Alien (1979)


Alien is a 1979 science-fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon.

Based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, it follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo, who encounter the eponymous Alien, a deadly and aggressive extraterrestrial set loose on the ship.

A sequel, Aliens, was released in 1986.

The success of Alien spawned a media franchise of films, novels, comic books, video games, and toys. It also launched Weaver’s acting career, providing her with her first lead role.

The story of her character’s encounters with the Alien creatures became the thematic and narrative core of the sequels Aliens (1986), Alien 03 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997).

A crossover with the Predator franchise produced the Alien vs. Predator films, which includes Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007).

A prequel series includes Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017), both directed again by Scott.

There was also a web series, Alien Isolation – The Digital Series, which aired in 2019.


The commercial space tug Nostromo is on a return trip back to Earth with a seven-member crew in stasis: Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane, Warrant Officer Ripley, Navigator Lambert, Science Officer Ash, and two engineers, Parker and Brett. Detecting a transmission from nearby moon LV-426, the ship’s computer, Mother, awakens the crew. Company policy requires any potential distress signal be investigated, so they land on the moon, sustaining damage from its atmosphere and rocky landscape. Parker and Brett repair the ship while Dallas, Kane, and Lambert head out to investigate. They discover the signal comes from a derelict alien ship and enter it, losing communication with the Nostromo. Ripley deciphers part of the transmission, determining it to be a warning, but cannot relay this information to those on the derelict ship.

Meanwhile, Kane discovers a chamber containing hundreds of large, egg-like objects. When he touches one, a creature springs out, breaks through his helmet, and attaches itself to his face. Dallas and Lambert carry the unconscious Kane back to the Nostromo. As acting senior officer, Ripley refuses to let them aboard, citing quarantine regulations, but Ash overrides her decision and lets them inside. Ash attempts to remove the creature from Kane’s face, but stops when he discovers that its blood is an extremely corrosive acid. It later detaches on its own and is found dead. The ship is partly repaired, and the crew lifts off. Kane awakens with some memory loss, but is otherwise unharmed. During a final crew meal before returning to stasis, he chokes and convulses. A small alien creature bursts from Kane’s chest, killing him, and escapes into the ship.

The crew attempts to locate it with tracking devices and capture or kill it with nets, electric prods, and flamethrowers. Brett follows the crew’s cat Jones into a landing leg compartment, where the now-fully-grown alien attacks Brett and disappears with his body. After a heated discussion, the crew decide the creature must be in the air ducts. Dallas enters the ducts, intending to force the alien into an airlock, but it ambushes and kills him. Lambert implores the others to abandon ship and escape in its small shuttle, but Ripley, now in command, explains it will not support four people and says they will continue the plan of flushing out the alien.

Now with access to Mother, Ripley discovers Ash has been secretly ordered by the company to bring the alien back, with the crew deemed expendable. She confronts Ash, who tries to choke her to death. Parker intervenes and clubs Ash, knocking his head loose and revealing him to be an android. Ash’s head is reactivated, and they learn he was assigned to ensure the creature’s survival. He expresses admiration for the creature’s psychology, unhindered by conscience or morality, and taunts them about their chances of survival. Ripley cuts off his power; as they leave, Parker incinerates him.

The remaining crew decides to self-destruct the Nostromo and escape in the shuttle. Parker and Lambert are killed by the creature as they gather supplies. Ripley initiates the self-destruct sequence, but finds the alien blocking her path to the shuttle. She retreats and attempts unsuccessfully to abort the self-destruct. With no further options, she makes her way to the shuttle and barely escapes as the Nostromo explodes.

As Ripley prepares for stasis, she discovers that the alien is aboard, having wedged itself into a narrow space. She puts on a spacesuit and uses gas to flush the creature out. It approaches Ripley, but before it can attack, she opens an airlock door, almost blowing the creature into space. It manages to hang on by gripping the frame. Ripley shoots it with a grappling hook, but the gun catches as the airlock door closes, tethering the alien to the shuttle. It pulls itself into an engine exhaust but Ripley fires the engines, blasting the creature away. After recording the final log entry, she places Jones the cat and herself into stasis for the trip home to Earth.


