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They bleed acid, they attack, and, sometimes, they rip their way out of your back. Most of the time, however, they burst out of the chest area. Lots of blood. Very messy. That’s right, folks — we’re talking about the Xenomorphs and all the related cosmic horrors that go bump in the Alien film franchise.
To celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the science fiction-horror classic that changed the game for both genres, SYFY is hosting a marathon of all the movies: from the groundbreaking 1979 original all the way through to 2017’s Alien: Covenant. Stay away from perspiring eggs and try not to climb into the shadowy air ducts of your spaceship as we take a look back at the scariest and most iconic Alien moments of the last four decades. In space, no one can hear you listicle.
1. The Chestburster emerges (Alien, 1979)
This moment right here changed the face of cinematic horror for years to come. It’s the reason we’re even talking about the Alien franchise all these years later. The rest of this list would simply not exist without the the now-famous Chestburster sequence.
The bloody and uncomfortably visceral emergence of the baby Xenmorph from John Hurt’s chest may seem tame by modern-day genre standards, but in the late 1970s, such shocking imagery was unheard of. Similar to The Exorcist seven years prior, Alien pushed the boundaries of what a director could put up on the silver screen and, more importantly, what viewers were willing to take. An up-and-coming Ridley Scott shattered the proverbial ribs of audience expectations, effectively cementing one of the greatest movie monsters of all time, and none of us have been the same since.
2. Dallas ventures into the vents (Alien, 1979)
Hoping to flush out and burn the murderous interloper to a crisp, Nostromo captain, Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt), heads into the dark and claustrophobic vents of the spaceship with a rudimentary flamethrower and a motion sensor.
The rest of the crew monitors his movements and proximity to the hostile entity, which moves ever closer (just a blinking dot on a screen). The tension ramps up to an eleven — reaching an almost intolerable fever pitch — when Dallas wanders into the lethal embrace of a fully-grown Xenomorph. His death serves the same purpose as Marion Crane’s demise in Psycho, upending the audience’s perception of who they think the main character should be. The narrative onus is thrust upon Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and just like that, one of the most enduring protagonists in the history of the sci-fi genre bursts onto the scene.
3. Colonial Marine massacre (Aliens, 1986)
The might and firepower of the Colonial Marine Corps turns out to be no match for the sheer numbers and brutality of the unimaginably hostile Xenomorph species. Writer-director James Cameron took the slow-building terror of the first movie and pumped it full of testosterone, adrenaline, and shotgun pellets. Instead of one alien, there’s an entire hive of them, and they’ve got a zero tolerance policy when it comes to uninvited house guests.
The Xenos, which have set up shop at Hadley's Hope on LV-426, tear through the purportedly macho Marines like the grunts are made of tissue paper and one-by-one, the life monitors start to flatline. So much for the might of the military-industrial complex! It’s a thrilling and iconic horror-action sequence that would be eventually homaged in modern blockbusters like Jurassic World and, more recently, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
4. "Get away from her, you b****!" (Aliens, 1986)
Perhaps the most famous words uttered throughout the entire franchise — though Ash’s “perfect organism” monologue in the ’79 original might come close.
Ripley’s fierce protection of Newt against the Xenomorph Queen in the nail-biting climax of Aliens is not only awesome, it also underscores the sequel’s themes of motherhood and what it means to be a parent. The Queen may be depicted as the antagonist here, but she’s more like our hero than Ripley would probably care to admit. Both want the best for their children and will do anything to make that happen. Thematic resonance aside, it's just a perfect set piece. Ripley going mano-e-mano with the Queen while operating the Power Loader exo-suit is *chef's kiss*.
5. Canine Xenomorph birth (Alien 3, 1992)
Ok, now we’re entering contentious territory. The first two Alien films are considered masterpieces. What came after? Well, it’s all up for debate.
David Fincher has since disowned Alien 3, his debut feature, which suffered from a tale as old as time: dreaded studio interference. The death of fan favorite characters like Newt and Hicks at the start of the movie ticked off a lot of fans, who refused to get on board with Ripley moping around a remote prison planet.
Whether you’re a fan of Alien 3 or not, you can’t deny its crucial expansion of the alien morphology when a dog finds itself impregnated by a Facehugger. The resultant creature that rips its way out of man's best friend is not the same beast we saw in the previous two installments — it has unexpectedly taken on the characteristics of its canine host. Known as the "Runner,” this variation of the titular monster established that Xenomorphs are born with different traits depending on what species of host they gestate in. This concept would be taken to its chilling conclusion in Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.
6. RIP Charles Dance (Alien 3, 1992)
Poor, Tywin Lannister. The dude pours his heart out, explaining why he was incarcerated in the first place, only to die moments later with a busted skull (courtesy of the the Runner’s second mouth). Once again, the franchise plays around with our emotional expectations. We start to think there might be a future with Dr. Clemens when the rug — or in this case, infirmary curtain — is pulled out from under us. This scene also features one of the movie’s most immortal images: the Runner snarling and drooling inches away from Ripley’s face. The thing lets her go, setting up the big reveal of an Alien Queen growing inside the hero’s chest.
