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ALIEN (1979) - Illustrated Reference

Updated on February 14, 2014
Art by H.R. Giger
Art by H.R. Giger
Sigourney Weaver with Ridley Scott
Sigourney Weaver with Ridley Scott

Alien was directed by Ridley Scott and premiered on 25th May 1979. Starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. 117mins.

Commercial towing vehicle Nostromo intercepts a transmission of unknown origin. The crew awake from hypersleep and head towards the source of the signal. Landing on a mysterious planet they discover a derelict alien spaceship and its dead occupant, its chest ripped open. It soon becomes clear the signal was a warning not an SOS.

Dan O’Bannon (1946-2009) had co-written the low budget sci-fi comedy Dark Star with John Carpenter in 1974, Carpenter directed and O’Bannon also acted in the film as Sgt. Pinback. The alien in the film looked like a beachball.

Following Dark Star, O’ Bannon wanted to make a film where the alien creature was convincingly unearthly and genuinely frightening. He teamed up with screenwriter Ronald Shusett and they came up with a story which had the working title Star Beast and would eventually change to Alien.

They pitched their script treatment to the studios as “Jaws in Space”. After the super success of Star Wars 20th Century Fox studios were quickly looking for another science fiction movie set on a spaceship flying through space. Alien was that film.

Directors considered for the project included Robert Aldrich, Peter Yates and Walter Hill who was one of the producers. Than one day the producers saw a film called The Duellists (1977), the directing debut of Ridley Scott (1937-) who had previously been noted for his television commercials. They were impressed with what they saw.

They offered Scott the job it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Scott’s influences were to be 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Principle photography took 14 weeks from July 5th to October 21st, 1978.

Tom Skerritt
Tom Skerritt
Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver
Veronica Cartwright
Veronica Cartwright
John Hurt
John Hurt
Ian Holm
Ian Holm
Yaphet Kotto
Yaphet Kotto

Dallas: As most of you may know, we're not home yet. We're only halfway there. Mother's interrupted our journey. It seems that she has intercepted a transmission of unknown origin.
Ripley: A transmission? Out here?
Lambert: What kind of a transmission?
Dallas: Acoustical beacon. It repeats at intervals of 12 seconds.
Kane: S.O.S.?
Dallas: I don't know.
Ripley: Human?
Dallas: Unknown.

Tom Skerritt (1933-) / Dallas, Captain of the Nostromo.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Tom Skerritt’s movies include Top Gun (1986), A River Runs Through It (1992) and Contact (1997).

Ripley: Ash, that transmission... Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S.
Ash: What is it, then?
Ripley: Well... it looks like a warning.

Sigourney Weaver (1949-) / Warrant Officer Ripley. We find out her first name is Ellen in the sequel Aliens. Meryl Streep was considered for the part.

Born in New York City, Alien was Sigourney Weavers first big movie, she reprised the role of Ripley in Aliens (1986) in which she was also Oscar Nominated for Best Actress, Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997).

Weaver also received Oscar nominations for the films Working Girl (1988) and Gorillas in the Mist (1988). She recently starred in the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar (2009).

Veronica Cartwright (1949-) / Lambert, navigator on the Nostromo.

Born in Bristol, England, Veronica Cartwright had appeared as young Cathy Brenner in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963. She outsmarted the alien seedpods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and played the wife of astronaut Gus Grissom in The Right Stuff (1983).

Harry Dean Stanton (1926-) / Brett, the engineering technician of the ship.

Born in Kentucky, USA, popular character actor Harry Dean Stanton has been appearing in films since the 1950’s, he can be spotted in The Godfather Part II (1974), Farewell My Lovely (1975), Escape from New York (1981) and Repo Man (1984) amongst many others.

John Hurt (1940-) / Kane, the Executive Officer of the Nostromo.

Born in Derbyshire, England, John Hurt has appeared in over 100 films, receiving Oscar nominations for Midnight Express (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980).

