Date Released: 18th July 1986
Directed By: James Cameron
Written By: James Cameron
Tagline: This time it’s war.
Length: 137 Minutes (154 Mins Director’s Cut)
- Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
- Michael Biehn as Corporal Dwayne Hicks
- Jenette Goldstein as Private Jenette Vasquez
- Carrie Henn as Newt
- Lance Henriksen as Bishop
- William Hope as Lieutenant William Gorman
- Al Matthews as Sergeant Al Apone
- Bill Paxton as Private William Hudson
- Paul Reiser as Carter Burke
- Mark Rolston as Private Mark Drake
- Cynthia Dale Scott as Corporal Cynthia Dietrich
After being in hypersleep for 57 years, Ripley (played again by Sigourney Weaver) is found by a deep salvage ship. After a while of being on the ship, the company blame her for the loss of the Nostromo and she loses her officer’s license in the process. She soon learns that the planet where the original alien was found has been turned into a colony for people. When the company loses contact with the colony, Ripley is persuaded to go to go on a mission to the planet, but this time she’s not going along as a few marines armed with weaponry are also going. When they reach the planet, they explore and find signs that there was a struggle at the colony and the only survivor is a young girl called Newt. After their first encounter with the aliens, the marines soon find out that the hunters have become the hunted. When their pickup ship is destroyed, they seek refuge in a compound. From here on in, the mission turns into a life and death situation and there are a lot more thrills along the way…
When director James Cameron was busy with pre-production for Terminator, he spoke about wishing to do a sequel to Alien with producer David Giler. Cameron went away and wrote a 45-page treatment for a sequel in just four days. The film was put on hold as 20th Century Fox felt that the first film didn’t make enough money to warrant a sequel being made. As Arnold Schwarzenegger was busy filming Conan the Destroyer, filming on Terminator had to be delayed for nine months. This gave James Cameron the opportunity to finish his Alien sequel script. He wrote a 90-page script in that period and even though it wasn’t finished, 20th Century Fox told him that if Terminator was a success, they would let him direct the sequel. After Terminator proved to be a success, he and producer Gale Anne Hurd were given the go ahead to direct and produce the sequel for a 1986 release date. Cameron wanted to create a new world for Aliens and didn’t want to simply copy what Alien had done. It was going to be more of a combat sequel focusing more on terror than horror. When writing the story, Cameron was inspired by the Vietnam War… that a technologically superior team were simply outmatched in a foreign environment.
The first concept art was created by Syd Mead who also worked on Blade Runner, 2010 and Tron. Concept artists were asked to include elements of the Vietnam War into their designs like designing the dropship to be a combination of a F-4 Phantom II and AH-1 Cobra. The filmmakers managed to buy a Hunslet ATT 77 Aircraft Towing Tractor from British Airways which was going to be used as the APC. It weighed 64,000kg but this was reduced to 32,000kg and the set floors still ha to be reinforced to support the weight. The crew used many junk items when crafting the sets. Lockers, helicopter engines and vending machines were used in the scene of the marines awakening from hypersleep. Producer Gale Hurd wanted to cut the sequence altogether and production designer Peter Lamont was asked to reduce the cost of several scenes. James Cameron thought the scene was important so to save money, only four hypersleep chambers were made and a mirror was used to give the illusion there were 12. The chambers were opened using wires and puppeteers.
The weapons used by the marines were based on real weapons and the crew chose weapons that would be the most reliable when firing blanks and what looked futuristic at the same time. The pulse rifles were created from a Thompson SMG, with an attached forend of a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun and a Remington 12 Gauge Model 870P receiver with barrel. The smart guns that Vasquez and Drake use were based on a German MG-42 machine gun.
Actress Sigourney Weaver was cautious about the project to start with but after talking to James Cameron, she was interested in returning as Ripley. 20th Century Fox refused to hire Weaver as she asked for money so the studio asked Cameron to write a script without the Ripley character. Cameron refused stating that Fox had said that Weaver had signed on before he began writing the script. Fox eventually signed the contract with Weaver and she was paid $1 million for the part, 30 times more than what she got paid for doing Alien. James Cameron initially wanted to hire actors who had, or could imitate, an American accent but after over 3000 unsuccessful auditions in the UK, American actors were chosen instead. Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn had previously worked with Cameron on Terminator. The actors portraying the marines were asked to read Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers and had military training for two weeks to prepare for the role. Cameron wanted the actors to train together so they would form close bonds. Sigourney Weaver, William Hope and Paul Reiser didn’t take part in the training but Cameron liked this as their characters in the movie are sort of outsiders. Over 500 children auditioned for the role of Newt and in the end, it went to Carrie Henn despite not having any acting experience.
Aliens had a budget of $18 million and production began at Pinewood Studios in England, lasting for 10 months. There were some major problems with James Cameron and the British production crew. Cameron is known for his hard-working attitude and had had a very specific budget and time-frame to get the movie done in and found it difficult getting used to British working practices such as having regular tea breaks. The crew were admirers of Ridley Scott and some people believed that James Cameron was too young and inexperienced to direct a film like Aliens. At the time, Terminator hadn’t come out in the UK. The crew apparently made fun of Cameron’s wife, Gale Anne Hurd and said she was only getting a producer’s credit because she is his wife. Several crew members walked out after an argument between James Cameron and director of photography Dick Bush who refused to light a scene the way Cameron wanted. He had lit the hive brightly while Cameron wanted it to be much darker with the only light coming from the marine’s shoulder lamps. After this Dick Bush was fired and replaced by Adrian Biddle and Gale Anne Hurd convinced the other crew members to return to work. Some parts of the alien hive were filmed at the Acton Lane Power Station in Acton, London as it contained grilled walkways and plenty of corridors. There was some problems with rust and asbestos but the crew spent some money on cleaning the asbestos. After they had finished filming in it, the alien hive set was dismantled and was used in Batman for the Axis Chemicals set.
