20 Things You Didn’t Know About the ‘Alien’ Franchise

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This weekend, the second chapter in Ridley Scott’s prequel/sequel Alien franchise arrived in theaters. Alien: Covenant finds the crew of a colony ship bound for a remote planet, but their journey is disrupted when a strange signal beckons them to a planet that seems too good to be true. Scott’s alien world can seem a little complicated given the original films, Scott’s prequel plans, and the short films that were part of a viral marketing campaign. We break down some fun and fascinating facts from Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus to help you go deeper into the Alien myth.

1. Some of the facehuggers in Alien were made from shellfish, oysters, and sheep kidneys. Shredded condoms were used for the tendons of the alien’s giant jaws. The alien eggs were made from cattle hearts, stomachs, and sheep intestine. The alien slime was made from K-Y jelly. The crew created 130 alien eggs for the egg chamber inside the spacecraft.

2. Creature designer H.R. Giger’s original illustrations of the aliens had eyes, but he removed them for the film giving them a terrifying appearance.

3. It took only one take, but four cameras to film the chestbursting scene in Alien.

4. H.R. Giger’s first designs for the facehugger were detained by US Customs, because they were so scary. The final design for the facehugger was actually created by screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Giger’s initial design for the chestburster didn’t fly with director Ridley Scott who felt it looked like a “plucked turkey” instead of the phallic, birdlike creature Giger intended — which he based on Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

5. Ellen Ripley was almost played by Meryl Streep instead of Sigourney Weaver. From Blastr:

Alien franchise producer Gordon Carroll says, in an interview segment that never made it into the main documentaries either on the DVD or Blu-ray editions, that “We had a casting girl working for us named Mary Goldberg—she told us that there were two women we should see in New York that she thought would be perfect [for ‘Ripley’]. One who had done some films, but had not broken through as yet, and the other was a young girl who had not made a movie as yet. The first woman was Meryl Streep. Meryl’s long-time companion had just died, and I did not feel that she should be asked to come in from the country. It had just happened the day before … we could see her another time. The other woman was, of course, Sigourney Weaver.”

Weaver nailed the part thanks to her successful screen test performance of the films’ speech in the final scene.

6. The original cut of Alien was three hours and 12 minutes.

7. The original space jockey prop was 26 feet tall.

8. Most of Alien was shot by Scott with a handheld camera. Art director Roger Christian has stated that “80% of Alien was shot on Ridley’s shoulder.”

9. The famous knife trick in Aliens was sprung on actor Bill Paxton by co-star Lance Henriksen. From Film School Rejects:

According to Henriksen, Paxton had no idea he was going to be part of the “knife trick” scene until it came time to shoot it. Henriksen felt the scene needed something extra, so he and Cameron decided on set Bishop would hold Hudson’s hand down and perform the trick on him. Henriksen also remembers a long night of drinking after shooting this scene followed by a reshoot of the scene, as it looked too fake when they sped the footage up. He accidentally caught Paxton’s pinky with the knife on this reshoot.

10. Bill Paxton improvised most of his lines in Aliens, including his famous, “Game over, man! Game over!” Paxton says “man” 35 times in the film.

(20th Century Fox)

11. Weaver’s Academy Award nomination for Aliens was important for a few reasons. From writer Trace Thurman:

The significance of Weaver’s nomination should be obvious. Not since The Exorcist had any horror film landed a major acting nomination at the Academy Awards. The only real win for the genre was Ruth Gordon’s Best Supporting Actress win in 1964 for Rosemary’s Baby. It is also considered the first acting nomination for an action film, a genre that is typically overlooked by the Academy.

12. The alien screams in Aliens were baboon shrieks.

13. To bring the giant alien queen to life in Aliens required nearly 20 operators.

14. Al Matthews, who plays a Marine sergeant in Aliens, was (in real life) the first black Marine in the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam to be meritoriously promoted to the rank of sergeant.

15. A lot of the sets in Aliens weren’t exactly what they seemed. From IMDb:

When Fox execs saw an early cut of the film, they complained to producer Gale Anne Hurd that it looked like the money had all been spent on sets rather than special effects. Hurd took great delight in telling the execs that a majority of the sets that they were seeing in the film were indeed miniatures or optical effects (eg, special effects). The artists behind these images were very pleased that their work had fooled the money men.

(20th Century Fox)

16. For Prometheus, composer Marc Streitenfeld instructed the orchestra play his compositions backwards — and then digitally reversed it for the final cut to create an unsettling sound.

17. The sound effects for Prometheus came from some strange sources, including Pop Rocks, Xerox machines, and a 35-year-old parrot named Skipper. See Wired for an interview with designers and mixers on the making of the film’s soundscape.

18. A sex scene between Ripley and Dallas was cut from Alien, but the spirit of that scene was reused for Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers and Idris Elba’s Janek in Prometheus.

19. Theron was originally cast as Elizabeth Shaw, but due to a scheduling conflict she accepted the part of Vickers. Gemma Arterton, Carey Mulligan, Olivia Wilde, Anne Hathaway, Abbie Cornish, and Natalie Portman were also considered for the role of Shaw.

20. Scott’s story concept was partially inspired by author Erich von Däniken’s theories about ancient astronauts. Scott said, “NASA and the Vatican agree that [it is] almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today without there being a little help along the way . . . That’s what we’re looking at [in the film], at some of Erich von Däniken’s ideas of how did we humans come about.”