  • Tom Skerritt as Dallas:
    • Captain of the Nostromo. Skerritt had been approached early in the film’s development, but declined as it did not yet have a director and had a very low budget.
    • Later, when Scott was attached as director and the budget had been doubled, Skerritt accepted the role.
  • Sigourney Weaver as Ripley:
    • The warrant officer aboard the Nostromo. Weaver, who had Broadway experience but was relatively unknown in film, impressed Scott, Giler, and Hill with her audition.
    • She was the last actor to be cast for the film, and performed most of her screen tests in-studio as the sets were being built.
    • The role of Ripley was Weaver’s first leading role in a motion picture, and earned her nominations for a Saturn Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role.
  • Veronica Cartwright as Lambert:
    • he Nostromo’s navigator. Cartwright had experience in horror and science-fiction films, having acted as a child in The Birds (1963) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).
    • She originally read for the role of Ripley, and was not informed that she had instead been cast as Lambert until she arrived in London for wardrobe.
    • She disliked the character’s emotional weakness, but nevertheless accepted the role: “They convinced me that I was the audience’s fears; I was a reflection of what the audience is feeling.”
    • Cartwright won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
  • Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, the engineering technician.
    • Stanton’s first words to Scott during his audition were, “I don’t like sci fi or monster movies”.
    • Scott was amused and convinced Stanton to take the role after reassuring him that Alien would actually be a thriller more akin to Ten Little Indians.
  • John Hurt as Kane, the executive officer who becomes the host for the Alien.
    • Hurt was Scott’s first choice for the role, but was contracted on a film in South Africa during Alien’s filming dates, so Jon Finch was cast as Kane, instead.
    • However, Finch became ill during the first day of shooting and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which had also exacerbated a case of bronchitis.
    • Hurt was in London by this time, his South African project having fallen through, and he quickly replaced Finch.
    • His performance earned him a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
  • Ian Holm as Ash:
    • The ship’s science officer who is revealed to be an android.
    • Holm was a character actor who by 1979 had already been in 20 films.
  • Yaphet Kotto as Parker, the chief engineer.
    • Kotto, an African American, was chosen partly to add diversity to the cast and give the Nostromo crew an international flavour.
    • Kotto was sent a script off the back of his recent success as villain Dr. Kananga in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973), and said he rejected a lucrative film offer in the hope of being cast in Alien.
  • Bolaji Badejo as the Alien.
    • Nigerian Badejo, while a 26-year-old design student, was discovered in a bar by a member of the casting team, who put him in touch with Ridley Scott.
    • Scott believed that Badejo, at 6 feet 10 inches (208 cm) (7 ft inside the costume) and with a slender frame, could portray the Alien and look as if his arms and legs were too long to be real, creating the illusion that a human being could not possibly be inside the costume.
    • Stuntmen Eddie Powell and Roy Scammell also portrayed the Alien in some scenes.
  • Helen Horton as the voice of Mother:
    • The Nostromo’s computer.



While studying cinema at the University of Southern California, Dan O’Bannon had made a science-fiction comedy film, Dark Star, with director John Carpenter and concept artist Ron Cobb. The film featured an alien created by spray-painting a beach ball; the experience left O’Bannon “really wanting to do an alien that looked real.” A “couple of years” later he began work on a similar story that would focus more on horror. “I knew I wanted to do a scary movie on a spaceship with a small number of astronauts”, he later recalled, “Dark Star as a horror movie instead of a comedy.” Ronald Shusett, meanwhile, was working on an early version of what would eventually become Total Recall. Impressed by Dark Star, he contacted O’Bannon and the two agreed to collaborate on their projects, choosing to work on O’Bannon’s film first, as they believed it would be less costly to produce.

O’Bannon had written 29 pages of a script titled Memory, containing what would become the opening scenes of Alien (1979): a crew of astronauts awakens to find that their voyage has been interrupted because they are receiving a signal from a mysterious planetoid. They investigate and their ship breaks down on the surface. He did not yet have a clear idea as to what the alien antagonist of the story would be.

O’Bannon soon accepted an offer to work on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune, a project that took him to Paris for six months. Though the project ultimately fell through, it introduced him to several artists whose work gave him ideas for his science-fiction story including Chris Foss, H. R. Giger, and Jean “Moebius” Giraud. O’Bannon was impressed by Foss’s covers for science-fiction books, while he found Giger’s work “disturbing”: “His paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster.” After the Dune project collapsed, O’Bannon returned to Los Angeles to live with Shusett and the two revived his Memory script. Shusett suggested that O’Bannon use one of his other film ideas, about gremlins infiltrating a B-17 bomber during World War II, and set it on the spaceship as the second half of the story. The working title of the project was now Star Beast, but O’Bannon disliked this and changed it to Alien after noting the number of times that the word appeared in the script. Shusett and he liked the new title’s simplicity and its double meaning as both a noun and an adjective. Shusett came up with the idea that one of the crew members could be implanted with an alien embryo that would burst out of him; he thought this would be an interesting plot device by which the alien could get aboard the ship.

In writing the script, O’Bannon drew inspiration from many previous works of science fiction and horror. He later stated,”I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” The Thing from Another World (1951) inspired the idea of professional men being pursued by a deadly alien creature through a claustrophobic environment. Forbidden Planet (1956) gave O’Bannon the idea of a ship being warned not to land, and then the crew being killed one by one by a mysterious creature when they defy the warning. Planet of the Vampires (1965) contains a scene in which the heroes discover a giant alien skeleton; this influenced the Nostromo crew’s discovery of the alien creature in the derelict spacecraft. O’Bannon has also noted the influence of “Junkyard” (1953), a short story by Clifford D. Simak in which a crew lands on an asteroid and discovers a chamber full of eggs. He has also cited as influences Strange Relations by Philip José Farmer (1960), which covers alien reproduction, and various EC Comics horror titles carrying stories in which monsters eat their way out of people.

