Director Ridley Scott called the shots on his landmark sci-fi/horror film Alien all the way back in 1979, while filmmaker Shane Black played a supporting role in the original Predator film and helped to fine-tune the project’s script throughout production, back in 1987. Cut to the present in 2016 and now both of these storytellers are actively moving these sci-fi/action/horror franchises into the future, at an interesting point in these respective film properties’ histories. After all, the Alien franchise’s most recent installment was Prometheus, Scott’s prequel/spinoff to his original 1979 film that was a commercial success ($403 million worldwide, which was a new franchise high) but polarized the hardcore Alien fans upon its release. Meanwhile, the last time a Predator movie played in theaters was 2010, with the release of director Nimród Antal‘s Predators: a movie with little to no direct connection to previous installments in the series, being set on an extraterrestrial planet and featuring a crew of brand-new human characters.
Scott will begin filming the followup to Prometheus, titled Alien: Covenant, in Australia this spring for a summer 2017 theatrical release date, though it’s difficult to say how much Scott’s new project is a sequel to Prometheus… and how much it’s a bit of course-correction for the franchise that will set up for additional films that take place before the events of the original Alien (more on that later). Elsewhere, Black and his writing partner Fred Dekker have now completed a script draft for their Predator movie, which is currently known as simply The Predator – and similar to Alien: Covenant, the project won’t be a fresh start for the its franchise’s mythology, but it also won’t be a straight-forward continuation of previous films either.
Some will recall that Prometheus originated as a straight forward film prequel to Alien titled Alien: Engineers, as was written by Jon Spaihts, a screenwriter who has gone on to co-write such upcoming films as Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Universal’s The Mummy reboot and is currently working on the script for Pacific Rim 2; Engineers‘ would-be director and Scott protege, Carl Eric Rinsch, hasn’t fared so well by comparison, having since only directed the 2013 historical fantasy/adventure 47 Ronin, a critical/commercial disappointment. Scott, when he decided to take over as the director on Engineers, worked alongside screenwriter Damon Lindelof (the former Lost showrunner and co-creator of The Leftovers) to transform Alien: Engineers into Prometheus, in order to make a film that would not directly lead into the events of Alien but instead (as Lindelof put it) “run parallel to it.”
However, as evidenced by the fact that the Prometheus followup is titled Alien: Covenant and not Paradise – which is the rough translation for the name of the Engineers’ home world according to a Prometheus deleted scene – or even Alien: Paradise Lost, which is what Scott called it before Fox officially announced Covenant as the title, it’s clear that the initial plan to create an offshoot of the Alien franchise with Prometheus has changed. 20th Century Fox’s official synopsis for Covenant refers to it as being the “second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with Prometheus” and Scott has said that part of the reason he made Prometheus in the first place was before he wanted to address questions from his 1979 Alien film that were not answered in its three sequels (not counting the Alien vs. Predator films): Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien: Resurrection, none of which Scott directed. As he told THR in November of 2015:
“Prometheus 1 was born out of my frustration that on Alien 1 in 1979 — I only did one as I don’t normally do sequels. I was amazed that in the three that followed that no one asked the question: “Why the Alien, who made it and why?” Very basic questions. So I came up with the notion of Prometheus 1, which starts to indicate who might have made it and where it came from.”
During that same THR interview, Scott also indicated that Covenant will mark the beginning of a new Alien film prequel trilogy and has mentioned the possibility that a fourth Alien prequel movie (or, rather, Prometheus 4) could be made at some point in the future in other interviews, too. It’s a peculiar situation; on the one hand, both Fox and Scott are promoting Alien: Covenant as being a continuation of the Prometheus storyline, yet it also sounds like Covenant may serve as the beginning of a standalone three-part Alien prequel story to which Prometheus is the prologue, rather than the first chapter. It also sounds like Fox is hedging its bets on Alien: Covenant by acknowledging the film’s connection to Prometheus, but playing up its connections to Alien instead (again, see the title) in an effort to appeal to both those who did enjoy Prometheus and those who did not, but would be willing to check out Covenant in order to gain more insight into the backstory for Alien that the didn’t get the first time around. Couple that with the fact that Covenant will feature a largely different cast than Prometheus (since most of that film’s characters had died by the end) and it seems that whatever you want to call the film – one that looks to function as a soft reboot sequel to Prometheus that better ties that movie’s mythology into the primary Alien series mythos – it’s a project that will open up more possibilities for where the Alien franchise can go afterwards.
One place that the Alien franchise could go after Alien: Covenant is the way of a shared cinematic universe, what with District 9 and Chappie director Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 project now waiting in the wings. Blomkamp, you may recall, got the official go-ahead from Fox to develop his Alien movie – a film that would bring back Sigourney Weaver an Ellen Ripley and largely ignore the events of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection – after he made waves by posting conceptual art that he’d made for such a project in his free time, online. Blomkamp’s Alien 5 is currently “holding/pending” the release of Alien: Covenant, as the filmmaker has put it, so there’s still a possibility that Fox will green-light Blomkamp’s film down the line. Even if Covenant doesn’t perform well enough at the box office to justify the making of a third (much less a fourth) Alien prequel, that wouldn’t completely eliminate the possibility of Alien 5. After all, the Alien brand has proven itself to be rather robust, after nearly forty years of existence, and Fox won’t give up on it as long as there’s a chance that it can sustain more films. If Covenant goes over well, it could give Fox the confidence to green-light both a second Prometheus sequel and Blomkamp’s Alien 5, for related reasons.
