Alien Literary Elements


Ridley Scott

Leading Actors/Actresses

Sigourney Weaver

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, John Hurt


Sci-Fi, Horror, Thriller




Oscar for Best Special Effects, 1980 (et al nominations). Best original score, Golden Globes 1980.

Date of Release

June 1979


Gordon Carroll

Setting and Context

the year 2122 aboard a commercial vessel in deep outer space

Narrator and Point of View

Floating third-person focused primarily on protagonist, Ripley

Tone and Mood

Ominous and tense. The effects of the film are intense and sudden, including dark scenes, jump-cuts and a terrifying beast who lurks in the shadows attacking crew members. A sense of fear dominates much of the film.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Warrant Officer Ripley. Antagonists: Ash, revealed as antagonistic android. Alien, the primary threat of the film.

Major Conflict

A commercial space ship accidentally allows a dangerous alien life-form to board the ship, which then lurks about the ship killing crew members one by one. Meanwhile, the corporation which commissioned the voyage makes attempts to sacrifice the crew so that they can profit from the discovery of this alien life.


The escape of Ripley which leaves her the only surviving member of the crew is one climax, although each death-scene is intense and revelatory. The final and primary climax is when Ripley finally kills the alien after finding it hiding in the escape vessel.


Ripley, back on board while three crew-members board the alien craft to investigate, remarks to Ash that she doesn't believe the distress signal was an S.O.S. which foreshadows the dangers to come.

Ash is revealed to be an android and talks about how the aliens force was pure and beautiful, commenting that it is a survivor, foreshadowing Ripley's own status as lone survivor.

Kane: "Oh, I feel dead."
Parker: "Anybody ever tell you you look dead, man?"
Kane dies.

Ripley: "Listen to me, if we break quarantine, we could all die." They all die, except Ripley.


When Parker jokes that the food isn't that bad, as Kane begins to choke before the alien erupts from his chest.

Ripley: "What kind of thing? I need a clear definition."
Dallas: "An organism."

Ash: "Maybe I should have left him outside. Maybe I've jeopardized the rest of us, but it was a risk I was willing to take."

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

A lighting scheme with high contrasts—similar to chiarroscuro—used to make the background seem looming or dangerous, often employed in scenes with multiple characters.

The framing of the alien-out-of-the-stomach scene is as innovative as it is grotesque.

Scott's expert use of jump cuts.


"Kane's son," spoken by Ash, could be a reference to Steinbeck's East of Eden, in which a character remarks that we are all sinful, and that we are all the sons of Cain.

When she is nervously preparing to kill the alien, Ripley sings "You Are My Lucky Star" to herself to ease her anxiety.


A major paradox is that no one puts their faith in Ripley until it is too late, even though she had the wherewithal to protect them from the start. Also, paradoxically, the technology that is meant to enhance human life—Mother and Ash, the android—are in fact programmed to deprioritize the crew's survival.


Ash regards the Alien as a survivor, a la Darwin, and then later, Ripley also emerges from her vessel as a lone surviror. Just as the Alien left its vessel alone, so also Ripley evacuated her own ship alone.