They are two of my favorite childhood franchises: one about the most elite hunter in the universe going after Earth's deadliest human and the other is about parasitic/insect like creatures that are birthed via bursting out of the chest of their host then grow into killing machines that not even Bill Paxton can kill with all his awesomeness. Both have iconic designs, both were made by 20th Century Fox, and both spawned some of the greatest action movies in history. So much to everyone's joy, these two iconic monsters were merged into the same universe thanks to Dark Horse Comics' Aliens VS Predator comics which are amazing!
With these two titans I'd like to compare them by looking at their individual movies, comics, games, lores, presentation, etc., then give my opinion as to what the better franchise? Now keep in mind that this is my opinion, I am not saying it is correct nor is it the definitive answer.
First let us begin with the franchise that started it all: Aliens and with that we will start by taking a look back at Ridley Scott's 1979 horror movie simply known as Alien.
It's suspense at some of its finest. It's dark, it's sinister, it's cold, and I love every little minute of it. From the moment it starts, it just feels completely uncomfortable to be watching because of the amazing set design and atmosphere combined with the fantastic direction of Ridley Scott and the great performances of Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, etc. This to me is still by far my favorite movie of his because of how much dread and horror he brings with such a low budget similar to John Carpenter's Halloween.
Now for years, I remember thinking that Aliens was by far the superior movie in the franchise but as I've gotten older and have become a huge fan of horror movies, I have to say that I now consider Alien equal to Aliens just in different ways. Even though I've seen this so many times that nothing about it scares me, I do respect it for the fact that it is still a frightening masterpiece and even audiences today could find it terrifying. While this movie doesn't develop the lore of the later labelled Xenomorphs, there is a great setup. You have the derelict ship with the Space Jockey (or Engineer as we learn in a future movie), you have the eggs, you have the facehugger, the Xenomorph itself, and certain things that can only be found in the Director's Cut.
As Ripley is going through the Nostromo, she discovers where the Xenomorph has been taking her fellow crew members and most of them are still alive and are being morphed into strange cocoons that are strikingly similar to the eggs that held the facehuggers.
Many fans of the series have debated if this scene can be considered canonical since it was a deleted scene but brought back in the director's cut. Personally since this is an actual scene that was filmed and brought back, I will consider it canon. The other thing fans debate is what is actually happening in this scene especially after future movies.
Now one theory is that the Xenomorph cacooned the crew to save them for its Queen which is a probably theory but if there is anything that I know about Xenomorphs, its that they are not completely stupid so I think it would know that there is no Queen aboard this ship considering how much it scours throughout it as it hunts the crew.
Another theory is that the cocoons were slowly transforming into eggs that give birth into Queens. A theory that certainly could be probably considering their very disturbing anatomy and life cycle. Only issue I have with this theory is that if these things are like insects, the multiple Queens will not get along. However there is a variation of this theory that all cacoons were being merged into one big cocoon that would give birth to either a Queen or a bunch of Xenomorphs. That definitely sounds a bit more logical because the question does come to mind. What if these things have no Queen? How do they reproduce since the drones are all male? Well this theory would be a good answer, if they have no queen they either make one or make a bunch more Xenomorphs using hosts and...that slimy stuff. Think of the cocoon as one big slimy facehugger.
Another interesting yet very bizarre theory I have heard is that the cocoons were actually transforming the crew into Xenomorphs and that one of them would be transformed into a Queen. Male or female, that person could become a Queen Xenomorph. Again, bizarre but there is nothing that says that it couldn't be correct.
Okay well I think I've focused on the cocoon scene long enough so let's continue onto the next entry in this series directed by James Cameron: Aliens.
Now what do you do with a sequel to one of the scariest movies ever made? Well you make it bigger with more aliens. Now with more aliens running about, this sequel would be ten times scarier, right? Well no. James Cameron decided to pull the sequel out of the shadow of horror and bring it into the light of action and thrills. Yes there are it's scary moments but for the most part this is just an exhilarating action that most fans still consider to be the best in the franchise. Now for most franchises a drastic change in genre would most likely kill the movie but not this time, this movie just kills it....sorry I had to make the joke.
