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Film: Alien

"In space, no one can hear you scream."
Tagline

Alien (1979) is the first film in the Alien film series, starring Sigourney Weaver. It was directed by Ridley Scott.

The film involves the crew of a freighter spaceship who stop to answer a Distress Call from an uncharted moon. One of the crew members gets an alien organism attached to his face and goes into a coma. The next day, an alien embryo explodes from the crewman's chest and rapidly matures into a savage monster. As the alien stalks through the ship, the crew desperately tries to find a way to fight back.

Writer Dan O'Bannon based the film on a Black Comedy sequence from his previous film Dark Star, in which a beachball-shaped alien runs amok on a spaceship and tries to push an astronaut down an elevator shaft.

The Alien Monster and several other elements were designed by H. R. Giger, whose sexualised biomechanical style influences science fiction movies to this day.


This film provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Ripley, who is only a terrified woman struggling to survive.
  • Admiring the Abomination: Science officer Ash acts like this toward the alien.
    Ash: The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
    Lambert: You admire it.
    Ash: I admire its purity.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • Science Officer Ash is programmed to put his mission above the lives of his fellow crew members. He ends up going berserk when Ripley discovers the truth. It's played with in the sense that he's not really going rogue, and is perfectly following his given orders. They just come from the Company, not the rest of the crew.
    Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?!
    Ash the Android: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.
    • Ripley attempts to abort the self-destruct sequence, but the ship's computer 'Mother', refuses to acknowledge the cooling system has been activated in the nick of time, and is giving priority to the denotation sequence, she initiated.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The monster actually uses the air duct escape against the protagonists.
  • All Webbed Up: In a deleted scene, Ripley found Dallas and Brett completely cocooned, and slowly transforming into more Alien eggs.
  • Animal Immunity: Played straight with Jonesy the Cat. Ripley leaves Jonesy behind when the Alien surprises her, and it curiously looks at the cat as if it's about to eat it. When Ripley gets back the Cat is unharmed. Almost averted, however. It isn't easy to spot, but just before the scene cuts away the alien swipes at the box holding the cat, slamming it into the wall. Fortunately, Jonesy survives the experience relatively unharmed- probably because cats are light enough to bounce.
  • Anyone Can Die: The characters died in more or less reverse order of how famous the actors playing them were (in 1979) - Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, and even Veronica Cartwright were all familiar to audiences, while Sigourney Weaver was the only entirely unknown actor in the cast, with just four minor credits. The deaths of the characters felt like a downward spiral, and Ripley's demise seemed inevitable. The tension of the last ten minutes (with the ship's computer voice counting them off) was almost unbearable. Ripley's survival was, for the era in which the film was made, shocking (a lot of 70s-era horror movies had downer endings), and until the end credits rolled, the audience still expected the alien to pop up somewhere.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Ripley wants to get rid of the Face Hugger carcass, because they already know that the alien creature bleeds acid and have no clue what will happen after it's dead. Ash counters this by snarking at Ripley that it probably isn't a zombie.
  • Artificial Gravity: The Nostromo features this.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: After Kane has just spent the last several hours in a coma with an alien creature on his face, he wakes up.
    Parker: How are you doing?
    Kane: Terrific. Next silly question.
  • Audience Surrogate: Lambert according to Word of God from Scott.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted, as Parker is among the last to be killed.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Not only a rarity for 70's horror movies, but a double whammy in that only Ripley survives and she is the one that no one in the audience expected to survive. Ripley kills the Alien by blowing it out the airlock of the escape shuttle- but is deeply affected by the loss of her friends and crew.
  • Book Ends: The film starts and ends with a spaceship silently drifting into space, with the crew in artificial sleep.
  • Broken Faceplate: The first thing the face-hugger form does is go for the helmet, secreting acid to melt through the faceplate to impregnate the host within.
  • Captain's Log: The final report Ripley records before returning to hibernation.
  • Catch Phrase: Brett's "Right."; Discussed by Ripley and Parker in one scene.
  • Cat Scare:
    • There's one before Brett's death.
    • There's a second when Ripley's trying to chase Jones down in the cockpit before her first attempt to get to the shuttle.