With most of the plot in place, Shusett and O’Bannon presented their script to several studios, pitching it as “Jaws in space.” They were on the verge of signing a deal with Roger Corman’s studio when a friend offered to find them a better deal and passed the script on to Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill, who had formed a production company called Brandywine with ties to 20th Century Fox. O’Bannon and Shusett signed a deal with Brandywine, but Hill and Giler were not satisfied with the script and made numerous rewrites and revisions. This caused tension with O’Bannon and Shusett, since Hill and Giler had very little experience with science fiction; according to Shusett, “They weren’t good at making it better, or, in fact, at not making it even worse.” O’Bannon believed that Hill and Giler were attempting to justify taking his name off the script and claiming Shusett and his work as their own. Hill and Giler did add some substantial elements to the story, including the android character Ash, which O’Bannon felt was an unnecessary subplot but which Shusett later described as “one of the best things in the movie…That whole idea and scenario was theirs.” Hill and Giler went through eight drafts of the script in total, concentrating largely on the Ash subplot, but also making the dialogue more natural and trimming some sequences set on the alien planetoid. Despite the fact that the final shooting script was written by Hill and Giler, the Writers Guild of America awarded O’Bannon sole credit for the screenplay.


Despite these rewrites, 20th Century Fox did not express confidence in financing a science-fiction film. However, after the success of Star Wars in 1977, the studio’s interest in the genre rose substantially. According to Carroll: “When Star Wars came out and was the extraordinary hit that it was, suddenly science fiction became the hot genre.” O’Bannon recalled that “They wanted to follow through on Star Wars, and they wanted to follow through fast, and the only spaceship script they had sitting on their desk was Alien”. Alien was greenlit by 20th Century Fox, with an initial budget of $4.2 million. Alien was funded by North Americans, but made by 20th Century-Fox’s British production subsidiary.

O’Bannon had originally assumed that he would direct Alien, but 20th Century Fox instead asked Hill to direct. Hill declined due to other film commitments, as well as not being comfortable with the level of visual effects that would be required. Peter Yates, Jack Clayton, and Robert Aldrich were considered for the task, but O’Bannon, Shusett, and the Brandywine team felt that these directors would not take the film seriously and would instead treat it as a B monster movie. Giler, Hill, and Carroll had been impressed by Ridley Scott’s debut feature film The Duellists (1977) and made an offer to him to direct Alien, which Scott quickly accepted. Scott created detailed storyboards for the film in London, which impressed 20th Century Fox enough to double the film’s budget. His storyboards included designs for the spaceship and space suits, drawing on such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. However, he was keen on emphasising horror in Alien rather than fantasy, describing the film as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre of science fiction”.


Casting calls and auditions for Alien were held in both New York City and London. With only seven human characters in the story, Scott sought to hire strong actors so he could focus most of his energy on the film’s visual style. He employed casting director Mary Selway, who had worked with him on The Duellists, to head the casting in the UK, while Mary Goldberg handled casting in the US. In developing the story, O’Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the other characters. Shusett and he had intentionally written all the roles generically; they made a note in the script that explicitly states, “The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” This freed Scott, Selway, and Goldberg to interpret the characters as they pleased, and to cast accordingly. They wanted the Nostromo’s crew to resemble working astronauts in a realistic environment, a concept summarised as “truckers in space”. According to Scott, this concept was inspired partly by Star Wars, which deviated from the pristine future often depicted in science-fiction films of the time.

To assist the actors in preparing for their roles, Scott wrote several pages of backstory for each character explaining their histories. He filmed many of their rehearsals to capture spontaneity and improvisation, and tensions between some of the cast members, particularly towards the less-experienced Weaver; this translated convincingly to film as tension between the characters.

Roger Ebert notes that the actors in Alien were older than was typical in thriller films at the time, which helped make the characters more convincing:


Alien was filmed over 14 weeks from 05 July to 21 October 1978. Principal photography took place at Shepperton Studios near London, while model and miniature filming was done at Bray Studios in Water Oakley, Berkshire. The production schedule was short due to the film’s low budget and pressure from 20th Century Fox to finish on time.

A crew of over 200 craftspeople and technicians constructed the three principal sets: the surface of the alien planetoid, and the interiors of the Nostromo and the derelict spacecraft. Art director Les Dilley created ​1⁄24-scale miniatures of the planetoid’s surface and derelict spacecraft based on Giger’s designs, then made moulds and casts and scaled them up as diagrams for the wood and fibreglass forms of the sets. Tons of sand, plaster, fibreglass, rock, and gravel were shipped into the studio to sculpt a desert landscape for the planetoid’s surface, which the actors would walk across wearing space-suit costumes. The suits themselves were thick, bulky, and lined with nylon, had no cooling systems, and initially, no venting for their exhaled carbon dioxide to escape. Combined with a heat wave, these conditions nearly caused the actors to pass out; nurses had to be kept on-hand with oxygen tanks.

