Every ‘Alien’ Movie, Ranked by Scariness

Movies


If there’s one film series more likely to put off anyone wanting to go into outer space, it would be the Alien franchise. First released to theaters in 1979, this iconic, massive sci-fi horror series has terrified audiences for decades with its thrilling suspense and shocking gore. Over forty years, with many impressive sequels, spinoffs, and crossovers, this pop-cultural icon has become one of the best in the horror genre.



Now, with the upcoming release of Alien Romulus in the summer of 2024, fans can return to this memorable series and re-experience all the horror and magic of its predecessors. With eight installments, each film tells a horrifying tale of survival, with some of the most disturbing imagery to be shown on screen. Each one ranges in quality but also scares, as some are more frightening and chilling than others. Here is every entry in the Alien franchise, ranked from least scary to downright terrifying.


8 Alien Resurrection (1997)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Credit: 20th Century Fox


It’s rare for a horror franchise to transition well into comedy, and the Alien series is no exception. Released in 1997, Alien Resurrection drives the franchise into self-parody with darkly comedic moments, over-the-top acting, and plenty of bizarre characters. Set 200 years after the previous installment, the story follows a clone of the series’ iconic heroine, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who finds herself in one last battle for survival after ambitious scientists aboard a massive spaceship breed a new generation of alien horrors.


While it has some genuinely eerie moments and a few gnarly special effects, Alien Resurrection, unfortunately, feels like the least scary installment in the series, with hardly any good scares nor any real suspense. It also suffers from an incoherent tone that leans more towards action and dark comedy. Though it’s not the worst Alien film on this list, it is certainly not for viewers looking for a good fright.


Alien Resurrection Film Poster

Alien: Resurrection

Release Date
November 26, 1997

Director
Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Runtime
109 minutes


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7 Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

alien-vs-predator
Credit: 20th Century Fox


After a xenomorph skull appeared in the mothership at the end of Predator 2, fans were dying to see a crossover film between two of cinema’s most iconic sci-fi monsters. Finally, after over a decade-long wait, 2004’s Alien vs. Predator was released with a thrilling tagline of “Whoever wins… We lose.” Starring Sanaa Lathan and Lance Henriksen, it follows a group of archeologists and scientists sent to a remote Antarctic whaling station to investigate the appearance of a mysterious underground pyramid. However, once down at the site, they quickly find themselves in a vicious blood feud between two of the galaxy’s most deadly species.


Though it has some gripping fight scenes and a decent build-up, much of Alien vs. Predator‘s horror is severely limited in the story due to the film’s poorly given PG-13 rating. Most of the explicit violence, gore, and disturbing imagery shown in every other installment has been greatly trimmed or left out of this film to make it more marketable to younger audiences. As a result, viewers are left with a movie that, while quite entertaining at times, lacks the terror and shock that made the franchise so memorable in the first place.


Alien vs. Predator Film Poster

Alien vs. Predator

Release Date
August 13, 2004

Director
Paul W.S. Anderson

Runtime
101 minutes


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6 Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Directed by Colin and Greg Strause

aliens-vs-predator-requiem
Credit: 20th Century Fox


Often considered the worst installment of both franchises, 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem was a massively panned box office flop that effectively killed any more potential these crossover films could have had in the long run. With poor dialog, lackluster performances, and terrible lighting, this mostly forgettable spinoff has more flaws than strong points but at least tries to make up for them with its excessive amounts of gore. Set on modern-day Earth, it follows the two deadly extra-terrestrial species taking their bloody war to the streets of a small Colorado town.


Unlike the previous film’s unfortunate PG-13 restrictions, AVP Requiem doesn’t have those problems, allowing it to go all out with its R rating and showing some truly grotesque and disturbing imagery. When the film isn’t too dark to see what’s going on, some action scenes and gory moments look quite horrific and surely make anyone squirm in their seats. It also has one of the highest kill counts of the series, boasting one bloody kill after another.


Aliens vs. Predator Requiem Film Poster

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Release Date
December 25, 2007

Director
Colin Strause , Greg Strause

Cast
Steven Pasquale , Reiko Aylesworth , John Ortiz , Johnny Lewis , Ariel Gade , Kristen Hager

Runtime
94 minutes


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5 Prometheus (2012)

Directed by Ridley Scott

prometheus-deacon-alien
Credit: 20th Century Fox


Returning to the franchise thirty-three years after creating his terrifying masterpiece that started it all, acclaimed English filmmaker Ridley Scott takes the Alien series in a unique direction with his unexpected 2012 prequel film Prometheus. Set thirty years before Ellen Ripley and her Nostromo crew encounter the hostile xenomorph species, the story follows a group of curious scientists and explorers sent by the sinister Weyland Corporation to investigate a mysterious uninhabited planet that may hold the key to the origins of the human race. However, they slowly unearth a horrifying secret that threatens to destroy them all.


While it has some genuinely frightening and intense moments, Prometheus is definitely more of a slow burner, focusing more on suspense and build-up in its first hour before any real terror occurs. It’s also one of the more thought-provoking installments in the franchise, delving into much more philosophical territory than telling a straightforward horror flick. While it has its strong points, there are far more terrifying entries than this.


Prometheus Film Poster

Prometheus

Following clues to the origin of mankind, a team finds a structure on a distant moon, but they soon realize they are not alone.