  • Clothing Damage: Parker's shirt is ripped apart during the struggle with the Xenomorph.
  • Continuous Decompression: As part of the Final Battle, when the Xenomorph is Thrown Out the Airlock by Ripley.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: After Ash the Android gets his head knocked off, the other crewmembers of the Nostromo plug his head into the proper equipment and are able to speak with him.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Kane's overzealous impulse to investigate the eggs leads to almost the entire crew being killed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Brett and Parker.
  • Dead Star Walking: Tom Skerritt received top billing over Sigourney Weaver. Ripley was never meant to be the main protagonist, merely the Final Girl.
  • Death World: LV-426 (Acheron in the sequel's novelisation). Ash reads off all of the unpleasant gasses in the atmosphere and comments that it's "primordial."
  • Deer in the Headlights: Lambert suffers from this when facing the Xenomorph.
  • Dilating Door: The sections of the air duct system on the starship Nostromo are seperated by dilating hatches.
  • Distress Call: The organic ship's signal which turned out to be a Warning Beacon.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: During Lambert's death, the Alien's sinewy tail can be sliding up between her legs. All that's known from her death are the strangely sexual grunts (of pain) heard by Ripley over her radio.
  • Double Entendre: Parker to Lambert.
    Lambert: [about the lousy food] You pound down the stuff like there's no tomorrow.
    Parker: I'd rather be eating something else, but right now I'm thinking food.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: A scene in the original script had Ripley casually stripping off in front of Captain Dallas saying "I need some release." Although the scene was used in the audition, it was never filmed.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Kane's body.
  • Drone of Dread: The soundtrack composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Dwindling Party: The Xenomorph takes out one crew member after another.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: This is the first and only time we see the Alien as a slow-and-shambling creature; every other installment from Aliens onwards, it is a blindingly fast runner and jumper. It's also the only canon material (not counting comics, video games, etc) where the Alien demonstrates overtly malicious behavior, specifically Lambert's implied death by rape. Later films would generally present the creatures as somewhat intelligent but ultimately dangerous animals concerned only with survival.
  • Easy Amnesia: After Kane wakes up from having the Face Hugger attach itself to his face, he can't remember anything about the planet, and even seems confused where he is. All he can remember is a horrible dream about smothering.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: When Brett is looking for the cat, the Xenomorph is rising behind him.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The loss of the entire Nostromo crew leads Ripley to record a message at the end of the film concerning their fates and how she's the only one left.
  • Evil All Along: Ash is revealed to be a robot, working for The Company to bring an alien back, at the expense of the other crew members if necessary.
  • Evil Detecting Cat: When Jonesy hisses for seemingly no reason, it's a warning that shit's about to go down.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome: Tons of steam blasts from leaky pipes.
    • The escape shuttle even has buttons to release steam into the cabin. Ripley makes use of this when figthing the Xenomorph.
    • Subverted a bit when a steam burst that is annoying Ripley is actually shown to be under Parker's control.
    • Partly justified after Ripley sets the Self-Destruct Mechanism, which involves turning off the cooling units of the ship's reactor. The ship's systems are automatically venting in an effort to cool itself. However, logic suggests there are better places for the coolant system to try and dump excess heat than into crew spaces.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: Kane gets his share of facehugging.
  • Facial Horror: According to the book, "Alien: Out of the Shadows", the alien tore a hole in Lambert's face when it killed her.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Ripley failed her Spot Check at the end, as she sits down face to face with the alien in the shuttle, hidden amongst the pipes and valves on the walls she's facing.
  • Failsafe Failure: The Nostromo's self-destruct fail-safe mechanism is virtually impossible to initiate by accident, but it is just as fiendishly obtrusive to abort it. There is no quick reset button. It will not override without first manually disengaging safety interlocks and inserting the rods back in. If a last-minute-decision was ever made to abort, you're basically screwed.
  • Fanservice: Ripley spends a number of scenes walking around in her underwear.
  • Fate Worse than Death: In a deleted scene, Ripley found Dallas and Brett mutating into eggs.
  • Fetal Position Rebirth: The adult alien is in this position the very first time we see it, hanging among the chains above Brett, keeping it Hidden in Plain Sight.
