alien tv series

(Welcome to Where to Watch, which provides a clear and simple answer to the question, “Hey, where can I watch this thing?” In this edition: the Alien franchise.)

The Alien franchise has a little bit of something for everyone. There are scares, thrills, existential dread, some laughs, and even a little bit of romance. Regardless of what you’re looking for, there’s an Alien film tailored to your wants. The franchise started in 1979 with Alien, which followed a rag-tag crew of space tuggers who get killed by a nasty alien that gets aboard their ship. From there, the series spawned three sequels, two prequels, and two spinoff movies. The world of xenomorphs and the people who fight them is a fascinating one, so here’s where you can catch all the films in this fantastic series.

Alien

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

The one that started it all is 1979’s Alien, a science-fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon. It follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo after they encounter a violent extraterrestrial that gets loose on the ship. Sigourney Weaver stars as Ellen Ripley, the warrant officer aboard the Nostromo. The less you know about Alien going in, the better. Alien is a haunted house movie set in a spaceship, its scares coming from what might be lurking around the next corner. It’s a moody, terrifying film with incredible set and creature designs from acclaimed Swiss artist H.R. GigerEveryone should see Alien at least once, even if the chest-burster sequence ends up giving them nightmares for a week.

aliens sequel details

Aliens

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

The second film in the series, Aliens, features less claustrophobic horror and more fist-pumping action. Written and directed by James Cameron, this 1986 sequel features some of the most iconic moments in the franchise. After losing contact with a colony on the same moon where the Nostromo encountered the killer alien, Lieutenant Ripley (Weaver) agrees to return to check things out. After being the only survivor last time, however, she’s eager to bring along some company with big guns. Joined by a crew of colonial marines, she sets out to investigate what happened to the colony and hopefully erase the xenomorph threat once and for all. She also discovers her maternal instincts when the crew finds a lone survivor, a young girl called Newt (Carrie Henn).

The banter among the colonial marines, especially Bill Paxton‘s Private Hudson, makes Aliens much tonally lighter than its predecessor. There’s also the introduction of the franchise’s most lovable android, Bishop (Lance Henriksen), who is a far cry from the villainous Ash in the first film. The most iconic scene is the final fight, which sees Ripley geared up in a power-loader exosuit to take on the massive queen alien. It’s queen vs. queen in a showdown for the ages.

Alien³

Where to rent: Redbox ($2.99), Amazon/Apple/YouTube/Vudu ($3.99)

The third installment in the Alien quadrilogy was released to mixed reviews but has since found a cult following. David Fincher‘s decidedly darker Alien³ lacked the ghost-house scares of the first film and was nothing like the action blockbuster of the second.

Following the events of Aliens, a xenomorph escapes on Ripley’s ship while everyone is in cryostasis. The ship launches its escape pod, though one of the crew has a facehugger alien on them. (We all know how that tends to go…) The pod lands on Fury 161, a floating foundry and prison station for prisoners with a YY chromosomal mutation that can cause them to be extra aggressive. Ripley is woken up only to discover that on top of worrying about the killer alien on the loose, she is also the only woman on an entire station full of angry men. Alien³ is heady sci-fi that digs into issues surrounding the prison system, gender dynamics, abortion rights, and personal identity. It’s not nearly as fun as either of the previous two films, but it has a lot more to say. It also gives closure to Ripley’s arc, and is the film that dives the deepest into her character.

Alien Resurrection

Where to rent: Redbox ($2.99), Amazon/Apple/YouTube/Vudu ($3.99)

Even though it seemed like Ripley’s story had come to a close at the end of Alien³, screenwriter Joss Whedon brought her back (as a clone!) for Alien Resurrection in 1997. Weaver returns as Ripley 8, a clone of Ellen Ripley created 200 year after the events of Alien³. A xenomorph queen is removed from the Ripley clone, and the two somehow share DNA with one another. Ripley gains alien-like superpowers: the clone has enhanced strength and reflexes, acidic blood, and a psychic link with the xenomorphs.

A group of mercenaries including the android Call (Winona Ryder) bring kidnapped humans in stasis to the scientists. The scientists use these captive humans as hosts for the aliens, and raise several xenomorphs for study. Then they escape, because they have freaking acid blood that can eat through metal.

