Franchise: Alien

"You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? A perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility."
Ash, Alien (1979)

Alien is a Twentieth Century Fox multimedia film franchise that codified science fiction Body Horror. The franchise, which spans films, novels, comic books, and video games, helped to launch the careers of creators like Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and Sigourney Weaver.

The series revolves around the "Xenomorphs", alien monsters with acid blood that spawn by bursting out of other organisms' chests and try to kill anything that isn't them. Most works involve humans encountering the creatures, with horrific results. A wide array of Crossover works with Fox's other famous science fiction alien monster, the Predator, also exist.



This franchise in general provides examples of:

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  • Action Girl: In the Dark Horse post-Aliens comic series, Newt becomes one hell of an action girl.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The comic series branches off from the movies after Aliens, and benefits greatly as a result.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Bishop in Aliens and Alien 3 averts this, explained as having stricter safeguards than the one that went against the crew in the first film. But by Alien: Resurrection, androids have been outlawed with orders to "destroy on sight" because some of them started to make "children".
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Both humans and aliens make good use of air vents to get around without the other side noticing. The alien in the first film moves around the spaceship using air vents. In the second film, Newt survives by hiding in the air vents, and the Marines make their escape through the same vents. Newt uses them for more aggressive purposes in the Dark Horse adaptation.
  • Alien Blood: The aliens have highly corrosive acid for blood.
  • All Webbed Up: This happens to several victims throughout the series. The Xenomorphs use some kind of unexplained organic resin to cocoon people, leaving them as bait for facehugger eggs.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Aliens. They seemingly exist for the sole purpose of killing everything on a planet. It is subtly implied that they are indeed intelligent, not just bestial animals, which simply makes them even more terrifying. If you listen to Prometheus, this is because they were designed to be weapons. They can't help killing everything in sight that isn't them, it's what they're for.
  • Ambiguous Robots: This series has a whole spectrum of them. Tending toward the probably-organic end, we have the xenomorphs and on the probably-robotic end, we have the artificial persons. Right square in the middle is the Space Jockey (and by extension, his ship) from the first movie.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Actually a set of company protocols, but it sure resembles a cult searching for an Artifact of Doom they think will bring them power. From the 21st Century (possibly before) to the far future. Years, decades, centuries come and go and every time so much as a hint of a sign of a Xenomorph rears its head, they have a team ready to go, with moles, dupes and those they need for the moment all set to go.
  • And I Must Scream: In the comics, an adult Newt falls in love with a Colonial Marine, who turns out to be an Artificial Human with more advanced emotions. He makes a Heroic Sacrifice by staying behind on an infested ship to allow her to escape, but this leaves him trapped on a Ghost Ship (they leave him alone because he's useless to them for breeding) that can never return to civilization because of the risk.
  • Appropriated Title: Although the third, fourth, and fifth films all went under the original title, most spin-off merchandise is known under Aliens, which was the second movie.
  • Artificial Human: Ash, Bishop and Call (a bit of franchise-wide Theme Naming which Prometheus appears to have continued with David). Ash from the first movie is a particularly sinister example, since he secretly protects the alien and betrays the other crew members.
  • Art Major Biology: The Alien's life cycle.
    • The alien grows from a chestburster to a full-grown adult without apparently eating anything (or anyone) in the first film. This is explained in the original script when the crew corner the chestbuster in a supply closet filled with their food supply and lock it in while they try to find a way to deal with it. When they return it has escaped after eating their food and is next seen fully grown.
    • Similarly, in the sequel the there are dozens of fully grown aliens (and a very fully grown queen) along with a giant organic maze in the terraforming facility, despite the fact that there are only some 150 humans to eat. Bishop mentions that the colonists also had livestock, which could serve as hosts/food for the aliens.