For scenes showing the exterior of the Nostromo, a 58-foot (18 m) landing leg was constructed to give a sense of the ship’s size. Ridley Scott was not convinced that it looked large enough, so he had his two young sons and the son of Derek Vanlint (the film’s cinematographer) stand in for the regular actors, wearing smaller space suits to make the set pieces seem larger. The same technique was used for the scene in which the crew members encounter the dead alien creature in the derelict spacecraft. The children nearly collapsed due to the heat of the suits; oxygen systems were eventually added to help the actors breathe. Four identical cats were used to portray Jones, the crew’s pet. During filming, Sigourney Weaver discovered that she was allergic to the combination of cat hair and the glycerine placed on the actors’ skin to make them appear sweaty. By removing the glycerine she was able to continue working with the cats.

Alien originally was to conclude with the destruction of the Nostromo while Ripley escapes in the shuttle Narcissus. However, Ridley Scott conceived of a “fourth act” to the film in which the Alien appears on the shuttle and Ripley is forced to confront it. He pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox and negotiated an increase in the budget to film the scene over several extra days. Scott had wanted the Alien to bite off Ripley’s head and then make the final log entry in her voice, but the producers vetoed this idea as they believed the Alien should die at the end of the film.


Editing and post-production work on Alien took roughly 20 weeks to complete. Terry Rawlings served as editor, having previously worked with Scott on editing sound for The Duellists. Scott and Rawlings edited much of the film to have a slow pace to build suspense for the more tense and frightening moments. According to Rawlings: “I think the way we did get it right was by keeping it slow, funny enough, which is completely different from what they do today. And I think the slowness of it made the moments that you wanted people to be sort of scared…then we could go as fast as we liked because you’ve sucked people into a corner and then attacked them, so to speak. And I think that’s how it worked.” The first cut of the film was over three hours long; further editing trimmed the final version to just under two hours.

One scene that was cut from the film occurred during Ripley’s final escape from the Nostromo; she encounters Dallas and Brett, who have been partially cocooned by the Alien. O’Bannon had intended the scene to indicate that Brett was becoming an alien egg, while Dallas was held nearby to be implanted by the resulting facehugger. Production designer Michael Seymour later suggested that Dallas had “become sort of food for the alien creature”, while Ivor Powell suggested that “Dallas is found in the ship as an egg, still alive.” Scott remarked, “they’re morphing, metamorphosing, they are changing into…being consumed, I guess, by whatever the Alien’s organism is…into an egg.” The scene was cut partly because it did not look realistic enough, but also because it slowed the pace of the escape sequence. Tom Skerritt remarked that “The picture had to have that pace. Her trying to get the hell out of there, we’re all rooting for her to get out of there, and for her to slow up and have a conversation with Dallas was not appropriate.” The footage was included with other deleted scenes as a special feature on the Laserdisc release of Alien, and a shortened version of it was reinserted into the 2003 Director’s Cut, which was re-released in theatres and on DVD.


The musical score for Alien was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, conducted by Lionel Newman, and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Ridley Scott had originally wanted the film to be scored by Isao Tomita, but 20th Century Fox wanted a more familiar composer and Goldsmith was recommended by then-president of Fox Alan Ladd Jr. Goldsmith wanted to create a sense of romanticism and lyrical mystery in the film’s opening scenes, which would build throughout the film to suspense and fear. Scott did not like Goldsmith’s original main title piece, however, so Goldsmith rewrote it as “the obvious thing: weird and strange, and which everybody loved.” Another source of tension was editor Terry Rawlings’ choice to use pieces of Goldsmith’s music from previous films, including a piece from Freud: The Secret Passion, and to use an excerpt from Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”) for the end credits.

Scott and Rawlings had also become attached to several of the musical cues they had used for the temporary score while editing the film, and re-edited some of Goldsmith’s cues and re-scored several sequences to match these cues and even left the temporary score in place in some parts of the finished film. Goldsmith later remarked, “you can see that I was sort of like going at opposite ends of the pole with the filmmakers.” Nevertheless, Scott praised Goldsmith’s score as “full of dark beauty” and “seriously threatening, but beautiful.” It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, a Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. The score has been released as a soundtrack album in several versions with different tracks and sequences.


Creature Effects

O’Bannon introduced Scott to the artwork of H. R. Giger; both of them felt that his painting Necronom IV was the type of representation they wanted for the film’s antagonist and began asking the studio to hire him as a designer. 20th Century Fox initially believed Giger’s work was too ghastly for audiences, but the Brandywine team were persistent and eventually won out. According to Gordon Carroll: “The first second that Ridley saw Giger’s work, he knew that the biggest single design problem, maybe the biggest problem in the film, had been solved.” Scott flew to Zürich to meet Giger and recruited him to work on all aspects of the Alien and its environment including the surface of the planetoid, the derelict spacecraft, and all four forms of the Alien from the egg to the adult.

