For almost four decades now, the Alien franchise has been horrifying and shocking audiences across the globe. What started with Ridley Scott’s original horror film has evolved into one of the most successful franchises of all time, continuing next year with Scott’s highly anticipated Alien: Covenant. While Covenant promises to bridge the gap between the events of the original movie and the newest installment, we thought we would take a look back to all the fantastic moments that made the Alien franchise the groundbreaking sci-fi series it is.
For this list, we’re looking at all the most exciting or terrifying moments from 1979’s Alien to 1997’s Alien: Resurrection. The scenes in question are the ones that are the most iconic and what audiences tend to think of when the infamous xenomorph is mentioned in passing. Since we’re only looking at the four primary movies, we’re excluding the Alien v. Predator series as well as Prometheus, as they’re considered more of spinoff films.
From facehuggers to chestbursters, these are the 15 Best Moments from the Alien Franchise.
15. Brett’s Death / First Reveal (Alien)
It seems only appropriate that the first entry on this list should be the first full look we got at the famous xenomorph. After busting out of Kane’s ribcage, the infant alien dashes away into the recesses of the Nostromo, with the rest of the crew of the spaceship left to track down the parasite intruder. After scaring themselves silly by their resident cat, Harry Dean Stanton’s character Brett chases the feline into the cooling room.
Hoping to find his furry friend, Brett gets more than he bargained for when he comes face to face with an adult-sized Xenomorph looming over its prey. Before we know what happens, Brett is gouged by the alien’s tiny moth appendage before he’s dragged off to the rafters to face his doom. It’s a brilliant piece of tension based horror, with the pitter patter of the falling water and dark shadows from the bleak cinematography adding to the anticipation. Brett has the privilege of being the first victim of the xenomorph in the franchise (not including Kane) and for that we had to honor his death with a place on our list.
14. Space Jam (Alien: Resurrection)
Before you dismiss this entry, hear us out first. It’s true that there aren’t a lot of shining moments from 1997’s Alien: Resurrection. The movie suffers from a contrived plot and some shoddy direction, but it does have a handful of really cool scenes. One of those scenes is Ripley absolutely dominating the court in a game of basketball while aboard a spaceship.
For those that are unfamiliar with the plot of Resurrection, Ripley has been born again as a super-genetic clone after her death in Alien 3, which somehow allows her to be freakishly good at a game of hoops. As Ron Pearlman’s character Johner approaches Ripley to try and take the ball, she continuously toys with him. She lets the crew know she’s not one to be messed with, knocking Johner and his cohort out cold with only the basketball. The cherry on top of this scene is when Ripley shoots the ball and sinks the basket from behind her back, a shot which Sigourney Weaver actually made on her first attempt!
13. Dropship onto LV-426 (Aliens)
If Alien is a horror movie set in space, then Aliens is a science fiction war film. It’s been mentioned that James Cameron’s sequel was filmed as an allegory to the Vietnam War, and if that’s true then the movie absolutely nails it. There are numerous scenes that capture that war aesthetic, including the colonial marines entry onto the dreaded planet LV-426. Ripley and the marines get ready for their entry into the planet’s atmosphere, and prepare their departure in a military dropship.
The ultimate squad of “badasses” get lock and loaded, stocking up on some of the deadliest firepower the futuristic military can buy. When their ship is filled to the max, they make their ascent onto LV-426 in a rocky ride aboard a dropship. Cameron’s camera purposely follows each marine through the process of getting ready for battle. Real life military man Al Matthews gives his troop a rousing speech as Sergeant Apone to whip his grunts into shape, even though we know it will be nothing to combat the impending xenomorphs. It’s all accompanied by a precise snare beat you would expect to be playing in the background of a real life marine corp.
