Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. Dan O'Bannon wrote the screenplay from a story he wrote with Ronald Shusett, drawing influence from previous works of science fiction and horror. The film was produced through Brandywine Productions and distributed by 20th Century Fox, with producers David Giler and Walter Hill making significant revisions and additions to the script. The titular Alien and its accompanying elements were designed by Swisssurrealist artist H. R. Giger, while concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss designed the human aspects of the film.
Alien garnered both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Cartwright, and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, along with numerous other award nominations. It has remained highly praised in subsequent decades, being inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002 for historical preservation as a film which is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2008 it was ranked as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre by the American Film Institute, and as the 33rd-greatest movie of all time by Empire magazine.
The success of Alien spawned a media franchise of novels, comic books, video games, and toys, as well as three sequel and three prequel films. It also launched Weaver's acting career by providing her with her first lead role, and the story of her character Ripley's encounters with the Alien creatures became the thematic thread that ran through the sequels Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997). The subsequent prequels Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) abandoned this theme in favor of a crossover with thePredator franchise. Scott began work on an Alien prequel in 2009, which developed into his 2012 film Prometheus, a quasi-prequel to Alien.
The commercial towing spaceship Nostromo, owned and operated by Earth mega-corporation Weyland-Yutani, is on a return trip to Earth hauling a refinery and twenty million tons of mineralore and carrying its seven-member crew in stasis. Detecting a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planetoid, the ship's computer awakens the crew. Acting on standing orders from their corporate employers, they set out to investigate the transmission's source. Some damage is incurred whilst landing the Nostromo's tractor ship on the planetoid, so Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), and Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) set out to investigate the signal while Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), and Engineers Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) stay behind to make repairs.
Dallas, Kane, and Lambert discover that the signal is coming from a derelict alien spacecraft. Inside they find the remains of a large alien creature whose ribs appear to have been broken outward from the inside. Meanwhile, theNostromo's computer partially deciphers the transmission, which Ripley determines to be some type of warning. Kane discovers a vast chamber containing numerous eggs, one of which releases a creature that attaches to his face. Rendered unconscious, Kane is retrieved and carried back to the Nostromo. Acting on improper orders from Dallas, Ash violates quarantine protocol by opening the airlock, allowing the exploratory team aboard. After an unsuccessful attempt by Ash to surgically remove the creature from Kane's face, the crew discover that the creature's blood contained a corrosive acid. The creature eventually detaches from Kane's face by itself and is found dead. With the ship partially repaired, the crew is able to return to the refinery platform left in orbit and resume their trip to Earth.
Kane awakens from his ordeal with some memory loss but no other apparent ill-effects. During the crew's final dinner before re-entering hypersleep, he chokes and convulses until an alien creature bursts from his chest, killing him and escaping into the ship. Lacking conventional weapons, the crew attempt to locate and capture the creature by fashioning motion trackers, electric prods, and flamethrowers. The Alien, by now fully-grown, attacks Brett and disappears with his body into an airshaft. Dallas enters the airshaft network intending to force the Alien into an airlock, but it ambushes him. Realising that the alien is aggressive and intent on killing the entire crew, Lambert implores the remaining crew members to escape in the ship's shuttle, but Ripley, now in command, explains that the shuttle will not support four people, and that they should continue with Dallas' plan of cornering and flushing out the alien.
Accessing the ship's computer, Ripley discovers that Ash has been ordered to return the Alien to the Nostromos corporate employers even at the expense of the crew's lives. Ash attacks her, but Parker and Lambert intervene, decapitating and impaling Ash, revealing him to be an android. Before being destroyed, Ash predicts that the others will not survive. The remaining three crew members plan to arm the Nostromos self-destruct mechanism and escape in the shuttle, but Parker and Lambert are killed by the Alien while gathering the necessary coolant supplies. Ripley initiates the self-destruct sequence herself and heads for the shuttle with the crew's cat, but finds the Alien blocking her way. She unsuccessfully attempts to abort the self-destruct, then returns to find the Alien gone and narrowly escapes in the shuttle as the Nostromo explodes.