There are definitely things about this movie that are superior to Alien such as the cast of characters who are all very memorable: Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Bishop, Drake, Gorman, Aponne, Spunkmeyer, Frost, Wierzbowski, Ferro, and of course Ripley and Newt. Being a James Cameron film, even the most minute characters manage to be memorable and enjoyable thanks to scenes aboard the Sulaco where we just see the characters in their daily routines and get introduced to them one by one. Still to this day, my favorite character is Hudson played by Bill Paxton.
This guy is probably the most lovable marine: he acts like he's the ultimate soldier but when everything goes haywire, he freaks out. Yes he complains and whines. He's a bit of frantic mess but if you think of the situation they are in, can you really blame him? And it's not like he's useless. When things go down, he's there ready to gun down aliens or even the facehuggers that are trying to get to Ripley and Newt.
Of course we have to talk about the three that shine through the whole movie: Ellen Ripley. Rebecca AKA Newt, and Dwayne Hicks. While Hudson is my personal favorite character, I cannot deny that Ripley, Hicks, and Newt are the ones that make this movie thanks to once again great performances by Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, and Carrie Henn. This is where Aliens succeeds and other action movies fail at: we actually have characters we can get invested in because not only are they acted and written well but they don't feel like an immortal. There is actual fear that these characters could die so you actually care for them whereas other movies, you know who is going to live and who is going to die.
While Alien only hinted at certain parts of the Xenomorph lore, Aliens on the other hand decides to jump right into the center of it all by introducing many, many staples of the lore such as the Acheron Queen, the Hive (even though the deleted scenes of Alien showed a hive), a new look to the drones, we see the advanced Marine Corps of the future, we learn more about Weyland-Yutani in terms of both the company and the colonies (especially if you watch the director's cut). The most infamous of these reveals being the Queen Xenomorph that's you say "That's one big mama." This is where we definitely learn how insect-like the Xenomorphs are: the males are all drones who serve a queen, they create a hive, they have more defined exoskeletons, etc.
Now at first glance, some people might not notice a difference between the Xenomorph designs from Alien and Aliens but trust me there is, especially if you see them side-by-side.
Ridley Scott's Xenomorph has a very smooth and almost translucent head whereas James Cameron's Xenomorph has a much more rugged exoskeleton covering its scalp which is quite interesting. This has brought up a few theories such as the form of the drones change depending on the Queen or the older a drone gets, the more ridges form upon his exoskeleton. I'm more fond of the second theory since in later games and comics and even later movies the Xenomorphs continue to have the more rugged scalp. Or it simply could just be a change of design, nothing more. Personally I'm more fond of the idea of it being part of their life-cycle, it puts more depth into their lore.
With the tagline being
"This Time It's War..."
you know we are going to get some awesome guns and just as awesome soldiers to take on the Xenomorph swarm and they definitely delivered that perfectly here. The budget is bigger this time around so we get to see huge ships filled with all the tech the marines carry, we can actually have a full on war between marines and aliens, and so much more to look at. The M41A Pulse Rifle is introduced in this movie and it still is in my list of favorite film weapons and it continues to be used in Alien projects today with video games, comics, etc. Even other weapons have become iconic: the smartgun, the flamethrower, and even Hicks' shotgun that has me all like....
While the first movie barely touched on the company, this one delves a bit deeper into Weyland-Yutani by showing that it seems to be in control of entire colonies like its own government which is quite...scary if you think about it hard enough. Once again, this part of the lore is mostly explored through the director's cut where we actually see what the colony was like before the Xenomorphs came along and we see Newt with her family. Think of Weyland-Yutani like Starfleet mixed with the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil games.
