It’s a saga that’s haunted the cosmos for 38 years, and now Ridley Scott is taking us back into the nightmare in his latest chapter of the Alien series with Alien: Covenant along with Michael Fassbender and new heroine Katherine Waterston. Following a new crew that are set to get their faces hugged and hit with a serious chest infection, it’s another addition to the franchise that will bring buckets of blood and various nerve-shredding scares.
Now that we've been at both ends of the Alien lifecycle-- with Covenant being set before Ripley’s first meeting with the beast from the stars-- there’s been a number of frightening moments that have left fans screaming. From bug hunts gone bad to some moments that didn’t even actually involve the titular extraterrestrial, there have been plenty of incidents that made our blood run cold and forced us to wonder if that really was our hearts pounding in our chests. Check out the list below of the 15 Most Terrifying Moments In The Alien Franchise.
15 The Back Burster – Alien: Covenant (2017)
Whatever rule book there is for Alien, Covenant makes a great effort to add even more interesting and unread chapters in the xenomorph’s lineage and that includes its grisly ancestor. Already glimpsed at in the trailer, the arrival of the neomorph descendent might not be as hair-raising as the original chest-burst from 1979 but it looks even more painful.
After Ledward is infected with the Engineers' virus, it’s a matter of minutes before the virus begins to take its toll. The patient is barely even stripped down before his insides quickly make their way outside, and the neomorph breaks through his spine like a twig, taking its first blood-soaked breaths of life. It’s stomach-churning stuff and a brave readjustment of a visceral horror we’ve become so familiar with from past Alien movies.
14 Shaw’s C-Section – Prometheus (2012)
A film that split audiences down the middle upon its release, there are very few moments of terror to be had in Prometheus. With that said, there are the occasional strands that bring the fear in bucket loads and one includes leading lady Elizabeth Shaw trying to get rid of the unwanted organism growing inside her. To the Emergency Room – STAT!
Harking back to the same issue Ripley faced in Alien 3, Shaw manages to avoid future chest problems by strapping herself into a hyper-tooled hospital bed and having the xeno-fetus removed. It’s a horrible process that Ridley Scott ensures to show from every possible angle as a squid-like being clings to its host before being torn away.
Fans might question how Shaw manages to be up and about after such a procedure, but there’s no denying that you may have clutched your stomach on the first viewing.
13 Ripley’s Sonogram – Alien 3 (1992)
It might be one of the most testing instalments of the franchise that didn’t have Ellen Ripley playing basketball, but David Fincher’s Alien 3 does have a few shining moments through the mess of a production. Besides the xeno popping out of a dog (or ox, depending on your cut) rather than an unsuspecting human for a change, the biggest shock is Ripley’s ultimate fear confirmed when she learns what she’s carrying.
Proving that Ripley was never going to be able to outrun this horror that followed her across space, the discovery of the embryo of a Queen Alien just waiting to be born is an ultimate and final shock that, while not handled brilliantly, is a revelation that seals our heroines fate. Of course, being the badass that she is, Ripley handles it like a hero would and makes sure to keep the monster at bay even in her final moments.
12 Stowaway – Aliens (1986)
Proving that no synthetic human can make it through one of these films in one piece, Ripley’s reunion with Bishop is brutally interrupted when they find they have another passenger stowed away on board the warship. Okay, it might be a fairly similar trick to the one pulled in Ridley Scott’s original film, but Aliens has some crucial Cameron ingredients added to it to up the ante that little bit more.
Sharing the same facial expression of every cast member who’s chest has exploded in these films, Bishop looks on in disbelief and terror as he’s lifted off the ground and that iconic android fluid begins spraying in every direction.
It’s definitely an alien doing the deed-- that much is clear-- it’s only when the Queen’s regal dome descends from the ship’s insides that we realize what’s happening. By then, Bishop has already been Scarecrow’d, and Ripley is making a break for the nearest power-loader. Let the battle commence.
11 Burke’s Betrayal – Aliens (1986)
If films have taught us anything, it’s to never trust a man in a suit. It stands to reason then that the alarm bells are ringing the moment Ripley wakes to find Burke sat behind her bed as a frontman of The Company. This questionable character only confirms our fears when he opens the cap on two facehuggers that make a beeline for our heroine and the compound’s sole survivor, Newt.