Alien: Covenant recently had its release date moved by Fox from October 6th, 2017 to two months earlier that year, on August 4th, where the film (which Scott says is definitely going to be Rated R) will proved counter-programming to the musical comedy antics of Pitch Perfect 3 during its opening weekend. George Miller’s R-Rated post-apocalyptic action romp Mad Max: Fury Road managed to carve out space for itself in 2015 when it opened against Pitch Perfect 2 and there’s fair reason to think that Covenant can manage the same against the third Pitch Perfect film. It’s really more a question of quality than anything else. After all, the Convenant script has evolved greatly over the course of the past four years; at one point, Scott said it had gone through fifteen drafts and, at the time, wasn’t even going to include the Alien Xenomorph in any sense, and there’s reason to be concerned that the film’s attempts at thematic cohesiveness will suffer from all the changes it’s gone through. Not to mention, Scott himself nowadays is a bit of a wild card factor, truth be told; for every The Martian (read: critical success) that he directs, it seems that Scott also releases an Exodus: Gods and Kings or a film that earns a similar lackluster reception.
The Predator is in a similar position to Alien: Covenant, in the sense that it’s not a complete fresh start for the next era of its respective sci-fi franchise’s existence – and in the current climate, there’s little reason to doubt that Fox would like Black’s to be the first of multiple Predator movies that the studio releases over the next 5-10 years. Black, shortly after the firs reports of his involvement with the new Predator project got out back around mid-2014, explained to Collider why The Predator will not simply hit the restart button on the larger franchise:
“As far as [co-writer Fred Dekker] and I are concerned anyway. Why start over, when you’ve all this rich mythology yet to mine?[ However, I can] really get behind inventive sequels, the idea of expanding and exploring the existing Predator mythology, rather than hitting the restart button.”
Black’s experience making Iron Man 3 should be proving very useful to him, now that he’s working on The Predator, seeing as the third Iron Man film had to serve as not only the third installment in the Iron Man film series, but also the followup to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and the launch pad for Phase II of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, all at once. Similarly, Black and Dekker have Predator, Predator 2 and Predators to draw inspiration from (assuming that, much like Alien: Covenant, The Predator won’t be acknowledging the Alien vs. Predator films), but are surely plotting out a way to keep the door open for future sequels, “inventive” or not, at the same time as they craft a standalone narrative for the film – again, like Iron Man 3 had. It currently doesn’t appear as though Fox will be even entertaining the thought of using The Predator to launch a shared universe similar to what the studio is working on with its X-Men movie universe or has the potential to do with its Alien movie brand… but nowadays, you can’t really put anything past studios, when it comes to their longest-running properties.
Black’s The Predator does have an advantage over Scott’s Alien: Covenant, when it comes to offering the public a spin on an established IP that is genuinely different from what they’ve seen before; after all, moviegoers have not gotten to see a full-on Shane Black Predator movie before, and it’s for similar reasons that many Alien fans are continuing to hold out hope that Alien 5 will get a green-light, so that they get a chance to watch a storyteller with a distinct style like Blomkamp play in that sandbox. After all, love it or hate it (or something in-between), Iron Man 3 feels a whole lot like a Shane Black joint – to the degree that many people jokingly refer to the film as “Kiss Kiss Clang Clang” (in honor of Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, of course) or something to similar effect – and The Predator should offer a similar mix of adult comedy and action to it, seeing as Black is very unlikely to shift the franchise away from its R-Rated roots. That is to say: The Predator could end up more successful at rejuvenating interest in its respective franchise than Alien: Covenant, even though a sequel (maybe two) is part of the official game plan for the latter and not the former… yet, anyway.
The Predator is currently slated to open in U.S. theaters on March 2nd of 2018, putting two weeks between it and the release of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther (on February 16th), as well as Warner Bros. Pictures and DC’s The Flash (on March 16th). That date could serve Black’s film all the better, seeing as The Predator will provide action junkies a fix of hard R-Rated mayhem to compliment the PG-13 geopolitical thrills of Black Panther and the more light-hearted super-heroics of The Flash, respectively. If the success of both Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2015 and now Deadpool in 2016 have proven anything, it’s that well-made R-Rated entertainment – when it truly offers something different – can give rise to a larger franchise just as easily as PG-13 projects can. Should Black’s The Predator follow suit, then who knows; in two (or so) years from now, we may well be talking about both The Predator 2 and Prometheus 3, depending on how things play out.
Alien: Covenant opens in U.S. theaters on August 4th, 2017. The Predator arrives in U.S. theaters on March 2nd, 2018.