    • It's proposed in an in-universe anatomical/zoological report on the xenomorphs (in the Dark Horse comic series) that the reason for their blood being acidic is that it is in fact a living battery (which would kinda work, seeing as how they're silicon-based lifeforms), and that they get all the energy needed for their (individually) relatively short lifespans as an adult from this as well as from their host organism and thus do not actually need to feed, nor do they even have digestive systems. This is similar to a lot of butterfly and moth species in real life (the thing with adults not eating... not the thing with bursting out of people's chests(!)), though they emerge from their cocoon as fully-grown adults, while the xenomorphs emerge from their living cocoons as infants, so just how biologically feasible this might actually be is debatable. Additionally, like bees, the Queens feed off of "royal jelly", a substance which (in-universe) is shown to have phenomenal medicinal and performance-boosting properties in humans.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: Deconstructed.
  • Attack Animal: Word of God states that the Xenomorphs are these.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Subverted in the Newt's Tale comic series. During the colonist's final stand against the xenomorphs, Newt's mother picks up a gun and looks at her children (intending to put them out of their misery before turning the gun on herself). She gets ready to pull the trigger...and then Newt tells her there's another way, and leads them towards a ventilation grate during the attack. Not that it helps, considering that her mother and brother get ripped apart seconds later, forcing her to flee into the duct.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Even if the "sting" was not used, the xenomorphs on film still demonstrate this by using their bladed tails as a weapon, often impaling a victim on them.
  • BFG: The combination gun Ripley is carrying at the end of Part 2 in the Dark Horse comic of Aliens has to be seen to be believed.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Extremely.
  • Bloody Murder: Acid blooded aliens.
  • Body Horror: The aliens' parasitical breeding cycle turns you into a living incubator. Cf. certain species of wasp. Nature even on Earth is not always cuddly and fluffy.
  • Broken Bird: Newt AKA Billie is one in the Dark Horse comic series.
  • Bug War: A small scale version. The first and third films center on a group of human noncombatants against a single alien, while the second and fourth films feature groups of armed people against a horde of aliens. The Alien vs. Predator series features a full scale battle between the species in the second movie. The "war" part didn't happened until Aliens versus Predator 2.
  • Canon Discontinuity:
    • The Dark Horse comics totally ignore 3 and Resurrection because they were written before Alien 3 came along and killed everyone. In the novelizations, Newt and Hicks were replaced by Billie and Wilks and Ripley was revealed to be a artificial person with implanted memories.
    • The Out of the Shadows trilogy serves as a Continuity Reboot for the expanded universe, disregarding the comics and other novels, aside from a few Mythology Gags. The second book very nearly decanonized 3 and Resurrection as well, before Fox changed their mind and asked the author to include references to them.
    • Neil Blompkamp's film is set to ignore 3 (and Resurrection by extension) by featuring older versions of Hicks and Newt, who had bridges dropped upon them in the opening of that film.
  • Captain Ersatz: The two main characters in the first two arcs of the comic series were Newt and Hicks. When Alien 3 killed the characters off, future printings of the comic changed their names to Billie and Wilks, though this seems an odd choice in retrospect, as their backstories remained identical and the comics had diverged so sharply from the movies by that point that keeping them in step with one another seems irrelevant.
  • Ceiling Cling: With instances of Vertical Kidnapping.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: As everybody knows, Weyland-Yutani is a combination of rival motoring conglomerates British Leyland and Toyota.
  • Cold Sleep, Cold Future: The world seems to get a little bit grimmer each time Ripley wakes up. In the first film, the Company is willing to risk the lives of a ship's crew to get its hands on an alien. In the second film, the Company (or at least Burke) is willing to sacrifice a whole colony to breed aliens. In the third film, Ripley wakes up on a planet that is inhabited solely by a prison. In the fourth film, the megacorporations have given way to an even more irresponsible military that actually goes through with alien genetic testing. The comic book canon is far worse than even this.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Occasionally (some deleted scenes in Aliens, the flashback in Alien Versus Predator and many times in Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem), the Aliens abandon their stealth kill tactics for a Zerg Rush, which goes about as well for them as one might expect. It actually works pretty well in the first AVP film...until the Predator Self-Destruct Mechanism kicks in.
  • Continuous Decompression: Used in Part 1 and 2 during the Thrown Out the Airlock scenes. Part 4 has incredibly big aliens blown out of incredibly small holes.