12. Dallas Gets Cornered (Alien)
Though “jump scares” have over-saturated the current market of horror films, there was a time when movies knew how to incorporate them tastefully. When Alien was released in 1979, it was hailed as one of the most effective pieces of sci-thrillers. There are endless scenes where the viewer is on the edge of their seat in anticipation, and one of the most effective moments is when Tom Skerritt’s character decides to crawl into the air shafts to flush the mysterious space creature out.
The scene strikes a chord thanks to the intensity in which its shot. After Dallas makes the decision to go into the confined space, Lambert reveals through a motion monitor that the alien is in the shaft with him. The air shaft is small, dark and spooky, perfectly playing on the audience’s fear of claustrophobia and anticipation. We know that the alien is somewhere in there with Dallas, and the suspense is increased as Lambert’s monitor’s beeping grows faster and faster. It all culminates in one of the best “jump scares” in cinema history; a moment that feels earned thanks to its master class way in which it is built up.
11. Ripley Dies (Alien 3)
David Fincher’s bleak threequel in the Alien franchise isn’t as warmly received as the first two entries, but it does have some shining moments that stand above the film that they’re in. Though the finished product might not work as a whole, there are moments that resonate with the viewer, including this shocking ending in which Ripley sacrifices herself in a blaze of glory.
It is revealed midway into the movie that Ripley is carrying an alien embryo inside of her, but not just any alien embryo. A queen alien is about to pop out of Ripley’s chest, and upon hearing the news, the infamous Weyland-Yutani Corporation attempts to get their hands on the beast so they can finally capitalize on weaponizing the deadly species. Before they have the chance, Ripley takes matters into her own hands and in a stunning moment of self-sacrifice, throws herself into a vat of molten metal. The emotional score in the background heightens the content look on Ripley’s face, which says she is finally at peace with ending her life by silencing the xenomorph threat once and for all. It’s a fitting and noble end to the famous heroine – at least until she’s eventually brought back in the next movie.
10. First Look at the Alien Queen (Aliens)
The entire sequence in which Ripley and Newt first discover the alien queen is one of the best reveals in all of cinema history. As the colony on LV-426 becomes ready to implode, our heroine makes one last mad dash to the alien hive in order to find and rescue her adoptive daughter, Newt. It truly is one of Cameron’s finest filmed moments, remaining enticing and visceral to this day. As Ripley rides the elevator down into the alien lair, she loads up her flamethrower, machine gun and grenade launcher in preparation of the upcoming battle. When those elevator doors open, the audience is treated to one of the finest hero shots ever conceived.
Although Ripley is ready to go to war, nothing could prepare her for what lies ahead. Its a masterclass sequence of suspense as Ripley goes deeper and deeper into the alien hive, the sound of blaring alarms ringing in the background. Then suddenly the alarms stop. As our hero finally finds Newt, she turns around to find the massive alien queen, who still looks just as terrifying 30 years later thanks to practical effects wizard Stan Winston. Its an unforgettable moment in the franchise, and one that is just as iconic to this day.
9. First Contact (Alien)
When Ridley Scott released Promethus in 2012, most audiences were rather displeased with the film for not answering many of the questions that it sets up. Moviegoers forget however, that when the original Alien was released there were just as many, if not more, unanswered questions. Who were those giant space-jockeys; what was that big gun they were using; and how did that strange spacecraft crash on LV-426 in the first place? The mystery in the first act of Alien is part of the reason why its so alluring to this day. It doesn’t bother explaining every aspect, and that alone makes it all the more terrifying.
The production design by H.R. Giger in the derelict spacecraft is truly one of a kind, creating a visceral blend that is foreign and creepy. The bleak cinematography only adds to the suspense as the crew from the Nostromo enter what appears to be a forbidden fortress. It all culminates when Kane stumbles upon a lair with what looks to be hundreds of alien eggs spread out. Intrigued, Kane peers into one of the eggs as it opens up, only to have the squid-like facehugger come bursting out and attach itself to his face. It’s a moment that still makes the most die hard viewers jump a little no matter how many times you’ve seen the movie.