  • Final Girl: Ripley is the lone survivor of the film, though she was not the strict star of the film.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: "The Eighth Passenger" in most languages, which makes no sense since the other seven were crew.
    • It also ignores Jones the cat - the only real passenger on the ship. But titling the movie "The Second Passenger" would probably just make everybody even more confused.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Combines with Tempting Fate. Second officer Kane is the first crew member to die.
    Kane: Oh, I feel dead.
    Parker: Anybody ever tell you you look dead?
    • Dallas and Lambert note that the space jockey's ribs seem to have "exploded" from inside and wonder what could have caused it.
    • Ash never eats. The only thing he consumes is some milky-white fluid. He's later revealed to be an android, with white liquid for blood.
    • "Where's the rest of the crew?" is a very good question that's never brought up again, but a deleted scene shows that the xenomorph has a habit of turning its victims into more eggs.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the camera whips back and forth when Ripley dashes into the shuttle before the ship explodes, you can actually see the Alien already camouflaged against the wall. Unless you've seen the film at least once already, you probably won't be able to make it out.
  • Freud Was Right: Scores of essays have been written over the last three decades on the obvious sexual and maternal overtones. These are all intentional.
    • The alien egg which spawns the facehugger opens up with vulva-like flaps.note  The alien is put into a human body by the Facehugger, whose reproductive organ looks like a vulva with mandibles and a prehensile penis. Its spawn, the Chestburster, looks like an erection with teeth. And the long, eyeless head of an adult Alien is obviously phallic. The Alien was based on a painting by surrealist artist H. R. Giger, whose nightmarish work is very sexualized. Giger wanted the Alien to be the embodiment of the fear of rape.
    • A Deleted Scene in the first movie showed Dallas and Brett being "converted" into Chestburster eggs - they're double rapists; a man is disfigured into a feminine construct, and dies "giving birth" to something that does the same thing only quicker. James Cameron took advantage of the deleted scene to add a Hive Queen to the Alien life cycle, leading to the following;
    • Maternal symbolism: the AI of the spaceship in Alien is called "Mother." The organic alien ship is entered through vulva-shaped doors. The showdown between Ripley and the alien queen has a great deal of Mama Bear implications on both sides. Many critics have compared the alien queen with Grendel's mother.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Ash goes out with the infamous line, "I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies," and signs off with a smug smile.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: Ripley uses one to send the Xenomorph out the shuttle's airlock.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Dallas insists on being the one to go in to the air vents to flush out the alien, even though Ripley volunteers.
    • Parker attacks the Alien in an attempt to save Lambert. It fails to work, as the Alien kills them both in quick succession.
  • Hollywood Acid: The Alien Blood eats through everything it comes into contact with.
  • Hypocrite: Ash. He's quite quick to remind the crew of the clause in their contract requiring all transmissions of alien-origin to be investigated, failure results in total forfeiture of shares. Yet as a Science Officer, he conveniently violates Science Division's basic quarantine laws to suit his own agenda. He's borderline Straw Hypocrite also. He disturbingly admires the Xenomorph's hostility, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. As a self-aware android he hates the fact he's mostly held in check by programmed safeguards and adores how the alien is free to kill indiscriminately.
  • Hysterical Woman: Lambert (Veronica Cartwright). She's by far the most terrified and emotional member of the crew, and completely freezes up when the Alien confronts her.
  • If My Calculations Are Correct: Ash has such a line when calculating the return time to Earth.
  • Instant Cooldown: Averted. The Nostromo's self-destruct reaches a point where it's too late to stop it from exploding even if the engine coolant is turned back on.
  • Irrevocable Order: Ripley sets the self-destruct for the Nostromo in order to destroy the alien when fairly certain that she can safely get to the escape shuttle. However, along the way, she finds that the alien is lurking in the only corridor to the shuttle. She tries to go back and shut down the self-destruct, but misses the "point of no return" time by scant seconds.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Dallas and Lambert demand to be let in, and Ash violates quarantine and opens the door. All three die as a result of this. Ripley, who didn't want to let them in, survives. Parker, in a deleted scene, says that maybe Ripley was right not to let them in, making him an aversion when he is killed.
