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HISTORY

As the film begins, the following information appears onscreen, “commercial towing vehicle ‘The Nostromo’; crew: seven; cargo: refinery processing 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore; course: returning to earth.”
       As explained in interviews for the 2003 “making of” featurette, Alien: The Beast Within, writer Dan O’Bannon collaborated with his friend Ronald Shusett on the original Alien story, which evolved from O’Bannon’s work-in-progress idea, Star Beast, and his 1975 screenplay, Dark Star (see entry). According to a 17 May 1979 WSJ article, Gareth Wigan, Vice-President of Worldwide Production at Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., turned down the early draft after deeming it too violent, as did other studios. O’Bannon later submitted the screenplay to Brandywine Productions, led by producers Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll and David Giler, who had a close affiliation with Twentieth Century-Fox. According to an interview with Giler in the Fall 1979 issue of Cinefantastique, Brandywine bought the option for $1,000. Hill rewrote the script in a few days and presented it again to Twentieth Century-Fox, noting that he was interested in directing the project. After consulting with studio executives on 7 Feb 1977, Twentieth Century-Fox president Alan Ladd, Jr. decided to purchase the script, whose terror reminded him of the shower scene in Psycho (1960, see entry). Twentieth Century-Fox had also recently launched the intergalactic, science fiction film, Star Wars (1977, see entry), which became the largest grossing film in history to that time.
       Prior to Twentieth Century-Fox greenlighting the project, O’Bannon and Shusett considered other offers, including one from Roger Corman of New World Pictures, who was ... More Less

As the film begins, the following information appears onscreen, “commercial towing vehicle ‘The Nostromo’; crew: seven; cargo: refinery processing 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore; course: returning to earth.”
       As explained in interviews for the 2003 “making of” featurette, Alien: The Beast Within, writer Dan O’Bannon collaborated with his friend Ronald Shusett on the original Alien story, which evolved from O’Bannon’s work-in-progress idea, Star Beast, and his 1975 screenplay, Dark Star (see entry). According to a 17 May 1979 WSJ article, Gareth Wigan, Vice-President of Worldwide Production at Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., turned down the early draft after deeming it too violent, as did other studios. O’Bannon later submitted the screenplay to Brandywine Productions, led by producers Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll and David Giler, who had a close affiliation with Twentieth Century-Fox. According to an interview with Giler in the Fall 1979 issue of Cinefantastique, Brandywine bought the option for $1,000. Hill rewrote the script in a few days and presented it again to Twentieth Century-Fox, noting that he was interested in directing the project. After consulting with studio executives on 7 Feb 1977, Twentieth Century-Fox president Alan Ladd, Jr. decided to purchase the script, whose terror reminded him of the shower scene in Psycho (1960, see entry). Twentieth Century-Fox had also recently launched the intergalactic, science fiction film, Star Wars (1977, see entry), which became the largest grossing film in history to that time.
       Prior to Twentieth Century-Fox greenlighting the project, O’Bannon and Shusett considered other offers, including one from Roger Corman of New World Pictures, who was willing to finance the film as a low-budget production with O’Bannon directing, as noted in a 27 Apr 1980 LAT article.
       When Hill became unavailable to direct, Ladd offered the job to Ridley Scott, based on his feature film directing debut, The Duellists (1977, see entry). Prior to making the transition to films, Scott had a successful ten-year career directing television commercials. According to an 8 Feb 1978 Var article, Scott was working on pre-production by Feb 1978.
       Ladd and the Brandywine producers made a decision to spend money on special effects and sets, instead of major stars. As noted in the 8 Feb 1978 Var article, the budget was originally proposed between $3 and $5 million. However, costs gradually escalated. A year after the film’s release, the 27 Apr 1980 LAT reported the final production expenses as $10.7 million (a figure obtained from a Mar 1980 producer’s statement) and the advertising budget as $15.7 million.
       As outlined in Cinefantastique, the shooting script represented contributions from O’Bannon, Hill and Giler; although in an arbitration ruling, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) awarded O’Bannon sole screenplay credit, despite the fact that Twentieth Century-Fox recommended Hill and Giler for the “screenplay” credit and O’Bannon for the “story by” credit. Both Hill and Giler described O’Bannon’s early script as “unsophisticated” and “a pastiche of Fifties movies.” Their contribution included transforming the character of “Ash” into a robot, changing two of the male characters to females, one of whom would be the lead “Ripley,” creating “Jones” the cat and introducing a “noir edge” into the story.