  • Continuity Reboot: The Fire and Stone comic series and the Out of the Shadows trilogy of novels serve as a reboot to the Alien and AVP franchises' expanded universes, while containing Continuity Nods to earlier entries.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: This is evidently humanity's hat in the Alien universe.
    Ripley: You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.
  • Crapsack World: The Dark Horse comic series is one hellish place to live. The Mega Corp. controls the world, all civil rights are essentially gone, the military kills civilians with impunity, and that's before the two killer alien species come knocking. The Aliens overrun Earth and more than one character wonders if we deserved it.
  • Creepy Long Fingers: Most designs for the aliens give the extraterrestrial monsters long, clawed fingers. Some go so far as to make them more than a foot long.
  • Drool Hello: The movies are pretty fond of this one. Whenever dripping saliva onto the victim won't signal a Xenomorph's presence, the warm air exhaled onto the victim's neck from behind will. And if that happens, it's already too late to run.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Ellen Ripley was a normal human who Took a Level in Badass by the end of Aliens by destroying an entire alien hive by herself, fighting against acid-bleeding parasitic Xenomorphs. Then by Alien: Resurrection her clone Ripley 8, who shares most of her memories, receives some Alien DNA as a result of a flaw in the cloning process. Ripley's own blood becomes slightly acidic, she gets a psychic connection with the Xenos, has reduced empathy and predatory instincts, and is able to shrug off being hit in the face with a loaded barbell.
  • Enemy-Detecting Radar: The motion trackers from Aliens, which often appeared in video game adaptations of the franchise.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: In the comic series Aliens: Newt's Tale, Newt is the only one to survive the colonists' last stand at LV-426, and is forced to go into hiding and foraging by herself after watching her mother and brother get massacred by the xenomorphs right in front of her.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: In the comics, a group of Marines is forced to go to the Aliens' homeworld to act as bait for facehuggers. One character sagely notes that, on other worlds, the Alien is a foreign creature which the locals are not used to dealing with. On its own planet it would have struck an ecological balance with other species, and it might not even be the dominant predator. The bait plan is completely misguided because unbeknownst even to themselves, all the Marines are androids.
  • Evil Is Visceral: In addition to creating many of the subtropes, the alien eggs and the visual design of the Space Jockey are also this.
  • Evolutionary Ret Con: The xenomorphs from the later films are much more insectile and predatory than the original film's man in a suit version.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome: Numerous examples across the entire main series and Crossover films. This includes the Nostromo, the Sulaco (in the third film as the alarms are triggered), the Auriga, the Betty and even the downed Predator ship from Requiem.
  • Eyeless Face: The most distinctive trait of the Aliens other than...
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: The Xenomorphs' horrifying life cycle starts with this.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Giving "birth" to a Chestburster. This is highlighted by the iconic plea, "Kill... me!" spoken by impregnated alien victims.
  • Fetus Terrible: Chestbursters are parasites intended to evoke this.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The films themselves are an odd non-character example in terms of their respective tones and atmospheres (and even in light of the personalities and resumes of their respective directors): Alien is phlegmatic, Aliens is choleric, Alien³ is melancholic and Alien: Resurrection is sanguine.
  • Franchise Zombie: Sigourney Weaver felt this way about the series. She didn't want to do another one after Aliens so she could move on to other projects. Ripley's death at the end of the third movie was included at her insistence, to make any further sequels starring her impossible. After that the writers had to resort to cloning the character, but she agreed to reprise the role again when Fox offered her an additional producer credit that would give her an 11 million dollar salary (which was more than the entire budget of the first filmnote ), and because she thought the Alien vs. Predator concept which was pitched around at the time sounded awful. They later made this spin-off as well anyway... and even an even more awful sequel to it. Said crossover franchise has had a healthy life in video games, though.
  • Gaia's Lament: Earth in the series. It has become an overpolluted slum.