Continuing to expand on every facet of the universe Scott and Gibbons created with the first film, seeing the Facehuggers in action brings as much terror as it makes your skin crawl. These spider-like creatures scuttling around the room are a horrible sight. Seeing those things leap across the room, finger-like limbs outstretched is the stuff of nightmares, making them stand equally as (if not more) horrific than the other Aliens.
10 Lucky Star – Alien (1979)
There’s always time for one last scare and seeing that leathery claw reach out to an unsuspecting Ripley still makes us jump out of our seat as much as she does. Displaying just how adaptable the "perfect lifeform" was outside of the Director’s Cut, seeing that thing unfurl from the escape shuttle’s ventilation is a cruel trick to play that pays off massively.
The tension mounts, the hands get clammy, and we’re left wondering how this lone Lucky Star is going to do away with the xenomorph once and for all. Once again, Scott draws out the fear to ridiculous lengths as Ripley straps in and shoots the xenomorph out into space. Thankfully, it’s a pretty simple tactic that she goes onto use in the next film, as well; she blows it out of the god damn airlock and into engine-heated oblivion.
Round 1 to Ripley, and a well-earned rest to follow.
9 Ripley's Nightmare – Aliens (1986)
In the sequel that many deemed superior to its predecessor, James Cameron eases the audience into familiar territory before blowing it all up. Waking from a 57-year snooze, Ripley is informed of what’s happened and where she is, which is understandably a lot to process. Then the stomach ache comes.
Wasting no time in reminding us just what horrors await us in this world, Ripley clambers in her bed for as Jonesey hisses at a familiar danger. Our heroine raises her shirt to show something not quite human waiting to burst out. It’s a harrowing sight that clutches at the fear that every fan has had since 1979 and now it’s back with a vengeance. Don’t worry though folks, it’s just a dream. The real nightmare has yet to begin.
8 The Facehugger Hatches – Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott always deemed Alien's Nostromo as the creepy old house in space, trudging through the unknown as its crew are picked off one by one by a beast they unknowingly brought on board. What’s just as fascinating and all the more frightening is the house it came from-- and its means of transportation. What we know now to be the Engineer's ship is an abandoned bio-mechanical mansion, harboring all kinds of horrors, one of which is waiting for Kane in the basement.
Only moments after Dallas tries to determine the pilot’s cause of death, Kane quickly provide an answer. Lowered down into the belly of the beast, he comes across a field of eggs, with one just waiting to hatch. What’s great about this moment is Scott has nothing to hide; we actually see the Facehugger before the egg even opens, trembling in its shell before the seal is broken and it bursts onto Kane’s face.
Like all great scares, it’s so fast, you can barely process it, but seeing this spider-like creature spread across its victim’s helmet is an image no fan can ever forget.
7 The Death of Dallas – Alien (1979)
If Alien really is a haunted house flick, then one element of genius in Dan O’Bannon’s script is that there’s never any confirmation who the final girl is until it’s too late. This is an ensemble piece where the crew is quickly chopped down as the beast stalks the vessel, with no consideration of what pay grade The Company has put them on. As a result, when Dallas heads into the ventilation shaft, it’d be no surprise if the audience originally thought he’d make it out – he is the Captain, after all.
In an effort to corner the alien, Dallas heads in with a flamethrower, slowly closing off any potential exits for the creature. The terror sets in as every scope-like door closes behind the Captain and only the flame is left flickering in the darkness, along with the beeping signal. Alien is a film that relishes in claustrophobia and shadow and Dallas alone in the tunnels encapsulates all of this beautifully, right up until the Captain’s wrong turn. Another member of the Nostromo is lost to the villain.
6 The Nostromo’s Self-Destruct – Alien (1979)
Cinema has played host to a number of nail-biting countdowns, and the Nostromo's self-destruct is easily a contender for one of the best. It’s bad enough that Ripley’s being hunted aboard her own ship, but after finding the xenomorph blocking her way, the sole survivor of the Nostromo quickly makes a U-turn and tries to cancel the scheduled explosion. It doesn’t go according to plan.
As the warning lights and sirens blare all around her, Ripley pulls and pushes every required doo-hickey, all while the audience is eyeing every angle, making sure nothing grabs her. It’s almost excruciating to watch as the ship's computer continues to countdown regardless of Ripley’s efforts.
Calling to MU-TH-UR to cancel the self-destruct, Ripley's pleas fall on deaf ears as the countdown continues and she stumbles through the smoke in a last ditch effort to escape. It’s not over yet, Ripley.