Hurt was nominated by the British Academy for his role as Kane in Alien. And he sent up the role in Mel Brooks sci-fi spoof Spaceballs (1987). Recent films include V for Vendetta (2006) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Parker: It's a robot. Ash is a god damn robot!

Ian Holm (1931-) / Ash, the Science Officer. Unknown to the crew Ash is an android, he gets instructions to bring the alien lifeform back to Earth.

Born in Essex, England, Sir Ian Holm was Oscar nominated for Chariots of Fire (1981) and his films include Juggernaut (1974), Time Bandits (1981), Greystoke (1984), Brazil (1985), Hamlet (1990), and The Fifth Element (1997)

Holm played Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Return of the King (2003). And will reprise the role in the upcoming prequels.

Yaphet Kotto (1939-) / Parker, the Chief Engineer.

Born in New York City, Yaphet Kotto has played Bond villain Mr. Big / Kananga in Live and Let Die (1973). Other films include Across 110th Street (1972), Brubaker (1980), The Running Man (1987) and Midnight Run (1988).

Bolaji Badejo plays the title character. Badejo was a 7ft 2in Nigerian design student discovered in a pub by the casting director.

Ridley Scott thought his tall thin frame would be perfect for the Giger designed alien costume.

Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton
Alien designer H.R. Giger
Alien designer H.R. Giger
Necronom IV art by H.R. Giger
Necronom IV art by H.R. Giger

Ripley: How do we kill it Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
Ash: You can't.
Parker: That's bull***!
Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: I've heard enough of this, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: Last word.
Ripley: What?
Ash: I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

Science Fiction author A.E. Van Vogt sued Fox for plagiarism, claiming the film had many similarities with his short story “Discord in Scarlet” which features an alien creature sneaking aboard a space ship, attacking the crew and laying it’s eggs inside their stomachs which then hatch and the young eat their way out. The case was settled out of court.

There are also similarities with Van Vogt’s story "Black Destroyer" which featured a lethal catlike alien which infiltrates a spaceship killing the crew one by one.

Both tales were collected in Van Vogt's book Voyage of the Space Beagle.

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, a fan of 50’s science fiction, later said that he didn’t steal Alien from anybody, he stole it from everybody!

In early script drafts Dallas was female and Lambert and Ripley were male.

H.R. Giger (1940-) a Swiss surrealist painter, was hired to design the creature in all it’s various stages.

When looking for the ‘look’ of the alien, Ridley Scott came across Giger’s painting Necronom IV and decided that was what he wanted. (see picture)

Ridley Scott’s highly detailed storyboards, dubbed ‘Ridleygrams’, so impressed 20th Century Fox studio that the budget for Alien was doubled from $4.2m to $8.4m.

Actor Jon Finch had been cast in the role of Kane and started filming but fell seriously ill from diabetes and had to be replaced. John Hurt took over the role.

The dead occupant of the derelict ship was nicknamed the “space jockey” Ridley Scott used his two young sons in space suits in some shots to make the large model they built look even bigger.

The studio at first balked at the cost of building the space jockey, especially when it featured in only one scene, but concept artist Ron Cobb convinced the studio heads that it was the films “Cecil B. de Mille shot” showing audiences that this wasn’t a cheap B-movie.

In the original script and novelization there was a relationship between Ripley and Dallas which didn’t make it into the finished film.

The scene where the alien bursts through Kane’s chest shocked the cast, they knew what was happening to Kane but didn’t expect an explosion of blood.

Their reactions in the film were real. Veronica Cartwright, in particular, freaked out when the blood hit her. The scene was filmed with four cameras in one take.

Ridley Scott made sure the alien was always filmed at odd angles so as not give away the fact it was a man in a suit. Audiences seeing the film for the first time weren’t sure what they were looking at which made it more frightening

The shot of the alien’s tail moving around Veronica Cartwright’s feet was taken from Harry Dean Stanton’s earlier encounter with the alien.

Condoms were used for the tendons on the alien’s jaw.

To get Jones the cat to hiss and spit on cue a German Shepherd dog was brought on to the set.

