Alien Study Guide

Alien (1979) is a highly regarded and influential film in the Thriller/Science Fiction/Horror genres. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O'Bannon. Ridley Scott also had been the director of the well-received film The Duellists, in 1977. O'Bannon, an accomplished science-fiction writer, created the plot for Alien with co-writer, Ronald Shusette, borrowing heavily from horror and science fiction works from the 1950s and '60s. Scott, having seen the commercial success of Star Wars, decided that effects-driven films set in outer space were well received by critics and public alike. Alien's success launched Scott and O'Bannon's careers.

With only 7 human characters, the film stars Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartwright as the astronauts set upon by a vicious alien. All of the parts were written as unisex, which gave the casting department and the actors a great amount of flexibility when approaching the parts. It takes place aboard the ship Nostromo, which is returning to Earth in the year 2122. The film is known for its dark and claustrophobic camera angles and its effective jump scares, compounding the fear of tight spaces with the fear of the unknown. The movie's large budget for the time ($9-11 million) funded a richly eerie set, along with the terrifying, iconic alien at the center of the horrific story.

Alien is credited as a pioneering film in both the science fiction and the horror genres, for its inventive use of special effects to repurpose a monster thriller for the future. Its combination of old horror motifs with new effects and futuristic space-age technologies make Alien one of the most ingenious and scary movies in contemporary cinema. The titular creature was designed by Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger who is known for his artwork in Necronomicon IV, and Biomechanoiden. The design for the creature was influenced by deep sea fish such as the Phronima—a small, translucent deep sea hyperiid, closely related to amphipods (crustaceans) which has much in common with the exo-skeletal structure of the alien—and the Moray Eel, which shares the alien's mouthed tongue. The result is a monster that is both primordial and futuristic. The set design of the film was largely influenced by George Lucas' Star Wars, though the set pieces have a much more grounded and gritty feel to them and has been cited as an influence on Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner, which shared many characteristics of Alien's futuristic set pieces.

Alien was an instant classic, and won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. The story became a franchise, with films, books, and comic books all created around it. A number of sequels followed it, including Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. Its prequels are Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.