The Alien franchise started in 1979 as a terrifying sci-fi horror tale about a seemingly unkillable monster hunting the crew of an isolated spaceship, but since then, the series has largely gone astray from its roots. The original movie is considered a sci-fi horror classic while James Cameron took a more decidedly more action-oriented approach with his sequel Aliens in 1986, which was so successful it rivals the original in terms of popularity. However, the franchise hit choppy waters from that point forward, as David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet took stabs at the series with Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, which would both turn out to be critical and commercial disappointments – though the former has its share of retrospective admirers.
Following two successful but largely critically drubbed crossovers with the Alien Vs Predator duology, Ridley Scott tried to revitalize the series with two prequels. Both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant were highly anticipated but proved convoluted and disappointing, muddying the lore of the xenomorph and losing sight of what made the franchise successful to start with. Now, with a new Alien TV series on the horizon from FX and Scott in talks to make another Alien, now is the time for the series to finally regain its footing.
That said, living up to the legacy of Alien and Aliens is no small task. In order to be successful, new entries will need to take careful steps to honor what’s come before while also trying new things that fit into the established universe of the series.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley might be iconic, but the actress has historically been reticent to reprise her classic role – and for good reason. While Ripley is a genre legend, and one of the most badass leading ladies in the genre, to move forward a new Alien movie should not bring back Ripley. Like Halloween and Terminator, bringing her back in a supporting role for one last movie wouldn’t be the worst idea, but, in general, the franchise needs a new cast of characters to lead the way. Ripley was lightning in a bottle and any attempt to create a Ripley 2.0 is doomed to failure.
A new adventure could bring the xenomorphs to Earth and focus on a whole new group of survivors who have to learn to fight the creatures while the world around them falls to the monsters. Even if a new Alien chooses to follow closely in the footsteps of every other entry and unleash another xenomorph to hunt down the crew of another spaceship/station etc, it makes sense for it to feature new protagonists. If the studio insisted on bringing back familiar faces, one angle a new Alien could take would be to give some beloved characters the chance they never got because of the route Alien 3 and Resurrection took the series The Dark Horse Alien comics focus on Hicks and Newt following the events of Aliens, so a new movie could easily reboot the franchise with a mix of series favorites and new blood.
While Alien 3 and Resurrection had their share of issues, Prometheus and Covenant proved almost as controversial for messing with the lore of the whole franchise. Not only did they repeat the controversial decision to kill off a main character between movies, they also added a whole creation story for the xenomorphs that didn’t really gel with the backstory set in place by the original movies. Another mistake from these prequels is that they tried to expand on the backstory of the Engineers in a largely unsuccessful way, as not only does the creation myth Scott set out make little sense, it doesn’t fit with the mood of the Alien universe. Whereas the Space Jockey scene in the original movie is so strange and intriguing, Scott took that eerie design and reconned it as being just a suit, instead choosing to make the creature inside just a tall, pale humanoid.
Despite their many faults, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant did offer a few interesting tidbits that would be good to carry forward for a reboot. Expanding more on the androids and how they fit into society is definitely a bit of world-building Scott is good at based on his experience with Blade Runner. David and Walter were very compelling characters, while Michael Fassbender’s performances are considered the best part of the prequels. Having androids with distinct personalities – or even androids who don’t even know they’re androids – would also be a compelling aspect to delve more deeply into for the universe.
While the prequels failed to expand on the biology and origins of the xenomorphs in a satisfying way, that doesn’t mean the creatures have to remain completely mysterious for a new Alien movie to work. Ideally, the beasts should be treated more like actual alien creatures, obeying the laws of nature and following their instincts the way any animal would. Having them be a “created” species is somewhat trite and uninteresting – let them be a naturally occurring species that developed through evolution and natural selection.
To bring in the Dark Horse comics again, those stories depicted the xenomorph homeworld where the creatures have different cultures featuring matriarchal factions led by different queens, and there are even civil wars between the factions based on access to food, reproductive targets, land, etc. Additionally, in a deleted scene from Alien, Captain Dallas is seen being transformed into an egg to birth the next generation of facehuggers, which is a largely unexplored aspect of the lifecycle that could still be incorporated alongside the queen, if executed well.
The last thing that’s really integral for a new Alien movie is to ensure it goes back to its roots and puts a firm emphasis on the horror. The original Alien delivers such a feeling of isolation and dread, showing the creature itself only in brief, shadowy glimpses. This was echoed extremely effectively in the aptly titled 2014 video game, Alien: Isolation, so it’s clear it can still be done. Regardless of the direction a new movie chooses to go in – whether rebooting the franchise to start again following Aliens or keeping all the newly-established prequel canon – creating a movie that fits with the tone and feel of the original movies is the best way to get the series back on track. While, of course, it will be important to ensure any new Alien has a compelling story and characters, keeping it true to its roots will be the number one mark of success.