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Alien or Aliens (films)?

Alien or Aliens (the films)?  

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Alien or Aliens?

Fans of the Alien series apparently split in two depending on which film you think is clearly the best, either Alien or Aliens. I first became aware of the divide when I was going to see Alien3. Someone said to me “Don't bother seeing it. It's shit like the first one”, so as I prefered the first I did go to see it. I was a bit surprised though that someone who liked Aliens could so dislike Alien.

So I thought why don't we have a poll? Alien or Aliens – which do you think is the better film?


Now, why do I prefer Alien? I have just watched both again, director's cut versions of each. I thought about this a while and came up with the following few points.


  • The directors. I am a big fan of Ridley Scott (early work at least), not that fussed about Jim Cameron.
  • The genre. Although they are both similar types of film and both have elements of the same sci-fi, horror and action genres, Alien is more towards hard sci-fi. (I think that's the right term, meaning it's examining what would happen when / if some scientific / technological break through / discovery occurs) whereas Aliens is more of an action film set on another planet / in space. In this case the science in the sci-fi is first contact with intelligent extra-terrestrial life. I think they specifically use the term intelligent in Alien implying they have encountered more basic alien life forms before, but nothing clearly as advanced as being able to build space ships. As a scientist myself I guess hard sci-fi appeals to me more than action. But I think this is actually quite a minor point, as I say both films have elements of the same genres.
  • The cast. This is something that always makes a difference to me, but it's probably related to the previous point. Both sets of supporting actors are good at what they do. Alien needed the likes of John Hurt and Ian Holm. Aliens needed Bill Paxton & the other actors who's names I do not know without looking them up because they don't appear in the sort of films I usually watch.
  • Datedness. Sci-fi almost always gets dated. It's impossible not to as technology improves. Not just in terms of the special effects (which I think still work very well in both) but in terms of the props, computers especially. For me Alien does not look that dated whereas Aliens is quite clearly an 80s film (some of the hair styles are so 80s). But this is maybe just down to the directors. Quoting South Park, not exactly in the same context, but I think it makes my point, to me at least “James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is James Cameron”. Also I have to point out the Tupperware cups in Alien, the only giveaway late 70s prop that stood out. My mum was a Tupperware sales rep, so we had some of those, although ours were in a variety of colours so we knew who's tea was in which cup. Again this isn't a major factor, after all I first saw Aliens in 1989, so it would not have looked dated at all then.
  • Final point; Jones vs Newt. Do I want to see the main character save a cat or a child? Cat every time for me.


The first and last (absolutely serious) points are probably the most important.

Edited by djw180
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Went with Alien as well for pretty much the same reasons as you.  The main points for me are the genre of the film, I prefer the slower build up and the quiet horror of the first film over the guns blazing action of the first.  I also like the fact that there's only one alien in Alien and you hardly see it at all.  There's also a big difference in the directors.  Cameron isn't the most subtle film maker, but that does suit the kinds of films he makes.

I do like Aliens though, I just consider Alien to be a masterpiece.  I'll write a lot more about all this in the film club thread by Wednesday hopefully.

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Tough one. I also would vote Alien because of its unexpected monster moments and in Aliens we know what’s going to attack the crew, so the sense of mystery is lost. I appreciate both directors and enjoy both their filmographies, so my vote wasn’t affected by either. It really comes down to shock factor and feel that Alien wins in that department, but will add this, that queen sequence in Aliens almost had me voting Aliens and if I were less of a horror hound, I probably would have since it’s very entertaining. 

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Aliens for me, mostly because of the genre shift and the ambition of the project. They both feel dated to their decades, I believe it just stands out more in Aliens because of the much bigger cast.

Alien for me gets a bit meh as soon as the Alien is out. After Brett gets "Here kitty kitty-ed" to death it becomes a very typical stalker/slasher film - Ash's villainous breakdown aside. If anything the film is a victim of it's own world building and set design. It builds up more tension than it has the capacity to reward. This more than anything is why I honestly love these two films as one extended film.

The way Aliens expands on Alien's theme of survival of the individual to one of survival of the family group/species is also more interesting to me. Plus Ripley going from final girl in a slasher movie to Mama Bear in a war movie is such an absurd transformation that the fact both Weaver and the film manage to pull it off just blows my mind.

@djw180 I would argue that Aliens is no less hard as a Sci-Fi than Alien. The 'truckers in space' aesthetic of Alien does suggest they aren't using the cutting edge tech of the setting. Plus the time skip between the two gives Aliens more scope for plausibility. The two main new technologies that are exclusive to Aliens are the terraforming and the space marines.

The terraforming is shown to be a big, expensive and slow laborious process which makes sense. It's being done in terms of generations of colonists. While I'm not wholly sure what advantage there is to giving a barren rock planet like LV-426 a human safe atmosphere but that's not a problem with the tech.

The space marines are as close to the Starship Troopers of the Heinlein novel as filmmaking technology and budget would allow when Cameron made the film. As a rapid responce unit they make sense to me, and their capabilities are all around the same technological level as everything else in the setting. There are some really big questions provoked by some of how they're depicted, like a nuclear armed interstellar warship being under the sole command of a green Lieutenant, but again that isn't a problem with the tech.

Ultimately the sci-fi elements in these films are there to serve the plot, and Cameron wanted to make Starship Troopers. By combining the colony with terraforming, he provided a plausible reason why the soldiers didn't have clunky and dehumanizing exo-suits, and why there was an army of bugs for them to fight.

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Wish you luck but you're not bringing us down!

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