The scene of Kane inspecting the egg was shot in postproduction. A fiberglass egg was used so that actor John Hurt could shine his light on it and see movement inside, which was provided by Ridley Scott fluttering his hands inside the egg while wearing rubber gloves. The top of the egg was hydraulic, and the innards were a cow’s stomach and tripe. Test shots of the eggs were filmed using hen’s eggs, and this footage was used in early teaser trailers. For this reason, the image of a hen’s egg was used on the poster, and has become emblematic of the franchise as a whole – as opposed to the Alien egg that appears in the finished film.

The “facehugger” and its proboscis, which was made of a sheep’s intestine, were shot out of the egg using high-pressure air hoses. The shot was reversed and slowed down in editing to prolong the effect and reveal more detail The facehugger itself was the first creature that H.R. Giger designed for the film, going through several versions in different sizes before deciding on a small creature with human-like fingers and a long tail. Dan O’Bannon, with help from Ron Cobb, drew his own version based on Giger’s design, which became the final version. Cobb came up with the idea that the creature could have a powerful acid for blood, a characteristic that would carry over to the adult Alien and would make it impossible for the crew to kill it by conventional means, such as guns or explosives, since the acid would burn through the ship’s hull. For the scene in which the dead facehugger is examined, Scott used pieces of fish and shellfish to create its viscera.

The design of the “chestburster” was inspired by Francis Bacon’s 1944 painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Giger’s original design, which was refined, resembled a plucked chicken. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon credits his experiences with Crohn’s disease for inspiring the chest-busting scene.

For the filming of the chestburster scene, the cast members knew that the creature would be bursting out of Hurt, and had seen the chestburster puppet, but they had not been told that fake blood would also be bursting out in every direction from high-pressure pumps and squibs. The scene was shot in one take using an artificial torso filled with blood and viscera, with Hurt’s head and arms coming up from underneath the table. The chestburster was shoved up through the torso by a puppeteer who held it on a stick. When the creature burst through the chest, a stream of blood shot directly at Cartwright, shocking her enough that she fell over and went into hysterics. According to Tom Skerritt, “What you saw on camera was the real response. She had no idea what the hell happened. All of a sudden this thing just came up.” The creature then runs off-camera, an effect accomplished by cutting a slit in the table for the puppeteer’s stick to go through and passing an air hose through the puppet’s tail to make it whip about.

The real-life surprise of the actors gave the scene an intense sense of realism and made it one of the film’s most memorable moments. During preview screenings, the crew noticed that some viewers would move towards the back of the theatre so as not to be too close to the screen during the sequence. The scene has frequently been called one of the most memorable moments in cinema history. In 2007, Empire named it as the greatest 18-rated moment in film, ranking it above the decapitation scene in The Omen (1976) and the transformation sequence in An American Werewolf in London (1981).

For the scene in which Ash is revealed to be an android, a puppet was created of the character’s torso and upper body, which was operated from underneath. During a preview screening of the film, this scene caused an usher to faint. In the following scene, Ash’s head is placed on a table and reactivated; for portions of this scene, an animatronic head was made using a face cast of the actor, Ian Holm. However, the latex of the head shrank while curing and the result was not entirely convincing. For the bulk of the scene, Holm knelt under the table with his head coming up through a hole. Milk, caviar, pasta, fibre optics, and glass marbles were combined to form the android’s innards.

The Alien

Giger made several conceptual paintings of the adult Alien before settling on the final version. He sculpted the creature’s body using plasticine, incorporating pieces such as vertebrae from snakes and cooling tubes from a Rolls-Royce. The creature’s head was manufactured separately by Carlo Rambaldi, who had worked on the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Rambaldi followed Giger’s designs closely, making some modifications to incorporate the moving parts that would animate the jaw and inner mouth. A system of hinges and cables was used to operate the creature’s rigid tongue, which protruded from its mouth and featured a second mouth at its tip with its own set of movable teeth. The final head had about 900 moving parts and points of articulation. Part of a human skull was used as the “face”, and was hidden under the smooth, translucent cover of the head. Rambaldi’s original Alien jaw is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution, while in April 2007, the original Alien suit was sold at auction. Copious amounts of K-Y Jelly were used to simulate saliva and to give the Alien an overall slimy appearance. The creature’s vocalisations were provided by Percy Edwards, a voice artist famous for providing bird sounds for British television throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as the whale sounds for Orca: Killer Whale (1977).

For most of the film’s scenes, the Alien was portrayed by Bolaji Badejo. A latex costume was made to fit Badejo’s slender 6-foot-10-inch (208 cm) frame by taking a full-body plaster cast. Scott later commented that the Alien “takes on elements of the host – in this case, a man.” Badejo attended t’ai chi and mime classes to create convincing movements for the Alien. For some scenes, such as when the Alien lowers itself from the ceiling to kill Brett, the creature was portrayed by stuntmen Eddie Powell and Roy Scammell – Powell, in costume, was suspended on wires and then lowered in an unfurling motion.

