Warning: Major spoilers for Alien: Covenant ahead
Ridley Scott's Alien prequel series is in full swing, with the esoteric Prometheus now followed up with the more expository and horror-tinged Alien: Covenant, and up to four more movies in the pipeline. And these films aren't just telling little pieces of backstory; once a haunted house in space, the Alien/Prometheus series is now a millennia-spanning epic that goes from the very point of creation to our self-propagated destruction. Only 2001: A Space Odyssey boasts a bigger scope.
As such, the Alien timeline has got pretty complex, with the two new movies and a wealth of tie-in viral material making a web of narrative threads that - based on comments from Ridley Scott - is only going to get more complicated as we go forward. To clear up any confusion, here's a breakdown of the entire timeline.
10,000s of Years Ago - The Engineers Create Human Life
The timeline begins when Earth was in its barren, primordial state with the creation of humanity - as seen in the opening of Prometheus, life on our planet was the product of an Engineer drinking some of the all-important black goo (a pathogen they've synthesized). In this form, the pathogen rewrites the creature's DNA and restructures it as proto-human. The question of who created the Engineers is raised briefly in Prometheus, but given the levels of creation the series is now dealing with it's unlikely we'll go any further back.
At various points between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago the Engineers visit Earth cultures to check up on their creation where they are worshiped as Gods. Importantly, they leave behind a star map to a far off planet, LV-223, the home of the species' weapon depot (likely where the visiting creators were based).
The next key event comes thousands of years later and around 2000 years before the main story. At some point the Engineers decide their human experiment has failed and plan to wipe out all life on Earth. However, their unstable weapons get loose and kills all but one of the creatures on LV-223. It's implied that the reason for this reversal of opinion was Jesus Christ; the messiah was, in fact, an Engineer sent down to keep tabs on their creation and steer the waylaid humans in the right direction, with the extinction plan a result of humanity killing him. This was stated explicitly in the early drafts of Prometheus and the Christmas Day setting of the finished film definitely points towards it.
21st Century - Peter Weyland Creates Life
In the year of our lord 2023, Peter Weyland hosts a TED talk (part of Prometheus' excellent viral marketing campaign) where he lays out his plans for the future of humanity. Announcing that in a few short years he'll be able to create synthetic beings indistinguishable from humans, he declares "we are the Gods now".
A few years later, Weyland achieves just that and creates David (named after Michelangelo's statue). Decreeing him his father, Weyland reveals he made David as a show of power, in doing laying bare his desire to find his own maker and an underlying fear of death.
The David 8 is eventually rolled out as a commercial android, the most technologically advanced ever produced, but Weyland's original remains as his "son". It's later discovered that these robots are too "human-like" and so later models are dialed back and made more emotionally restricted.
2093 - Prometheus: The Lost Mission
In 2088, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover cave paintings from the disparate civilizations the Engineers visited and decode their star map. Interpreting it as an invitation, the scientists take the evidence to Weyland Industries, who agree to finance the Prometheus mission to the planet cited. Unbeknownst to most of the crew, the mission isn't actually about furthering human knowledge, but a bid by an aged Peter Weyland - who is secretly on board - to extend his life.
The team arrives at LV-223 in 2093 and slowly discovers the truth of the Engineers and their desire to wipe out humans. David follows orders from a sleeping Weyland and begins experimenting with their black goo technology, infecting Holloway who in turn impregnates Shaw with a squid-like Trilobite. Once the surviving Engineer is found, a woken Weyland and David attempt to ask for more life, but the creator enraged kills the industrialist with the android's head and begins to enact the Earth extinction plan. The Prometheus stops the Engineer ship from leaving the planet by crashing into it, and the pilot itself is killed by Shaw's Trilobite, which grows into a proto-facehugger and leads to the birth of the xenomorph-like Deacon.
Shaw and a decapitated David are the only survivors of the event who jet off in another Engineer craft in search of their homeworld.
- Alien: Covenant (2017) release date: May 19, 2017