Choosing the best Alien movies is a surprisingly tricky task. Back in 1979, who would have thought we’d end up with eight different Alien movies? And who knew they’d cross over with the Predator franchise, and spawn a couple of prequels like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? Throw in a bevy of novels, comic books, and video games, and there’s no shortage of lore and extra content for those keen to learn everything there is about Xenomorphs, and the history behind the Weyland-Yutani corporation.
The downside to there being eight different Alien movies is that their quality varies substantially, which is why we thought we’d take a punt at ranking the best Alien movies so you know exactly which ones to dodge. Reassuringly, the best are so evenly matched that you’re guaranteed a good experience regardless of which you decide to watch. Any of the top five are ones we’d happily watch over and over. The others? As for some of the others? We say we take off and nuke them from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
Read on while we sort through what worked and what really didn’t as we look at the Alien movies, ranked worst to best. And if you need more, check out our guide to the best space horror movies, or a look at the best space movies overall.
8. AVPR: Alien vs Predator Requiem
- Release date: December 25, 2007
- Cast: Steven Pasquale. Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz
A disaster of a film, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is a waste of your time. Full of excessive, mindless violence that just seems to be there for shock value more than anything else, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem might provide some cheap thrills but only if you have very, very low expectations. Otherwise, it offers a non-existent plot line, poorly devised characters, and it can’t even manage to get the lighting right so you’ll spend a lot of time guessing at what’s going on.
So little of it makes sense within the context of the franchise, you can easily skip this entry and should. The only thing vaguely of note here is the creation of an Alien-Predator hybrid called…a Predalien. Yes, this isn’t the smartest of films by a very long shot. Steer clear. It even makes Alien vs. Predator seem not so bad. Speaking of which…
7. AVP: Alien vs. Predator
- Release date: August 13, 2004
- Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen
Alien vs. Predator is slightly better than Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Slightly. In theory, the idea of the Xenomorphs being pitted against a Predator should be fantastic but it somehow weakens both of their influences massively. At least Alien vs. Predator is improved by the presence of some decent talent including Lance Henriksen and Ewen Bremner. For the most part, they’re wasted here given the dialogue is a bit of a mess, but the special effects were pretty good at the time and it captures the Alien/Predator aesthetic reasonably well.
The key thing that makes Alien vs. Predator almost not awful is the fact that you can see it has potential. It sets things up but fails to succeed with the setup. That’s thanks to it being a bit dull, ultimately, and lacking any scares but it has its dumb moments that mean there’s a certain ‘love to hate’ factor in there.
6. Alien: Covenant
- Release date: May 19, 2017
- Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Alien: Covenant should have been good. A decent cast including Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, and Katherine Waterston, directed by Ridley Scott, and a screenplay by John Logan of Gladiator fame, it should have had everything going for it. It’s not very good though. Defying logic a little too often, it leaps wildly from ‘this is so dull’ to ‘well, that’s just ridiculous’ and never feels consistent. Fans will appreciate its many references to earlier parts of the Alien lore with an uncredited cameo from the likes of Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, founder and CEO of Weyland Corporation, but few of the characters are sufficiently developed enough for you to care.
In many ways, Alien: Covenant’s greatest strength is that it makes you realize Prometheus is a far superior film than you gave it credit for the first time around, and that’s faint praise really. It all feels just a bit too familiar and obvious at times.
5. Alien Resurrection
- Release date: November 26, 1997
- Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman
The weakest of the main run of Alien films, Alien Resurrection looks a bit better once you’ve seen some of what was to come afterwards, but it’s still far from great. A troubled production led to a changed ending that writer, Joss Whedon, was far from happy about and director, Jean-Pierre Jeuene, didn’t always get to stretch his creative wings in the way he originally wanted to. Combined, that leads to a disjointed film that doesn’t quite work out.
It’s set 200 years after Alien 3 with a cloned Ripley that also contains some of the Xenomorphs’ DNA inside. It’s an interesting concept that offers some tense moments along with a decent amount of gore too, but there are boring moments too and the tension isn’t as consistent as with later instalments. Mostly though, nothing stands out enough for it to be sufficiently memorable in either a good or bad way. It’s all surprisingly drab for such an interesting idea.
