|Genre||Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller|
|Content Rating||R (R)|
|Awards||Top Rated Movies #74 | Won 2 Oscars. Another 18 wins & 23 nominations.|
|Company||Twentieth Century Fox, Brandywine Productions, Pinewood Studios|
Aliens is a 1986 science fiction action film written and directed by James Cameron. It is the sequel to the 1979 science fiction horror film Alien, and the second film in the Alien franchise. Set in the far future, the film stars Sigourney Weaver as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, the sole survivor of an alien attack on her ship. When communications are lost with a human colony on the moon on which her crew first encountered the alien creatures, Ripley agrees to return to the site with a troop of Colonial Marines to investigate. Aliens features Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, and Carrie Henn in supporting roles.
Despite the success of Alien, its sequel took years to develop; it was delayed by lawsuits, a lack of enthusiasm from 20th Century Fox, and repeated changes in management. Based on his scripts for The Terminator (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Cameron was hired to write a story for Aliens in 1983. The project stalled again until new Fox executive Lawrence Gordon pursued a sequel. Although relatively inexperienced, Cameron was given the director role based on his success directing The Terminator. On an approximately $18.5 million budget, Aliens began principal photography in September 1985. Like its development, filming was tumultuous and rife with conflicts between Cameron and the British crew at Pinewood Studios. James Horner composed the film's score. The difficult shoot also affected Horner, who was given little time to record the music.
Aliens was released on July 18, 1986, to critical acclaim. It was well received for its action, but some reviewers were critical of the intensity of some scenes. Weaver's performance received consistent praise; other members of the cast were positively received, including Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein who played Colonial Marines. The film received a number of awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for Weaver at a time when the science-fiction genre was generally overlooked. The film earned $131.1–183.3 million during its theatrical run, one of the highest-grossing films of 1986 worldwide.
Aliens is now considered to be among the greatest films of the 1980s, one of the best science-fiction or action films ever made, and one of the best sequels ever made. It has been called equal to (or better than) Alien. Aliens is credited with expanding the franchise's scope with additions to the series' lore and factions such as the Colonial Marines. With its effect on popular culture and fan following, Aliens has inspired a variety of merchandise which includes video games, comic books, and toys. The film was followed by two sequels – Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997), neither of which were as successful. The Alien series has prequels to Alien (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant), and a fifth sequel was in development in 2020.
Ellen Ripley has been in stasis for 57 years in an escape shuttle after destroying her ship, the Nostromo, to escape a lethal alien creature which slaughtered her crew. She is rescued and debriefed by her employers at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, who are skeptical about her claim of alien eggs in a derelict ship on the exomoon LV-426, since it is now the site of the terraforming colony Hadley's Hope. After contact is lost with the colony, Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke and Colonial Marine Lieutenant Gorman ask Ripley to accompany them to investigate. Still traumatized from her alien encounter, she agrees on the condition they exterminate the creatures. Ripley is introduced to the Colonial Marines and an android, Bishop, on the spaceship Sulaco.
A dropship delivers the expedition to the surface of LV-426, where they find the colony deserted. Makeshift barricades and battle signs are inside, but no bodies; two live alien facehuggers in containment tanks and a traumatized young girl nicknamed Newt are the sole survivors. The crew locates the colonists beneath the fusion-powered atmosphere processing station and head to their location, descending into corridors covered with alien secretions. At the center of the station, the Marines find the cocooned colonists serving as incubators for the creatures' offspring. The Marines kill an infant alien after it bursts from a colonist's chest, rousing multiple adult aliens who ambush the Marines and kill or capture many of them. When the inexperienced Gorman panics, Ripley assumes command, takes control of their armored personnel carrier, and rams the nest to rescue Corporal Dwayne Hicks and Privates Hudson and Vasquez. Hicks orders the dropship to recover the survivors, but a stowaway alien kills the pilots and it crashes into the station. The survivors barricade themselves inside the colony.
Ripley discovers Burke ordered the colonists to investigate the derelict spaceship containing the alien eggs, intending to profit by recovering them for biological weapon research. Before she can expose him, Bishop informs the group the dropship crash damaged the power-plant cooling system; it will soon explode, destroying the colony. He volunteers to reach the colony transmitter and remotely pilot the Sulaco's remaining dropship to the surface.
After falling asleep in the medical laboratory, Ripley and Newt awaken to find themselves trapped with the two released facehuggers. Ripley triggers a fire alarm to alert the Marines, who rescue them and kill the creatures. She accuses Burke of releasing the facehuggers to impregnate her and Newt, allowing him to smuggle the embryos through Earth's quarantine. The power is suddenly cut, and aliens attack through the ceiling. In the ensuing firefight, the aliens kill Burke, subdue Hudson, and injure Hicks; Gorman and Vasquez sacrifice themselves to avoid being captured. Newt is separated from Ripley and taken by the creatures.
Ripley and Hicks reach Bishop in the second dropship, but she refuses to abandon Newt. The group travels to the processing station, allowing a heavily-armed Ripley to enter the hive and rescue Newt. Escaping, they encounter the alien queen in her egg chamber. When an egg begins to open, Ripley uses her weapon to destroy the eggs and the queen's ovipositor. Pursued by the enraged queen, Ripley and Newt join Bishop and Hicks on the dropship and escape moments before the station explodes consuming the colony in a nuclear blast.
On the Sulaco the group is ambushed by the queen, who stowed away in the dropship's landing gear. The queen tears Bishop in half and advances on Newt, but Ripley fights the creature with an exosuit cargo-loader and expels it through an airlock into space. Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and the critically-damaged Bishop enter hypersleep for their return trip to Earth.
- Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley: The sole survivor of an alien attack on her ship, the Nostromo
- Michael Biehn as Dwayne Hicks: A corporal in the Colonial Marines
- Paul Reiser as Carter J. Burke: A Weyland-Yutani Corporation representative
- Lance Henriksen as Bishop: An android aboard the Sulaco
- Carrie Henn as Rebecca "Newt" Jorden: A young girl in the Hadley's Hope colony on LV-426
The Colonial Marine cast includes privates Hudson (Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Drake (Mark Rolston), Frost (Ricco Ross), Spunkmeyer (Daniel Kash), Crowe (Tip Tipping), and Wierzbowski (Trevor Steedman), and corporals Dietrich (Cynthia Dale Scott) and Ferro (Colette Hiller). Al Matthews played Sergeant Apone, and William Hope played the Marines' inexperienced commanding officer Gorman. In addition to the main cast, Aliens featured Paul Maxwell as Van Leuwen (a member of the board reviewing Ripley's competence) and Barbara Coles as the cocooned colonist killed when an alien bursts from her chest. Carl Toop played an alien warrior.
Some scenes removed from the film's theatrical version were restored in subsequent releases. Additional cast credited for these scenes included Newt's father, Russ Jorden (Jay Benedict), and her mother Anne (Holly de Jong). Henn's brother, Christopher, played her brother Timmy in the film. Mac McDonald played colony administrator Al Simpson. Weaver's mother, Elizabeth Inglis, made a cameo appearance as Ripley's daughter Amanda.