       In several sources, Scott admitted that he accepted the project without being a fan of science fiction. In interviews for the 6 Jun 1979 DV and Cinefantastique, he envisioned the film as a suspense thriller and considered the design of the alien creature as the first priority, since it was the key to making the terror appear credible. Scott was inspired after being introduced to the biomechanical illustrations of Swiss designer H.R. Giger whom O’Bannon had recruited early on to work on the project. Scott said that Giger’s 1976 painting, Necronom IV, was the foundation for the creature. Besides the look of the alien from embryo to adult, Giger was responsible for the planetary landscape and the derelict spacecraft, according to a 6 Jun 1979 HR article. Giger, who was relatively new to motion pictures, was partial to using organic materials such as bones and skeletons to create the alien forms and revealed that the “chest-birth” creature was made of real animal intestines and blood. In Cinefantastique, Giler recalled that Giger’s storyboard ideas, on their own, convinced Twentieth Century-Fox to increase the budget an additional $2.5 million during pre-production. O’Bannon also enlisted the help of the concept artists Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and Jean ‘Moëbius’ Giraud, as noted in the Jan/Feb 1979 issue of Mediascene. Cobb stated that the majority of his designs were related to the technology of the ship and that Giraud’s primary contribution was the spacesuit. Special effects specialist Carlos Rambaldi was hired to animate Giger’s designs for the alien head.
       The part of “Ripley” was the first leading role in a feature film for Sigourney Weaver, whose acting experience had been primarily on stage. She read for “Ripley” in Los Angeles, CA, but a later screen test in London finally convinced the filmmakers. An item in the 1 Jul 1991 Time reported Weaver’s salary as $30,000. According to Cinefantastique, Nigerian Bolaji Badejo was chosen to play “The Alien” on account of his unique proportions of tallness, long limbs, slimness and erect posture. After getting the part, he took mime lessons in an effort represent both “graceful” and “vicious” movements while wearing the $250,000 alien suit designed by Giger. For the more risky action sequences, a stuntman substituted for Badejo. During the rehearsal period, publications from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were distributed to the actors so they could immerse themselves in the technical jargon, as mentioned in Mediascene.
       A Twentieth Century-Fox press release announced that filming began 3 Jul 1978 at Shepperton Studios outside London, England, while a 28 May 1979 LAT article specified the start date as 5 Jul 1978. According to an interview with Scott in the Aug 1979 AmCin, shooting of the live action photography was completed in Oct 1979, followed by another six months of editing and special effects photography. As stated in production notes at AMPAS library, interior scenes on the spaceship and exterior scenes on the planetary surface were filmed at Shepperton. Special effects photography of models and miniatures was housed at Bray Studios in Windsor, England.
       Three central sets, comprising multiple sections, were built on separate soundstages at Shepperton to depict the triple decks of the Nostromo ship. The “A” level set represented the top deck and contained the crew’s living area, the infirmary, the operational bridge and the sleep chambers. The “B” level was the maintenance area and the “C” level comprised the engine room and other corridors of equipment. Production designer Michael Seymour designed the levels so that the actors could walk from section to section, providing a feel for both the vastness and claustrophobia of a real spacecraft. To convey the ship’s network of machinery, the art department collected scraps from old jet engines, automobiles and electronics. In production notes, Seymour emphasized that the ship’s battered, industrial appearance was important for understanding that the ordinary crew were essentially “truckers” in space.
       According to the 28 May 1979 LAT article, Twentieth Century-Fox claimed that the science-fiction community was the priority target for the publicity, a tactic that Charles Lippincott, who was in charge of the film’s promotion, learned from Star Wars. Although the film did not have pre-release showcasing in New York City or Los Angeles, it was marketed as a unique event. For the majority of the ninety-one initial bookings, the presentation was in 70-millimeter with Dolby Stereo sound. Twentieth Century-Fox press releases announced that during the Memorial Day premiere weekend, the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA would screen the film for a continuous thirty-eight hours and giant set pieces would be on display in front of the theatre. A similar marathon screening was held at the Criterion Theatre in New York City, as stated in a 30 May 1979 LAT article.