  • Genre Blindness: Of all people, the CEO of Weyland-Yutani themselves. In their mad obsession to acquire the Xenomorph, they seem to keep forgetting that sending a bunch of "expendables" who are out of the loop to inadvertently bring the alien back to Earth and planting a mole in the team always backfires on them when the protagonists inevitably figure out they were set up and then kill the aliens themselves.
    • Though, it looks to have finally succeeded in Aliens: Colonial Marines.
  • Genre Shift: The first movie is "a haunted house in space'' while the second is intended to be "the Vietnam War in space." The third went back to being a sci-fi horror film while the fourth went back to being a sci-fi action film.
  • Good Lips, Evil Jaws: The Aliens.

  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The iconic Xenomorph squeal. Apparently it's a combination of a baby elephant and a peacock.
    • The infamous siren. It's made all the more unnerving because it isn't a traditional-sounding siren, instead being a rhythmic, high-pitched noise that sounds like someone screaming.
    • The motion trackers in Aliens. Not only does the rising tone of the detection chime become outright terrifying, especially in the tense build-up to the "Last Stand" scene, but even the soft "paf" of the tracker when it's not detecting anything causes fear because you just know what it's leading to.
  • Hermaphrodite: The titular aliens themselves, at least according to H.R Giger.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: See, this is the problem with living in a dark Used Future with monsters after you. In Alien, the Alien stows itself in the wall paneling; in Aliens, several Aliens are curled up in alcoves on the wall in the hive, perfectly blending in with the walls. They are even invisible on IR due to the pervasive heat.
  • Hiss Before Fleeing
  • Hive Caste System: The series features several stages of life for Xenomorphs, from facehuggers through chestbursters to your standard double-jawed Giger nightmare. And then there was the Queen, who laid eggs and was fiercely protective of her offspring. It was implied and then later confirmed in the movies, video games and books that the xenomorphs take on characteristics from the host they gestate within. That explains why a chestbuster coming from a dog looks doglike and why one from a Predator is bigger than those from humans and has the characteristic mandibles and dreadlocks.
  • Hollywood Acid: Xenomorph blood easily chews through ship decks, industrial steel floor grates, and body armor. Never mind what it can do to flesh. Notable in that its potency freaks everyone out; one character makes noises about "molecular acid" in the first film, and an executive speaks of "concentrated acid" in a patronizing manner in the second - they're basically saying, "Umm... Acid isn't supposed to do that!"
  • Horny Devils: Giger designed the aliens to embody the fear of rape. The face-huggers essentially rape their victims and impregnate them. In the first film, it's implied that an adult alien sodomizes Lambert with its tail.
  • Humans Advance Swiftly: If you count the film Prometheus in, you may notice how the robots' personalities are becoming more human as the in-universe timeline moves on.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: In all the films except for Alien³, the Aliens are set loose due to human greed mixed with incompetence. Even in the third movie however the only reason the Company sends a rescue mission to Fiorina-161 is because they suspect Ripley is carrying a Xenomorph embryo. Otherwise they'd basically abandoned their Hellhole Prison planet because it was unprofitable.
    Ripley 8 (regarding Analee Call revealing herself as an android in Resurrection): I should have known. No human being is that humane.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Any given character with a Alien fetus inside them: "Kill me... kill me..."
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Happens a few times, what with the Aliens having bladed tails.
  • It Can Think: The aliens are revealed to be intelligent in the series. See the film pages for more details.
  • Just Following Orders: Ash in the first movie, and possibly Burke in the second movie (it's never clear whether he's operating on orders from the Company or he's in it for himself). David in Prometheus may count as well, although he may have let his feelings get in the way just a little.
  • Kill It with Fire: Want to survive fighting the aliens in close quarters? Flamethrowers are the only way to avoid being hit with their acidic blood at close range.
