Aliens (1986) is One of the Greatest Films of the ’80s for Good Reason

Upon its release, Ridley Scott’s original Alien (1979) was already a huge phenomenon. It featured the scariest monster ever put on screen. Audiences literally became ill watching a little creature break out of a man’s chest. Blood went everywhere. Even one of the lead actresses, Veronica Cartwright, might never forget that moment, which would later become a legendary moment in the history of filmmaking.

  • Aliens (1986)
  • Directed by James Cameron
  • Written by James Cameron
  • Story by James Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill
  • Released on July 18th, 1986
  • Cast:
    • Sigourney Weaver: Ripley
    • Carrie Henn: Newt
    • Michael Biehn: Corporal Hicks
    • Paul Reiser: Burke
    • Lance Henriksen: Bishop
Aliens (1986)

Fresh off the success of another classic science-fiction thriller, The Terminator, writer/director James Cameron was really interested in making another sci-fi of his own. The title of his new story was “Mother.” He went to the Alien producers David Giler and Walter Hill to pitch the idea. They didn’t care about his story, but they offered him the job of writing the script for the sequel to Alien. This was a big feat for any novice filmmaker. But James Cameron basically shrugged and jumped at the opportunity.

James Cameron learned all about filmmaking while working as an art director at Roger Corman’s “school” of filmmaking. In this position, he would help the “B-movie” producer create some of the screen’s most forgettable films, unfortunately. He would create the effects for Roger Corman’s “pay on” to Alien and Star Wars, Battle Beyond the Stars. It was no commercial success. But James Cameron had learned all he could and decided he could get behind the camera and make a film of his own.

Pirahna II: The Spawning was Cameron’s first “big break,” which has ultimately become a point of controversy as Jim had been fired from that project more than once, and they still credited him as the director. James Cameron knew he had to get out of the bad wake of Pirahna 2. After a few nightmares, he came up with the story of a killer machine. Cameron had the famous image of the Terminator walking out of the fire in his head. He needed to get this image on screen, no matter what.

For 6 million dollars at a time when most blockbusters were made for 20 to 30 million, James Cameron and a cast and crew of equally passionate people created a legend as timeless as the monster in Alien. So, it only makes sense to give such a visionary the task of creating the sequel to that landmark thriller. Alien was a film that James Cameron himself knew from front to back.

With his brilliant philosophy of making sequels, James Cameron knew he could not do justice to Alien and feel secure as a filmmaker if he just made another Alien knockoff. This time, it was no longer going to be the same claustrophobic thriller in space. This time, it was war.

Cameron, with the help of Giler and Hill, created the story. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) would return to face the terrifying creature or creatures, in this case, once more. Instead of a senseless “one man army” theme, these storytellers dropped our heroine in the company of colonial marines, men and women armed to the teeth. They gave Ellen Ripley a backstory that would surface, unfortunately, much later when the special edition of the film arrived on Laserdisc. Then, to solidify this tale as a classic, these great storytellers put a helpless little girl in the arms of Ellen Ripley.

The colonial marines include Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope), Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Terminator star, Michael Biehn), Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Private Hudson (Bill Paxton), and Private Drake (Mark Rolston). Each character was unique. In a group, they were almost ego-maniacal. Then, once they were put to the test when it all hit the fan when they weren’t the most “badass” group in space anymore, their humanity started to shine.

Only Ellen Ripley knew what to expect when she and her corporate liaison, so to speak, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), boarded the military spacecraft, Sulaco. From there, Ripley, Burke, and the platoon of marines were off to LV-426 to investigate the mysterious lack of transmissions from the colonists there. After arriving in orbit, the crew of the Sulaco finally came out of hypersleep and went about their usual business, getting ready for breakfast. Ripley is, of course, trying to get used to her new surroundings. She’s never been around men and women with such macho personalities as the Marines. They’re loud and kind of obnoxious when they start boasting and bragging.

Finally, it came time to de-brief the Marines. Lieutenant Gorman left it up to Ripley to try and explain the situation. She stammered. She got so nervous she could hardly speak. The Marines are still hot-headed. They are egotistical, even after they touch down on the planet’s surface in their drop ship. Ripley eventually sums up the courage to face the Marines and gain their respect.