The visual effects in Aliens were supervised by Robert and Dennis Skotak who went on to work on The Abyss, Terminator 2 and Titanic. Miniature models, about 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, were used to created the colony on LV-426. Filming the miniatures proved to be difficult due to the wind which would blow the props over. Cameron used several techniques to make the miniatures appear much bigger than they actually were. Stunt men, gymnasts and dancers were hired to portrayed the aliens and the costumes this time were much more flexible and stronger than the suit in Alien. One of the big changes to the alien design was that the aliens had ridged heads. Cameron decided not to use the translucent dome design from the first Alien because it was too fragile and thought Giger’s design looked better on screen without the dome. The Alien Queen was made by Stan Winston and his team, who had previously worked on Terminator and went on to work on the Predator and Jurassic Park franchises. Initially, a life-sized mock-up of the Queen Alien was created in order to see how it operates. The crew then flew to England and began creating the final version. It was 14 feet tall and was controlled by a combination of puppeteers, hydraulics and wires. Two people were inside the suit controlling its arms and it needed 16 people just to move it. All shots of the full-size queen in camera was filmed in-camera with no visual effects adds in post production.
The music was scored by composer James Horner who went on to score Braveheart, Titanic and Avatar. Horner felt like he didn’t have enough time to create the score and he came to England expecting the film to have been finalised so he could write the score within six weeks. Instead, filming and editing were still taking place and he wasn’t able to view the film. Horner visited the sets and editing room for three weeks and noticed that the editor Ray Lovejoy was struggling to keep up with the amount of work and James Cameron was busy with creating the sound effects. According to Horner, Cameron spent two days with the sound engineer just creating the sound for the pulse rifles. Soon enough, there were six weeks until its theatrical release and no dubbing had taken place nor had the even been written as Horner wasn’t able to view the finished film. The final cue for the Queen vs Ripley battle was written literally overnight. Cameron reworked the scene and Horner had to rewrite the music. Horner wanted the producers to push the movie back by four weeks so he could get the music done until he was 100% satisfied with it. Both James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd denied the request. The score was recorded in just four days with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios and Horner found the studio to be outdated. After the score had been completed, Horner believed that he and Cameron would never work together again due to the problems he encountered though Horner did work Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar.
Aliens was released in North American on July 18, 1986 and a few weeks later on August 29, 1986 in the UK. It debuted at number one at the box office in the U.S. with a weekend gross of $10,052,042. It opened in 1437 cinemas and stayed at number one at the box office for four weeks in a row. The film grossed $45.9 million oversears and finished with a worldwide total of $131 million.
Because the film wasn’t finished until its week of release, there was no test pre-screenings. When it was released, critical reception was extremely positive. It currently holds a Fresh rating of 98% on RottenTomotoes based on 59 reviews. Every critic felt that the film surpassed the original Alien by a wide margin and they loved the action. Aliens was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Music, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and it won two awards for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects. Sigourney Weaver was also nominated for Best Actress, and despite not winning, it still is considered to be an achievement considering the science fiction genre was not given much recognition at the time.
Full Article: Aliens Deleted Scenes
An extended cut of Aliens made its television premiere on CBS in 1989 and included most of the new scenes that would be found in the Special Edition of Aliens. It didn’t feature the Hadley’s Hope transmission and subsequent discovery of the derelict spacecraft due to unfinished special effects. Director James Cameron went back with the Skotak brothers and finished the scenes.
The Special Edition of Aliens was released on laserdisc and VHS in 1992 and it restored 17 minutes of deleted scenes. The new scenes included Newt’s family discovering the derelict spacecraft, Ripley learning about her daughter’s death and the Sentry Guns being operated. The Aliens Special Edition was released in 1999 as a standalone release or as part of the Alien Legacy boxset. The special features included a lengthy interview with James Cameron, behind-the-scenes footage and a photo gallery. On December 2, 2003, Aliens was released as part of the Alien Quadrilogy boxset and released as a 2-Disc ‘Collector’s Edition’ standalone release on January 6, 2004. The special features included both the theatrical cut and the special edition version, a new audio commentary with cast and crew and plenty of featurettes. Aliens was released on bluray as part of the Alien Anthology set on October 26, 2010 and was later released as a 2-disc standalone release on May 10, 2011. It included all the extras of the previous releases as well as new deleted scenes and featurettes.
There was an Aliens novelization written by Alan Dean Foster and released in June 1986. Since 1989, Dark Horse has released numerous comics and novels based on Aliens. The originals of Aliens Book One and Book Two were direct sequels to Aliens while others are spin off stories. The Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual was released June 1, 1996 which was a very detailed fictional reference of all the marines’ weapons and equipment in Aliens. There have been also numerous Aliens video games over the years such as 1986’s Aliens (US Version); 1987’s Aliens (UK Version); 1990’s Aliens Arcade game; 1995’s Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure; 1996’s Alien Trilogy; 1998’s Aliens Online; 2001’s Aliens: Thanatos Encounter; 2001’s cancelled Aliens: Colonial Marines; 2006’s Aliens Extermination arcade game; the cancelled Aliens: Crucible game; 2011’s Aliens: Infestation; 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines and 2014’s Aliens: Armageddon arcade game. There is also numerous Aliens vs Predator games that were based on Aliens.
You can find more images on Aliens Production Stills.
You can find more images on Aliens Colonial Marines Concept Art.