  • Laser-Guided Tykebomb: The alien species is implied to be this, bred for the sole purpose of violence. Many thousands of eggs were preserved in the biomechanic derelict, and director Ridley Scott even said the derelict was a bomber - it was designed to bombard planets with Alien eggs.
  • Last Words: Ash the Android specifically asks for some final words before he is unplugged. He uses them to taunt the remaining heroes.
    Ash the Android: I can't lie to you about your chances... but you have my sympathies.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: After a Cat Scare Brett is told to catch Jones so it doesn't happen again. He wanders around going "Here kitty kitty" without the slightest apprehension, as at this stage the crew think the alien is no bigger than the ship's cat. He discovers otherwise.
  • Lock and Load Montage: When Ripley, Parker and Lambert prepare to evacuate the Nostromo, Ripley is shown pulling some gear together in preparation.
  • The Mole: Science Officer Ash, who was brought in by the Company to make sure their hidden agenda was carried out.
  • Name of Cain: Played with. Second Officer Kane is a good guy, but he's the first to die and the person which the Alien births from.
  • The Needs of the Many: Ripley has a Sadistic Choice to make whether to A) immediately bring facehugged Kane back on board and risk the lives of all crew members or B) keep the away team in quarantine which might render Kane dead. She opts for choice B until Ash interferes.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: Ash does this to Captain Dallas twice.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer has glimpses of Ash malfunctioning. Before The Reveal, it looks as though he has a chestburster inside him.
  • No OSHA Compliance
    • One of the escape shuttles is out of action and the other won't carry the entire crew. In the novelisation Parker suggests that Dallas insist on a safety inspection so the Company will be forced to pay for much needed repairs. Ripley says it would be cheaper for the Company to just bribe the inspector.
    • Averted with the Self-Destruct Mechanism which is very difficult to activate. Labels on the self destruct system's instructions also have symbols to warn against trapping your fingers.
  • Not Quite Dead: Ash, after his head is torn off, gets his second wind and goes after Parker.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The film focuses on the ever-present lurking threat of the eggs, chestburster, and adult alien rather than direct confrontations. The trailer for the film highlights the strategy, showing barely any of the alien and focusing on a terrifying montage of people reacting to what could be after them. The alien itself is only shown on-screen for less than four minutes total.
    • As a more specific example, Lambert's death. Nothing is seen of what happened, and even the aftermath is not seen clearly, we only hear it happening over the radio. It's probably the scariest death in the film. Given that the last thing we see of Lambert is the tip of the alien's tail moving up her leg towards her nether regions, and her corpse is stripped of pants and shoes, this is probably just as well.
  • Not in My Contract: Parker points out that he's in a commercial ship and that replying to distress calls is not in his contract. He'll be happy to oblige if he's paid more money, but he is promptly reminded that ignoring a distress call voids the contract.
  • Numbered Homeworld: LV426 (Acheron in the novelization).
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Subverted. Ripley quotes "24 hours for decontamination" regulations rather than allow Kane to enter the Nostromo for treatment. Of course, she turns out to be right, but by making her appear unsympathetic the movie conceals her eventual role as the heroine.
  • Oh, Crap: Brett is having this moment after he turns around to face the Xenomorph behind him.
  • Only Sane Man: In spite of the anger it earned her from the rest of the crew for trying to enforce it, Ripley was absolutely right about the 24 hour quarantine. If everyone had listened to her, it's very possible she wouldn't have been the only survivor.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast:
    • The first scene inside the ship shows rusty orange floors and blue-lit walls.
    • The self-destruct sequence contrasts generally blue lighting with flashing orange warning lights.
    • And several other scenes in between.
  • Orifice Invasion: Aside from the obvious Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong, Science Officer Ash tries to kill Ripley by forcing a rolled up porno magazine down her throat.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Ripley escaping the Nostromo's self-destruct in her shuttle.
  • Phallic Weapon: The filmmakers state that the rolled-up adult magazine that crew member Ash tries to suffocate Ripley with is meant to be a penis substitute, because as an android he doesn't have one himself.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Alien was originally billed as "Jaws IN SPACE!" to producers. Word of God says that it's The Thing from Another World ON A SPACESHIP, right down to the motion detector (a Geiger counter in the original film).