7. Brad Dourif vs. Xenomorphs (Alien: Resurrection, 1997)
Alien: Resurrection finally showed us what a greedy corporation failed to do in the first three chapters: Xenomorphs actually being exploited for scientific purposes. But as we know, control over these creatures is a laughable illusion. They exist to breed and to kill — and God help anyone who gets in the way of that. Enter Brad Dourif as Dr. Jonathan Gediman, a man who really thinks he can keep these beasts in line with the application of negative reinforcement. Sure, it works for a time, but these buggers are as slippery as they come and ultimately find a way to outsmart the doctor at his own game.
8. The Newborn... is born (Alien: Resurrection, 1997)
The Newborn is an affront to the eyes, and that’s a really good thing (at least within the context of this series) This abominable mixture between human and Xenomorph rocks one of the most memorable — not to mention psychologically scarring — designs of the entire Alien saga.
It’s abhorrent and yet, there’s something pitiable about a Frankenstein creation that a) has no qualms about mercilessly killing other beings and b) childishly craves the affection of its mother. It’s a ghoulish in-between, prompting a strong dissonance in the mind of the audience member. When the Newborn is horrifically sucked out into the vacuum of space, we’re both disgusted and relieved at the same time.
9. Snake attack (Prometheus, 2012)
Not really a snake, per se, but a Hammerpede. Strong, agile, and cunning this slippery dweller of the mysterious Engineer structure on LV-223 brings Ridley Scott’s pseudo-Alien prequel back to its skin-crawling body horror roots. The idea of invasive, parasitic creatures taking advantage of our bodies without our permission is one of those deep primal fears that immediately provokes a terror response in someone, no matter how tough they may be.
At first, it looks like a faceless cobra, which — come on! — should’ve been an immediate red flag for Millburn (Rafe Spall) who finds out what this creature is capable of. Cobras aren't exactly harmless when they do have faces. The Hammerpede wraps itself around his arm, breaks the bone, and when Fifield (Sean Harris) tries to cut the darned thing off, it sprays acid blood everywhere. Not exactly a Facehugger, but if we had to guess, we’d say it’s gotta be a close relative.
10. Shaw's C-section (Prometheus, 2012)
Another one of those scenes that makes you squirm in your seat in the middle of a darkened movie theater. Shaw’s self-inflicted C-section ranks up there with the best scenes in the Alien franchise. It’s not often that the human victims of these movies get a chance to remove the foreign entities growing inside of their bodies.
But Prometheus really says: "Good luck. You’re screwed either way, pal!” Even if you did know about the alien fetus before it bursts out in horrific fashion, what could you conceivably do? It’s pretty much a lose-lose situation — unless you’ve got a fancy medical bay capable of performing quickie surgeries. Having to cut open your own stomach to remove a tentacled abomination isn’t much better than said abomination forcibly extracting itself from your abdomen.
11. Back problems (Alien: Covenant, 2017)
Usually, the aliens come out of the chest. That’s what every movie in the Alien canon had taught us up to this point. Covenant, on the other hand, dares to ask: “What if it came out the back?” And no, we're not talking about the sh** weasels of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher. We actually mean the back... like where the spine is located, capiche? Despite the fact that we don’t really get a firm explanation of how those alien spores work, the result of them finding their way into a human nostril doesn't need much exposition. It's gruesomeness at its most simple and elegant. The whole Medbay scene in which a Neomorph tears its way out of Ledward’s back is probably Scott’s best bit of horror since the OG Chestburster. We said what we said. It is savage AF.
12. Janet discovers David's laboratory (Alien: Covenant, 2017)
Michael Fassbender’s David returns! Oh, he’s still evil? Cool. The wayward android with delusions of grandeur created by the late Peter Weyland has truly gone off the deep end with a twisted mission to create the perfect organism (one that will eventually terrorize the crew of the Nostromo).
Michael’s little science experiment on the Engineers’ home planet led to him slaughtering Elizabeth Shaw and using her reproductive organs for his own sinister ends. She was the unwilling mother of a brand-new race of creatures that would cause all sorts of trouble across the cosmos. It’s pretty messed up and adds an extra thematic layer of how our hubris will lead to our own destruction.
13. Cargo lift fight (Alien: Covenant, 2017)
Danny McBride comes to the rescue in the cargo lifter, only to have a deadly stowaway latch itself to the underside of the vessel. This juggernaut of a creature may look and move like a traditional Xenomorph, but it’s actually something called a Praetomorph. In true Ripley fashion, Janet Daniels (Katherine Waterston) risks life and limb to get rid of the beast. The euphoria of this victory is short-lived when another Praetomorph shows up on the Covenant. It’s quickly dispatched, hurled into the vastness of space, but again, no one lives happily ever after.
Walter is really David and now he's got a ship full of human hosts on which to continue his experiments! OoOoOoO.