       Because Alien was released on 25 May 1979, the second anniversary of Star Wars’ release, news articles speculated about a close box-office contest between the two films. Headlines, such as the 30 May 1979 HR, reported that the film grossed $3.5 million during its first four days, a record-breaking performance comparable with other recent blockbusters. Although the film did not surpass Star Wars, particularly in terms of repeat business, it fulfilled expectations as a top film of the summer, earning $53 million by the end of Aug 1979 and keeping pace with competition like Rocky II (1979, see entry), as reported in the 4 Jun 1979 Var and the 20 Aug 1979 HR. After a year in release, Alien had grossed over $100 million, according to a 27 Apr 1980 LAT article, making it Twentieth Century-Fox’s most successful film of 1979, and it was ranked fourth on Var ’s “Big Rental Films of 1979,” with an estimated $40 million collected from domestic theatre owners. Despite these numbers, the film was not declared profitable until the release of Twentieth Century-Fox’s Jul 1980 quarterly financial statement. A 10 Aug 1980 LAT article reported a profit of $4 million.
       Reviews by major critics in the 20 May 1979 LAT, the 25 May 1979 NYT, the 18 May 1979 HR and the 23 May 1979 Var were generally mixed or good, but did not reflect the enthusiasm at the box-office. Critics admired the suspenseful horror, the persuasive effects and stylish direction, but also pointed out the weak character development and thin plot. In comparisons to other seminal science-fiction or horror films from the 1970s such as Star Wars, The Exorcist (1973, see entry) or Jaws (1975, see entry), reviewers tended to conclude that Alien was a more modest vision.
       The film received the 1979 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Art Direction. Alien was ranked 7th on the AFI’s 2008 list of the Top Ten Science Fiction Movies and 6th on AFI’s 2001 list of 100 Years…100 Thrills.
       As of Jan 2013 three sequels have been made, Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997) as well as two prequels, Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem (2007, see entries). Ridley Scott did not participate in these projects, but he returned to elements of Alien when he directed Prometheus (2012, see entry). As he explained in a 29 Apr 2012 LAT article, "There's moments where you see connections if you're looking for them, but the [ Prometheus ] story is not leaning on what came before. There are strands of Alien DNA in there, if you will."
       The following written statement is included in the end credits, "Made by Twentieth Century-Fox Productions Limited at Shepperton Studio Centre, England and at Bray Studios, Windsor, England." Ray Merrin is listed twice in the end credits as the "re-recording assistant." More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Aug 1979
pp. 772-773, 808, 842-844.
Cinefantastique
Fall 1979.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jun 1977.
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1979.
---
Daily Variety
29 May 1979
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
30 May 1979
p. 1, 6.
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1979
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 May 1979
p. 1, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 May 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 1979
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 May 1979
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
28 May 1979
Section D, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
30 May 1979
Section G, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jul 1979
Section L, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
27 Apr 1980
Section O, p. 1, 4-6.
Los Angeles Times
18 May 1980
Section T, p. 46.
Los Angeles Times
10 Aug 1980
Section R, p. 29.
Los Angeles Times
29 Apr 2012
Section D, p. 8.
Mediascene
Jan/Feb 1979.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Jun 1979
p. 1.
New York Times
18 Feb 1979
Section D, p. 15.
New York Times
25 May 1979
Section III, p. 16.
New York Times
2 Jun 1979
p. 12.
New York Times
24 Jun 1979
p. 19.
Newsweek
28 May 1979
p. 101.
Rolling Stone
31 May 1979.
---
Saturday Review
4 Aug 1979
p. 51.
The New Republic
16 Jun 1979
p. 20.
Time
4 Jun 1979
p. 60.
Time
1 Jul 1991.
---
Variety
8 Feb 1978.
---
Variety
26 Jul 1978.
---
Variety
23 May 1979
p. 22.
Variety
4 Jun 1979.
---
Variety
6 Feb 1980
p. 46, 112.
