Every Alien Movie Ranked From Worst To Best

The Alien series is built around one of the greatest movie heroines of all time: Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. In the 2010s, Ridley Scott, the alpha and omega of Alien directors, tried to fill Weaver's space boots with the likes of Noomi Rapace and Katherine Waterston. Their characters were like Ripley's surrogate daughters (as fans know, there's a precedent for one of those in Ripley's long and winding biography). And yet, more than 40 years after the debut of "Alien," Weaver is still the face of the series. She anchored the first four films. Without her, there's no franchise to speak of.

The series puts Ripley through the wringer, and she's not the only one. Actors like Yaphet Kotto and Bill Paxton, to name but two, appear as memorable, doomed supporting characters. That's a trend in the franchise — the Alien movies are utterly unforgiving. One juxtaposes a poignant funeral scene with the horror of the Xenomorph bursting out of a canine's stomach (consider this a trigger warning, if you're planning to watch any of these). It's a ghastly image, but remember that dog reference. We'll be calling back to it as we creep towards the beating heart, or bulging sternum, of this countdown.

"Aliens vs. Predator" is a side series, so it isn't ranked here. Everything else, however, is fair game. So, without further ado, here are the Alien movies, ranked from worst to best.

6. Alien Resurrection

There's something to like in virtually every "Alien" movie, but with "Alien Resurrection," it feels like we're grasping at straws to find nice things to say. By the time we get to the fourth film in the series, all the mystery of the derelict spacecraft in "Alien" has dissipated. Alien eggs are now a dime a dozen, aimed at people's faces in controlled settings like so many unnecessary sequels.

Space pirates need to get from one side of the playground known as the USM Auriga to the other. The ship's contents — an indoor basketball court, a lab full of genetically engineered monstrosities, and an underwater kitchen — constitute the playground equipment. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose next feature would be the critically-acclaimed French-language film "Amelie," "Alien Resurrection" fetishizes the grotesque and eroticizes its lead, Ripley 8. The Xenomorphs in this film still have acid for blood, but instead of being vaporous, it's changed to the kind of yellow, syrupy goo that you might see oozing from a squashed insect.

That's the franchise at this point: Real horror has given way to cheesiness with a side of revulsion. Just look at Ripley 8, writhing around in a wet bug nest next to the skull-faced alien-human hybrid, the Newborn. Jeunet campaigned vigorously to have the Newborn display a mixture of male and female genitalia below its distended belly, but on the DVD commentary admits that this was too much, "even for a Frenchman." He's right. You might say the whole movie is a bit much.

5. Prometheus

With its music and visuals, "Prometheus" strives for grandeur, showing the origin of life itself beside a waterfall where creation blooms from destruction. However, the film is undermined by a script that does its plot and characters no favors. There's a reason why we called "The Leftovers" a comeback for "Prometheus" co-writer Damon Lindelof. He had to atone for missteps like this.

"Prometheus" hit the same year as "The Cabin in the Woods," and it's as if the Prometheus' scientists inhaled a big whiff of the intelligence-sapping pheromone from Drew Goddard's horror movie spoof. In one self-reflexive moment, Elizabeth Shaw says, "You have no idea what afraid is," and it's true. The only thing remotely scary in "Prometheus" is her emergency C-section. Convenient, flashback-friendly "dream-watching" technology, goofy old man makeup, terrible accents, bad jokes about getting laid, unintelligent boors having unbelievable interactions and making baffling choices — the list of offenses goes on and on. Too much of "Prometheus" beggars belief. It doesn't help that it wants to be anything but an "Alien" movie.

The film was undone by its own viral marketing and the hype surrounding it. For example: that Audiomachine-scored first teaser, which belied the hollow center of this Tootsie Pop. "Prometheus" looks and sounds great, and it's not bereft of ideas. It just doesn't know how to deliver them in a compelling way.

4. Alien 3

As David Fincher once characterized it, his "first bungled masterpiece" serves up improbable Christian symbolism — can anyone figure out what "dog" spells backwards? — couched in gut-wrenching autopsies, eulogized friends, euthanized androids, and other forms of nihilism. Clemens, the world-weary doctor played by Charles Dance, goes and gives his quasi-Catholic confession to Ripley about the great crimes of his past, acts of negligent homicide that he committed when he was high on morphine. No sooner does it leave his lips than the shadow of the Dog Alien rises up behind him. A familiar, Judas-like face shows up to betray Ripley. Like Saint Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of Ripley's remaining "disciples" comes forward with a weapon and almost knocks a guy's ear off.

