Within the pantheon of great sci-fi franchises, the Alien franchise is certainly one of the most influential. The franchise revolutionized the sci-fi genre and has produced some of the greatest science fiction spectacles seen on the big screen. However, it’s also produced its fair share of drastic misses.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien laid the foundation for what the franchise has become, creating an instant classic that is among the best sci-fi films ever made. Since then, seven more Alien movies have followed, including two prequel movies and two spinoffs. The franchise is iconic and one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood’s history. From exploding chests to acid blood, the franchise has produced many wildly memorable moments and images.
The franchise has also included work from some of the greatest directors in Hollywood, from Scott to Avatar: The Way of Water‘s James Cameron to David Fincher. Not every Alien movie is the same. Some are action-packed war movies outfitted with laser guns and space mercenaries, while some of them are philosophical meditations on creation. From jaw-dropping spectacles to sloppy snooze fests, each Alien movie varies in effectiveness.
Here are all of the movies in the Alien franchise, ranked from worst to best.
The second installment in the Alien vs. Predatorspinoff series is an absolute disaster. While neither AvP movie is good, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem takes the cake as the worst Alien movie in the franchise. Released in 2007, Requiem takes everything that made the previous Alien and Predator movies great and throws it in the trash. What results is a flat, mindless, and entirely forgettable movie.
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is set immediately after the events of the previous AvPmovie. The film largely concerns the hunt between a Predator and an Alien-Predator hybrid known as the Predalien. After the Predalien escapes and causes destruction in a nearby small town, a skilled veteran Predator is dispatched to kill the Predalien.
The movie obviously wants to just show two badass extraterrestrial creatures fighting each other in a gory R-rated outing, but it largely fails to satisfy that itch. Instead, Requiem is hindered by its flat characters and pointless violence. There are some gory deaths and fun action for fans of bloody monster murders, but the film’s excessively dim lighting makes it so that it’s nearly impossible to see anything.
The first AvP movie, Alien vs. Predator, isn’t as horrific as Requiem, but it sure isn’t good, either. Much like Requiem, the 2004 spinoff is a flat 110 minutes that is severely limited by its PG-13 rating. Fans of the series were hoping to see a Xenomorph square off against a Predator ever since an Easter egg in Predator 2 teased the fact that these two species occupy the same universe. Unfortunately, Alien vs. Predator is a letdown.
The movie focuses on its human characters far too much for a movie titled Alien vs. Predator, with two-dimensional people serving only as targets for scary kills. Alien vs. Predator follows a group of archaeologists as they investigate a pyramid found buried under the Antarctic ice. Unbeknownst to the team, is that they’ve just stumbled upon a war between two alien races.
While Alien vs. Predator gets some points for its fun mythologizing of the two iconic movie monsters, the movie is far too muted and risk-averse to be remembered. Its scares and gore are severely hindered by its rating, and viewers are constantly left restlessly waiting for the next epic Xenomorph-Yautja showdown. When those showdowns do come, though, this movie finds its legs.
Alien: Resurrection is a movie that never really needed to be made, but it is largely held up by Sigourney Weaver’s final performance as Ripley. Well, sort of. Weaver actually plays Ripley 8, a clone of Ellen Ripley that military scientists created using DNA from blood samples taken before Ripley’s demise in Alien 3. Nevertheless, Alien: Resurrection was somewhat doomed from the start; it’s well-noted that the studio largely had no idea where to take the franchise after the lackluster box office performance of Alien 3. As a result, Resurrection is a disjointed movie that just doesn’t work.
Set 200 years after the events of Alien 3, Resurrection continues and concludes the original Alien saga. The military resurrects Ripley in order to extract the alien from within her, unknowingly fusing Ripley 8’s DNA with the DNA of the Xenomorph queen. When a vast number of bred Xenomorphs escape containment and begin to wreak havoc on the military ship, Ripley must decide where her allegiance lies. Alien Resurrection is quirky and weird, with quippy dialogue and odd plot machinations prevalent all across Joss Whedon’s script. However, it’s largely an inoffensive sci-fi experience that features a great cast including Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif, and Ron Perlman.
Alien 3 is one of the most maligned sequels of all time, but it’s really not as horrible as some claim it up to be. The movie, which is the first feature film directed by David Fincher, drastically diverts the tone and future of the franchise. Alien 3 had a lot to live up to, seeing as its two predecessors are masterpieces, so it makes sense as to why it wasn’t received warmly. It isn’t as great as Alien or Aliens, of course but it also isn’t a steaming pile of trash like some of the other movies in the franchise (I’m looking at you, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem).
The movie is a wild spin on the franchise that may not be executed to perfection, but it’s still fascinating to see such a huge swing on a piece of blockbuster IP. Following the events of Aliens, Ripley is the sole survivor after the ship carrying her, Newt, and Hicks crash-lands on Fiorina 161, a desolate wasteland inhabited by former inmates of the planet’s maximum security prison. Now having to fight off the grimy men, as well as her extraterrestrial foes, Ripley is forced into her most brutal saga yet. The movie is a startling change from the previous movies, showing fans at the very outset that any sense of crowd-pleasing fanfare is being thrown out the window. Alien 3 is fascinating for its faults; Fincher himself famously disowned the movie due to the stressful behind-the-scenes creative merry-go-round that set this film off on the wrong track from the get-go.