Following the success of Alien (1979), Brandywine Productions was eager to make a sequel. Even so, it took seven years for the sequel to be completed. 20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr. was supportive of the proposed Alien II, but left before the project to found The Ladd Company production studio and was replaced by Norman Levy. According to Brandywine co-founder David Giler, Levy thought the sequel would be a "disaster." Levy disputed this account, saying he wanted to make Alien II but was concerned about production costs. The studio thought Alien's success was a fluke, it was not profitable enough to warrant a follow-up, and audiences would not return for a sequel. Box-office returns for horror films were also declining.
Development was further delayed when Giler and Brandywine co-founders Walter Hill and Gordon Carroll sued Fox for unpaid profits from Alien. Using Hollywood accounting methods, Fox had declared Alien a financial loss despite its earnings of over $100 million against a $9–$11 million budget. According to the studio, Alien was a low-earning film and a potential box-office failure. Brandywine's lawsuit was settled by early 1983: Fox would finance the development of Alien II, but was not required to distribute the film.
New Fox studio head Joe Wizan was receptive to a sequel, although other executives remained noncommittal. Giler's development executive Larry Wilson began looking for a scriptwriter by mid-1983. He came across the script for the in-development science fiction film, The Terminator (1984), written by James Cameron. With Cameron's collaborative scriptwriting efforts alongside Sylvester Stallone on Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Wilson was convinced to show The Terminator's script to Giler, Hill, and Carroll. By November 1983, Cameron submitted a 42-page treatment (a story outline) for Alien II—written in three days—based on Giler and Hill's suggestion of "Ripley and soldiers". The studio had a mixed reaction, with one executive calling it a constant stream of horror without character development. Negotiations to sell the sequel rights to Rambo developers Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna failed and the project stalled again.
By July 1984, Lawrence Gordon had replaced Wizan. With few projects in development, Gordon looked at sequels of Fox's existing properties and came across the Alien II treatment. Gordon said he was surprised no one had pursued it already. Production of The Terminator was delayed for nine months because star Arnold Schwarzenegger was contractually obligated to film Conan the Destroyer (1984). Cameron used the time to develop his treatment, expanding it to ninety pages. He drew ideas from "Mother", one of his story concepts about an alien on a space station involving a power-loader suit. This version was better-received by Fox executives and Gordon, but Cameron also wanted to direct the project.
Because Cameron was a relatively new director, the studio was reluctant to grant his request; his only film to have been released at the time was Piranha II: The Spawning (1982), a low-budget, independent horror film. His credibility was elevated following the surprise financial and critical success of The Terminator in late 1984, and Gordon gave him the job. Because of his low expectations for The Terminator, Cameron spent much of his free time during its production developing and trying out ideas for Alien II. Cameron's collaborative partner and girlfriend, Gale Anne Hurd, was not taken seriously as a producer. Fox did not believe Hurd would stand up to Cameron, but the director said she was the only person who would. Hurd had several of her industry associates contact Fox executives to convince them she was a legitimate producer. Cameron said people tried to convince him not to take the job, believing anything good about the film would be attributed to Alien director Ridley Scott and anything negative to Cameron, but he was determined to make it. Scott said he was never offered the chance to direct the sequel, possibly because he was difficult to work with on the original. The film's title, Aliens, reportedly came from Cameron writing "Alien" on a whiteboard during a pitch meeting and adding a "$" suffix.
Cameron turned in the finished script in February 1985, hours before a Hollywood writer's strike. The script was well-received, but Fox executives (including chairman Barry Diller) were concerned about the budget. Fox estimated the cost as close to $35 million, but Hurd said it would be closer to $15.5 million. Diller offered $12 million, prompting Cameron and Hurd to quit the project. Gordon negotiated with Diller until he relented, and Cameron and Hurd returned. In April 1985, conflict turned to the cast; Fox did not want Weaver to return because they expected her to demand a large salary. Cameron and Hurd were insistent Weaver return as the solo star; Fox refused, saying they would damage the studio's negotiating power with Weaver's agent. Cameron and Hurd again left the project, marrying and going on a honeymoon. When they returned, the Aliens project was ready to move forward. Cameron credited Gordon with Aliens' being greenlit.
The director had seen Alien while he was working as a truck driver and remembered his fellow audience members' reactions to what they saw on screen. Cameron did not understand at first why Alien needed a sequel, believing it was a "perfect" film and it would be difficult to recreate the emotion and novelty of the original. He and Hurd agreed to combine the horror of Alien with the action of The Terminator. According to Hill, Cameron said if the first film could be compared to a haunted attraction, Aliens should be like a roller coaster. Cameron believed in having a strong female heroine to distinguish his films from typical Hollywood action fare and wrote the script with a picture of Weaver on his desk. He referred to The Terminator, and how he removed the normal protective forces from Sarah Connor so she had to fend for herself. Cameron had also always wanted to make a film about space infantry.
Weaver rejected a number of offers to return. She was only mildly interested after reading Cameron's script and had to be convinced Aliens was not being made exclusively for financial reasons. Weaver reportedly received a $1 million (equivalent to $2.36 million in 2020) salary and a percentage of the box-office profits, the highest salary of her career at the time. Negotiations were reportedly so lengthy that Cameron and Hurd told Schwarzenegger's agent they intended to write Ripley out of the movie (knowing Weaver's agent would be told); terms were reached shortly afterward.
An unknown actor was sought to play Newt, and Henn was scouted by casting agents at her school in Lakenheath, England. Although she lacked acting experience, Cameron said she had a "great face and expressive eyes". James Remar was cast as Hicks on the recommendation of his close friend Hill but left shortly into filming, ostensibly due to urgent family matters or creative differences with Cameron. Remar later admitted he was fired after being arrested for drug possession. Hurd hired Michael Biehn the following Friday. Stephen Lang also auditioned for the role.
Paxton credited his casting as Hudson to a chance encounter with Cameron at Los Angeles International Airport, during which he mentioned he would be interested in a role. The studio supported Paxton's casting because of positive feedback for his performance in Weird Science (1985). He was concerned the character would annoy audiences until he realized he was comic relief for the tense scenes. Cameron rewrote the role for the actor. Henriksen, worried about appearing as the android Bishop after the success of Ian Holm in Alien and Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner (1982), played the character like an innocent child who pitied the short-lived humans. Although he suggested distinctive eye pupils for Bishop when the character was alerted and had lenses mocked up, Cameron felt they made Bishop look more frightening than the aliens. Biehn, Paxton, and Henriksen had worked with Cameron on The Terminator. Aliens was Reiser's first major theatrical role, following small parts in films like Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
The Colonial Marines cast was a mix of British and American actors who underwent three weeks of intensive training with the British Special Air Service (SAS). Vietnam War veteran Al Matthews (Apone) helped to train the actors, teaching them not to point their weapons at people because their blanks were still hazardous. The training was intended to help the marine cast to develop camaraderie and treat the rest of the cast (Weaver, Reiser, and Hope) as outsiders. Biehn's late casting caused him to miss the training, and he said he regretted being unable to customize his armor like the other actors had (since he inherited Remar's). Cameron created a backstory for each marine and instructed the actors to read the novel Starship Troopers.