In the DVD Director’s Cut Ridley Scott trimmed some scenes and added some previously deleted ones including Ripley’s discovery of Brett and Dallas cocooned by the alien in a part of the ship. Dallas is still alive and begs Ripley to kill him, she sobs as she burns him with her flamethrower. The scene had been removed because it slowed down the pacing nearing the climax of the film.

In my opinion it should have been left as a deleted scene, the momentum of the film comes to a dead stop at that scene. For this reason the original theatrical is my preferred version.

A shocking climax was considered at one point, the alien would kill Ripley biting off her head. Than it was to communicate with Earth mimicking Ripley’s voice, but thankfully that idea was abandoned.

Composer Jerry Goldsmith wasn’t happy when he found out Ridley Scott had replaced his end credit music with Howard Hanson’s symphony no.2 which was the temp track Scott had been using for the end credits..Goldsmith's track can be heard on the soundtrack CD.

One of the foreign titles for the film is The 8th Passenger of the Nostromo which is pretty good in a creepy sort of way.

Alien was Oscar nominated for Art Direction and won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. It was nominated for seven British Academy Awards – Supporting Actor (John Hurt), Most Promising Newcomer (Sigourney Weaver). Costume Design, Editing, Music (Jerry Goldsmith), and winning for Best Soundtrack and Production Design.

Alien was a big hit in the summer of 79 grossing $81m in the US and a total of $105m worldwide. But it would be 7 years before we found out if Ripley was rescued.

Alien was among the films selected for preservation in the 2002 National Film Registry. It ranked #6 on the AFI’s 100 Thrilling Films list and #7 on the AFI’s Top 10 Sci-Fi films.

The film poster depicting an alien egg with the clever tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” has become a classic.

Three sequels followed – Aliens (1986 James Cameron), Alien 3 (1992 David Fincher), and Alien Resurrection (1997 Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Plus two prequels – Alien vs Predator (2004 Paul W.S. Anderson) and Aliens vs Predator – Requiem (2007 Colin & Greg Strauss).

Ridley Scott directed a prequel to Alien in 2012, Prometheus starred Naomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce. The film received mixed reviews from critics and SF fans but went on to gross $403m worldwide.

The Alien and various hybrids have also been the subject of novels, comic books and computer games. In the Dark Horse comics series the Alien has been pitted against the Predator, Terminator, Judge Dredd, Green Lantern, Batman and Superman!

Critical reaction to Alien at the time was harsh, they hated it but audiences loved it and flocked to see it in droves. Over time the film has grown into a classic and it's now regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films, and one of the most influential films ever made.

Ripley: Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.

The Critics Wrote –

"A tour de force of pure horror... The alien is an insane mesh of hungry teeth straight from the painting of Francis Bacon." (J.G. Ballard, American Film, 1987)

"Has the usual number of inconsistencies, improbabilities and outright absurdities characteristic of the sci-fi and horror genres. What is interesting, though, is its hostile critical reception, despite the excellent visual values, direction that is no more hokey than usual in such films, dialogue that (when it is decipherable) is par for the course, and acting that is generally superior. What earmarks Alien as a probable audience hit and certifiable critical flop is merely that the horror is more horrible than usual.” (John Simon)

"The movie is terrifying, but not in a way that is remotely enjoyable." (David Denby, New York)

"A horrid film, skilful and studied in its nastiness, and there is little the cast can do to mitigate its manipulative horror... those with the stomach for indulgent nastiness may go and gibber.” (Film Illustrated)

“Empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery can not disguise imaginative poverty.” (Time Out)

"It's an old-fashioned scare movie about something that is not only implacably evil but prone to jumping out at you when you least expect it. There was once a time when this sort of thing was set in an old dark house, on a moor, in a thunderstorm. Being trendy, Mr. Scott and his associates have sent it up in space." (Vincent Canby, New York Times)

"A few more ambitious and serious sci-fi films have followed in the footsteps of "Alien," notably the well-made "Aliens" (1986) and "Dark City" (1998). But the original still vibrates with a dark and frightening intensity." (Roger Ebert)


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    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Yeah for years I'd been wanting to see that scene and when Scott finally added it to his director's cut I hated it. I wanted it back with the deleted scenes. :)

      Thanks for commenting barry1001, I'll check out your Prometheus hub,

    • barry1001 profile image


      7 years ago from North Wales

      One of my favourite films. I agree that the scene with Dallas in the cocoon should have been left on the cutting room floor, slows the whole film down.