Release Date
June 8, 2012

Runtime
124


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4 Alien Covenant (2017)

Directed by Ridley Scott

The xenomorph from the movie Alien: Covenant 
Image via 20th Century


Continuing his involvement with the franchise after the smashing commercial success of the last film, 2017’s Alien Covenant, admittedly, isn’t the best installment of the series but at least returns the Alien franchise to its darker, bloodier horror roots. Taking place eleven years after the Prometheus’ mysterious disappearance, the crew of the colony transport ship The Covenant awaken from hypersleep midway through their voyage to investigate a strange signal coming from a nearby planet that may also be inhabitable. However, once on the surface, they soon encounter Prometheus’ sinister human-hating android, David (Michael Fassbender), and his new breed of extra-terrestrial terror.


Alien Covenant tries to be a return to form for the series, bringing the iconic xenomorphs in all their vicious glory, and introducing a few new unique subspecies. While many philosophical elements carried over from the last film into this one, they don’t dominate the whole story and instead focus more on telling a more familiar survival story.



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3 Aliens (1986)

Directed by James Cameron

Egg nest Alien
Credit: 20th Century Fox


Considered one of the greatest sequels ever made, James Cameron, fresh off the smashing success of Terminator, delivers his terrifying action masterpiece with 1986’s Aliens. Once again starring Sigourney Weaver in her Oscar-nominated performance as the heroic Ellen Ripley, it follows the lone survivor of the Nostromo as she accompanies a platoon of hardened colonial marines on a desperate rescue mission to save the colonists on the planet where she and her crew first encountered the dreaded xenomorphs.


Like any great continuation, Aliens, rather than copying and pasting the plot of the original film, instead focuses on expanding upon the series, adding more depth, characters, suspense, and, as its title suggests, even more aliens. It also delves more into the story of Ripley, giving her a more tender, warm side as she strives to protect a young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). While it’s a wildly entertaining and enjoyable action flick, Aliens, unfortunately, ranks shy of second place simply because the story is more fun and exciting than downright terrifying. Audiences are far more focused on cheering and rooting for the film’s lovable characters rather than cowering in fear over what’s about to happen next. Though it’s not as scary as the following two entries on this list, there is no denying the impact of Aliens on pop culture.


Aliens Film Poster

Aliens

Decades after surviving the Nostromo incident, Ellen Ripley is sent out to re-establish contact with a terraforming colony but finds herself battling the Alien Queen and her offspring.

Release Date
July 18, 1986

Director
James Cameron

Runtime
137 minutes


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2 Alien³ (1992)

Directed by David Fincher

A xenomorph in Ripley's face
Credit: 20th Century Fox 


Following the great success of Aliens, audiences in 1992 were hyped to look forward to the next exciting installment in the franchise with Alien³, directed by the then newcomer David Fincher. Hoping this film would continue the series’ action momentum, fans were surprised to witness a much bleaker, depressing, and explicitly violent movie than any of them could ever have expected. Taking place directly after the events of the last film, Ellen Ripley once again finds herself as the lone survivor, this time trapped on a rundown backwater prison planet home to a religious convent of former convicted felons. When an alien stowaway quickly begins recking havoc across the facility, she reluctantly bands with the criminals in a last-ditch effort to rid the galaxy of the xenomorph threat once and for all.


Alien³ is easily the darkest entry in the franchise, boasting one of the highest body counts and some of the most horrific and bloodiest kills ever to be seen on screen. It also controversially kills off every main character introduced in the last movie, including the likable Newt and Hicks (Michael Biehn), to add to this film’s increasingly somber and nihilistic tone. While it may not be for everyone, Alien³ is still a bold, violent, and disgusting film that returns the series to its more straightforward horror elements.


Alien 3 Film Poster

Alien 3

Returning from LV-426, Ellen Ripley crash-lands on the maximum-security prison Fiorina 161, where she discovers that she has unwittingly brought along an unwelcome visitor.

Release Date
May 22, 1992

Runtime
114 minutes


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1 Alien (1979)

Directed by Ridley Scott

alien-1979
Image via 20th Century Studios


“In space, no one can hear you scream.” Well, for theaters in 1979, that’s all that could be heard after the release of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Today, not only considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, but also one of the best movies ever made, this flawless sci-fi horror masterpiece was a massive hit with critics and audiences thanks to its incredible storytelling, jaw-dropping special effects, amazing production designs, and impeachable casting. Set in the distant future of 2122, the crew of the towing star ship Nostromo awakens from their sleep to investigate a mysterious distress call coming from an uninhabitable derelict spacecraft. However, they soon encounter a nightmarish, unstoppable alien beast that slowly picks them off one by one.


Combined with its superb pacing and palpable suspense, Alien takes viewers into a dark, claustrophobic, inescapable nightmare from which the audience nor its characters can ever let their guard down. H.R. Giger‘s Oscar winning creature designs for the xenomorph continue to be as interesting and unimaginably terrifying today as it did back when it first came out. Along with its iconic and stomach-churning chestburster scene, this wonderful icon of the horror genre reigns supreme as one of the scariest movies in cinematic history.


Alien 1979 Film Poster

Alien (1979)

In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The terror begins when the crew encounters a nest of eggs inside the alien ship. An organism from inside an egg leaps out and attaches itself to one of the crew, causing him to fall into a coma.

Release Date
June 22, 1979

Runtime
117 minutes


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NEXT: 10 Best Aliens in Movies and TV Shows, Ranked



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