Vasquez was Goldstein's first feature-film role. She credited her physique to being out of work and going to the gym. She gained an additional 10 pounds (4.5 kg) at Cameron's request. The Caucasian Goldstein wore dark contact lenses and underwent an hour of makeup to cover her freckles and darken her skin to appear more Latina; she studied gang interviews to develop her demeanor and accent. Ricco Ross (Frost) was committed to Full Metal Jacket (1987), whose filming schedule overlapped for a week with Aliens'. Although Cameron offered to let Ross join the filming later, Ross was concerned Kubrick's projects often overran their schedules and opted for Aliens instead. Rolston misled the filmmakers to help get his part; he had finished filming Revolution (1985), and implied he was its most-prominent actor after Al Pacino. William Hope (Gorman) was cast as Hudson before Cameron and Hurd decided to take the character in a different direction.
Cynthia Dale Scott (Dietrich) was an aspiring singer when she was cast. Colette Hiller (Ferro) was upset she had to cut her hair short for the role, since she was getting married afterwards. Although she made the filmmakers buy her a long, blonde wig, she never wore it. Trevor Steadman (Wiezbowski) was a stuntman rather than an actor, and Aliens was Daniel Kash's (Spunkmeyer) first film role. He offered Cameron his coat if he got the part, and also auditioned for Hudson. The actors stayed at the Holiday Inn in Langley, Berkshire, during filming. Paxton described the actors' time outside work positively: "God, we had the best time ... We all hung very hard together. That's where I first met, who I fell in love with. ... was a really good spirit to have around, with a great voice. And all these hilarious British characters, like, the stuntman, who used to grab my bicep and go, 'Blimey, more meat on a cat's cock!'"
Principal photography began in September 1985, with a 75 day schedule. The budget was reported to be $18.5 million, in addition to film prints and marketing. Filming was primarily at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire near London, because of its large sets and the relatively lower cost of filming in England. Before Remar was fired, he accidentally shot a hole through the set of Frank Oz's Little Shop of Horrors; it was being filmed on an adjacent stage.
Filming was tumultuous. Cameron, a Canadian, was unfamiliar with British film-industry traditions such as tea breaks, which interrupted production for up to an hour each weekday; he was frustrated at losing hours of filming every week. In his book, The Making of Aliens, J. W. Rinzler described Cameron coming onto the set as George Lucas had before him for Star Wars (1977), but Cameron was aggressive and certain of what he wanted, which irked the crew. If he wanted to modify a scene (such as its lighting) in accordance with his vision, he did not involve the unionized crew.
The crew was dismissive of Cameron for his relative inexperience, thinking he had not done enough to earn such a prominent position, and Hurd had her job only because she was his partner. Cinematographer Dick Bush insisted on lighting the alien hive brightly (counter to Cameron's request), and was eventually replaced with Adrian Biddle. First assistant director Derek Cracknell also ignored Cameron's requests. Gale described the situation: " would ask him to set up a shot one way and would say, 'Oh no no no, I know what you want,' ... Then he'd do it wrong and the whole set would have to be broken down." The situation deteriorated until Cameron and Hurd fired Cracknell and the Pinewood crew walked out in the middle of the day.
Cameron called Fox for advice and became determined to move the production out of England until Hurd convinced him otherwise. The situation was more difficult because the number of films simultaneously in production meant the crew could not be easily exchanged. Cameron and Hurd gathered the crew to discuss their grievances; Cameron explained the importance of the production, and any member of the crew who could not support it should volunteer to be replaced. The crew agreed to support Cameron if he supported their scheduled working hours. The relationship between filmmakers and crew remained cool; when filming concluded at Pinewood, Cameron told the crew: "This has been a long and difficult shoot, fraught by many problems ... but the one thing that kept me going, through it all, was the certain knowledge that one day I would drive out the gate of Pinewood and never come back, and that you sorry bastards would still be here". He described most of the crew as "lazy, insolent, and arrogant". Paxton called the crew's work impeccable, but their attitude more relaxed than the American crews to which he was accustomed.
The alien nest was filmed in the decommissioned Acton Lane Power Station in London, and the set was left in place until the 1989 superhero film Batman was filmed there. While filming the dropship descent from the Sulaco, shaking collapsed the set roof onto the cast and crew. Most of the cast were unharmed, but Cameron's head was cut by a large piece of debris. Because of the tight budget, Hurd made Cameron pay for an early scene of a laser cutting Ripley free from her hyposleep chamber. According to Henriksen, Paxton was unaware he would be involved in the knife-trick scene until it was filmed; Henriksen nicked Paxton's finger during the reshoot. Early, establishing scenes were filmed near the end of principal photography to capture the bond between cast and characters.
Some improvisation was encouraged. Weaver discussed tweaks to her character with Cameron on set, believing she understood how Ripley would act. Her line "Get away from her, you bitch!" had to be filmed in one take due to the tight schedule remaining, and the actress thought she had messed it up. Paxton believed he was not good at improvisation and discussed ideas with Cameron before filming. One of his signature lines, "Game over man, game over", originated when Paxton developed a backstory for Hudson in which he was trained on simulators. Henn found it hard to act afraid of the aliens (since she was fond of the actors in the suits) and imagined a dog was chasing her. Other cast members spent time with Henn between scenes, including Weaver and Paxton (who would color or craft things with her). Biehn said he and Paxton spent much of their free time together. Weaver gave a bouquet of flowers to each actor on the day their death scene was filmed and gave Reiser a bouquet of dead flowers. Despite the difficulties during filming, Fox was satisfied with the daily footage; Aliens was delivered on time and on budget.
Post-production began in late April 1986, and Ray Lovejoy edited the film. Several scenes were removed from Aliens' theatrical release, including Ripley learning about her daughter's death and a cocooned Burke begging her for death. Fox and Hurd suggested removing a long opening scene detailing the lives of the colonists, Newt's family discovering the derelict alien ship, and her father being attacked by a facehugger, because it ruined the film's pacing and sense of mystery. Two scenes with James Remar as Hicks (shown from the back) were used in the film.
Cameron's final edit was two hours, 17 minutes long. Fox wanted the film to be under two hours so it could be shown more times per day in theaters, increasing its revenue potential. Fox production president Scott Rudin flew to England to ask Cameron and Hurd if they could cut another 12 minutes; Cameron was concerned further cuts would make the film nonsensical, and Rudin relented.
James Horner became acquainted with Cameron early in their careers, when they worked for director Roger Corman. Aliens was Horner and Cameron's first collaboration, one which Horner called a "nightmare". He arrived in London to compose the score, expecting a six-week schedule. There was no film for him to score, however; Cameron was still filming and editing, and Horner had only three weeks to come up with a score. The producers were unwilling to give him any more time, and he was scheduled to begin scoring The Name of the Rose (1986) shortly afterwards.
