Where Does “Alien: Covenant” Rank In The Alien Franchise?

With Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant dividing audiences much like Prometheus, his previous re-entry into the Alien world, just where does this latest film rank in the franchise and which Alien film is the best of them all?

Alien, Aliens, Sigourney Weaver, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, dominant female film role,

Michael Biehn and Sigourney Weaver in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986)

Now the dust has settled from the latest Alien release, Alien: Covenant, even those of us who enjoyed it admit it was a disappointment. The latest instalment finds the colony ship, Covenant, tempted by a rogue transmission, discover David from Prometheus and unsurprisingly some aliens.

There is gathering momentum that Ridley Scott should be gently led away from the Alien franchise as he is coming alarmingly close to removing some of the shine from the original classics. It’s actually quite a relief that Denis Villeneve is directing the Blade Runner sequel. Ridley Scott is recently at his best when he has nothing to do with the script like 2015’s The Martian.

Alien: Covenant is a response to the fan displeasure of Prometheus, there is much more Xenomorph action, but it carries with it many of the flaws of Scott’s previous franchise effort. It fails to deliver a memorable crew member, has enforced homage to Ripley with a strong female lead (this time with the same hair cut) and all tension is diffused by stupid decisions. Silly Billy Crudup isn’t really a captain, he is just a number of silly mistakes: why yes, why wouldn’t you look closer at this moving Alien egg when invited to do so. The Covenant script is unintentionally funny especially as Fassbender in full character-actor mode offers to “do the fingering” in a highly homoerotic scene.

Prometheus at least has some bold ideas and visuals, it could have been a great stand alone sci-fi if not tied to the Alien universe. The most disappointing thing about Covenant is its lack of ambition and originality.

So it’s not quite a top 10 list but Top 10 Films has ranked all the Alien films (yes, even the rubbish Alien v Predator films). Let us know what you think. In reality it should just be Alien and Aliens then everything else, but that wouldn’t make much of a fun list.

8. Alien Vs Predator: Requiem (2007)

How anyone allowed the original crossover film, which left both franchises at a low point, to be made is still inexplicable, but the follow up inexcusable. The follow up did decide to go the full R-rating rather than the previous PG-13, but the gore is laughable, the story incoherent and worst of all it makes the B-movie premise boring.

7. Alien V Predator (2004)

Not even mainstream B-movie king Paul WS Anderson could make this film work especially with a PG-13 rating. The human characters are simply cannon fodder. The comics provide plenty of material but none of the good stuff made it to the screen. The effects are passable, but in the end all it achieves is sullying the memory of two great original films.

6. Alien 3 (1992)

Alien 3, Film, David Fincher

Probably the laziest title in the series and a great example of a studio production gone wrong. After the huge success of Aliens the sequel was rushed into production without a clear story and took almost six years to be released. The best thing this film did was give David Fincher his debut and he gets all the credit for making something almost interesting from the turgid mess left by studio meddling, reshoots and rewrites. The story behind the making of this film is alas more interesting than the film itself. This film tries so hard to capture the essence of the previous Alien films, but the poor production values are all over the screen. When you re-watch the original Alien, the detailed imagery and production value is key and made to a ludicrously high standard. This however is not.

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5. Alien: Covenant (2017)

My thoughts above are pretty clear, silly people making silly decisions, made without tension or a degree of common sense. Yes it looks great and the accelerated if inexplicable Xenomorph life cycle is fun to see in IMAX. Fassbender is a fine actor and steals the film with some unintentional humour. This is Ridley Scott reacting to the response Prometheus received. It turns out you shouldn’t give the fans what they want.

4. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Many may be shocked how high this appears on the list, but it at least learnt from the failures of Alien 3. It doesn’t try to capture the original essence of Alien and by this point recognises the diminishing visual power of the Xenomorph. This film goes more for a fun space opera with a Joss Whedon script and acclaimed director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The strongest element of this instalment is the cast including Ron Pearlman, Brad Dourif and Winona Ryder. Yes it fails to live up to the lofty heights of the original, but succeeds in its own aim of making a fun standalone. The other trick was to unleash a more predatory Ripley on unsuspecting audiences complete with the now famous basketball scene.

3. Prometheus (2012)

Noomi Rapace, Ridley Scott, Prometheus, Top 10 FilmsThe kindest way to describe this film is an ambitious failure. Not a failure of execution or production design like Alien 3. The marketing campaign for Ridley Scott’s return to the franchise was so good it perhaps led to an unfairly high expectation. It serves as a prequel to the original whilst expanding the mythology. The film is ripe with cosmic dread right from the confident opening. The visual spectacle is far better than Covenant and it does reward repeat viewings despite the crew bickering like children, bumbling around scientific discoveries whilst getting lost in a ship they are mapping out. And don’t even mention Charlize Theron’s inability to run sideways. This film did feel burdened by the Alien mythology and wanted to spend more time exploring grand sci-fi ideas in quiet cinematic moments. However you spin it this film still remains a disappointment, the one thing it got right compared to Covenant was the casting and characterisation of the Ripley role as Noomi Rapace remains far more memorable than the flat Katherine Waterson.