Alien Resurrection was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who gained international fame with his comedy AmelieIt’s a mess of a movie that feels more like Alien franchise fanfiction than a part of the overall narrative, but it has some decent performances and moments. Watch out for Brad Dourif as a scientist and Ron Perlman as one of the mercenaries teamed with Call.

Prometheus

Where to stream: HBO Max

Ridley Scott returns to the franchise he started with Prometheus, set approximately 30 years before the events of Alien. Scott directs a script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, telling the origin of both humanity and xenomorphs. The movie follows the crew of the exploratory science ship Prometheus as they search a distant moon for signs of humanity’s creator. Funded by the Weyland corporation and following a map found painted in caves on earth, the crew hopes to find the origin of all human life. What they find instead is lots of death.

Prometheus has an all-star cast that includes Charlize Theron as Weyland employee Vickers, Idris Elba as the captain of the ship, Noomi Rapace as the hopeful scientist Shaw, and Logan Marshall-Green as her scientist husband, Holloway. Michael Fassbender steals the show, however, as the android David. David is one of the first androids created by the Weyland corporation, and he sees Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) as a father. Seeing the origin of androids in the franchise is interesting, given where it goes with the villainous Ash, loyal Bishop, and curious Call. Prometheus ends up becoming David’s story as he tries to find his creator’s creator. There’s a lot of existential pondering here, but there’s also an extended alien C-section sequence that is gory greatness.

Katherine Waterston in Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant

Where to rent: Redbox ($2.99), Amazon/Apple/YouTube/Vudu ($3.99)

Prometheus left a lot of questions unanswered and ended on a cliffhanger, so five years later its sequel, Alien: Covenantarrived. Alien: Covenant is once again directed by Scott, with a script by John Logan and Dante Harper, from a story by Michael Green and Jack Paglen. Alien: Covenant begins 11 years after the events of Prometheus, following a colonization ship searching for new planets to inhabit. A solar flare damages the ship and the android Walter, who is a later version of the David build, wakes up the human crew. They decide to follow a transmission of a human voice from a nearby planet, only to discover that the entire planet is void of life.

The reason everything’s dead, of course, is because David and Shaw crash-landed their ship there and unleashed a deadly pathogen. Walter and David go head-to-head in the world’s best game of “good android, bad android,” and we learn that David has been breeding all kinds of new aliens. Ship second-in-command Daniels (Katherine Waterston) must do everything she can to save not only her crew, but all of the colonists still in stasis on the ship. Alien: Covenant ends up being half Alien movie, half android existential crisis, and it delivers on both fronts.

Alien vs. Predator

Where to stream: HBO Max

There are a lot of Alien franchise fans who don’t count Alien vs. Predator or its sequel as part of the franchise, but I’m a completionist, so here we are. The idea for a Predator to take on a xenomorph originally appeared in a Predator comic book in 1989. In 2004, writer and director Paul W.S. Anderson created Alien vs. Predator, a silly but fun science fiction/adventure flick that pits the formidable alien foes against one another (and some unlucky humans). Genre great Lance Henriksen plays Charles Bishop Weyland, the head of the Weyland corporation, who once again funds an expedition to go check out some trouble in space. Sanaa Lathan plays Lex Woods, an experienced guide hired to show the expedition team around. Lex is based loosely on the character Machiko Noguchi, who appears in multiple Alien vs. Predator books and eventually joins the ranks of the Predators herself.

Lex and the rest of the crew eventually discover that Predators have been visiting Earth for centuries, sacrificing certain humans as hosts for new xenomorphs in order for the Predators to hunt them. It’s a coming-of-age ritual, Predator style, and the crew manages to get caught in the crossfire. While the film’s PG-13 rating certainly hampers it, Alien vs. Predator is still a fun, gory ride that gives us plenty of extraterrestrial-on-extraterrestrial action.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Where to stream: HBO Max

You can watch this one if you really want, but I don’t recommend it. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem picks up where the previous film left off. A Predator ship crashlands in a forest in Colorado, and an alien/Predator hybrid called the Predalien escapes. It wreaks havoc on a small town, and a skilled veteran Predator is sent to dispatch it. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem was the directorial debut of brothers Colin and Greg Strause and was written by Shane Salerno, who co-wrote Armageddon. There’s plenty of Predalien fighting Predator carnage here, but the cinematography is so dark you can barely see any of it. At least this one’s rated R?

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