Ridley Scott has made a return trip into the horrifying corners of space with Alien: Covenant. Introducing a brand new crew to be terrified and torn apart by cinema’s most feared space beastie, we can only place our bets on just who is going to make it out alive and what killing order we want them all to go in. What’s also exciting is which one of them will be added to the ranks of our favourite characters from the films that came before.
Besides the creature with the extra set of snappers, there’s a handful of characters we’ve loved and lost throughout the Alien franchise. Some good, some bad, some completely artificial – but they’ve all left their mark in the history of the xenomorph’s reign of terror. So from both Ripley’s timeline and David’s, here’s a list of 15 Best Characters From The Alien Saga that we never get tired of seeing screaming their way through the acid-laced bloodbath.
15 The Xenomorph
It’s not all humans and artificial persons making this list, you know? After all, there’d really be no list at all without one particular character causing all the trouble, specifically the very first Xenomorph that exploded onto the screen and stayed coiled amongst the pages of cinema history. Making an entry that no creature has managed to top since 1979, the hellish brainchild of both writer Dan O'Bannon and artist H.R. Giger is "alien" in every sense and what keeps us returning back to anything with its name on some 30 years on.
The first version that crosses our paths holds a resonance because of its originality. Scott makes sure not to spend too long with it caught on the camera lens so that when we do see it, we’re horrified by whatever it is we’re looking at. This thing is death brought to life between scales, pipes, and lots and lots of teeth. The first Xenomorph builds the same fear as Jason, Michael, or any other terror from the big screen you can think of. Though we’ve had plenty of close encounters over the years, nothing will ever beat the first.
Alien 3 isn’t that bad. It’s not, honest. Give it another go and then watch Alien: Resurrection and the third installment will look like a misunderstood masterpiece. There are some great ideas, an appropriate end to Ripley’s story, and a testament to how a young David Fincher handled a production nightmare. There’s also some great actors in amongst a cast that might not top its previous counterparts, but who still deliver given what they’ve got to work with. In particular, there’s the welcome talent of Charles Dutton as respected prison figure Dillon.
Amidst this mess, both he and Charles Dance help Sigourney Weaver in pulling along this threequel wreck, but Dillon works wonders as another charismatic figure who steps forward as leader amidst the chaos. This God-fearing cell mate makes an uneasy agreement with Ripley. He also has the stones to take the xenomorph on unarmed, fully aware it won’t end well, and then ask for more. File him under ‘B’ for badass.
"They’re not going to kill the Captain, surely?" That’s probably one of the many questions audiences asked as the horror unfolded aboard the Nostromo in 1979, particularly with a man as charming as Tom Skerritt. If this really was a film about truckers in space, Skerritt’s Dallas was the man at the top who was worn down from the mission, the job, and the union-obsessed cronies moaning about both. However, when catastrophe strikes and something else gets on board, he has his head together more than most, even in his venture through the ventilation system.
Skerritt plays Dallas with a realism that makes it all the more shocking when he’s taken. Like everyone else on the Nostromo, he’d like things to be a lot easier, and delegates only when necessary. He’s a by-the-book worker that is accepting of his duty as head of the rig, just as a Captain should be. It’s also why it amplifies the horror of Alien when he finally takes that wrong turn, and helps send the film into yet another direction that the audience weren’t prepared for. It’s fine, though, Ripley will take it from here.
Prometheus is a film with flaws – that’s undeniable, but there’s still the occasional highlight that keeps folks hooked and one of those is the unwavering charm of Idris Elba as the ship’s Captain, Janek. Treating this mission like a walk in the park and barely involved in the otherworldly goings on that he’s been sent to deal with, Janek seems like a man just along for the ride and the pay check, and that’s it – it’s this lack of an agenda that makes him a character we can trust when all interplanetary hell breaks loose.
Wielding a charisma and decency that’s rarely been seen in Alien films, it makes his sacrifice in the film’s final act (along with his co-pilots), all the more poignant. It’s also one of the few engrossing highlights in an otherwise muddled movie that had so much star power, and no idea what to do what to do with it – with the exception of Michael Fassbender's David, of course.
Easily making the list of cinema's greatest scumbags, company man Burke is on this list because hating a character so much deserves some recognition. Twisting conventions once again, Burke isn’t your typical slimeball in a suit, but he’s without a doubt a man that will try and talk his way in and out of anything. Shockingly, that includes attempting to get Ripley and Newt back with some additional cargo.