Next we are going to look at the black sheep of the Alien franchise directed by veteran filmmaker David Fincher (at least he's listed as director) set to finally end the franchise....yeah that definitely worked out. This is Alien 3 or from the title you can call it Alien Cubed.
Alrighty then, we all know about the somewhat infamous history this movie has with multiple writers and directors involved with the project and the fact that the trailer was made before the movie was even finished so it lied to us by giving the tagline:
"On Earth, everyone can hear you scream."
Which would have been awesome....if the movie even had a single scene that took place on Earth. Nope the WHOLE movie takes place on a prison planet called Fiorina "Fury" 161. Okay well that's just the marketing for the movie, how is the movie itself? Well umm...gonna have to give the unpopular opinion that I actually don't hate this movie.
Okay before you all start readying your pitchforks, I'll get the flaws out of the way first: Hicks and Newt dying int he beginning of the movie is quite honestly one of the single dumbest things in movie history. All the work Ripley did in Aliens to save these two? Completely pointless now. Isn't that just swell? Oh do you want to see a scene where that precious little girl Newt get ripped open in an autopsy for signs of a Xenomorph while Ripley watches and cries her eyes out? Well no and I don't blame you, just skip this scene if you can because it'll just anger you.
Yes I do acknowledge the constant lack of direction, the script was clearly not finished so that had the writers just make up everything as they went along. Some things go nowhere and some things just happen because...the script was rushed and even director David Fincher has gone on record to state that this was not his movie.
However even though this movie is far from perfect, I don't deny my enjoyment of it. I admire the change back to claustrophobic horror because in some parts this movie combined with an actually pretty eerie score could be quite scary such as the scene on the ladder where you can actually see the Xenomorph creep up while the man is climbing down to get a detonator; now it's not as effective as the first movie but I'm willing to give credit where credit is due. With characters, well once again not as great as the other two but I do often remember these characters fondly: Dillon, Morse, Kevin, Clemens, David, and Aaron AKA '85.' My personal favorite of this movie is Morse, the guy is just hilarious. On a sidenote, here is a fun drinking game for you: take a shot every time an F-Bomb is dropped in this movie, you might have some fun with that.
And the movie is definitely not lazy when it came to set design, they did an excellent job building this prison/factory which just immediately makes you feel isolated and uncomfortable enough for some of the scares to be effective. Now once again, we are back to the horror genre for this movie, we are back down to just one Xenomorph, and they do a great job at making the human characters defenseless: no weapons, no armor, no guards, not even an area they can feel safe in so the great setup is there. What doesn't work however is that every other character besides the ones I mentions are either not interesting, unlikable, or so small of characters that you just know they are going to be alien food. Some actually just vanish from the movie if you watch the theatrical cut whereas the assembly cut has characters more prominently such as Golic, played by Doctor Who's Paul McGann becomes an antagonist in the Assembly Cut.
Now I can understand you not liking anything I've listed so far but there is one thing I will always love about this movie and I will always defend is it's last act because this is when the movie finally becomes intense. I wouldn't call it scary exactly but it is a thrilling chase because none of the characters have weapons and they have to bait the Xenomorph into chasing them into a hallway without getting eaten. The cinematography, the sounds, the actors, the effects, it's what the saves the movie for me.
While this movie does not have as much development of the lore of the Xenomorphs as Aliens, it does bring one BIG piece of development with the birth of the Xenomorph itself this time. Up until this point, we have only seen the Xenos birthed from humans but this movie decides to answer the question, "What if a facehugger impregnates some random animal?" Well in this movie depending on the version you watch, the alien breed labeled as "the Runner" breed is birthed from a dog or a bull. Personally this is where the theatrical cut is better because the alien exhibits more dog-like attributes in terms of how it moves, acts, and it's size. Whereas with a cow, I picture a big tank-like Xeno...which we will get to later down the road.