Now whatever you think about the rest of the list the top 2 are easy and there is no right order but only personal preference. For me at a very close second comes…

2. Alien (1979)

Alien, Dinner Table Scene, Kane (John Hurt) - Top 10 Films

The Nostromo’s crew stand in sheer shock at the destruction caused

The original Ridley Scott masterpiece that makes the recent instalments even more disappointing. Alien is a truly unsettling horror film set in space with truckers, the unease is rife from the start and enhanced by Jerry Goldsmith’s murmuring score. The whole film beautifully sustains and builds upon that uncomfortable sense of dread with moments of thrilling suspense. The most famous being the chest-bursting scene that has become ingrained in cinematic pop culture history. The beauty of the filmmaking on show here is the minimalist plot and attention to detail and tension that Ridley Scott would be advised to go back to. This film has a grounded realism that makes the horror element even more unbearable and this was the first time the now overused Xenomorph was seen. It was also long before the likes of Wonder Woman and The Hunger Games promoting strong female heroes. The audiences at the time were shocked that Sigourney Weaver was not an expendable crew member but a female hero. It shows how far ahead of the game this film was in every way.

1. Aliens (1986)

Alien, Aliens, Ridley Scott, James Cameron,It seems inconceivable that anyone other than James Cameron could be bold enough to take on a sequel to the iconic horror film Alien and add their own twist. This was a time before the Hollywood sequel machine and shared universe films, where the statement that ‘the sequel would be bigger, better with higher stakes’ was not met with a sigh of disdain. I love this film. It captures a childlike sense of joy and that final scene is now just as iconic as the chest burster. The sequel really ramps up the action with plenty of futuristic weaponry, but never loses sight of Ripley as the central character who treats the Xenomorphs with an element of respect. She is a survivor not a warrior, but she is forced to become one by the end of the film. I appreciate the filmmaking of the original, but this film has so much more to enjoy. It still remains the greatest sci-fi action film with endlessly quotable lines, “Get away from her, you bitch!” After the strength of this sequel perhaps it is not surprising that all the films since have been such a disappointment.

Do you agree with the list – let us know your order, your favourite Alien film, and what you thought about Alien: Covenant.

Written by Lyndon Wells

About the Author
A film geek and cinephile masquerading as a Doctor, husband and father. With my dog Bilbo by my side I seek to prescribe a healthy movie experience through accurate diagnostics. Find me on Twitter: @lwellsfilm

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  1. Dan Reply

    Terrific piece Lyndon. I can’t see the top 2 coming in for much criticism but the order of the rest might raise some eyebrows!

    I, for one, would like to sing the praises of Alien 3 which I think continues to be unfairly stamped on. It isn’t as good as Alien or Aliens but it makes a fine go at continuing the series as opposed to Alien Resurrection which I felt practically destroyed it (part-Alien Ripley and the human-alien hybrid thing at the end were just bad ideas).

    Contrary to that we have this brilliant set-up in Alien 3 – Ripley on a prison planet populated by a lot of very angry, rather nasty men. Alien 3 might actually get bullied for coming AFTER two classics and BEFORE Fincher’s crowd-pleasing masterpieces Seven and Fight Club.

    Taken by itself it’s a fine film. I admit it has its flaws and Fincher wasn’t helped by studio interference but it’s a far better example of an Alien film done well than Scott’s new films. Fir that reason, and a few others, I’d place it at 3rd on my list behind Alien and Aliens.

  2. Lyndon Wells Reply

    Thanks Dan, was a really fun article to put together.

    Apart from the top 2 and bottom 2, I found the middle 4 difficult to rank, so it came down to personal preference.
    Your defence of Alien 3 is more than justified, it does have a nice premise being set on a prison planet and it was always going to be a mammoth task to follow the first two. And I agree it is far from Fincher’s ‘crowd-pleasing masterpieces’ Seven and Fight Club. But I struggle to enjoy Alien 3 at all, the production design, lazy attention to detail and poor graphics that make the original appear even better. The production design in the original made 13 years previously are far superior and the ambition of the film is far more. This plays into why I enjoy and appreciate Resurrection and Prometheus more as they had some ambition and tried (despite both failing) something different.

    The climax of Alien 3 forced some suspect plotting in Resurrection, but it allowed Resurrection to play with the idea of a fun space romp with a more predatory Ripley and at least it looked good so I am not constantly annoyed by the poor production design and detail on screen taking me out of the film.

    However, like I said on another day the middle 4 could be in a completely different order!

    But I am sure we will all agree the gulf between the top 2 and the rest of the list is huge!

  3. Callum Reply

    I enjoyed Alien: Covenant more than Prometheus but agree they’re not nearly as good as the first two.

  4. Geoff Robinson Reply

    Agreed the top 2 are set in stone but Alien is the stronger of the two. Not a character is out of place or underwritten, not a shot wasted, not a minute left without a sense of tension and suspense. I would then place Alien 3 ahead of the new Ridley Scott movies with Resurrection and AvP2 last.