Horner recorded the score at Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra. His schedule was so tight the score for the climactic battle between Ripley and the queen was written overnight. Cameron first heard the score while it was being recorded by the orchestra and did not like it; however, it was too late to make changes. The Terminator with composer Brad Fiedel's synth-inspired tracks had allowed Cameron regular feedback and rapid implementation of changes, but he had no experience managing orchestral music. Cameron cut the score up, using pieces where he believed they fit best; he inserted pieces of Jerry Goldsmith's Alien score and hired unknown composers to fill gaps. The director said in a later interview he thought the score was good, but did not fit the scenes he had filmed. Horner's "alien sting" sound was initially only used once, during the scene with the cocooned woman. Cameron initially disliked it, but eventually used it throughout the film. Unused portions of Horner's Aliens score were used in 1988's Die Hard.
Special effects and design
Aliens' special effects began development by May 1985, supervised by John Richardson and developed by a 40-person team at Stan Winston Studio. Miniatures and optical effects were created by L.A. Effects Group. Cameron avoided using bigger special effects studios because he lacked contacts with them and believed his hands-on approach would not be welcomed. He avoided hiring too many Alien crew members because he did not want to be restricted by loyalties to the first film. Some crew did return, often with a higher status (such as Crispian Sallis, Alien focus puller and Aliens set decorator). Cameron had enjoyed returning artist Ron Cobb's work on Alien. Conceptual artist Syd Mead was recruited, since the director was a fan of his work on films such as 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984).
Sets and technology
Mead designed the Sulaco, the marines' spaceship. He conceived it as a large sphere with antennae, but Cameron wanted it to be flatter; the full craft had to pass the camera, and a sphere would not work with the film's aspect ratio. Mead designed the craft as a commercial freighter carrying a military unit. Its exterior was designed with a row of loading doors, a crane, and large gun fixtures to defend against threats. Mirrors were used as a cost-cutting measure to increase the number of sleeping pods on the Sulaco and add a power loader. Cobb designed the Sulaco's dropship interiors, the marines' land vehicle, the armored personnel carrier (APC), and exteriors of the colony and its vehicles. The Sulaco's dropship was designed to be life-size, for use on the Sulaco set, but a smaller replica was used for some shots. The APC was a disguised pushback tug for a Boeing 747. The alien derelict spacecraft, originally used in Alien, had been in historian Bob Burns III's driveway since the first film was made.
Most of the colony, apart from the main entrance used by the marines, was constructed in scale miniature form. The set was about 80-foot (24 m) long to accommodate the sixth-scale APC replica. The set was so large it had to be laid out diagonally across the stage, and forced perspective was used to add in buildings that would otherwise not fit. Cobb used a stylized design for the colony, resembling a western frontier town. It features a makeshift construction from cargo containers, broken filming equipment, and beer crates. The alien nest scene was one of the earliest filmed; Weaver's participation was delayed by three weeks because of production issues on her previous film Half Moon Street (1986), and the scene was one of the few not involving her. The Acton Power Station location was filled with decaying asbestos and three weeks were spent having it professionally cleaned. During this time, the alien hive was fabricated in clay from which hundreds of fiberglass and vacuum-formed castings were made and installed at the station over a further three weeks. Cameron wanted to vertically pan as the marines enter the hive, but disguising the area above the marines would be time-intensive. A hanging miniature was made about 12-foot (3.7 m) square from plywood and styrofoam, hung just above the actors' heads and carefully blended into the larger set. After Remar was replaced, Cameron wanted to reshoot the scene but the miniature had been destroyed; Cameron was able to edit the scene to conceal Remar.
The marines' smart guns weighed 65 to 70 pounds (29 to 32 kg), and were constructed from German MG 42 anti-aircraft machine guns attached to a steadicam and augmented with motorcycle parts. Since getting in and out of the smart-gun rig was difficult, the actors kept them on when not filming. The pulse rifle was made from a Thompson submachine gun and a Franchi SPAS-12 pump-action shotgun in a futuristic shell. Weaver was opposed to weapons in general, but Cameron explained weapons were secondary to the core narrative of Ripley bonding with (and protecting) Newt. Weaver found using the weapons strange and difficult, due to their weight and her concern about pulling the wrong trigger.
A cast was made of Henn's upper body and her stunt double's legs to construct a lightweight dummy for Weaver to hold when carrying a gun; Henn's weight plus a gun would have been too heavy. Goldstein had also not handled a gun before, and held her weapon incorrectly in closeups; Hurd stood in for her instead. The flamethrowers were functional. The art department had covered the sets in an unspecified substance to artificially age them; the flamethrowers vaporized it, causing fire and heavy smoke. Goldstein struggled to breathe, and (since improvisation was encouraged) Paxton thought she was acting until he also became breathless.
The nuclear explosion of the colony in the film's finale was created by shining a light bulb through cotton. Reebok developed custom Reebok Pump shoes for Weaver to wear in the film.
H. R. Giger, who designed the Alien creature, was not involved in Aliens and was reportedly unhappy about it. According to Hurd, Giger was contractually obligated to Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) and Fox was not allowed to negotiate with him. Giger was replaced by special-effects creator Stan Winston. Cameron (a designer) also contributed to designs, but was not as concerned with the warrior aliens because they were onscreen only briefly.
The aliens were played by dancers and stuntmen in lightweight costumes, which allowed them to move quickly. A number of 8-foot (2.4 m) mannequins were used for aliens which were contorted into inhuman poses. Although it appears hordes of alien creatures are in the film, there were only 12 alien suits: simple, black leotards covered in molded foam for faster-moving shots, and detailed models with articulated upper bodies and mouths for closeups. When the aliens were shot and destroyed, puppets were hung up and detonated. The aliens' acidic blood was a combination of tetrachloride, cyclohexylamine, acetic acid, and yellow dye. Winston added arms to the chestburster alien form (since the adult form had arms), explaining how it could drag itself out of a host's chest. Two chestburster puppets were used: a reinforced one, and an articulated one for movement. A puppeteer punched the former through a fabricated latex-foam chest; the scene took several takes to film, because it could not pierce the clothing.
Cameron designed the alien queen and worked with Winston on several concepts, including large puppets, miniatures, and costumes with several people inside. A frame was built large enough to hold two people, covered in black polythene bags, and hung on a crane. The prototype was a success, and Cameron wrote the alien-queen scene. The final alien queen was a 14-foot (4.3 m) puppet made of lightweight polyurethane foam. Two people sat inside to control the arms; the legs were controlled by rods connected at the ankles, and a separate person whipped the tail around with fishing line. The head was manipulated with a combination of servomotors and hydraulics controlled by up to four people. The effect was hidden by lighting, steam, slime, and smoke.
The Stan Winston Studio had not used hydraulics before, and considered them a learning experience. They were essential for moving larger parts of the queen puppet, including the head; a foot press in the body could hydraulically move the tail up and down. Shane Mahan sculpted the head by sight based on a maquette, since computer technology to scale up the model's design did not yet exist; it took several weeks to sculpt. Two heads were built: a lightweight, fragile one, and another which could survive some damage. Each was articulated with hydraulics and cables to control the queen's mouth and lips.