So if this is what happens when a Xeno is birthed from a dog (or cow) what were to happen if a facehugger got itself onto a big bird of prey like say an eagle? Would it be able to fly or would it just get bird-like instincts? Perhaps we'll find out in Alien 5 or Alien: Covenant.
Okay so let's address the most infamous part of the movie more than anything else: the ending. Yes personally, I don't like the fact that they killed off Ripley like that especially after how much she has gone through in previous movies but they wanted to make sure she didn't come back for sequels...well they managed to do that didn't they? So yeah, I am not a fan of the ending either but I get why they did it.
It's also in this ending we see a bit more with Weyland-Yutani because we see a second Bishop who attempts to take the Queen Xenomorph from Ripley and use it. What fans have debated about for years is if this Bishop was human like he says in the movie or was it just another android lying to Ripley? Well this was answered by Lance Henriksen himself who stared that Bishop II was a more advanced model which is later backed up in the third Aliens VS Predator video game.
Okay so Alien movies are dead and buried along with Ripley so I can finally move onto Predator right? Nope. We got more forced and more stupid entries into the franchise starting with the fourth movie written by Firefly creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon simply known as Alien: Resurrection.
You ever look at something and just wonder what drugs the filmmakers were consuming during the production of a movie? That is Alien: Resurrection in a nutshell, this is freaking weird movie and I mean weird. What do I mean? Okay so first the movie takes place several hundred years after the events of Alien 3 and Wal-Mart has bought Weyland-Yutani...
And after several hundred years, the company has somehow found Ellen Ripley's DNA in the factory on Fury 161 but since Ripley died with the Queen alien, the company decides to not only clone Ripley but clone the Queen. Now Ripley is Subject 8, a hybrid of Xenomorph and human DNA....Joss what drugs were you on when you made this?
Ripley may be extremely weird in this movie but I can at least say that she was quite sexy thanks to the odd direction of Jean-Pierre Jeunet so...that's something. Okay so is this a good movie? Well...no. However I cannot say that I don't have enjoyment with this movie. First of all, nostalgia keeps bringing me back to watch it every time I have an Alien marathon plus there are SOME decent things about this movie that I'm willing to give credit for.
The set design is very dark, gritty, ugly, and quite impressive to look at. The cinematography is on point; very fluid and very pretty despite the very dark and quite ugly looking environment. The effects both practical and computer generated are good, the aliens look fantastic. MOST of the actors do their jobs fine to what this weird script told them to do so I'll give them credit for trying their hardest; even Sigourney Weaver who clearly did not want to return to the franchise after the third movie.
Two scenes that I do actually love about this movie is one scene where our heroes have to get across a huge kitchen that is completely submerged in water and they end up being chased by two Xenos, establishing for the lore that these things can swim. The lack of sound, the effects, and the action are great. This is followed up by the other scene I love where they have to get passed a nest via a ladder and one more Xeno is still chasing them.
Now the cast of Alien 3 had still had some memorable characters whereas Resurrection's characters are basically all fodder for Xenos except for maybe these few: Ripley, Johner (Ron Perlman), Christie (Gary Dourdan), Vriess (Dominique Pinon), Call (Winona Ryder), Purvis (Leland Orser) and Gediman (Brad Dourif) though Gediman is only memorable because of how silly he is. I mean there is a scene where he tries to make out with a Xenomorph through a glass pane...sometimes I really wish I was joking about what I say.
The worst performance and character in the movie goes to Dr. Wren played by J.E. Freeman; I think he was aware of how bad this script was so unlike the rest of the cast who at least tried their hardest to made it work, Freeman just decided to act as corny and silly as he could even with scenes that were just him talking.
While she was memorable just because she's one of the main characters, I just couldn't stand Winona Ryder as the character Call. Why? Every other scene, she looks like she's about to have a five-year old temper tantrum or break down crying for some reason. It's a shame because I actually really like Ryder as an actress.