  5. CineGirl Reply

    I didn’t see Alien 3 at the time of release, nor the original two for that matter but never understood the criticism. I think the production values are top notch, as are the performances, and the sequence to trap the Alien is some of the best of the entire franchise. Other than that I agree with your order.

  6. Michael Scoates Reply

    I haven’t seen the AvPs or Covenant but I have zero problems with the ordering of the rest here. Is there a Top 10 where the sequels are better than the original? Aliens would be in there somewhere if I compiled one.

    • Lyndon Wells Reply

      That would be a great list maybe one for the future.
      Godfather Part 2, Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, Toy Story 2, Bourne Supremacy are all contenders

    • Dan Reply

      Regretfully there’s no “Sequels Better Than The Original” top 10 on the site at the moment but I did write this one a while back which you might like. 🙂

  7. Rodney Twelftree Reply

    Prometheus at 3?

    Are you nuts?

    Gah.

    • Lyndon Wells Reply

      Ha- I really disliked Prometheus on first watch came out of cinema very disappointed. I only rewatched it when putting together this list and rewards a second viewing much more than the others. Yes it’s a failure but an ambitious one, with some lovely visual flair unlike Covenant which is a bit lazy and formulaic.

      In all honesty when doing the list I didn’t rewatch the two Alien v Predator films you only need to watch them once to know they are rubbish!

  8. Rory Reply

    Prometheus is too high… I’d put Covenant, Alien 3 and AvP ahead of it.

    Yes… I DID say AvP! 🙂

    • Lyndon Wells Reply

      Gasp! 😀

      As I said above when doing the list i rewatched them all apart from the two Alien v Predator films you only need to watch them once to know they are rubbish!

      I know you might not believe me but Prometheus does reward a second viewing! I think I maybe I see in Prometheus what Dan sees in alien 3 – a failure of good ambition and vision.

  9. Dan Reply

    Been thinking about my order…

    8. AvP II
    7. Alien 4
    6. Alien V Predator
    5. Prometheus
    4. Alien: Covenant (I think)
    3. Alien 3
    2. Alien
    1. Aliens

    • Lyndon Wells Reply

      Enjoying this discussion a lot. I obviously have a soft/blind spot for Resurrcetion as a fun space romp, but I would always put it above the 2 AvP films!

      I really struggle to enjoy Alien 3 but appreciate its hidden value but both that and Covenant seemed to frustrate me more than the others. Still I’m sure you agree with the gulf between the Top 2 and the rest. Nice to see you agree with Aliens at the top spot

      • Dan Reply

        I’m not sure I loathed Alien 4 as much as I do now on first viewing.

        In fact, I quite like its first half… probably up and including the scene with the swimming aliens in the kitchen escape sequence. That’s a great sequence. And the cast is excellent.

        But after that I really begin to dislike it. In hindsight, I was disappointed they took the franchise in that direction which led to the reinvention of the franchise through AvP and Scott’s efforts.

        Speaking of style, Alien: Resurrection is my least favourite of the first four. I’m not sure Jeanet was the right man for the job and I’m not fond of his vision (even though I praise that kitchen escape scene). I prefer Fincher’s pub toilet aesthetic of Alien 3.

        Now, we’ve got the new strand to look forward to when “Alien 5” arrives to take the story forward from Aliens.

  10. Allison Reply

    Loved Covenant but still not as good as the first ones. The original 4 in order would be my favourites.

  11. Ross Reply

    I’m in agreement with the order, Resurrection is fun and more enjoyable than 3 but Prometheus has lots of good ideas and deserves a high spot. Didn’t like the Predator films but Covenant was good also. Loved Fassbender in it.

  12. Tom Brook Reply

    Not to disagree with the top 2 but I’ve always preferred Alien over Aliens. I like the pacing, the simplicity of the horror, the production design, everything. Aliens is great too and would rank well ahead of anything else in the Alien world.

  13. ArchE Reply

    Huge fan of the original 3. I’d rank them in the order they came out. Nothing has interested me since but Prometheus was mildly diverting.

  14. Charlie Wilson Reply

    I’m not a fan of Alien 3 either, Resurrection is a lot more fun with better characters. I like AvP but the sequel was rubbish. My top 2 are Aliens and Alien like Lyndon with Alien Covenant at 3, Alien 4, Prometheus and AvP.

  15. Joyce Reply

    Agreed. Covenant was pretty good but too many plot holes like Prometheus to make the top spots. Alien is best followed by Aliens.

  16. Roger Keen Reply

    Alien: Covenant was closer to what I expected Prometheus would have been. I enjoyed it more as a result. But I’m not sure it does the legacy of the original films much good. It was all Fassbender’s fault! 🙂

    My order would probably have the original 4 in release order then Covenant, Prometheus and AvP. I haven’t seen the sequel of AvP.

    • Dan Reply

      My advice: don’t bother catching up with AvP II! 🙂

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