5 The Marines Take The Nest – Aliens (1986)
It’s hard to determine whether it’s a blessing or a burden knowing what’s waiting for the Marines when they breach the doors of Hadley’s Hope. Even armed to the teeth and being a group of "absolute badasses", burning the newborn xenomorph only urges a few of its disgruntled relatives to appear from the shadows and do away with our heroes in a vicious and deadly attack.
The most haunting aspect of this sequence is the silence, with only the James Horner’s score filling the scene as warrior xenomorphs come out of the walls and drag soldiers away. Even before the first round is fired it’s too little, too late as a different breed of alien unleash their attack and that familiar fear comes flooding back.
The credit of course, must fall to Cameron, who has already displayed his skill of mixing both horror and hard-level firepower in The Terminator, and raises the bar with not only this sequence, but for everything that follows.
4 Attack On The Lab – Aliens (1986)
If Cameron isn’t killing your ear drums from the insane level of gunplay in his revered second installment of the franchise, he’s making your heart pound and tearing your nerves to shreds. One stand-out moment is the attack on the lab, as Ripley and the remaining squad continue to underestimate their enemy. After finding out Burke’s agenda for Weyland-Yutani, the mock trial is quickly cut short when the lights go out and everyone tries to figure out what’s going on. A glance at the sensors suggest that they’re surrounded and the intruders are closing in fast.
First time viewers may have already caught on how they’re breaching the facility but that doesn’t do lessen the breathtaking shot of a gang of bloodthirsty xenomorphs clambering above the ceiling, just waiting to pounce on our heroes. It’s Cameron at his finest and one of Aliens' most hauntingly brilliant moments. Ripley and company’s chance of survival just got cut in half and the worst thing is, it’s all the more entertaining because of it.
3 Brett’s Close Encounter – Alien (1979)
Ever the perfectionist, the Director’s Cut of Alien has some great little additions from Ridley Scott, even though he deems the theatrical cut "the best film he could’ve made at that time." With that said, those additional four minutes do have some nice little touches that make for an additionally chilling viewing experience at times, in particular the death of Brett, who has the displeasure of facing the creature in its adult form, first.
The Director’s Cut adds a wonderful split-second shot to an already intense scene that leads to the death of Harry Dean Stanton’s work-shy mechanic. As Brett searches for Jonesey in the engine room, we briefly see the xeno hanging among the chains, waiting to pounce on its prey. To the untrained eye it could be easily missed, but fans would no doubt spot that scorpion-like tail a mile off.
Down below, Brett finds Ripley’s cat, which has already spotted the intruder as he descends upon him with a hiss. For the theatrical cut, this is the first glance at the fully-sized creature as a shadow casts over Brett right before we see the jaws of death. They grow up so fast, don’t they?
2 Death of Robot Ash – Alien (1979)
From the get-go, it’s clear there’s something off about Ian Holm’s Ash. The super-calm Science Officer of the Nostromo keeps it together when all around him is utter chaos. It’s when we learn why that he really blows his fuse.The reveal is a slow one, as the milk-sweating synthetic throws Ripley around the room without saying a word and then proceeds to try and exterminate the commanding officer.
Parker takes a swing at Ash, revealing just what they’re facing as the android stumbles round the room hissing like a broken motor, even going on to attack Parker before he finally short circuits. It’s a terrifying scene, more so than any alien encounter because of the human-like character it focuses on.
As the series has progressed, we may have had the likes of Lance Henrikssen and Michael Fassbender deliver their own models of android, but Holm’s homicidal villain in hiding still stands as the best simply by being so menacing.
1 The Creature Emerges – Alien (1979)
Three things are common knowledge in the history of Alien; that chest bursting scene was done on the first take, none of the cast knew just how much of an explosive bloodfest it would be, and it’s now one of the most iconic moments in film, ever made. Breaking ground (and rib cages) 38 years ago, Kane’s death and the alien’s birth was something that had never been seen before and started a franchise that would be favored and feared by millions.
The execution is flawless, as Kane’s appetite is quickly restrained during his last supper. Coughing and spluttering up noodles, the crew panic as Kane screams in agony and the xenomorph breaks through to introduce itself. What adds even more to this horrifying image are the minute details during the whole ordeal, as the alien’s host continues to twitch and the chest-burster scans the room from a growing pool of blood before scurrying off the table. Shock, terror, and a brief second to gather your thoughts are all that’s available in easily one of the most iconic moments in the entire Alien franchise.
What moment in the Alien franchise scared you the most? Let us know in the comments!