Now I said that I do find enjoyment in the movie but not in ways you expect: when the movie isn't being an odd and slightly boring mess, it tends to be so over the top and silly that it just develops this so bad it's good feel. My favorite being the scene when the chestburster inside Purvis is about to...well burst out so he gets up, gets shot, beats Wren to a pulp, then puts Wren up to his chest before the camera goes down Purvis' throat to see the chestburster go through his chest and Wren's head all while the camera is pulling some Sam Raimi-esque angles on the rest of the cast as they scream and shoot down the chestburster. Trust me this scene is enough to show silly this movie can get.
However my enjoyment comes to an end when we get to the newest addition to the Alien lore and what was the worst thing about the franchise to me for years until a certain movie came out in 2012 we will get to soon enough. Okay so not only did Ripley gain Xenomorph DNA, the Queen that was cloned gained some human DNA and so she gives birth to a new form of Xenomorph labelled as the Newborn...and I absolutely hate this thing. First off, the design looks more like a Pumpkinhead reject which is a complete shame because I have seen some of the original concepts for the Newborn and I might have liked those much better. However it's not just the look that I hate, it's what they do with it.
Okay so the Newborn kills the Queen since it rejects her as its mother then thinks Ripley is it's mother and becomes all loving for her. The filmmakers tried to make us feel for this thing in the end by giving it these puppy dog eyes, making it have a child-like personality, and they tried to make it sad when it dies getting sucked into space. It just kills the last act of the movie for me and its in the last act that I start to feel what everyone else felt about the whole movie. And the Newborn is really the only additions to the lore worth mentioning so I can just move on from this movie. It couldn't possibly get worse than this right?
...Oh boy. So for years, fans have been wanting answers about certain things such as the origin of the Space Jockey from the first movie: where did it come from? What did it look like? Was it the creator of the Xenomorphs or was it transporting the eggs and something just went wrong? Well we got that answer....possibly, in the 2012 mess of a prequel/spin-off/sequel known as Prometheus, brought to us by director of the original Alien movie: Ridley Scott. As a fan, when I first heard about this movie I was so excited to see it because of the fantastic marketing for the movie combined with an all-star cast. Never in my life have I walked out of a theater so disappointed in a movie; I hated this movie from beginning to end.
This is one of those cases where filmmakers think that pretty visuals and sound design are all you need to make a movie great. WRONG! You need to have good characters, a story that wasn't written by a bunch of kindergartners, and actual effort put into it. The story is filled with plotholes, the characters all needed to die, the lore was butchered beyond belief, and the movie doesn't explain a single thing that it promised to answer.
Okay I know fans have tried defending this movie by saying that it doesn't connect to the Alien universe and that it is its own thing. While I would love for that to be true but I have to point out that this movie features the Space Jockey, a xenomorph, and Weyland Corp PLUS the appearance of a Weyland character played by Guy Pearce in the worst old man makeup in cinematic history.
So I have to consider this movie part of the Alien franchise and that irritates me. Now some of you might be wondering how they butchered the lore. Okay go back to the first movie, you will see that the Space Jockey is a decayed skeleton; you can even see the mouth and where the creature's mouth used to be and even its tongue.
In Prometheus, the Space Jockeys AKA the Engineers are these seven foot tall roided up Voldemort look-alikes who are all about a third of the size of the creature from the first movie AND according to Prometheus, that iconic look is just a space suit. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. That isn't a total slap in the face to fans at all. And according to Prometheus, not only did they create the Xenomorphs they also created humanity. How? Well a Space Jockey takes a sip of this black ooze that I'm just going to title as "Plot Advancer" since it has no consistency throughout the whole movie and does whatever it wants to keep this story going, and after drinking the Plot Advancer the Space Jockey disintegrates into the water and it forms human DNA.