  • The Reveal: Several, but the two most significant ones are when Ripley finds out that the Company had planned the mission from the very start and considers the crew expendable, and when Ash is revealed to be a robot working for them.
    Ash the Android: There is an explanation for this, you know.
  • Robotic Reveal: Ash is revealed to be an android.
  • Sapient Ship: "Mother", the Nostromo's ship computer.
  • Screaming Woman:
    • Ripley screams when she discovers the xenomorph approaching her as she's preparing to hit the airlock near the end.
    • Lambert is the traditional version, most notably in her final scene when she's paralysed with fear as the alien advances on her.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: despite the enormous size of the Nostromo, the crew are concerned with finding the alien before they are forced back into the freezers due to running out of air.note 
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The engines of the Nostromo.
  • Send In The Search Team: Dallas and the crew of the Nostromo are sent to investigate a distress call from the uncharted moon.
  • Sensor Suspense: While tracking the alien through the ventilation system.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The film being The Thing from Another World IN SPACE, it has a few shout outs to the 1951 film, including the motion detector.
    • The Nostromo is named after one of Joseph Conrad's novels, and the ship's escape shuttle, the Narcissus, draws its name from the title of another.
  • Sole Survivor: Ripley is the only crew member to survive. Jonesy the Cat survives as well, although he's not technically a crew member.
  • Space Is Noisy: Depressingly, despite its famous tagline, the movie does indulge in this.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: The alien bursts out of Kane's chest in the middle of a cordial dinner.
  • Survival Mantra: "You are my lucky star... Lucky star, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky."
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: At the end Ripley blows up the Nostromo, finally begins relaxing, and just as she's plotting the co-ordinates the titular monster's arm swings into her face. However, it is subverted in that she survives the encounter.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Ripley sets the ship on self-destruct and escapes in a shuttle. The Alien escapes onto the shuttle, but now it can't hide away anymore. She dumps it out the shuttle's airlock, shoots it with a grappling gun when it grabs the opening, and then fries it with the engines when the gun gets caught in the door and it tries to crawl back into the shuttle.
  • Toughest Chick Always Dies: Interestingly enough, the trope is inverted in the first film (whereas it's played straight in the second, even being the current Trope Namer): the easily scared and very feminine ship navigator Lambert gets killed off in the film's latter half (the original shooting script implied that the Xenomorph actually raped her to death), while cynical, butch, chain-smoking Warrant Officer Ripley survives and becomes the lynchpin for the entire franchise. This is because in the original script none of the characters were given genders, just names. Any character could have been male or female.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: It's implied that the Aliens were bred to be living weapons but killed their creators, the ancient "Pilot creatures". This was later confirmed in Prometheus. This makes the Company even more Too Dumb to Live, since they seem to be under the delusional impression that the unstoppable killing machine that leaves every encounter with a huge body count... can be trained. They also want to bring it to Earth.
  • Ultimate Life Form: Ash's opinion on the Alien, referring to it as a "perfect organism".
  • Uncertain Doom: The fate of Dallas and Bret, unless you see a deleted scene in which their bodies are found.
  • Unexpected Character: Ripley really was not set up to be "the hero" or even the focal character in the film, or at least not be indicative of such. Dallas (played by Tom Skerrit) would have been expected to be the main character.
  • Up to Eleven: Rumor has it that the scene where Kane dies from a Chest Burster emerging out of him was so violent that several audience members fainted or started vomiting.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Ash expresses an admiration for the extra-terrestrial monster which is stalking and killing off the Nostromo's crew. He prizes it for being a remorseless predator who survives because it is "unclouded by delusions of morality".
  • We Have Reserves: Ripley learns from Special Order 937 that both ship and crew are completely expendable in the company's quest for the xenomorph.
  • You Are in Command Now: After Captain Dallas and Second Officer Kane both die, Ripley is forced to take command.
  • What Could Have Been: If the bonus content from Alien:Isolation is anything to go by, Ripley would have succeeded in performing Dallas's mission of flushing the Alien into the primary airlock- only to be sabotaged at the last minute by Ash.
  • You Have No Chance to Survive: Science Officer Ash's last words before being incinerated are "I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies."


Ripley: Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.
[to Jonesy the cat]
Ripley: Come on, cat.

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