  • LEGO Genetics: The Xenomorphs, as part of their bioweapon design, can assimilate useful traits from their hosts to better survive in the environment and become stronger, and it often extends to physical appearance. The first two films had human-like Xenos, and the third featured a quadruped Xeno that came from a dog (or a bovine, depending on the version). The video games, comics and toy line take it to greater lengths with flying Xenos with wings like a bird or bat, gorilla Xenos with long powerful arms, bull and rhinoceros Xenos, and in the Batman crossover comics the Xenomorphs even had physical similarities to the various villains their DNA was combined with (with the Killer Croc Alien being a gigantic crocodile-like beast). And the most iconic type, the Predalien, a Xenomorph born from a Predator with a shorter skull, mandibles, dreadlocks, and a stockier build than other humanoid Xenos. Interestingly, with few exceptions, the Queen Aliens and other higher castes like the Praetorian do not assimilate traits, keeping the Xenomorph line pure-blooded.
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: The franchise has had various special edition releases with unique items over the years, including a "Facehugger" VHS boxset in 1993 (which had copies of the first two films and The Making of Alien 3, pins, a t-shirt and a pass to the Alien War UK attraction), the "Alien Legacy" boxset in the late 90's (which had special collector cards and a mail-in offer for a bonus DVD), the "Alien Quadrilogy", which included the then-newly restored Assembly Cut for the third film and a boatload of extras, and the "Alien Anthology", which includes almost all the extras from all the preceding special edition boxset releases - with an optional collector's edition packaged in a model case designed by Sideshow Collectibles.
  • Mad Scientist: Quite a few in the comics, perhaps most notably Church from Labyrinth.
  • Mainlining the Monster: Aliens produce Royal Jelly which has the same role for this species as it has for real-life bees. However, it is also an extremely valuable substance in human society, used as a powerful and mind-enhancing drug for wealthy individuals. Since the only source of Royal Jelly is often deep inside an alien hive, collecting it can be very dangerous. The Hive mini-series details such an operation.
  • Mega Corp.: Weyland-Yutani is the very epitome of this trope. They control every Earth government and have colonized many star systems. Not only that, but they have a private army with a bioweapons division. They have prison planets as well, such as the one in the third movie. The fourth movie changes this up by referring to megacorps like Weyland-Yutani as a thing of the past, though the government that replaces them is just as bad, if not worse.
  • Mercy Kill: Often requested by victims. Usually granted, if the opportunity is there.
  • Metamorphosis Monster: The Aliens go from parasite to two-legged horror.
  • Monster Is a Mommy: The Alien Queens.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The titular Aliens.

  • Nested Mouths: The Aliens. Probably the most iconic case.
  • Nonhumans Lack Attributes: The Xenomorphs have no genitalia. We hope.
  • Oddly Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: You can see there's no consistency on the naming (which is why it's one of The Angry Video Game Nerd's targets here).
  • One-Gender Race/Monogender Monsters: Xenomorphs are canonicaly all-female. One deleted scene showed that the average drone can lay eggs when separated from the Hive.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted. The first two films are silent about religion, but
    • In Alien³ the inmates of the prison colony have got religion.
    • In Alien: Resurrection the space station has a chapel, and one character makes the Sign of the Cross upon entering, which is a typically Catholic observance and a somewhat old-fashioned one at that. This character is later revealed to be an android, and there is a mention of androids investigating religion for a morality which is chosen, rather than imposed through programming.
    • In Prometheus, Elizabeth Shaw is a Christian. Not much is made of this, but she clearly keeps her faith - her last act is to give the date, in the style "year of Our Lord."
  • Phlegmings: Every time the aliens appear.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Ripley, particularly in the second film.
  • Robotic Reveal: When someone starts leaking milk-colored Symbolic Blood, you've got one of these.
  • Rule of Scary: There are plenty of rationalizations of the xenomorph's life cycle, the circumstances, and behavior of various characters, but in the end it all comes down to this.
  • Sculpted Physique: The Alien, which is not surprising considering artist H. R. Giger's other works. This use of the trope actually makes sense production wise since the alien's black and tube-like exterior made it blend in on the spacecraft. This is so effective in the first film, that the first time we see the adult Alien, it's hanging in full view of the camera and you probably mistook it for piping!note 
  • Sequel Escalation: Alien has a single xenomorph preying on civilians. Aliens has a full colony of bugs pitted against a platoon of Space Marines. The third movie reverts back to the original scenario. The fourth movie escalates it to a whole hive of Aliens again.