The second prequel in the Alien franchise doesn’t do anything new with the IP, but that’s alright. Alien: Covenant gifts fans with a more grounded movie after the big aspirations of Prometheus, focusing back on the sheer horror of being hunted by a terrifying alien creature. It’s the scariest the franchise has been since the original Alien, and it looks as great as the vast expanses in Prometheus.
Alien: Covenant follows the members of a colony ship bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy. They discover what seems to be an uncharted paradise and meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. All seems great for this group of couples, but things take a deadly turn for the worse when they first encounter hostile aliens. Fassbender’s performance as the android David is the franchise’s best acting outing since Sigourney Weaver, and it’s one of the highlights of the prequel series. David’s emotional flatness creates the most terrifying non-Xenomorph character in the entire franchise. Covenant is held back, though, by its torn nature. It feels as if director Ridley Scott wants to explore the philosophical implications set up in Prometheus, but also wants to deliver in a more classic horror movie way. Nevertheless, Alien: Covenant is a grand callback to what made the first movies so special.
Prometheus kicks off the prequel installments to the Alien franchise is an effective way. It delivers in reliving the thrilling dread of the original movies, yet it also expands the universe in a massive way. With director Ridley Scott back at the helm, the movie’s greatest strength is just how good it looks. Scott captures a staggering beauty in the alien world, bathing the audience with a level of scale that hasn’t been seen before in the series. However, Prometheus is also likely the most divisive movie in the entire franchise. An exceedingly complicated plot and massive thematic goals can alienate some fans from the genre fun that made the first two movies so effective. Prometheus definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can stomach the galaxy-brained plot and themes, it’s a great experience.
Prometheus follows a team of explorers and scientists to the darkest parts of the universe after they discover a clue to mankind’s origins. Leading the expedition are Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), two brilliant people who hold extremely different beliefs toward the religious weight of their journey. When the crew arrives at the distant moon, they find the answers they seek. Unfortunately, they also find unimaginable horror. While Prometheus is trying to do a lot with its thematic resonance, the movie is undoubtedly effective in creating a beautifully terrifying atmosphere. It would benefit from a lighter dose of mythology, but Prometheus is a great looking sci-fi horror film that makes exceptional use of its twists and terror.
James Cameron doesn’t have a vast filmography, but the man sure doesn’t miss. He’s most revered for movies like Titanic and his two Avatar installments, but Aliens is undoubtedly one of his best. One of the greatest sequels ever made, Aliens takes the franchise in a new direction in an outstanding fashion. Whereas the original Alien is more of a claustrophobic horror movie in space, Aliens is an all-out science fiction war movie. Cameron’s direction results in a tense, action-packed thrill ride of a movie, and Weaver’s performance as Ripley grounds the film in a personal realism that gives an emotional weight to the movie’s happenings.
Released seven years after the original movie, Aliens follows a deeply distraught Ripley as she returns to the moon where her crew found the alien ship in the first place. Ripley, who was floating in space for 57 years in cryo-sleep, is informed that the moon has now been colonized by humans for terraforming purposes. When communications are lost with the colony, Ripley agrees to return to the site with a unit of Colonial Marines to investigate. What they encounter is an entire hive of hundreds of Xenomorphs. Now, the team must shoot and destroy their way off of the infested moon. Aliens is teeming with style and texture; it’s an ass-kicking action movie that never ceases to up the ante from scene to scene.
What else could top this list other than the original Alien, one of the best classic sci-fi movies ever made. Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece is a stunning, intense piece of science fiction horror. Featuring outstanding performances and personable characters, Alien turns a sci-fi odyssey into the nether regions of space into a horrifying, claustrophobic nightmare. Whereas the rest of the Alien movies aren’t afraid to create intense action set pieces and vast mythologies, Alien finds beauty in its relative simplicity.
The movie follows the deep space crew of the commercial starship Nostromo. When the ship receives a distress signal from an alien vessel, the crew is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules to investigate the beacon. Onboard the alien ship, they encounter a nightmare. An organism from inside an egg attaches itself to one of the crew and unknowingly plants an alien embryo inside of their body. When the alien is born on board, the crew is forced to survive against this unknown and highly deadly threat. Alien is masterfully crafted in every way; Scott expertly turns the Nostromo into a coffin of horrors. No Alien movie will ever match the original’s sheer terror and level of cultural significance. It’s terrifying, it’s gory, it’s intense, and it’s wonderful. Alien is not only the best of the franchise, it’s one of the best blockbusters ever made.
- The best movies on Disney+ right now (December 2023)
- The best movies on Amazon Prime Video (December 2023)
- 7 most underrated South Park episodes ever, ranked
- The best family movies on Netflix right now
- The best movies on Peacock right now (December 2023)