Oh and if you think that is dumb, get a load of this: Space Jockey drinks Plot Advancer and creates man, man drinks Plot Advancer and just gets sick but he has sex with a woman and she gives birth to a squid in less than a day. Trust me it gets better. Another man gets into contact with the Plot Advancer and it transforms him into some weird zombie/xenomorph thing. The squid grows at a rapid rate then wraps itself onto another Space Jocket thus revealing that it is a giant facehugger. Then the Space Jockey gives birth to the Xenomorph....
Yeah and that's just the icing on the cake. This movie gets far more stupid in so many ways throughout the movie: these two guys are stuck in the Engineer ship for the night because they got lost and these two are the ones who made the map of the place in the first place. It was actually the first thing they did when they entered! Oh and they got lost because they didn't want to be in the room with anything freaky but when they have to rest for the night, where do they go? To the room filled with cannisters that are leaking Plot Advancer all over the place where they actually think its a good place to sleep.
Oh, it gets better!! This alien snake-like thing comes out of the Plot Advancer and this BIOLOGIST looks at it and puts its hand toward it thinking that it looks pretty. OH AND IT GETS EVEN BETTER! Just like a cobra, this creature grows a hood and hisses at the BIOLOGIST and what does he do? Continues to call it pretty and reaches for it again and he gets killed by the creature while the other scientist just stands there asking what is wrong! Even teenagers from a slasher movie are not this stupid! Oh but we haven't reached the dumbest part of the movie yet.
So this big ship is rolling towards two of the main characters and what do they do? They continue to run forward in the same direction that the ship is rolling even though all they would have to do is simply turn to either side and run in that direction. Wow...just wow, I mean you have to try in order to be this incredibly dumb. Honestly, I'm just going to move on because not only is this the worst addition to the franchise but it is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. And I have no care for the upcoming sequel Alien: Covenant. I'll just wait for Alien 5. Isn't there anyway to bring the franchise back to the way it was before?
Oh come on! Well...at least it's better than Prometheus but that's not saying much. Here we have the first person shooter game that had so much potential to be the true sequel to James Cameron's movie but ended up being one of the worst reviewed games in the past ten years. As someone who adored the original Aliens VS Predator games and even loved the reboot, I gotta say this was such a huge disappointment: terrible ally and enemy AI, stupidly easy levels, no skill involved, after the first scare there is nothing else even remotely scary about this game as promise, much of what they promised in the past was not even in the game. Full customization of character and free roam environments? Yeah right. All this game has going for it is the new breed of Xenos called Xeno Crushers.
Every other alien type are just the generic enhanced enemies you could find in any zombie game: spitters, lurkers, boilers, and the Raven which just reminds me of the Newborn so...yeah. Well it seems like the games are never going to be good again, I mean this probably killed any chance of any somewhat decent games right?
YES! As far as I am concerned, this is what we should have gotten instead of Alien 3, Resurrection, or Prometheus and it should be Alien 5: Ellen Ripley's daughter, Amanda, travels to a space station to retrieve the flight recorder of the Nostromo where she encounters a Xenomorph, malfunctioning androids, and crazed humans. This is Alien: Isolation. I loved this game so much: the visuals are fantastic, everything still has the look and style of the tech from Ridley Scott's original movie with a hint of James Cameron's movie in there.
The AI of the humans is a little off but the androids known as Working Joes and the Xenomorph itself are perfect because of the now infamous adaptive AI; the alien will learn your patterns after a while: if you escape a situation via vent too much, he'll learn and surprise you in a vent possibly or after you've hit him with a flamethrower, he will know to stop and back off from the flame or he will learn to not attack you from the front making this the scariest game I have ever played. I won't say much more because this is one I don't want to spoil anything and there isn't much development of the lore in this one except for maybe a few things but again, I won't say.
Well despite its major downs, I still love the Alien franchise and I don't think that is ever going to change: I love the lore, the characters, and the major amounts of fun the series can be. That being said, it's not perfect so will Predator win this war? We shall see when next time I take a look at the Predator franchise.
Let me know if you enjoyed this article and give me your own thoughts on this franchise's entries and the war between the two franchises!