  • Silicon-Based Life: Xenomorphs are apparently silicon based.
  • Sleeper Starship: FTL travel apparently takes months so they use cryo.
  • Sole Survivor: Newt in the Newt's Tale comic series
  • Space Clothes: Averted. The crew members wear normal clothes. People entering cryogenic sleep strip down to their underwear; otherwise, they usually walk around in civilian/military attire. In the opening scene of Alien, the clothes are distinctly reminiscent of diapers, as the lethargic crew are "born" from closed spaces into the white room controlled by the AI "Mother".
  • Space Is Noisy: There are some flight-cruising sounds, and in the fourth one, an explosion.
  • Space Marine: A platoon of Colonial Marines is dispatched to investigate a human colony that has gone silent. They find a xenomorph hive and are largely wiped out, destroying the hive and killing the Queen in turn.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Aliens.
  • Suspiciously Stealthy Predator: The xenomorphs. They nest in warm, humid places which help mask their infrared profile, their bodies blend in well with darkness and pipes, and they can remain completely motionless. It is almost as though they are perfectly adapted to concealing themselves in an obviously artificial environment.
  • Symbolic Blood: Androids have white blood and organs. Naturally, both the android in the first film and Bishop get torn apart so it sprays everywhere. In Alien, the insides of the android were made from milk, pasta, and glass marbles. Apparently Lance Henriksen got food poisoning from said milky blood while shooting that scene.

  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: The Queen Alien's feet are shaped like high-heeled shoes.
  • Theme Naming: Each synthetic character has a name from the first three letters of the alphabet, in accordance with their order of appearance: Ash, Bishop and Call. Prometheus continues this trend with David.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Ripley's mutation from being a scientist to a badass alien killer is a running theme through the franchise.
  • Trapped With Monster Plot: The first film is one of the most famous examples, and almost every entry in the franchise is also an example.
  • Trope Codifier: The series as a whole is this for Used Future, along with Star Wars (which Cameron cites as a direct inspiration). Aliens in particular defined the visual style for humans and their military tech in a Standard Sci Fi Setting. Babylon 5, FreeSpace, StarCraft, Halo, and Mass Effect (to name a few) all draw on it.
  • United Space of America: it's all but explicitly stated that the US is still a superpower centuries in the future, complete with its own colonies. Also, the Colonial Marines are clearly shown as American.
  • Used Future: The first film in particular is a notable early example: the cold, underlit grungy ship looks like a run-down refinery ship. It's a big break from the sparkly white corridors and spandex jumpsuits.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: The Aliens are fond of doing this. Famous last words include "Maybe they don't show up on infrared at all..." and "This is rumor control, here are the FACTS."
  • Villain Ball: In the Dark Horse comic, a Company plant (and a psychopath) kills an officer to prove to his hostages how ruthless he is, while said officer is attempting to flat-out tell him that his plan to infect the marines will not work because they are all androids.
  • Villain-Based Franchise: The franchise in general is this, but not the movie series due to centering on Ripley.
  • Why Isn't It Attacking?: Quoted almost word for word by one of the Android Marines in the Dark Horse comic. This was the first major indicator that the marines were not what they believed themselves to be.
  • You Are in Command Now: In the Dark Horse comic series, at least at one point, it's Newt's turn to step up to the plate.
  • You Keep Using That Word: The Alien "Quadrilogy" DVD set. They invented that word for marketing purposes. It would actually be called a Tetralogy.
  • Zee Rust: Spaceship electronics are based on bulky 1970s computers like the Apple II series which were considered cutting-edge at their time.
  • Zombie Infectee: Most people who know they're incubated by an Alien Facehugger, and its effects, choose to bite the bullet or die in a Heroic Sacrifice. One memorable scene from Alien: Resurrection involved an infectee bear-hugging the scientist responsible for his infection, forcing the Chestburster to go through his chest and the scientist's head, taking his murderer with him to the afterlife. This was actually done in the comic, many years before, but the artists had the creature enter the researcher's chest.

Alternative Title(s):

Alien Trilogy