Scott chose not to show the full Alien for most of the film, keeping most of its body in shadow to create a sense of terror and heighten suspense. The audience could thus project their own fears into imagining what the rest of the creature might look like: “Every movement is going to be very slow, very graceful, and the Alien will alter shape so you never really know exactly what he looks like.

The Alien has been referred to as “one of the most iconic movie monsters in film history”, and its biomechanical appearance and sexual overtones have been frequently noted. Roger Ebert remarked that “Alien uses a tricky device to keep the alien fresh throughout the movie: It evolves the nature and appearance of the creature, so we never know quite what it looks like or what it can do…The first time we get a good look at the alien, as it bursts from the chest of poor Kane (John Hurt). It is unmistakably phallic in shape, and the critic Tim Dirks mentions its ‘open, dripping vaginal mouth.'”


The sets of the Nostromo’s three decks were each created almost entirely in one piece, with each deck occupying a separate stage. The actors had to navigate through the hallways that connected the stages, adding to the film’s sense of claustrophobia and realism. The sets used large transistors and low-resolution computer screens to give the ship a “used”, industrial look and make it appear as though it was constructed of “retrofitted old technology”. Ron Cobb created industrial-style symbols and colour-coded signs for various areas and aspects of the ship. The company that owns the Nostromo is not named in the film, and is referred to by the characters as “the company”. However, the name and logo of the company appears on several set pieces and props such as computer monitors and beer cans as “Weylan-Yutani”. Cobb created the name to imply a business alliance between Britain and Japan, deriving “Weylan” from the British Leyland Motor Corporation and “Yutani” from the name of his Japanese neighbour. The 1986 sequel, Aliens, named the company as “Weyland-Yutani”, and it has remained a central aspect of the film franchise.

Art director Roger Christian used scrap metal and parts to create set pieces and props to save money, a technique he employed while working on Star Wars. For example, some of the Nostromo’s corridors were created from portions of scrapped bomber aircraft, and a mirror was used to create the illusion of longer corridors in the below-deck area. Special-effects supervisors Brian Johnson and Nick Allder made many of the set pieces and props function, including moving chairs, computer monitors, motion trackers, and flamethrowers.

H. R. Giger designed and worked on all of the alien aspects of the film, which he designed to appear organic and biomechanical in contrast to the industrial look of the Nostromo and its human elements. For the interior of the derelict spacecraft and egg chamber, he used dried bones with plaster to sculpt much of the scenery and elements. Veronica Cartwright described Giger’s sets as “so erotic…it’s big vaginas and penises…the whole thing is like you’re going inside of some sort of womb or whatever…it’s sort of visceral”. The set with the deceased alien creature, which the production team nicknamed the “space jockey”, proved problematic, as 20th Century Fox did not want to spend the money for such an expensive set that would only be used for one scene. Ridley Scott described the set as the cockpit or driving deck of the mysterious ship, and the production team was able to convince the studio that the scene was important to impress the audience and make them aware that this was not a B movie. To save money, only one wall of the set was created, and the “space jockey” sat atop a disc that could be rotated to facilitate shots from different angles in relation to the actors. Giger airbrushed the entire set and the “space jockey” by hand.

The origin of the jockey creature was not explored in the film, but Scott later theorised that it might have been the ship’s pilot, and that the ship might have been a weapons-carrier capable of dropping alien eggs onto a planet so that the aliens could use the local lifeforms as hosts. In early versions of the script, the eggs were to be located in a separate pyramid structure, which would be found later by the Nostromo crew and would contain statues and hieroglyphs depicting the alien reproductive cycle, contrasting the human, alien, and space-jockey cultures. Cobb, Foss, and Giger each created concept artwork for these sequences, but they were eventually discarded due to budgetary concerns and the need to shorten the film. Instead, the egg chamber was set inside the derelict ship and was filmed on the same set as the space-jockey scene; the entire disc piece supporting the jockey and its chair was removed and the set was redressed to create the egg chamber. Light effects in the egg chamber were created by lasers borrowed from English rock band The Who. The band was testing the lasers for use in their stage show on the sound stage next door.

Spaceships and Planets

O’Bannon brought in artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss (with whom he had worked on Dark Star and Dune, respectively) to work on designs for the human aspects of the film such as the spaceship and space suits. Cobb created hundreds of preliminary sketches of the interiors and exteriors of the ship, which went through many design concepts and possible names such as Leviathan and Snark as the script was developed. The final name of the ship was derived from the title of Joseph Conrad’s 1904 novel Nostromo, while the escape shuttle, called Narcissus in the script, was named after Conrad’s 1897 novella The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’. The production team particularly praised Cobb’s ability to depict the interior settings of the ship in a realistic and believable manner. Under Ridley Scott’s direction, the design of the Nostromo shifted towards an 800-foot-long (240 m) tug towing a refining platform 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide. Cobb also created some conceptual drawings of the Alien, but these were not used. Moebius was attached to the project for a few days, as well, and his costume renderings served as the basis for the final space suits created by costume designer John Mollo.