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Thanks Gabriel, appreciate that. Reading about the making of Alien the British crew thought H.R. Giger was a little strange, he sometimes wore a black cloak had a pale complexion and an accent they thought Count Dracula was visiting the set. :)

      I agree, it's still the most terrifying alien on film, like a giant black cockroach. Even it's blood is lethal.

    • gabrielthomas72 profile image


      7 years ago from Shrewsbury, England

      I remember picking up a lot of Gigers artwork after seeing Alien for he first time, boy is out there! But, as ypu have shown through the alien images if was perfect for the creature and is still the most terrifying Alien that has ever been committed to screen.

      Great Hub!

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Thanks rabbit75, I appreciate you sharing this otherworldy hub. I saw this at the cinema in 1979 and remember the screams from the audience, not many sci-fi movies scare the hell out of audiences. I was prepared for the shocks I read the novelization beforehand and all the magazine articles.

      By coincidence I was watching the 1979 Oscar show on Youtube earlier and Alien had won the Special Effects Oscar beating Star Trek and The Black Hole.

    • rabbit75 profile image


      7 years ago

      I remember when I first saw this movie. Sheesh I was really parents always let me watch these movies that I probably shouldn't have seen at the age I did.

      This movie blew me away, scared the living day lights out of me...not more than Jaws, though. When I look back on the movie now it was just like "Jaws in Space." It was brilliant that they kept the suspense by not really showing you the alien near the end. You only got to see the alien in very brief sequences.

      Of course, there was the classic scene where the baby alien pops out of Kane's chest, but it really didn't reveal how scary looking the full grown alien would be.

      This is one of the most creative and original science fiction/suspense thrillers in cinema, I think. As always Steve, you did a great job with quotes from the movie, revealing the cast and background info, and all those pictures of the movie.

      Voted up and awesome...Thanks for sharing this!

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Ripley the Alien Slayer. She's the one who started it all, now we have Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich kicking monster butt and in 3D too. :)

      Thanks Cyndi, appreciate the comment and vote.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Hello, thank you for all of the information about one of my favorite movies. Ripley is a strong heroine who takes action, unlike the heroine in the majority of movies previous to Alien. Voted up and awesome.

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      I didn't even notice the alien until she wore the space suit. :)

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Worked for me!

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Thank you Zavala, appreciate your comment.

      Ridley Scott's excuse for having young Sigourney near-naked at the end of the film was that it made her look totally vulnerable when the alien reveals itself, and ups the fear factor.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      "Alien" was one of my all time favorites, then the sequel "Aliens." The movie had a depth to it, a genuine feel. You felt as if you were experiencing an actual day of work in space on the Nostromo. I never thought Sigourney Weaver was beautiful, but in the end when she was standing in a t-shirt and panties, I was mesmerized nonetheless. Awesome work and detail in this series.

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      It must be the 1982 John Carpenter Thing Flora, it did scare people. Not sure if James Arness as an alien is all that scary these days. King Kong not sure.

      You must have seen Gremlins? It's a terrifying xmas horror movie! Not really, its more of a family film.

      I would pick Alien as the most frightening movie monster, it looks like a giant insect and it bleeds acid! In the film the crew have to be careful not to damage the creature in case its blood eats through the hull!

      I have a film in mind for the 100th hub, it's old and a favourite. :)

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Are you going to do anything special for Hub #100?

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      In looking at the list you link, there are several titles that have been filmed more than once (eg. King Kong) but it does not say which version. I have seen the original King Kong and the original Frankenstein. I expect The Thing refers to the 1980s film, not the 1951 film. I've only seen the first one. Most of these I have never seen.