Variety
1 Dec 1997.
---
Village Voice
18 Jun 1979.
---
WSJ
17 May 1979
p. 1, 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
a Brandywine-Ronald Shusett production
a Ridley Scott film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Scr/Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam focus, Main unit
Cam focus, Main unit
Key grip, Main unit
Lighting gaffer, Main unit
Electronics and video coord, Main unit
Still photog
Lighting by
Video equip by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Visual des consultant
Concept artist
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Concept artist
Concept artist
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
1st asst ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Const mgr
Set dec
Prop master
Prod buyer
Head carpenter
Head plasterer
Head painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
SOUND
Re-rec asst
Dolby sd consultant
Sd ed
Dial ed
Prod sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
'Alien' des
'Alien' head eff created by
Spec eff supv
Spec eff supv
Floor eff supv
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Small 'Alien' forms co-des and made by
Addl 'Alien' mechanics
Addl 'Alien' mechanics
'Alien' eff coord
Matte artist
Supv modeller
Modeller
Modeller
Modeller
Dir of photog, Miniature eff
Op, Miniature eff
Focus, Miniature eff
Key grip, Miniature eff
Supv model maker
Supv model maker
Spec graphic eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting U.S.A.
Casting U.K.
Prod asst
Cont
Prod accountant
Asst to prods
Asst to prods
Asst to dir
Trainee asst dir
Prod exec
Advertising and pub consultant
Advertising and pub consultant
Unit pub
'Jones' trained by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt work
SOURCES
MUSIC
Incidental music from "Symphony No. 2 ('Romantic')" by Howard Hanson
"Eine kleine Nachtmusik" by W.A. Mozart.
DETAILS
Series:
Release Date:
25 May 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 25 May 1979
Production Date:
began early July 1978 in England
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
11 June 1979
Copyright Number:
PA38135
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Dolby Stereo®
Color
Color by Eastman Kodak®
Lenses/Prints
Filmed in Panavision®/Prints by DeLuxe®
Duration(in mins):
117
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25541
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a futuristic outer space, the commercial towing ship The Nostromo is returning home to Earth with twenty million tons of mineral ore. On board, “Mother,” the aircraft’s computer, awakens the crew of five men and two women from hyper-sleep. After breakfast, Dallas, the captain, learns that company headquarters has ordered the crew to detour and investigate a mysterious audio beacon. Parker, the ship's engineer, gripes that he is not being paid for rescue work, but Ash, the science officer, reminds him that according to their job contracts, they are obligated to look into transmissions of possible intelligent origins and by refusing, they forfeit their monetary share from the mission. Dallas agrees with Ash, and the crew proceeds to disengage the ship from the docking platform and navigate towards the signal. The ship incurs damages from a rough landing on a rocky planetary terrain. While Parker and his technician, Brent, make repairs, Dallas, along with executive officer Kane and navigator Lambert, don spacesuits and track the signal on foot. After coming upon a derelict spacecraft, they climb inside and discover a large alien life form, fossilized in a chair. Meanwhile on board the ship, warrant officer Ripley learns that the signal is a warning rather than an S.O.S. After being lowered into a cavernous chamber, Kane discovers egg-shaped forms covered by mist. He notices movement inside an egg, but while observing, an organism attaches itself to the front of his helmet, leaving him unconscious. Dallas and Lambert carry him ... +


In a futuristic outer space, the commercial towing ship The Nostromo is returning home to Earth with twenty million tons of mineral ore. On board, “Mother,” the aircraft’s computer, awakens the crew of five men and two women from hyper-sleep. After breakfast, Dallas, the captain, learns that company headquarters has ordered the crew to detour and investigate a mysterious audio beacon. Parker, the ship's engineer, gripes that he is not being paid for rescue work, but Ash, the science officer, reminds him that according to their job contracts, they are obligated to look into transmissions of possible intelligent origins and by refusing, they forfeit their monetary share from the mission. Dallas agrees with Ash, and the crew proceeds to disengage the ship from the docking platform and navigate towards the signal. The ship incurs damages from a rough landing on a rocky planetary terrain. While Parker and his technician, Brent, make repairs, Dallas, along with executive officer Kane and navigator Lambert, don spacesuits and track the signal on foot. After coming upon a derelict spacecraft, they climb inside and discover a large alien life form, fossilized in a chair. Meanwhile on board the ship, warrant officer Ripley learns that the signal is a warning rather than an