To create the effect of the queen piercing Bishop's chest with her tail, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis constructed a chestplate for Henriksen with a rubber segment of the queen's tail flattened against it. The tail was pulled forward by wire, apparently exploding through Bishop's torso. A rigid piece of tail (attached to a body harness) was used to show more of the tail moving through Bishop, and Henriksen was leveraged upward as if he was being lifted by the tail. To complete the effect, a dummy of Bishop was constructed with a spring-loaded mechanism which would forcibly separate his upper and lower body, as if the queen had ripped him in half. Once separated, Henriksen's upper body was below the set and a fake torso attached up to his shoulders. The android blood was milk, and after several days of filming it was sour and foul-smelling.
John Richardson designed the mechanical power loader exosuit, with input from Mead. Like the queen, a prototype was built out of wood and polythene bags stuffed with newspaper to see how the movement would work. The finished design was so cumbersome that stuntman John Lees, in a black skinsuit, operated it from behind. The battle between the queen and power loader was choreographed extensively, as Weaver risked serious injury battling a large, unwieldy animatronic. The camera was sometimes moved around to simulate subjects moving faster. The scene of the queen running at Ripley was one of the more difficult shots; the wires and rods had to be concealed, since they could not be removed in post-production. Miniatures were used for parts of the scene with go motion, a version of stop motion with motion blur added.
The 1986 summer film season began in mid-May. The season had been starting earlier each year as studios attempted to beat each other with their biggest films. Fifty-five films were scheduled for release between May and September, including the action drama Top Gun and the comedic Sweet Liberty. The season was not expected to break financial records set in previous years due to fewer sequels (Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives), anticipated blockbusters, and films by Steven Spielberg or starring popular comedians which had dominated the earlier half of the decade. Some industry experts also blamed the burgeoning home-video market, which had grown from 7 million rentals in 1983 to 58 million by 1985. Films expected to do well were aimed at younger audiences and featured comedy or horror, such as Back to School, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and SpaceCamp. Some films targeted at adults were also seen as potential successes, including Legal Eagles, Ruthless People and Cobra.
Aliens was seen as a potential sleeper hit based on positive industry word-of-mouth during filming, "enthusiastic" industry screenings, and favorable pre-release reviews. The film's success was considered to depend on its ability to attract audiences outside the young males and blue-collar workers typical for the genre. Biehn and Paxton sneaked into a press screening for Aliens, since they had not been allowed to see the finished film. The film's tagline was, "This time, it's war".
Aliens began a wide North American release on July 18, 1986. During its opening weekend, the film earned $10.1 million from 1,437 theaters—an average of $6,995 per theater. It was the weekend's number-one film, ahead of the martial-arts drama The Karate Kid Part II ($5.6 million in its fifth weekend) and the black comedy Ruthless People ($4.5 million in its fourth weekend). Based on its opening-five-day total ($13.4 million), Aliens was anticipated to become the summer's top film and surpass The Karate Kid Part II, Back to School and Top Gun. These early figures exceeded Fox's expectations. The Los Angeles Times reported long lines at theatres, even on weekday afternoons.
It retained the number-one position in its second weekend with an additional gross of $8.6 million, ahead of the debuting comedy-drama Heartburn ($5.8 million) and The Karate Kid Part II ($5 million). Aliens remained the number-one film of its third weekend with a gross of $7.1 million, ahead of the debuts of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives ($6.8 million) and the comedy Howard the Duck ($5.1 million). The film fell to third place in its fifth weekend with a gross of $4.30 million, behind the debuts of the science-fiction horror film The Fly ($7 million) and the comedy Armed and Dangerous ($4.33 million). Aliens was one of the top ten highest-grossing films for 11 weeks.
By the end of its theatrical run, the film had grossed about $85.1 million. This figure made it the year's seventh highest-grossing film, behind Back to School ($91.3 million), the science-fiction film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ($109.6 million), The Karate Kid Part II ($115.1 million), Platoon (138.5 million), the action comedy Crocodile Dundee ($174.8 million) and Top Gun ($176.8 million). Aliens' box-office returns to the studio, minus the theaters' share, was $42.5 million.
Box-office figures outside North America are inconsistent and not available for all 1986 films. According to the box-office tracking websites Box Office Mojo and The Numbers, Aliens earned from $45.9 million to $98.1 million; this gives it a worldwide gross of $131.1 million to $183.3 million, making it the year's fourth-highest-grossing film of 1986 behind Platoon ($138 million), Crocodile Dundee ($328.2 million), and Top Gun ($356.8 million), or the third-highest-grossing film behind Crocodile Dundee and Top Gun. According to Fox's 1992 estimate, Aliens had earned $157 million worldwide. The film was considered a success.
Aliens opened to generally-positive reviews. It appeared on the cover of Time magazine (July 1986), which called it "The Summer's Scariest Movie". Audience polls by CinemaScore reported moviegoers gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Reviewers generally agreed Aliens was a worthy successor to Alien. Variety and Walter Goodman said it could not replicate the novelty of Alien, but Aliens compensated with special effects, technique, and a constant stream of set-piece thrills and scary scenes. Variety added Aliens was made by an expert craftsman, implying its predecessor was a more artistic endeavor. Sheila Benson said Aliens was clever and ironically funny, but lacked Alien's pure horror. Benson attributed this to an overabundance of creature effects in the intervening years, particularly the 1982 science-fiction horror film The Thing (which, Benson said, took alien monstrosities to an extreme).
According to Rick Kogan, Aliens demonstrated science-fiction horror could still be entertaining after many poorly-received Alien-derived films. Dave Kehr and Richard Schickel called it a rare sequel which surpassed the original, and Kehr appreciated the action used to develop the characters. Schickel wrote the film had evolved from Alien, giving Weaver new emotional depths to explore. Jay Scott said the talented Cameron had redefined the war film, combining Rambo with Star Wars. Kogan agreed Cameron possessed a knack for action pacing and excitement, but Kehr believed Cameron pushed some elements beyond believability.
Roger Ebert called the film's last hour "painfully, unremittingly intense" in horror and action, leaving him emotionally drained and unhappy. Ebert believed it could not be defined as entertainment, despite his admiration of the filmmaking craft on display. Dennis Fischer wrote for The Hollywood Reporter, however, the unrelenting scenes of action and suspense worked for Aliens as they had in The Terminator; tension was created by placing the characters in successive, increasingly-difficult situations. According to Fischer, though, Cameron mistakenly thought over-long scenes created suspense. Gene Siskel was more critical, describing the film as "one extremely violent, protracted attack on the senses ... Some people have praised the technical excellence of Aliens. Well, the Eiffel Tower is technically impressive, but I wouldn't want to watch it fall apart on people for two hours." In the Orlando Sentinel, Jay Boyar called it the Jaws of the 1980s: the most "intensely shocking" film in years.