Paul Reiser does such a good job as The Company’s lackey to begin with because Burke feels like Ripley’s confidante; an ally in eradicating the aliens when his objective is anything but. The revelation of Alien’s Ash is one of shock and fear, but Burke’s backstabbing is one of pure betrayal and plays against the conventions built by Scott’s first chapter that Cameron makes a great effort to remodify. It also makes it all the more rewarding when he tries to bail on the diminishing squad only to come face to face with the sample he’s trying to bring back. How’s that for a percentage, Burke?!
Making it an art to rub his shipmates the wrong way, Yaphet Kotto’s moaning engineer, Parker, is another popular space trucker aboard Ridley Scott’s first spine-chilling instalement of the Alien films. Having something to say about anything, he’s the kind of colleague everyone’s come across at some point in their lives. He’s the one that always has something to whine about, but no work to do. After stirring the pot when it suits him, he finally gets kicked into gear by the one person he appears to get along with the least, and it’s a great shift for both the characters and the film.
Amid all the blood, guts, and gruesome creature action, Alien excels most as a character piece. This is a small group of people trapped in a tin can with something else that shouldn’t be there and Parker, more than most, is determined to take the thing head on. It’s this rage that clashes with Ripley when he finally pushes her too far and stands to attention of the newly appointed Captain. He’s one of the few characters in Alien with a minimal life-span that actually experiences a character arc, and another member of the crew you’re sad to see die at the hands at this terrifying foe.
9 The Facehugger
Besides the long-headed horror that killed crews in bulk, there’s also the parasite from hell that undoubtedly gave any arachnophobia sufferers a serious case of the willies. The facehugger is as iconic as the xenomorph and all the more disturbing, because of the very real, very creepy animals it resembles. Half spider, Halfmanta-ray, and all hell-no, there’s more terror bred from this creature because on some level you’re familiar with it. What’s worse is that, unlike the extra-terrestrial predator it stores, it uses unspeakable and parasitic methods to spread its terror, as well.
Venturing into frightening ideas of infection, infiltration, and invasion by which no alien had ever used on screen before, H.R. Giger’s artful abomination is still one of the most disturbing and wonderfully detailed creatures ever conceived. When that pile of tripe wobbles in the opened egg, it’s the birth of something truly monstrous that neither audiences (or John Hurt), were prepared for, latching into our nightmares forever and never letting go.
Though the casting of a white woman as a Latino soldier still seems overlooked more than it should be, there’s no denying that Jenette Goldstein provides a welcome addition to James Cameron’s sequel and another great hero we’re sad to see go by its end.
Almost outdoing Ripley as the franchise’s toughest female character, Vasquez is the rough and ready soldier who manages to grab the audience's attention, even with the eclectic cast she shares the screen with. Stomping through the film with that massive machine gun and an attitude that’s "just too bad", she adds to the foundations that Weaver built for strong female characters in a territory they’re rarely seen in.
In this case, it’s turning xenomorphs to mush and going out in awesome heroic style. Farewell, Vasquez. We hardly knew ye.
Poo-poo Prometheus all you like, but there’s no denying that the added presence of Michael Fassbender as another questionable model from Weyland-Yutani draws you in. The unsettlingly calm and charismatic synthetic, David, is the lure in the tar-like mess of Ridley Scott’s first Alien prequel. Butler, medic and all-round dogs body, Fassbender plays the part with a balance that makes you care for and be cautious of him, all the same.
Being an earlier model, there’s a sheen to David's look and how he carries himself that separates him from the others. He’s the only android that shows no opinion on what he is, being very matter-of-fact, whilst still keeping secrets from the crew he’s supposed to serve. Somewhere along the way, though, his individuality and agenda kicks in, and we begin to see something that other models failed to realize – the creation is just as powerful as his creator.
Master of the thing with the knife, and an exception to the rule of deceptive androids, Executive Officer Lance Bishop is another valued crew member of the Sulaco from James Cameron’s Aliens. Understandably so, our leading lady is a little unsure about the ship’s artificial personnel, given her bad experience with them in the past, but Lance Henriksen ensures to earn both Ripley’s respect and faith that he has no intention to harm another human being.
The masterstroke in the character is a collaboration between both Henriksen and his director. Like every other element of the film, Cameron plays on the audience’s preconceptions from Alien and that includes hearing the alarm bell when Bishop is revealed to be a synthetic. Henriksen then carries this torch first lit by Ian Holm and instead lights his own fire; one fuelled by a timid, awkward, and less condescending manner than the Ash model. As a result, he wins not only our heroine's acceptance, but the audience’s as well.