4. Alien 3
- Release date: May 22, 1992
- Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen
Alien 3 is a fascinating mess but one that’s worth returning to with an open mind. Back in 1992, it was seen as a disaster because it followed the almighty Alien and Aliens but time has been kind to it and it’s actually a fairly interesting different take on the Alien format. Ripley and an Alien (of course) have crash-landed on a penal colony populated by the worst of society and predictably bad stuff ensues. The conclusion is a little too heavy on chase sequences but beforehand, it tells an intriguing tale that gives a strong cast including Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen, Brian Glover, and Pete Postlewaite a chance to flex their acting muscles.
The only really problematic thing here is that the Alien itself is quite different from the ones we saw before chronologically thanks to them being able to outrun and outleap humans by a long shot, making it seem a little less creepy than the original Alien we first experienced. That takes a bit of getting used to but Alien 3 will grow on you. Even if film buffs will find themselves wondering just how it could have been if David Fincher’s original vision had rung true.
- Release date: June 8, 2012
- Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce
A lot of hype at the time of its release meant that many went into Prometheus expecting too much. Like Alien 3, it’s one to return to and realize that it actually works out fairly well. The first prequel, it’s set at the end of the 21st century as the spaceship Prometheus explores unknown areas of space and stumbles across everyone’s favorite Alien creature. It does a decent job of combining horror and gore in a way that means it doesn’t overdo either, plus some decent acting talent from Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron, and Safe Spall make up for the sometimes ropey dialogue.
This isn’t the Alien franchise at its strongest at all times (only two films fully achieve that), but it adds a lot to the lore and background of the concept with some neat themes surrounding Greek mythology, religion, and the relevance of artificial intelligence. Occasionally trying a little too hard, Prometheus doesn’t always hit the spot but there’s certainly a lot to discuss afterwards. It’ll stick in your mind for a long time to come.
- Release date: July 18, 1986
- Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen
Choosing between Aliens or Alien is like choosing between your favorite child. Probably. Honestly, it’s such a close-run thing that you can swap either of these films around and you’ll still be delighted. Aliens is the faster-paced, more aggressive one of the two films and it’s brilliant. Directed and written by James Cameron, it has Ripley teaming up with a group of Colonial Marines to investigate a human colony on the moon that’s lost contact with the rest of humanity. You can guess why.
The movie is full of wise-cracking moments and some fairly horrifying set pieces too. None can quite rival the film’s conclusion with an encounter with the Alien Queen and if you’ve experienced it before, the mere memory is almost certainly making you want to go rewatch it immediately. Everything about Aliens is fantastic from the visual effects (for the time), the quick-thinking dialogue, to the underlying themes surrounding how strong a woman Ripley is. Look, we know we’re saying this is the second best Alien film but there’s barely anything in it between this and Alien. It’s simply that good.
- Release date: May 25, 1979
- Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright
The film that started it all, Alien is a slow burner but a gripping tale indeed. There’s only one Alien in Alien unlike all the other films and that sounds unthreatening, right? Wrong. This one Alien demonstrates just what the creatures can accomplish and how terrifying they can be, ensuring this is the most horrific of the franchise. Tension is everything as it’s hard to know just what’s going to happen next. Just as all seems well, something absolutely terrible can happen as one seemingly calm moment relatively early on ably demonstrates.
Alien may seem a little slow compared to other classics and certainly compared to the rest of the franchise, but that’s what works so well for it. By slowing things down, it gives you time to understand the severity of the situation and to get to know a little more about the crew caught up in the chaos. For a film that’s now over 40 years old, it benefits greatly from the fact that often the risk comes from the unseen rather than using obvious threats that would look far too dated by now. It’s a true classic in every sense of the word.
What about the Aliens expanded universe?
The Alien franchise goes way beyond the main and spin-off movies. There are a whole host of comics, novels, video games, and even a digital web series to sink your teeth into. On top of that there are collectible models, figurines, miniatures games, board games, toys, and an Aliens NERF gun for the collectors amongst you.
We’ll be putting together guides to the best Alien comics in the near future, so stay tuned for that.