Reviewers consistently praised Weaver's performance. Benson called her the film's "white-hot core" around whose "defiant intelligence" and "sensual athleticism" Aliens was built, and Ripley returned not for vengeance but out of compassion. Ebert credited Weaver's sympathetic performance with holding the film together. Kogan compared her to a more attractive John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone's action character). Scott agreed, saying Weaver made action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger look like male pin-up models. He described her as the ultimate adventure heroine, balancing action with femininity and maternal instincts. Critical of the film overall as a "mechanical" and "inflated example of formula gothic", Pauline Kael praised Weaver: "With her great cheekbones, her marvelous physique, and her lightness of movement, Weaver seems to take over by natural authority and her strength as an actress. Her surprisingly small, tense mouth holds all the suspense in the story ... Weaver gives the movie a presence; without her it’s a B picture that lacks the subplots and corny characters that can make B pictures amusing."
Most of the cast was also praised, particularly Biehn, Goldstein, Henriksen, Henn and Reiser. Benson, however, noted less time was spent exploring the new characters than was spent in Alien. Schickel said Henn played her character as endearingly brave and clever, without self-pity. Benson praised Horner's "rumitative, intelligent" music, but Fischer criticized it for borrowing too much from Goldsmith's score and Horner's work on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).
Aliens received two awards at the 1987 Academy Awards: Best Sound Effects Editing (Don Sharpe) and Best Visual Effects (Robert Skotak, Stan Winston, John Richardson, Suzanne Benson). Weaver was nominated for Best Actress, losing to Marlee Matlin for the romantic drama Children of a Lesser God. Weaver's was the first Best Actress nomination for a science-fiction film, when the genre was given little respect. The film received four other nominations: Best Original Score for Horner (losing to Herbie Hancock for the musical drama Round Midnight); Best Art Director for Peter Lamont and Crispian Sallis (losing to Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar and Elio Altamura for the romance, A Room with a View); Best Editing for Ray Lovejoy (losing to Claire Simpson for Platoon), and Best Sound for Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter, and Roy Charman (losing to John K. Wilkinson, Richard Rogers, Charles Grenzbach and Simon Kaye for Platoon). Weaver's nomination remains a rarity in the action or science-fiction genres. At the 44th Golden Globe Awards, she was nominated for Best Actress in a Drama (again losing to Matlin for Children of a Lesser God).
At the 40th British Academy Film Awards, Aliens received the award for Best Special Visual Effects and three other nominations: Best Production Design (losing to A Room with a View); Best Makeup and Hair for Peter Robb King (losing to Sohichiro Meda, Tameyuki Aimi, Chihako Naito, and Noriko Takemazawa for the war film Ran), and Best Sound (losing to romantic drama Out of Africa). At the 14th Saturn Awards, the film received eight awards: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actress (Weaver), Best Performance by a Young Actor (Henn), Best Supporting Actress (Goldstein), Best Supporting Actor (Paxton), Best Special Effects (Winston and the L.A. Effects Group) and Best Director and Best Writing (both for Cameron). It received a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
Aliens was released on VHS in February 1987, priced at $89.98. An extended cut of the film, including scenes deleted from the theatrical release, was broadcast on CBS TV in 1989. An extended edition with more deleted scenes, including the opening scene of Newt's family investigating the derelict spacecraft, was released on LaserDisc in 1991. The extended cut is 157 minutes long, 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Cameron has stated he prefers the extended cut.
The extended edition was released on VHS and DVD in 1999 as part of the Alien Legacy box set with the other three available Alien films: Alien, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. The DVD version was also sold separately, and both versions included additional behind-the-scenes footage. The 2003 Alien Quadrilogy nine-DVD box set included all four films and an additional disc for each film with behind-the-scenes footage and featurettes (including a three-hour documentary, Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens). Theatrical and extended cuts were available for each film. The Aliens disc included commentary by cast and crew members, including Cameron; Weaver did not participate. Each film was sold separately (including its bonus disc) in 2004.
Aliens was released on Blu-ray in 2010 as part of the Alien Anthology box set with remastered footage, theatrical and extended versions, and featurettes found in earlier releases. The film was released separately on Blu-ray in 2011. It was released on Blu-ray and digital download for its 30th anniversary in 2016, with a new interview with Cameron about his inspirations for the film. In addition to the theatrical and extended versions, the release contained a limited-edition lithograph of Ripley in battle with the alien queen, an art book focused on the Aliens comic books by Dark Horse Comics, and collectible cards with concept art by Cameron. A limited-edition, 75-copy vinyl soundtrack was also released that year.
Merchandising for a film was a relatively-new concept, popularized by the Star Wars film series. Kenner had attempted to release figures based on Alien in 1979. Only an alien action figure was released, which was quickly withdrawn when it was deemed too frightening for children. Aliens was considered a different prospect (despite its adult-oriented content), since it focused on action and featured marines (instead of ordinary workers) fighting a large number of aliens. The toys were intended to tie into Operation Aliens (a children's cartoon scheduled for release with Alien 3 in 1992) and a series of mini-comics by Dark Horse Comics. Figures included Colonial Marines and alien hybrids. Aliens' has appeared across a variety of merchandise, including action figures, punching bags, clothing and board games. The National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has released figures based on the film, including Newt, Burke and Cameron dressed as a Colonial Marine. NECA revived the original Kenner designs in 2019, releasing better-quality models.
The film has had several video-game adaptations. The earliest version, a first-person shooter Aliens: The Computer Game (1986), was released on several platforms. A game with the same name was released in 1987. A side-scroller, Aliens (1987), was released in Japan for the MSX. A 1990 arcade game, Aliens, allowed players to play as Ripley or Hicks against alien variants; some levels required the player to control Newt. Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure, an adventure game focusing on puzzles, was released in 1995. A first-person shooter, Alien Trilogy (1996), was based on Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. Aliens Online (1998) was an online game which allowed players to play as Colonial Marines or aliens. Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013) is a first-person shooter and a canonical sequel of Aliens, focusing on the marines sent to search for Ripley's expedition. Several other games have the Aliens brand or are side stories or sequels to the film's events, and the Aliens vs. Predator game series.
A number of comic books based on (and continuing) the story of Aliens have been published (primarily by Dark Horse Comics) since 1988. Dark Horse published a crossover of the titular aliens and those of the Predator franchise by 1990, creating a derivative Alien vs. Predator franchise with its own films, video games and comic books; this led to additional crossovers with Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Judge Dredd, Wildcats, and the Terminator franchise. Reebok's boots designed for Ripley became available to the public in 2016; other versions included boots based on the power loader, Bishop, the Colonial Marines and the alien queen. Author J. W. Rinzler published The Making of Aliens, a 300-page behind-the-scenes book with cast and crew interviews and previously-unseen photographs, in August 2020. Operation Aliens, a board game, was released in 1992. Players are cast as a Colonial Marine or Ripley and tasked with finding a self-destruct code to destroy an infested spaceship.
A central theme of Aliens is motherhood. Alien can be seen as a metaphor for childbirth, but Aliens focuses on Ripley's maternal feelings for Newt. A scene in which Ripley learns her child died while she was in stasis was cut from the theatrical release, but restored in the extended edition. This helped to explain Ripley's motherly attention to Newt, since she had lost her own child. Newt has also lost everything of value, and they form a new family from the remnants of their old ones; this is reflected in the alien queen, mother of the alien creatures. There are no paternal figures; both are single mothers, defending their young. The alien queen seeks revenge against Ripley, who destroyed her brood and her means of reproduction. According to Richard Schickel, Alien is about survival; Aliens is about fighting to ensure someone else's survival.