As she prepares to enter stasis, Ripley discovers that the Alien has hidden aboard the shuttle. She puts on a spacesuit and opens the hatch, causing explosive decompression which forces the Alien to the open doorway. She propels it out by shooting it with a grappling hook, but the gun catches in the closing door, tethering the Alien to the shuttle. As it attempts to crawl into one of the engines, Ripley activates them and blasts the alien into space. She then puts herself and the cat into stasis, hoping to be picked up by another ship.
Casting calls and auditions for Alien were held in both New York and London. With only seven human characters in the story, Scott sought to hire strong actors so he could focus most of his energy on the film's visual style. He employed casting director Mary Selway, who had worked with him on The Duellists, to head the casting in the United Kingdom, while Mary Goldberg handled casting in the United States. In developing the story O'Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the characters for a later draft. He and Shusett had therefore written all of the roles as generic males with a note in the script explicitly stating "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women." This left Scott, Selway, and Goldberg free to interpret the characters as they liked and to cast accordingly. They wanted the Nostromo's crew to resemble working astronauts in a realistic environment, a concept summed up as "truckers in space". According to Scott, this concept was inspired partly by Star Wars, which deviated from the pristine future often depicted in science fiction films of the time.
The principal cast members of Alien were:
- Bolaji Badejo as The Alien. A Nigerian design student, Badejo was discovered in a bar by a member of the casting team, who put him in touch with Ridley Scott. Scott believed that Badejo, at 7 feet 2 inches (218 cm) and with a slender frame, could portray the Alien and look as if his arms and legs were too long to be real, creating the illusion that there could not possibly be a human being inside the costume. Stuntmen Eddie Powell and Roy Scammell also portrayed the Alien in some scenes.
- Veronica Cartwright as Lambert, the Nostromo's navigator. Cartwright had previous experience in horror and science fiction films, having acted in The Birds (1963) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). She originally read for the role of Ripley, and was not informed that she had instead been cast as Lambert until she arrived in London for wardrobe. She disliked the character's emotional weakness, but nevertheless accepted the role: "They convinced me that I was the audience's fears; I was a reflection of what the audience is feeling."Cartwright won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
- Ian Holm as Ash, the ship's Science Officer who is revealed to be an android under orders to bring the Alien back to the Nostromo's corporate employers. Holm, a character actor who by 1979 had already been in twenty films, was the most experienced actor cast for Alien.
- John Hurt as Kane, the Executive Officer who becomes the host for the Alien. Hurt was Scott's first choice for the role but was contracted on a film in South Africa during Alien's filming dates, so Jon Finch was cast as Kane instead. However, Finch became ill during the first day of shooting and was diagnosed with severe diabetes, which had also exacerbated a case ofbronchitis.Hurt was in London by this time, his South African project having fallen through, and he quickly replaced Finch. His performance earned him a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
- Yaphet Kotto as Parker, the Chief Engineer. Kotto, an African American, was chosen partly to add diversity to the cast and give the Nostromo crew an international flavor. Kotto was sent a script off the back of his recent success with Live and Let Die, although it was some time and deliberation between Kotto and his agent before he was offered the part.
- Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the Captain of the Nostromo. Skerritt had been approached early in the film's development but declined as it did not yet have a director and had a very low budget. Later, when Scott was attached as director and the budget had been doubled, Skerritt accepted the role of Dallas.
- Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, the Engineering Technician. Stanton's first words to Scott during his audition were "I don't like sci fi or monster movies." Scott was amused and convinced Stanton to take the role after reassuring him that Alien would actually be a thriller more akin to Ten Little Indians.
- Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the warrant officer aboard the Nostromo. The decision to make the lead character a woman was made by Giler and Hill, who felt this would help Alien stand out in the otherwise male-dominated genre of science fiction. Weaver, who had Broadway experience but was relatively unknown in film, impressed Scott, Giler, and Hill with her audition. She was the last actor to be cast for the film, and performed most of her screen tests in-studio as the sets were being built. The role of Ripley was Weaver's first leading role in a motion picture, and earned her nominations for a Saturn Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role.