirely different from the other while remaining a sense of realism that you believe these characters do exist.
Alien had a more grounded group of scientist searching for answers. The actors portraying these confused, yet original crew all do a fantastic job bringing humanity to a horror movie. The chemistry between the Nostromo crew is nuanced and genuine. The moment they awaken from hyper-sleep, you know they’ve been together for a while and have a history. Which in retrospect, you feel gut-wrenched (pun intended) when one of the crewmates die.
The characters in Aliens don’t quite match the charisma of the original crew. Yes, we have one the best character actors of alone time,( that left us entirely too soon) Bill Paxton as the lovable Private Hudson. The line delivery from Paxton is second to none, which makes him stand out from the rest of the one-dimensional Marines. Unfortunately, that’s also Aliens biggest misstep from a character standpoint.
You can argue that Aliens is Ripley’s movie, with her character development being front and center, especially with the addition of her surrogate daughter, Newt. There is no denying that from an action and creature design aspect that Aliens takes the cake compared to Scott’s 1979 classic. However, if you want to care about a team of protagonists through a human, yet fictional point–of-view, Alien is the clear winner.
At the end of the day, both Alien and Aliens are cinematic achievements that will continue to be held as a gold standard in the horror/monster movie/action genre indefinitely. Without either of them, we wouldn’t have Alien: Covenant hitting theaters on May 19th (which looks wonderful). We also are delighted to Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, which is two of the most unintentionally hilarious sequels since Rocky 5.
I hate being “that guy,” but from this argument, it works. It all comes down to which you prefer more. Personally, I hold Ridley Scott’s Alien as one of my favorite film’s of all time, one that simply hasn’t been surpassed by any other movie in the franchise. The long shots, moody atmosphere, and constant feelings of dread and discomfort hold up miraculously. Regardless, I can’t deny the fun, action-packed set pieces of Aliens when you I am just looking to have a good time watching a movie on a rainy day.
What is your favorite Alien movie? Is it one not on this list? Are you excited for Alien: Covenant? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!