Alien is a multimedia franchise and the first to successfully combine science fiction with Body Horror and actually make it scary, instead of cheesy. Its fundamental premise comes down to various encounters with with the title aliens, nicknamed "Xenomorphs." Their main characteristics include aggression, acidic blood and using other organics to spawn. The franchise spans several comic books, video games and foremost a tetralogy of films, each with a different visionary director and all starring Sigourney Weaver.The films in the series are, in order:
In 2004, the Aliens got paired up with another cinematic space monster, the Predator, in Alien vs. Predator, loosely based on a Massive Multiplayer Crossoverfranchise of comic books, video games and novels dating back to 1993. Its sequel, Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) picks up right after the previous film as the Predator spaceship is taking off. Prometheus has apparently made the AVP series Canon Discontinuity.There is also a Dark Horse Comics series which began prior to the release of the third film and thus occupies an Alternate Continuity. The comics continue onward from the end of Aliens and focus primarily on an older Newt and Hicks, continuing the story directly for three volumes before dividing into a number of self-contained spinoff stories.There have also been several tie-in novels, from the Alan Dean Foster novelizations of the movies to adaptations of the comic books.A prequel to Alien directed by Ridley Scott, Prometheus, was released in June 2012. It is Scott's first foray back into the Alien franchise in particular and science-fiction in general since the release of Blade Runner.A canon sequel to Aliens has been released in the form of a video game called Aliens: Colonial Marines. Gearbox Software is the developer. The game takes place shortly after the events in Aliens and focuses on a response team sent to secure LV-426 and the colony of Hadley's Hope.In October 2014, SEGA released Alien: Isolation - a Survival Horror game developed by The Creative Assembly. Set 15 years after the first film, it focuses on Ellen Ripley's daughter, Amanda, now a technician for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. When Amanda hears that the flight recorder for the Nostromo (her mother's ship) has been found and is being held on board a remote space station, she gets the chance to go on the next flight out. When she and her crew arrive, however, they discover that the station is damaged, most of the crew is dead while survivors loot what they can find, and apparently a monster is roaming around the station, slaughtering anything it comes across. It's a solid attempt at Revisiting The Roots of the franchise, focusing more on stealth-based gameplay as you explore the station, all the while being stalked by a single Xenomorph.
This franchise in general provides examples of:
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Absent Aliens: Oddly enough, yes. Unless you take AVP as canon, apart from the Engineers and their creations (and the Predators do seem to have some connection to the Aliens) we never see any other life out there. Aliens mentions the unseen Arcturan people but they may or may not be human colonists or biotechnologically altered derivatives thereof (whatever they look like it's known that they can have sex with humans but that it's hard to tell the males and females apart). Even if they're not descended from humans, the fact that they can have sex suggests they may be other creations of the Engineers that they hadn't gotten around to bumping off when the shit hit the fan with Aliens. The comics also occasionally feature a race of large, green-skinned ork-like people (who may or may not be the aforementioned Arcturans) who consider Facehuggers a delicacy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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 Although unadjusted for inflation, mind you), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 For the curious, it's the scene where one crewman goes after the cat and he looks upwards at the chains hanging from the ceiling. See the metallic looking bundle in the bottom right? There's the cowboy!
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.