The spaceships and planets for the film were shot using models and miniatures. These included models of the Nostromo, its attached mineral refinery, the escape shuttle Narcissus, the alien planetoid, and the exterior and interior of the derelict spacecraft. Visual-effects supervisor Brian Johnson and supervising model maker Martin Bower and their team worked at Bray Studios, roughly 25 miles (40 km) from Shepperton Studios. The designs of the Nostromo and its attachments were based on combinations of Ridley Scott’s storyboards and Ron Cobb’s conceptual drawings. The basic outlines of the models were made of wood and plastic, and most of the fine details were added from model kits of warships, tanks, and World War II bombers.

Three models of the Nostromo were made: a 12-inch (30 cm) version for medium and long shots, a 4-foot (1.2 m) version for rear shots, and a 12-foot (3.7 m), 7-short-ton (6.4 t) rig for the undocking and planetoid surface sequences. Scott insisted on numerous changes to the models even as filming was taking place, leading to conflicts with the modelling and filming teams. The Nostromo was originally yellow, and the team filmed shots of the models for six weeks before Johnson left to work on The Empire Strikes Back. Scott then ordered it changed to gray, and the team had to begin shooting again from scratch. He asked that more and more pieces be added to the model such that the final version (with the refinery) required a metal framework so that it could be hoisted by a forklift. He also took a hammer and chisel to sections of the refinery, knocking off many of the spires that Bower had spent weeks creating. Scott also had disagreements with miniature-effects cinematographer Dennis Ayling over how to light the models.

A separate model, about 40 feet (12 m) long, was created for the Nostromo’s underside from which the Narcissus would detach and from which Kane’s body would be launched during the funeral scene. Bower carved Kane’s burial shroud out of wood; it was launched through the hatch using a small catapult and filmed at high speed. The footage was slowed down in editing. Only one shot was filmed using blue-screen compositing – that of the shuttle racing past the Nostromo. The other shots were simply filmed against black backdrops, with stars added by double exposure. Though motion control photography technology was available at the time, the film’s budget would not allow for it. The team, therefore, used a camera with wide-angle lenses mounted on a drive mechanism to make slow passes over and around the models filming at 2​1⁄2 frames per second, giving them the appearance of motion. Scott added smoke and wind effects to enhance the illusion. For the scene in which the Nostromo detaches from the refinery, a 30-foot (9.1 m) docking arm was created using pieces from model railway kits. The Nostromo was pushed away from the refinery by a forklift covered in black velvet, causing the arm to extend out from the refinery. This created the illusion that the arm was pushing the ship forward. Shots of the ship’s exterior in which characters are seen moving around inside were filmed using larger models which contained projection screens displaying pre-recorded footage.

A separate model was created for the exterior of the derelict alien spacecraft. Matte paintings were used to fill in areas of the ship’s interior, as well as exterior shots of the planetoid’s surface. The surface as seen from space during the landing sequence was created by painting a globe white, then mixing chemicals and dyes onto transparencies and projecting them onto it. The planetoid was not named in the film, but some drafts of the script gave it the name Acheron after the river which in Greek mythology is described as the “stream of woe”; it is a branch of the river Styx, and forms the border of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. The 1986 sequel Aliens named the planetoid as “LV-426”, and both names have been used for it in subsequent expanded-universe media such as comic books and video games.


An initial screening of Alien for 20th Century Fox representatives in St. Louis was marred by poor sound. A subsequent screening in a newer theatre in Dallas went significantly better, eliciting genuine fright from the audience. Two theatrical trailers were shown to the public. The first consisted of rapidly changing still images set to some of Jerry Goldsmith’s electronic music from Logan’s Run, with the tagline in both the trailer and on the teaser poster “A word of warning…”. The second used test footage of a hen’s egg set to part of Goldsmith’s Alien score. The film was previewed in various American cities in the spring of 1979 and was promoted with the tagline “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Alien was rated “R” in the US, “X” in the UK, and “M” in Australia. In the UK, the British Board of Film Censors almost passed the film as an “AA” (for ages 14 and over), although concerns existed over the prevalent sexual imagery. 20th Century Fox eventually relented in pushing for an AA certificate after deciding that an X rating would make it easier to sell as a horror film.

Alien opened in a limited release in American theatres on 25 May 1979. The film had no formal premiere, yet moviegoers lined up for blocks to see it at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, where a number of models, sets, and props were displayed outside to promote it during its first run. It received a wide release in the United States on 22 June. Religious zealots set fire to the model of the space jockey, believing it to be the work of the devil. In the UK, Alien premiered at a gala performance at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 01 September 1979, before starting an exclusive run at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on Thursday 06 September 1979, but it did not open widely in the UK until 13 January 1980.

