This year, Star Trek isn’t the only major Hollywood property celebrating a milestone birthday. 2016 also marked the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s classic sci-fi film Aliens, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest sequels ever made. Upon its initial release in 1986, Aliens proved to be highly successful, grossing $131 million worldwide and earning seven Oscar nominations. It won two of them (Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects), but Aliens was more notable for Sigourney Weaver’s Best Supporting Actress nomination – the first time an sci-fi/action film was recognized for acting.
There’s no denying the movie’s place in the entertainment zeitgeist, and it’s been able to endure as one of the premiere entries of its genre for three decades now. Whenever something is as popular as this for so long, many wonder what about it made it stand out above the rest. According to those who made Aliens, it boils down to the experience of watching the film and how easy it is to get invested in what’s happening on the screen.
Screen Rant spoke with Aliens director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd during the Aliens 30th Anniversary roundtable discussion at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. When we asked what about Aliens has kept it near the forefront of pop culture for so many years, the two looked at their seminal work from the perspective of a moviegoer and explained what makes Aliens special to so many:
Cameron: “I have to take my filmmaker hat off and look it as a fan and think, ‘Well, I really like those characters. I really think those are the right actors to play those characters.’ There’s certain lines, moments, you remember moments. It’s satisfying, it ends in a satisfying way. I always believe that movies work best when there’s a planned payoff, and I believe there are several planned payoffs in that film… But I actually think it’s those characters. We can all relate to Hudson running around ‘What the hell are we gonna do now man? What the f*** we gonna do?’ We all know that guy.”
Hurd: “It’s a great midnight screening movie because you can talk back to the screen and you can have this group experience. It not only makes you feel something, it makes you cheer, it makes you jump. When you think of all the things that something can do, which is projected on a screen, it ticks all those boxes and it makes you laugh.”
Hurd’s response in particular ties back to something Carrie Henn, who played Newt, told us during the roundtable. The last time she saw the movie was on Alien Day (April 26) in a crowded theater with people reciting lines of dialogue before they were said in the film and cheering during the biggest set pieces (Ripley’s famous “Get away from her, you bitch!” one-liner). It’s somewhat amazing to think that 30 years later any movie could still pack the multiplex and get people excited on the big screen, but Aliens is obviously something several viewers connected with immediately. It’s achieved cross-generational appeal, as parents have passed it down to their children.
Cameron also makes an interesting point about the characters, which arguably are the most important aspect of any film. When writing the script, the director did make a concentrated effort to ensure that the audience could see themselves in the protagonists. Ripley and the team of space marines all feel like real people, which goes a long way in helping Aliens resonate on an emotional level. Weaver’s performance in the movie is so great, not just because of the action sequences, but also the mother/daughter relationship Ripley develops with Newt. Hudson is very much an everyman; we all like to think we’d be like Hicks and be fearless, but there are many people who would be just as frightened as Bill Paxton’s soldier.
The Alien franchise has had difficulties living up to the high bar set by Ridley Scott’s original and Cameron’s sequel in the 30 years since 1986, but it’s a testament to the quality of those first two movies that their reputation has not been tarnished in the slightest. Regardless of how Alien: Covenant and Neill Blomkamp’s currently untitled Alien 5 turn out, people will always remember Alien and Aliens. Twenty years from now, fans will be gathering somewhere to celebrate Alien‘s big 5-0. It’s become a timeless work of cinema.
Aliens is now available on Blu-ray and DVD