Newt's capture by the aliens forces Ripley to realize she is willing to die to save her. This demonstrates a selfless motherhood, unlike the queen's selfish motherhood. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Nancy Weber wrote that as a mother, she saw in Aliens the constant vigilance required to protect her child from predators, sexism and threats to childhood innocence. Leilani Nishime believed despite the focus on motherhood, the nuclear family is represented in Aliens with a mother (Ripley), father (Hicks), daughter (Newt) and a loyal, self-sacrificing dog (Bishop).
According to Charles Berg, the depictions of aliens in science fiction which became more popular during the 1980s represented American fears of immigrants (the "other"). In Aliens, this can be seen in the Caucasian single mother (Ripley) confronting the dark-skinned alien queen with an endless brood. Tammy Ostrander and Susan Younis also note fears of overcrowding, dwindling resources and pollution, suggesting the alien queen demonizes motherhood and make it less attractive. She represents mindless, unchecked maternal instinct spawning armies of children, regardless of the lives which must be sacrificed to ensure their survival. Despite imminent destruction by the colony exploding, the queen continues to reproduce. The aliens' life cycle taints the reproductive cycle. Creation involves rape, and birth involves a violent death. In destroying the aliens and their queen, Ripley rejects the unchecked proliferation of their species and sets an example for her own.
Ripley has been compared to John Rambo and dubbed Ramboette, Rambette, Fembo, Ramboline; Weaver called herself Rambolina. Mary Lee Settle said females in television and film had evolved from escapist fantasy to more accurately reflect their audiences. A gun, which can be seen as a phallic symbol, has a different meaning when wielded by Weaver. Schickel described Ripley as transcending the customary boundaries imposed on her gender, where females serve the male hero. In Aliens, the male characters are neutralized by the film's climax and Ripley faces the queen alone. Cameron said he does not like cowardly female characters and removes their expected protectors to force them to fend for themselves. He called the overuse of male heroes "commercially shortsighted" in an industry whose audience is 50-percent female, and where "80 percent of the time, it's women who decide which film to see."
The growth of female-led action films after the success of Aliens reflects the increase in women assuming non-traditional roles and the divide between professional critics (who perceive a masculinization of the heroine) and audiences which, regardless of gender, embrace, emulate and quote Ripley. The hyper-masculine heroes played by Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme were replaced by independent women capable of defending themselves and defeating villains in films such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). These female characters often perform stereotypical male actions, however, and have muscular physiques rather than feminine "soft" bodies. When Ripley has seized command of the marines and is no longer a passive outsider in Aliens, the traditional male hero (Hicks) instructs her in the use of their weapons. The comparison of Ripley to Rambo conflates her with the male, musclebound, gun-wielding action hero. To balance her masculine traits, Cameron gives Ripley maternal instincts; this counters homophobic audiences, who might see a masculinized female as lesbian or butch. These traits are further offset by the more-openly-masculine Vasquez, a minor character. Vasquez (who has short hair and bigger muscles) is introduced to the audience by working out, and is asked if she has ever been mistaken for a man. Weber appreciated the change in female characters between the films, contrasting Alien's hysterical Lambert with the tough Vasquez (who sacrifices herself for her team, not only for the protagonist).
War and trauma
Aliens is as seen as an allegory for the Vietnam War; the marines (like the United States) have superior weaponry and technology, which is ineffective against an unseen, local enemy. Like some Vietnam veterans, Ripley developed post-traumatic stress disorder after the events of Alien. Writer Joe Abbott contrasted the depiction of the military in Aliens to the 1954 science-fiction film, Them!. In both films, humans are beset by a monstrous invasion; in Them!, the military is the hero despite its responsibility for the infestation. Abbott said its post-World War II America setting depicts a competent military and a state authority which demands (and receives) the compliance of its citizens. The image of the post-Vietnam military is tarnished and scrutinized; in Aliens, it is ill-equipped, bumbling, and incapable of combating the threat posed by the alien creatures. Citizen cooperation can no longer be demanded (or expected), and it is Ripley, an independent contractor from outside the state and military infrastructures, who saves the day. Unlike Them!, the military is not at fault for creating the problem in Aliens; it is the Weyland-Yutani corporation. The power of the state has been superseded by the corporation, which also demands conformity for rewards and advancement and reflects a growing mistrust of corporatism; the company is represented by Burke, a self-interested opportunist. Ripley is elevated throughout the film as she benefits the community, and Burke works to undermine it for the company. Male greed in Alien and Aliens is the catalyst for the alien infestations. In Aliens, Newt's father disregards safety measures to investigate the alien derelict without interference (ensuring any profits will be his). Then, attacked by a facehugger, he is the initial infection point.
According to Weaver, Aliens is about confronting trauma to obtain closure. This may be seen as a reflection of Ronald Reagan's United States presidency and a conservatism which believed the hero must return to confront their fears with ethics and morality on their side. Comparing Alien with Aliens, Roger Luckhurst said: "Even if Alien was a piece of leftist science fiction, the core of myth could be inflected the other way. Aliens would be a defiantly Reaganite version of the story—pumped, militarized, libertarian driven by a staunch defense of the nuclear family." Abbott said Aliens adheres to a radical ideology and condemns centrism; similar films were popular because they represented audience dissatisfaction with the social status quo. The film places power in the individual (Ripley), instead of institutions like the military, corporations or the government.
A cinematic touchstone with an enduring legacy, Aliens has influenced films which followed it. Although The Terminator was a success for Cameron, the critical and commercial success of Aliens made him a blockbuster director. The film expanded the Alien series into a franchise, spanning video games, comic books and toys. Ripley and the alien creature originated in Alien, but Cameron expanded on the creature's life cycle, added new characters and factions (such as the Colonial Marines), and expanded the films' universe.
Many cast and crew members reunited at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary, including Weaver, Biehn, Paxton, Henriksen, Reiser, Henn, Cameron and Hurd. Cameron said he normally would not participate (and did not do so for The Terminator's anniversary), but he considered Aliens special because of its impact on his career. Asked why he thought Aliens' popularity had endured, Cameron said:
I have to take my filmmaker hat off and look at it as a fan and think, "Well, I really like those characters ..." There's certain lines, moments, you remember moments. It's satisfying, it ends in a satisfying way ... But I actually think it's those characters. We can all relate to Hudson running around "What the hell are we gonna do now man? What the f*** we gonna do?" We all know that guy.
Hurd believed that it was the experience itself: "It's a great midnight screening movie because you can talk back to the screen and you can have this group experience. It not only makes you feel something, it makes you cheer, it makes you jump. When you think of all the things that something can do, which is projected on a screen, it ticks all those boxes and it makes you laugh."
Despite her sudden fame, Henn decided not to pursue acting so that she could remain close to her family. She said some people resented her fame and was uncertain whether people liked her for being in the film or for herself. Henn became a teacher; she maintains a relationship with Weaver and kept a framed picture of her and Weaver which the actress had given her after filming was complete.