S.O.S. After being lowered into a cavernous chamber, Kane discovers egg-shaped forms covered by mist. He notices movement inside an egg, but while observing, an organism attaches itself to the front of his helmet, leaving him unconscious. Dallas and Lambert carry him back to the ship, but Ripley reminds Dallas that the quarantine law requires twenty-four hours for decontamination and denies them reentry. Overhearing the exchange, Ash ignores Ripley's seniority and opens the hatch. In the infirmary, Ash and Dallas contemplate whether to detach the organism covering Kane’s face. Although Kane is still alive, the organism has paralyzed him. When Dallas cuts off a digit of the tentacle, an acidic liquid drips on the floor and begins to burn through flooring of the decks, temporarily threatening the hull. Unable to assist Kane for now, the crew waits while Parker and Brett repair the ship. Back in the infirmary, Ripley criticizes Ash for letting the organism onboard, which put the entire crew at risk. Ash claims that he disregarded the quarantine law to save Kane’s life. Sometime later, the organism detaches from Kane’s face and disappears. When its lifeless form drops from the ceiling, Ash is eager to conduct tests, while Ripley suggests discarding it. Because Ash is the science officer, Dallas lets him decide. Outside the infirmary, Ripley confronts Dallas to warn him that she does not trust Ash. With the majority of repairs complete, the ship takes off and returns to the docking station. As they continue the journey home, Kane regains consciousness; but during a meal, he begins to choke and convulse. From his chest, an embryonic organism suddenly bursts out and scurries away. After the crew buries Kane by propelling his body into space, they divide into two groups to locate the alien with a tracking device, nets and electrical prods. During the search, the team of Ripley, Parker and Brett, mistake the movement of Jones, the ship's cat, for the alien. When Brett follows the cat into another section, the alien, who has grown large and menacing, jerks him into an air shaft. Ripley and Parker rush in to witness Brett's death. In reporting to Dallas, Parker speculates that the organism is using the air ducts to move around the ship. Therefore, Dallas devises a plan to trap the alien in the main air lock and set it on fire. While the others monitor the alien’s movement and close off vents, Dallas enters the air shaft with a flamethrower. As he approaches a junction in the passage, Lambert yells that the organism is moving toward him. A screech is heard, followed by static on the radio. Parker finds no sign of the captain's dead body. The remaining crewmembers are tense as Ripley decides to continue with the plan to trap the organism in the air shaft. She becomes more frustrated by Ash’s seeming lack of concern or advice. While Parker is refueling the flamethrower, Ripley, as the new commanding officer, consults with "Mother" and learns that the priority is to bring back the alien species; however the crew is expendable. As a distressed Ripley leaves the computer annex, Ash tries to kill her. Lambert and Parker arrive and struggle to fight him off, until Ash begins to spew goo and disintegrate. When his head becomes detached, Parker and the others realize that he is a robot. Because Ash has been protecting the alien all along, Ripley believes that the company wants the species for their weapons division. She repairs Ash's communication function in the hope of extracting knowledge about how to kill the alien. However, as his head returns to life, Ash merely states that they cannot kill a perfect species and admits that he admires the alien for its purity as a survivor. After disconnecting the robot, Ripley decides that they will blow up the ship and escape in the shuttle. While Lambert and Parker collect supplies, Ripley prepares the shuttle for departure. She hears Jones the cat meowing and secures him in a cage. As Lambert and Parker are loading a cart, the alien attacks them. Ripley hears their distress over the radio and rushes to help, but finds both of them dead. After she runs back to program the destruction of the ship, the voice of "Mother" begins the countdown to detonation. Despite the nearby presence of the alien, Ripley and Jones eventually manage to board the escape shuttle without interference from the creature. From the window of the shuttle, Ripley watches the ship disintegrate and announces that she got the “son of a bitch.” She comforts Jones before placing him in the sleep capsule. While setting the controls for the journey home, the hand of the alien unexpectedly lurches out from the instrument panel. Ripley darts into a closet and puts on a spacesuit while keeping an eye on the alien's location. Returning to the control room, she opens the hatch, spears the organism, and it is jettisoned into space. Just as the creature is almost sucked back into the exhaust, she blasts the jet engines and the blaze pushes the alien away from the shuttle. As the only surviving crew member, Ripley dictates a report before entering hyper-sleep, estimating that she will arrive on the frontier in about six weeks. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.