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Rob thanks for commenting and for the trivia!

      I bought It! The Terror from Beyond Space on DVD a double bill with The Monster that Challenged the World. There are similarities - creature boards spaceship kills crew members - I'm wondering why A.E. Van Vogt didn't sue that company too. Maybe he never saw the film?

    • Robwrite profile image


      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      One of the greatest-ever mixes of horror and sci-fi. I think this was the best of the Alien films, even though I know many people prefer the action-packed sequel 'Aliens'.

      I really enjoyed Weaver in this as a clever, resourceful heroine here, as oppsed to the female Rambo she would eventually become.

      Did you ever see "It:The Terror from Beyond Space"? (1958) I've heard that "It" was the film that inspired the idea for "Alien". Similar premise, cheaper budget.

      Trivia fact: Veronica Cartwright is the sister of Angela Cartwright from from the show "Lost in Space".

      Great movie. Great hub.


    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Yes Steve, Jaws still creeps me out, especially the bit when Hooper is feeling around in the shell of the sunken boat and the decapitated head comes out of there..makes me shiver even as I write this! But Gremlins - I don't get, it doesn't scare me at all; if anything it makes me laugh. Yeah - us Brits eh!

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Cogerson, Jools thanks, the comments and kind words are deeply appreciated.

      Btw Flora the cat survives the Alien series, everyone dies except the cat.

      Cogerson, yep Alien is basically a remake of Dark Star with a bigger budget, better actors, less humour and an alien which didn't look like a beachball. :)

      I love Aliens too but they are different films, Aliens is a war film while Alien is a horror movie set in space. An Aliens hub is in the pipeline.

      Jools, in a recent British poll the Alien was voted scariest movie monster of all time. The film hasn't lost it's power to thrill and scare. Others in the top 20 include Jaws and um Gremlins? The Sandworms of Dune? eh? We Brits are a funny lot. :)

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Steve, Another amazing hub. I absolutely love Alien and I am not really a sci-fi fan to be honest. I think Alien went above and beyond anything that had been done before in eliciting a truly fearful response from audiences. I also enjoyed Alien 2 but didn't watch any beyond that one. I think Ridley Scott is a good director and an amazing cinematographer. The photos were great again. Voted up, awesome!

    • Cogerson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      A fascinating hub that I found very interesting. Lots of information that I did not know. I remember I was not allowed to see the movie so I had to settle on reading the book....which as a 11 year scared me but I could not put the book down. I have not see the director's cut but I am not surprised that Ridley Scott has one for Alien...has the man made a movie and left it alone after it got released?

      I saw Dark Star after Alien and it is amazing how much Dan O'Bannon got of Dark Star into Alien...except he took the humor out of the alien for I do not think many people are laughing much when they watch Alien.

      Alien is one of my brother's favorite for me I like Alien...but I love Aliens which I can watch over and over. As for the cast of Alien...what a great group of supporting actors....I will have to watch the scene again and watch there reactions when the alien pops out...I image that would get quite a response from the actors....awesome job on this hub...voted up and interesting.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      yes, I loved the picture of the cat. :)

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Flora, Acer thanks for popping in to my unearthly Alien hub, your visits and comments appreciated as always.

      Flora, I thought this might not be your cup of tea, it's science fiction and it's quite gory. At the time it shocked audiences, I know I was there.

      I thought I'd better add a shot of Jones the cat to give Flora something nice to look at in case she pops in. :)

      Acer, thanks for the comment. Yeah the Nostromo did feel real and lived and worked in, you could almost smell it.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      The cinematography money spent on this film really paid off and was better than Star Wars in my opinion...I was impressed at the start of this film with the labor look and lived in feel of the space ship.;)

      Another Pro-Hub Steve.;)

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Not much I can comment on here since this series as a bit too much for me. I didn't know that the actress who played Cathy in The Birds ever did anything else. The other actors I have seen in other films/shows. I'm most familiar with Harry Dean Stanton.


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