Studio meddling halfway botched Fincher's vision of a cursed "40-year-old woman in outer space." It's an environment where, to quote composer Elliot Goldenthal via the DVD's special features, "there's no meaning, no spiritualism." Ripley herself strikes more than one "Jesus Christ Pose." She offers up her back as if to receive 40 lashes, and stretches her arms out wide to save humanity. And you know what? Even if she dies, who's to say she won't be resurrected?

3. Alien: Covenant

Cover your ears and nostrils. "Covenant" ranks this high for one simple reason: In parts, it's genuinely horrifying. Yes, "Alien: Covenant" does Elizabeth Shaw dirty; there's no getting around that. Sure, there's some nostalgia bait, like Katherine Waterston's hair, done up Weaver-style.

But "Covenant" irons out some — though not all — of the kinks of "Prometheus," returning the franchise to its horror roots. When we finally realize what happened to Shaw between movies, it makes her story much more disturbing. Seeing colonists lose their spouses raises the emotional stakes. When Amy Seimetz locks Carmen Ejogo in the med-lab with a back-bursting Neomorph, things get real.

Really, though, this is David's movie. Michael Fassbender plays the dual roles of Walter and David, but it's the latter man-droid who exudes pure genocidal evil as he welcomes us to his "dire necropolis." "I met the devil when I was a child," one character says. So did we. Here, the devil wears a human face. It leaks as much malice as the Xenomorph's pharyngeal jaw, that second snapping mouth that drips acid and wants to bite you. Figuratively speaking, David does a lot of biting. When it comes to the movie's ending, the audience knows what's coming, but it still leaves a cheeky, black-hearted after-impression. "Alien: Covenant" received a mixed reception on release, but give it a few years. Maybe there will be a reappraisal.

2. Aliens

If commercial filmmaking dictates that a sequel provide more of the same without feeling too samey, then "Aliens" is an unqualified success. Director James Cameron was coming off the triumph of "The Terminator" when he penned the script, based on a story he conceived with producers David Giler and Walter Hill. In the process, Cameron shrewdly recognized that audiences had already seen the first alien and felt its acid breath. They had witnessed its whole life cycle. It had been demystified.

There are still some scary scenes in "Aliens," like when the Colonial Marines find the nest of cocoons and the Xenomorphs start picking them off. For the most part, however, Cameron chose to play a different card, shifting the franchise from horror to all-out action in its second installment. It was a move that paid off and led to a classic that is still being quoted and copied to this day. Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead" simply switches zombies for aliens as it drums the same plot beats. Meanwhile, composer James Horner's pulse-pounding, militaristic "Aliens" score has been fodder for dozens of movie trailers.

"Aliens" is so deft at keeping you caught up in the story that you almost don't realize how similar its third act is to "Alien." Ripley goes back to save Newt instead of the cat; there's another countdown after which the processing station will self-destruct, just like the star-freighter; and now the Queen is the stowaway who gets blown out the airlock — again.

1. Alien

The original is still the best. "Alien" hit theaters two years to the day after "Star Wars," and its spaceship, the Nostromo, has a lived-in quality similar to the Millennium Falcon. The difference is that its space truckers are doomed from the outset by a company that deems them expendable.

Put yourself in the shoes of a '70s moviegoer sitting down to watch "Alien" for the first time. A thing leaps out of a leathery egg, attaches itself to a man's face, and impregnates him. It's a Facehugger, but you don't know that word yet. There's no earthly precedent for what you're seeing, besides the fever-dream art of a twisted genius named H. R. Giger. At mealtime, the Chestburster arrives, sharing what indie rockers Alt-J now call "The Gospel of John Hurt." Later, the full-size Xenomorph ambushes Harry Dean Stanton from behind. As it turns its malevolent, cockroach-like head and bares its teeth, you behold a biomechanical terror that bleeds acid.

No one, not even the captain, is safe from the monster. It closes in on him in the air ducts, and you realize that Tom Skerritt, the more famous actor in the movie, is not the hero. He's dog meat (or God meat). Only two women and a Black man are left standing. The science officer turns out to be a murder bot who wants to force-feed the Final Girl a dirty magazine. This is nothing less than a psychosexual nightmare. "Alien" is sci-fi horror at its finest.