Box Office

The film was a commercial success, opening in 90 theatres across the US (plus 1 in Canada), setting 51 house records and grossing $3,527,881 over the 4-day Memorial Day weekend with a per-screen average of $38,767, which Daily Variety suggested may have been the biggest per-screen opening in history. In its first 4 weeks it grossed $16.5 million from only 148 prints before expanding to 635 screens.

In the UK, the film grossed $126,150 in its first 4 days at the Odeon Leicester Square, setting a house record.

It grossed $78.9 million in the US and £7,886,000 in the UK during its first run.

Including reissues, it has grossed $81.8 million in the US and Canada, while international box-office figures have varied from $24 million to $122.7 million. Its total worldwide gross has been listed within the range of $104.9 million to $203.6 million. In 1992, Fox noted the worldwide gross was $143 million. With subsequent re-issues earning $6 million, the worldwide gross would currently stand at $149 million.

Despite this apparent box-office success, 20th Century Fox claimed that in the 11 months since its release, Alien had lost the studio $2 million. Seen as an example of Hollywood creative accounting used by Fox to disguise the film revenue and limit any payments to Brandywine, the claim was decried by industry accountants, and by August 1980, Fox readjusted the figure to $4 million profit, although this was similarly refuted. Eager to begin work on a sequel, Brandywine sued Fox over their profit distribution tactics, but Fox claimed that Alien was not a financial success and did not warrant a sequel. The lawsuit was settled in 1983 when Fox agreed to fund an Alien II.


Alien won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Art Direction (for Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian, and Ian Whittaker). It won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Ridley Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Veronica Cartwright, and was also nominated in the categories of Best Actress for Sigourney Weaver, Best Make-up for Pat Hay, Best Special Effects for Brian Johnson and Nick Allder, and Best Writing for Dan O’Bannon. It was also nominated for British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards for Best Costume Design for John Mollo, Best Editing for Terry Rawlings, Best Supporting Actor for John Hurt, and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role for Sigourney Weaver. It also won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and was nominated for a British Society of Cinematographers award for Best Cinematography for Derek Vanlint, as well as a Silver Seashell award for Best Cinematography and Special Effects at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Jerry Goldsmith’s score received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.

Home Video

Alien has been released in many home video formats and packages over the years.

  • The first of these was a 17-minute Super-8 version for home projectionists.
  • It was also released on both VHS and Betamax for rental, which grossed it an additional $40,300,000 in the US alone.
  • Several VHS releases were subsequently issued both separately and as boxed sets. LaserDisc and Videodisc versions followed, including deleted scenes and director commentary as bonus features.
  • A VHS box set containing Alien and its sequels Aliens and Alien 03 was released in facehugger-shaped boxes, and included some of the deleted scenes from the Laserdisc editions.
  • When Alien Resurrection premiered in theatres, another set of the first three films was released including a Making of Alien Resurrection tape.
  • A few months later, the set was re-released with the full version of Alien Resurrection taking the place of the making-of video.
  • Alien was released on DVD in 1999, both separately and, as The Alien Legacy, packaged with Aliens, Alien 03 and Alien Resurrection.
    • This set, which was also released in a VHS version, included a commentary track by Ridley Scott.
  • The first three films of the series have also been packaged as the Alien Triple Pack.
  • In 2003, 20th Century Fox was preparing the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, which would include Alien and its three sequels.
    • In addition, the set would also include alternative versions of all four films in the form of “Special Editions” and “Director’s Cuts”.
    • The “Director’s Cut” restored roughly four minutes of deleted footage, while cutting about five minutes of other material, leaving it about a minute shorter than the theatrical cut.
  • In 2014, to mark the film’s 35th anniversary, a special re-release boxed set named Alien: 35th Anniversary Edition, containing the film on Blu-ray, a digital copy, a reprint of Alien: The Illustrated Story, and a series of collectible art cards containing artwork by H.R. Giger related to the film, was released.


  • Alien premiered 25 May 1979, as the opening night of the fourth Seattle International Film Festival, presented in 70mm at midnight before receiving a wide release on 22 June 22, and was released 06 September in the UK.
  • It was met with critical acclaim and box-office success, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, three Saturn Awards (Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Cartwright), and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, along with numerous other nominations.
  • The film generated $203.6 million at the box office on a budget of $8.4-14 million.
  • It has been consistently praised in the years since its release, and is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
  • In 2002, Alien was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
  • In 2008, it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the seventh-best film in the science-fiction genre, and as the 33rd-greatest film of all time by Empire.


The Alien vs. Predator franchise combines the continuities of the Alien franchise with the Predator franchise and consists of two films as well as various series of comics, books, and video games.

Alien Series

You can find a full index and overview of the Alien Series here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Ridley Scott.
  • Producer(s): Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill.
  • Writer(s): Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Cinematography: Derek Vanlint.
  • Editor(s): Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley.
  • Production: 20th Century Fox and Brandywine Productions.
  • Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox.
  • Release Date: 25 May 1979 (US) and 06 September 1979 (UK).
  • Running Time: 117 minutes.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: UK and US.
  • Language: English.

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