Ripley never needed a knight in shining armor, but if she did, he’d be a Colonial Space Marine with a shotgun – you know, for close encounters. Still sailing on the success of The Terminator, Michael Biehn reunited with James Cameron in 1986 as the frostiest marine headed to LV-426, and the closest thing to a love interest that Ripley's ever had. Carrying the charm and charisma that he showed as Sarah Connor’s protector in the director’s other sci-fi gem, Hicks knows that the advisor accompanying him on this mission doesn’t need his protection, but unlike rest of the grunts, he’s happy to have hers.
It’s qualities like that that make Hicks a man apart from the rest of the gun-toting guys and gals aboard the Sulaco. The sense of nobility matched with a level-headedness that his team lacks is what keeps him in the game. It’s a shame that he and Newt were offed in the first few minutes of Alien 3 as this is one of the few characters in the franchise that you wish stayed on the ride with Ripley until the end.
Of all the poor individuals that cross paths with the universe’s deadliest inhabitants, Rebecca "Newt" Jorden is easily the most unfortunate. As Ripley's kindred spirit, this 12-year old with no military training has more experience under her belt than even Ripley can claim, making for a thoroughly interesting character, that at the time, Carrie Henn delivered effortlessly.
There’s a great maturity to Newt that overtakes her innocence and is something few young actors can deliver. She’s a child of war who knows what’s what; monsters are real, her family are dead and Casey is just a piece of plastic. Even with this brutal honesty and black and white perspective of the world she shouldn’t be in, Ripley takes Newt under her wing, desperate to ensure that she makes it out of Hadley’s Hope alive. It’s this bond that truly sets Aliens apart from the other movies in the franchise.
“Game over, man! Game over!” When Bill Paxton passed away earlier this year, many fans returned to Aliens to relish in what may have been the best role he ever had. Loud-mouthed, hot-shot Hudson is a character with one of the greatest arcs in Cameron’s chapter, going from arrogant meathead to terrified soldier, before heading things as an honorable martyr.
With the journey this gum-chewing grunt goes through, we have the first strong moments of levity in an otherwise bleak and brutal universe. If Hicks is the voice of reason amongst the military types, Hudson is the voice of disbelief and terror-- and it works to wonderful effect.
The situation goes from bad to worse, to absolute FUBAR, and Hudson makes sure to voice his opinion at every available moment. All of course, until the attack on the lab , when he finally steps up and shuts up. It’s a thoroughly entertaining credit of an actor who's sorely missed and Aliens holds all the more value now because of it.
Ash proves that, even with the horrors hidden in outer space, more threats still have remained hidden among our human characters all along-- specifically among one that’s not human at all. It’s quite a feat to take the spotlight from the not only the film's protagonist, but also the iconic beastie she battles, but near the third act of Alien Ian Holm’s treacherous Science Officer reveals why he stands as one of the series’ best characters.
Besides the acid-blooded monster, Ash has all the traits of being the villain of the piece. The dry, British scientist who wields a reserved arrogance isn’t anything new. What’s different is the truth of his identity, which turns the film on its head. The revelation of the man being machine is handled wonderfully by Holm, who unravels on screen as he tries to complete his mission and kill his fellow crew member.
It’s a sequence that may be as haunting as Kane’s last dinner, and even in his final moments, Ash’s unwavering nature chills the atmosphere right up until he’s shut down. Bishop and David might have their perks, but there’s no beating Ian Holm’s original model.
An all-time favorite who would set the benchmark for heroines (and heroes) for years to come, Sigourey Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is a character who has stood the test of time. Ripley shines in the dark and horrifying world that surrounds her. From the minute she wakes up in the Nostromo, we follow her every fearful step of the way through this saga, and can appreciate every action she makes in avoiding and eradicating her foe, because she’s the most realistic character in it. She’s the voice of reason, the thinker, the doer, the mother, and exterminator all rolled into one. If Alien really is a horror film in space, than that makes this Final Girl the toughest and most relatable one to have ever graced the screen.
Situated somewhere in between The Terminator’s Sarah Connor and Die Hard’s John McClane, Ripley isn’t the scarred raving lunatic warning the world of what’s out there, nor is she the sarcastic asshole that smirks after an explosion. She’s simply a solid human character who is in the wrong star system at the wrong time, and is forced to react to keep herself alive-- and save those around her, if she can. Not bad for a human.
Who's your favorite character in the Alien franchise? Sound off in the comments!
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