Ripley, Burke, and the Marines discover a little girl, Rebecca Jordan or “Newt” (Carrie Henn), alive at the colony. From there, Ellen Ripley’s maternal instincts seem to kick in. This brings up the question of why. As described earlier, her backstory, which was left out of the final cut, filled in these answers. However, it is in this theatrical cut that Ellen Ripley remains a dynamic, mysterious, and almost confusing leading character. Ellen Ripley cares for Newt like her very own daughter. It is in their relationship where the soul of Aliens lies. Even the evil monsters trying to kill them become more like wild animals when you compare their behavior to that of Ripley and Newt’s.

Aliens are shot to pieces, left and right. The rapid gunfire from the Marines’ pulse rifles becomes a natural part of the film. During the chaotic action, you might notice how different the design of the alien creature is. Instead of a smooth, wiener-shaped head, as shown in Alien, there are ridges along the sides of the dome. When the creature in Alien was murdering Ripley’s crewmates, it was kind of like an infant. It was barely a day old. I chalk up the change in their appearance as they age. This adds a lot of depth to these beasts that really weren’t explored until Aliens. But that’s really nothing compared to the big surprise Cameron had in store for us.

James Cameron introduced us to another legendary character in Aliens. Much like he did with the Terminator, Cameron blew our minds in one hell of an image when he chose to reveal the Alien Queen. Ripley and Newt are trying to get off LV-426 before the atmosphere processor explodes. They wind up standing in the middle of the alien nest. Eggs are all around them. They could have a mess of “face huggers” burst out of the eggs and fly at their faces. Just when you thought the only monster was the adult “warrior,” you’ve also got these much smaller crab-like creatures with finger-like legs trying to suction themselves to your face and implant something in your chest.

But what created all of those eggs in the first place?

Naturally, you would assume it was a mother-like creature. In the case of the aliens, much like the reproduction of certain insects, it is a queen that is laying these eggs. This queen is close to 20 feet tall. She sits atop a throne while eggs slime their way out from her huge egg sack. Instead of a dome for a head, it is actually in the shape of a crown. Unlike the metal in the jaws of her offspring, the queen has huge and menacing translucent and organic teeth. Despite being absolutely horrific, you might say the Alien Queen is actually a very beautiful design. As monsters go. If I remember correctly, even the creator of the original Alien design, H.R. Giger, had some good things to say about Cameron’s Alien Queen design.

Ripley fights the queen in several great scenes. After laying the Alien Queen’s offspring to waste, Ripley and Newt leave the hive and evacuate the planet. This brings up the subject of another essential character in the cast, Bishop (Lance Henriksen).

In the original film, the entire mission was sabotaged by an android called Ash. Ripley was even attacked by this spastic “robot” in one scene. This left her with a major distrust of any and all androids. So, when she first meets the innocent and kindly android, Bishop, Ripley is naturally very hostile. Over time, Bishop slowly gains Ripley’s trust. Then, it all came down to the final test of Bishop’s loyalty. He was supposed to stay on the landing pad in the drop ship. When Ripley and Newt leave the queen far behind them and arrive on the landing platform, neither Bishop nor the drop is anywhere to be found. Of course, Ripley is pissed off. But that doesn’t change the fact that her hatred for this android is really misguided.

Once they are back on the Sulaco, the Alien Queen surprises everyone with her ingenuity and determination. She is one angry, vengeful mother who wants to spill human blood. What ensues has become a legendary scene in film history. Ripley and the queen duke it out in what is arguably the greatest “catfight” in film history. Of course, you’re probably wondering how a simple human can fight a giant beast the size of a house. Well, I’m not going to reveal that. I think I’ve said way too much.

Now, let’s move on to the purpose of this article. Aliens is really close to my favorite film of the 1980s. I have never seen a film from any decade that I’ve seen as many times as I’ve seen Aliens. Somehow, it has the ability to draw in an audience, no matter how many times they’ve seen it. This could be the brilliance of James Cameron, the enthralling story, or the extremely entertaining characters. I’m not really sure. It was made for about 18 million dollars, and everything about the production makes Aliens look like it costs a lot more. Sigourney Weaver may have given the performance of her career in Aliens. Everyone else around her gives equally stellar performances. But this film has become known as one of the greatest sequels in film history for a reason.

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