8. The Knife Trick (Aliens)
While the xenomorphs provide the most exciting and hair-raising moments from the Alien franchise, there are still plenty that involve just the human set of characters. One of those moments is when we are first introduced to the colonial marines and the android Bishop in James Cameron’s Aliens. As the crew sets down to a hearty meal after being in an extended hibernation sleep, Private Hudson and the rest of his platoon beg Bishop to perform what they call the “thing with the knife.”
After many hoots and hollers, Bishop succumbs to his audience and decides to perform the knife trick, placing his hand on the table over the hand of a very frightened Hudson. After a few warm up stabs, the android lets loose and plunges the knife in between his and Private Hudson’s fingers at lightening fast speed. Hudson’s paniced scream grows in volume as each jab gets quicker until Bishop finally hands the knife back to the stunned Private. Hudson sits there, open mouthed, takes the knife back and exclaims, “that wasn’t funny, man.” It’s a moment that is hilarious and suspenseful, serving as the perfect introductions to the cowardly Hudson and the calculating Bishop.
7. The Marines Get Swarmed (Aliens)
As the colonial marines finally make their way into the dark and secluded xenomorph lair in Aliens, they are asked by their commanding officer looking in on a monitor what he’s looking at. Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson dryly answers, “You tell me, man. I only work here.” It’s the perfect explanation for looking at something so foreign, so creepy, and dare we say it, alien. James Cameron’s first reveal to the xenomoprh hive lets the audience know that his sequel is going to put an emphasis on both horror and action.
It’s a terrifying scene as the marines observe cocooned bodies with exploded rib cages, and torch one of the ones that are still alive just before a chestburster tears through her stomach. It all culminates in the first action-packed moment of the franchise as aliens starting popping out of the woodwork left and right, picking off the crew one by one. Cameron makes the smart decision not to show most of the combat here, rather leaving our imagination to paint the picture as the characters scream and yell over one another as they’re slaughtered.
6. Ripley Kills the Alien (Alien)
As Ellen Ripley jettisons away from her exploding ship at the conclusion of Alien, she thinks that the deadly creature that has wiped out the rest of her crew has finally been vanquished for good. How surprised is she, and the audience for that matter, when it is revealed that the alien had been hiding out in her escape pod the whole time. Ridley Scott’s decision to put a “second ending” at the climax of his sci-fi film clearly works to its advantage, creating one last moment of tension.
When Ripley acknowledges the fact that the xenomorph is a mere few feet away from her, she decides to take action by suiting up in a space suit and fastening herself in the control chair. In a daring attempt to kill the alien once and for all, she opens up the doors to the outside, sending the alien through after harpooning it with a rifle. She delivers the coup de grâce by firing up the engines, burning the alien to a crispy xenomorph toast. It is as satisfying a movie ending will get, with Ripley concluding the film by taking a long deserved nap in hypersleep.
5. “Game over, man! Game Over!” (Aliens)
Like any good franchise, the Alien movies have given audiences a number of quotable one-liners over the years. From Newt’s ominous, “They mostly come at night, mostly” to Ripley’s triumphant, “Get away from her, you bitch,” the dialog in these movies manage to sum up characters’ entire personalities, but we think none of them do it better than Private Hudson’s mini freak-out after his first encounter with the xenomorphs in Aliens.
After the colonial marines narrowly escape an ambush from the aliens, they watch as the dropship that carried them to LV-426 comes crashing down in a fiery ball of destruction. With their only means of getting off the planet ruined, Hudson starts to lose his mind and feebly asks the crew what they’re going to do now. Even after Michael Bein’s Cpl. Hicks tells Hudson to shut his trap, Hudson keeps going and feebly delivers perhaps the most quotable line in the entire franchise, “Game over, man! Game over!” It’s a line that people still use to this day, and for that we thank Private Hudson and his less than heroic demeanor.
