Alien (1979) vs. Aliens (1986): Film v. Film

Greetings! Today I start a new series on The Balcony Is Closed which I am calling “Film v. Film”. In this series, I take 9 categories and compare two films on each. The film that does the best on that category gets one point. At the end, I see which has the most points, and that film will be crowned the winner.

For my first crack at this, I will be using two films, which are, in my opinion, two of the best sci-fi movies of all time: Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens! I should point out that this post will contain spoilers from both Alien and Aliens. Alright, let’s get on with it.

  1. The Visuals

Among many trademarks of great sci-fi films are stunning visual effects, and the Alien movies are no exception. Their great use of animatronic creatures is still impressive today. But which movie uses it better? I think the answer is quite clear. While Alien has more initial impact, with its very realistic looking alien coming out of seemingly nowhere, having about 10 very realistic looking aliens in the same place, fighting, is even more impressive. Oh, and the alien queen? Speaks for herself.

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  1. The Performances

One of the things that has defined the Alien franchise is fantastic leading performances by Sigourney Weaver. This is incredibly evident in both Alien and Aliens, so I guess it is up to the supporting cast to decide this one. While Ian Holm as Ash the android disguised as a human turns in a stellar performance, Aliens takes this one also, with Lance Henriksen as Bishop, another android, Jenette Goldstein as the awesomely badass Private Vasquez, and Carrie Henn with one of the best child in distress performances I have ever seen as the little Newt. Truly incredible.

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  1. The Scares

The Alien movies’ official genre is sci-fi horror, and for that, you need to have a few scares. And both Alien films have them, but Aliens is above all a sci-fi action picture more than a horror, and while it does pack a suspenseful punch, Alien balances the sci-fi and horror genres masterfully, which means it packs more heart-pounding scares than Aliens. Alien has a build-up to get the blood pumping, and ends in a jump to launch you out of your seat. This includes the infamous chest-bursting alien, complete with delightfully gory visuals. Nothing else has to be said.

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  1. The Characters

Again, both films showcase Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, one of the best female characters in all of film, but she is really the only returning character, save her cat Jones. So, we have to look at the supporting characters. Alien’s focus seemed to be mainly on Ripley, giving little attention to the others, making them pretty two-dimensional fodder for the alien. Sometimes that’s what we need in “Alien”, but the rather interesting characters in Aliens are fantastic, from the cowardly villain Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), to the aforementioned Newt, to the entire crew that Ripley is fighting with. I find it very skillful how you start out hating these people, but you grow to care if they die or not. We will miss you forever, Vasquez.

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  1. The Plot

Neither one of the Alien films’ plots were extraordinary, but since a film needs at least a plot to set the events in motion, that is really all the plots in the Alien films do. They serve as an excuse to set the alien/s loose so it/they can kill people. It is a neat twist to let Burke con Ripley into going back into space, so they can bring it back for research, but sometimes it just seems convoluted at times. The Alien plot gets the job done, without fault. The plot doesn’t hinder the movie at all, and it leaves more time for some alien action.

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  1. The Dialogue

What would a movie be without a good screenplay? A really bad movie, that’s what. Fortunately, both Alien and Aliens are great movies, so they both have great screenplays. But which one is better? Well, both have memorable lines. I really like the line in Alien, where Ash is giving information on the alien, and all Ripley says is, “How do we kill it?” I just love that line. However, Aliens has its fair share of great dialogue, from its gleeful use of swearing, to the unexpected line from Newt speaking about her doll: “Casey doesn’t dream because she’s a piece of plastic.” Aliens takes it again.

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  1. The Setting

If we are going to be on a spaceship for pretty much the whole movie, it better be one hell of a spaceship. The Alien movies both have quite impressive settings, but to pick the better, Alien trumps. The claustrophobia of the Nostromo lends itself to the feel and plot of the movie, of being trapped with something extremely deadly. Every nook and cranny seems dangerous, which is why Alien beats Aliens in this round.

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  1. The Atmosphere

A very important thing that a film has to do is to engross us in its story and what it has to say. Alien does this masterfully. Ridley Scott keeps us on the edge of our seats for the entirety of Alien, and makes us feel the fear and discomfort that Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo are going through, making Alien a highly frightening and enthralling experience. When the alien’s spit drips on a crew member’s head, we check our own hair make sure that there isn’t an alien right above us.

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  1. The Ending

Often in film is it that the ending scene of the movie, or the climax, is one of the best scenes in the entire movie. This certainly rings true in both Alien and Aliens. Having to pick one is certainly a difficult task. But, after long consideration, Aliens takes the point. The ending comes out of nowhere, with the alien queen stowing away on Bishop’s ship, and having to face down Ripley. This is a delightful duel, and takes on a juicy bit of foreshadowing shown at the beginning, with Ripley getting into a loading mech and engaging in a fistfight of sorts. This is a true showcase of skill by James Cameron, and is sure to stick in our minds for a long time.

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Yes, it was close, but James Cameron’s Aliens snatchs the victory, with Ridley Scott’s Alien trailing by only one point. Both of them are great films, so let me know what you think should have won in the comments. I’ll see you all soon.


2 thoughts on “Alien (1979) vs. Aliens (1986): Film v. Film

  1. I agree Finnegan. I always preferred Aliens to Alien. I’ve seen the movie more times than I could count. It’s one of those movies that’s enjoyable to watch repeatedly. It has both a great flow and constant tentsion. I look forward to reading future insights.


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