Aliens (1986) Review

Aliens (1986) Director: James Cameron

You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back, but to wipe them out?


In some ways Aliens is James Cameron’s radical departure from the classic original Alien (1979) which was directed by Ridley Scott. By all accounts it should have been a cheap, sophomoric effort, but Aliens is actually a surprisingly powerful roller-coaster of a sequel. Beset by roadblocks and lawsuits behind the scenes, a sequel to Alien was delayed for some seven years.

Aliens picks up 57 years after the events of the original film. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been floating through space while in stasis and, luckily, she happens to be picked up and returned to members of her company at the “Weyland-Yutani Corporation.” She explains to them what happened to the Nostromo, but the company’s hubistric leadership does not believe her story about a dangerous alien race on the abandoned moon of LV-246. Now, there is now an expensive and thus far successful human colony on that same moon called “Hadleys Hope.” Ripley meets Carter Burke, a suspicious representative for the company who tries to earn Ripley’s trust.

However, soon all contact is lost with the colony. The company asks Ripley to join a band of marines to investigate the situation since she has experience with the moon. She agrees only under the condition that the company agrees to destroy any aliens they discover. Burke reassures her –do we trust him? En route, Ripley quickly develops a rapport with Corporal Hicks (played by Michael Biehn). She also learns there is an android on board the mission named Bishop (played by Lance Henriksen). Ripley remembers the betrayal of the android (“Ash”) on the Nostromo. Upon arrival on the moon, the marines find an eerily derelict colony. As they venture further into the structure, they discover the remaining humans being harvested by the all-too-familiar aliens. During a lapse of leadership, Ripley assumes command and rescues the marines in duress. She also rescues a lone young girl hiding in the vents of the colony named “Newt.” Hicks orders a rescue operation but the rescue ship is quickly attacked by aliens. Thus, the marines are stranded and must barricade themselves inside the colony.

Overnight, the aliens break through the barricade. The core of the colony has been damaged causing the imminent destruction of the whole locale. Bishop volunteers to remotely pilot a rescue ship to the surface to save the trapped group. Meanwhile, it is soon discovered that Burke is in fact a sleazy corporate representative who is intent on using the aliens for profit as weapons. He attempts to stage an alien attack on Ripley and Newt, however he is killed by the aliens along with the other remaining marines. As they attempt to escape, Newt is captured by the aliens and a heavily armed Ripley must venture deep into the alien queen’s lair to recover Newt from the hostile creatures. Ripley and Newt narrowly escape with Bishop and Hicks, but the end of this anxiety-inducing venture has still not abated. The queen has managed to sneak aboard their vessel and she tears Bishop in two. As in the first movie, Ripley battles the queen and jettisons her through the airlock. Ending on a note of hope for Ripley, she, Newt, and Hicks all escape together and they enter hypersleep “stasis” in the hopes of returning to their company, filled with optimism about their future now that they have escaped hell.

In the end, the audience is left with a deeper appreciation for Ripley as a maternal hero, a rescuer, and now as a lover of her new beau, Corporal Hicks. It is a familial movie. The contrast between Ripley with Newt, and the alien queen whose offspring are being massacred, is made starkly apparent. In all, Aliens is a wild and entertaining ride, though it lacks some of the brilliant pacing and psychological horror of the original in my view. With that being said, both are brilliant movies.

Apparently production for Aliens was a tumultuous affair. It was mostly shot in England which is known for having a slower pace of business than in Hollywood (for example, frequent time was mandated for allotted tea breaks). At the time, director James Cameron was relatively unknown –he was a former truck driver who happened to hit it big with The Terminator and the script for Rambo First Blood Part II. Apparently, he got into frequent disputes with the crew, and remarkably, the movie was completed on time and on budget. Aliens was the first collaboration between James Cameron and James Horner –Horner’s score was recorded at Abbey Road with the London Symphony Orchestra and it is another terrific composition by Mr. Horner.

Click here to return to my review of the Alien series.

1 thought on “Aliens (1986) Review

  1. Aliens is one of our rare examples of how successfully a movie sequel can have its own identity. It sadly faltered with Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and Alien vs. Predator. It was Ridley Scott’s returns for Prometheus and Alien Covenant that fully recaptured the Alien universe magic.

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