Aliens has influenced popular culture; elements of the film, such as a team of soldiers being dismantled by a villain, have been repeated to the point of cliché. The same is true of Horner's influential (and often imitated) score, which regularly appeared in action-film trailers for the following decade. The film's influence may be seen in video-game (particularly science-fiction games) ships, armor and weapons. Ripley became a post-feminist icon, a proactive hero who retained feminine traits.
The film has been quoted, including Paxton's "Game over, man, game over". Weaver's "Get away from her, you bitch" is considered one of Aliens's most memorable lines and has often been cited in other media. Paxton is remembered as the only actor to play characters killed by an alien, a Terminator (in The Terminator), and a Predator (in 1990's Predator 2). The ensemble cast's popularity led to many members appearing together in later films, including Henriksen, Goldstein and Paxton in Near Dark (1987) and Goldstein and Rolston in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). Biehn lost a role in Cameron's Avatar (2009) because Weaver had been cast, and the director did not want to associate that film with Aliens.
The 1989 Italian film Shocking Dark is a remake of Aliens, moving much of the film's plot and scenes to a Venetian setting and incorporating elements of The Terminator; outside Italy, it was released as Terminator II. Aliens was named by director Roland Emmerich as one of his top ten science-fiction films, with Alien.
Aliens has been listed among the greatest films ever made and is regarded as one of the best science-fiction, action and sequel films. In 2008, Empire ranked it 30th on the magazine's "500 Greatest Movies Of All Time" list. Ellen Ripley has been recognized; the American Film Institute ranked her the eighth-most-heroic character on its 2003 100 Years ... 100 Heroes and Villains list, and she was ninth on Empire's 2006 "100 Greatest Movie Characters" list. It is listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
Aliens is considered one of the best sequels of all time, and equal to (or better than) Alien. According to Slant Magazine, it exceeded Alien in every way. In 2009, Den of Geek called it the best blockbuster sequel ever made, and remarkable even as a standalone film. In 2017, the website ranked it the second-best film in the series (behind Alien). In 2011, Empire called it the greatest movie sequel ever. In 2021, Phil Pirrello of Syfy ranked it at number four in the "25 scariest sci-fi movies ever made", stating "Aliens is one of those sequels few would begrudge you for thinking is better than the original." While describing the original as "still the Alien franchise's scariest movie", he described Aliens as "the series' most thrilling entry" and an "action-horror hybrid" which "sparked a new (and terrifying) sci-fi genre". Also in 2021, Dalin Rowell of /Film ranked it the best film of Cameron's career, stating "While it's filled with quotable one-liners and some of the most fantastic characters in genre filmmaking, the best part of Aliens is how James Cameron makes this movie all his own. While it would have been easy to replicate Ridley Scott's basic beats in an Alien sequel, Cameron pushed the franchise in a whole new direction, one that focuses more on bold action moments than creeping tension but still delivers a heart-pounding cinematic experience."
Several publications have ranked Aliens as one of the best science-fiction films ever made: fourth by Paste, fifth by Syfy, seventh by IGN, ninth by Empire, 10th by GamesRadar+, 13th by Rotten Tomatoes and 27th by Business Insider. The film was unranked by Time Out. It has been listed as one of the best films of the 1980s: number fifteen by Consequence of Sound, number six by ShortList and Time Out, number seven by Empire, number 20 by GamesRadar+, number 49 by Parade, and unranked by Cosmopolitan, Highsnobiety and Marie Claire. Several publications have listed it as one of the greatest action films of all time: number one by Time Out, number two by Empire and Entertainment Weekly, number three by IGN, number 12 by Men's Health, and unranked by the Evening Standard. The British Film Institute called Aliens one of the 10 greatest action films of all time: "A matriarchal masterpiece of God-bothering structural engineering, there’s really little that Aliens doesn't get right; from its slow-burn exemplification of character and world-building through to its jab-jab-hook-pause-uppercut series of sustained climaxes, Cameron delivers a masterclass in action direction". Empire readers ranked the film 17th on its 2017 "100 Greatest Movies" list. Alan Jones of Radio Times awarded it five stars out of five, saying it surpassed the original "in terms of sheer spectacle" and was "an outstanding science-fiction thriller", praising Cameron for "masterfully controlling the tension and moving the involving plot at a lightning pace", as well as exploiting "everyone's worst fears" and carrying them "to the riveting extreme". However, Halliwell's Film Guide was less positive, considering it a "frightening but mechanical sequel with none of the half-assed poetry of the original".
It has a 97% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator from 76 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. According to the website's consensus, "While Alien was a marvel of slow-building, atmospheric tension, Aliens packs a much more visceral punch, and features a typically strong performance from Sigourney Weaver." The film has a score of 84 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 22 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Despite her character's popularity, the casting of Jenette Goldstein (a white, Jewish actress of Russian, Moroccan, and Brazilian descent) as the Latina Vasquez has been considered odd. Goldstein has said she considers herself unrecognizable as Vasquez on film, but a muscular actress was required and the filmmakers could not find anyone else with her physique.
Aliens' success resulted in immediate discussion of a sequel after its release. Alien 3 was not released until 1992, after a tumultuous development with multiple writers and directors; Cameron did not return. Its story follows Ripley after she becomes trapped with an alien creature on the prison planet Fiorina 161. The film was financially successful, but "generally panned" by critics. Its director David Fincher disowned it after the release, citing studio interference. The film notably killed the Hicks and Newt characters off-screen. Biehn called it one of his greatest disappointments and refused permission for the use of his likeness in the sequel. About the treatment of his characters, Cameron said:
I thought was dumb ... I thought it was a huge slap in the face to the fans ... I think it was a big mistake. Certainly, had we been involved we would not have done that, because we felt we earned something with the audience for those characters.
An early script for Alien 3 by William Gibson was adapted as a 2019 audio drama, with Biehn and Henriksen voicing their respective roles. Gibson's version focuses on Hicks as the protagonist, dealing with the Union of Progressive Peoples and the Weyland-Yutani corporation.
A third sequel, Alien Resurrection, was released in 1997. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and based on a script by Joss Whedon, the film's story follows a clone of Ripley created to harvest an alien queen embryo which was in the original Ripley when she died. Whedon later disavowed the project. Instead of a fourth sequel, Fox began development of a crossover film pitting the series' aliens against the titular alien race of its science-fiction property, Predator. Directed and written by Paul W. S. Anderson, the film was poorly received. It was followed by a sequel, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), the least financially-successful and worst-reviewed film in either franchise.
Ridley Scott returned to the series for Prometheus (2012) (a prequel set before the events of Alien) and its sequel, Alien: Covenant (2017). Both films were modest financial successes with mixed reviews. In 2019, Scott was reported to be intending to pursue a sequel to Alien: Covenant. A fifth sequel of the main Alien films was in development in 2020, based on a story by Giler and Hill; Weaver was expected to return as Ripley.
A five-hour 2017 audio drama, River of Pain, takes place between Alien and Aliens and covers the early days of the LV-426 colony and its downfall to the aliens. Actors returning to voice their characters included William Hope, Mac MacDonald, Stuart Milligan, and Alibe Parsons.