4. Inches away from the Xenomorph (Alien 3)
The thing about xenomorph attacks is that they usually happen so quick you don’t get a good look at them. That might be why David Fincher decided to give audiences a full look at one of the creatures in Alien 3, up close and personal. As Ripley awaits getting a shot from Dr. Clemens, the xenomorph wanders into the room behind the two. The alien strikes and kills Clemens with a quick shot to the head from its smaller mouth.
Fearing the worst, Ripley runs over behind a table and against the wall on the other side of the room. The alien clearly sees her however, but just before the xenomorph looks like it’s going to attack, it stops itself. Instead of killing Ripley, the alien slowly gazes at its prey, with its fangs drooling mere inches away from Ripley’s face. Its a shot that builds a striking amount of tension, and allows the viewer to see the alien closer than ever before. While David Fincher’s third installment might not be as beloved as the first two entries, this moment is without a doubt one of the most hair-raising in the entire series.
3. Ash is an Android (Alien)
There are plenty of surprises in Ridley Scott’s Alien, but one of the biggest twists comes near the end when it is revealed that the Nostromo’s Science Officer Ash is not really who he says he is. Though actor Ian Holm perfectly plays the character with the cold robotic demeanor and expressionless personality, it’s still a shock when he gets his head completely knocked off and the viewer discovers that he’s actually an android. Viewers begin to suspect that things aren’t right when Ash becomes hostile towards Ripley, but nothing can prepare for the moment that nobody ever saw coming.
After he’s completely decapitated by Parker, Ash is still able to communicate with the crew with only his head sitting on a table. It’s a horrific scene straight out of nightmares, created by using pasta and milk with a little ingenuity. It’s made even bleaker when Ash reveals to what’s left of the crew that the alien is the perfect killing machine, sealing their fate as Parker kicks the demented android off. The moment still shocks and awes viewers today thanks to the gruesome effects and Holm’s twisted performance.
2. Ripley v. the Queen (Aliens)
“Get away from her, you bitch!”
One of the most quoted lines from any movie, this action-packed sequence concludes Cameron’s sci-fi followup by showcasing the terrific special effects created by Stan Winston as well as the compelling acting chops of Sigourney Weaver. Just like Alien concluded with a surprise second ending, Cameron decided to ramp up the stakes with a second ending of his own. After the alien queen reveals herself, rips poor Bishop in half and is about to go after Newt, Ripley walks out in a full fledged mech-outfit and prepares to go toe-to-toe with the giant xenomorph.
It’s a sequence that had audiences in theaters stand up and cheer in 1986. Everything from Weaver’s acting to the cinematography and special effects comes together to make one of the most compelling scenes in any action movie. Cameron cleverly plays with the lighting here, using strobes so that the alien queen looks as lifelike as possible. No punches are pulled as Ripley trades blows and the queen uses her razor sharp teeth and blade-tipped tail to her disposal. It’s truly a testament to how convincing practical effects can be, and shows why Cameron is undoubtedly one of the masters of directing action.
1. Kane’s Chestburster (Alien)
What else could come in at number one besides the most famous scene that continues to scare audience members almost four decades later? When poor Kane wakes up after his ordeal with the facehugger, all seems to be well. He joins the rest of his crew in the mess hall for one last meal before they go back into deep freeze, until it looks like something that Kane ate starts to disagree with him. Kane starts to cough like he swallowed something wrong, and while the crew thinks its just a stomach ache, Kane’s condition quickly takes a turn for the worst.
He begins to violently cough and gag, convulsing on the kitchen table until the unthinkable happens. In a moment of pure terror, an alien parasite bursts through Kane’s rib cage. The crew members are in shock, and actress Veronica Cartwright is even legitimately surprised to the amount of fake blood pouring out of Kane, not being told ahead of time how gory the scene was going to be. It’s not just one of the most iconic scenes from the franchise, but one of the most iconic scenes in all movie history, one that stunned an entire generation of moviegoers. And for that it more earns our top spot of best Alien franchise moment.