Ever since a Xenomorph skull popped up in Predator 2, the Alien and Predator franchises found themselves linked. Most of this buzz made sense in the early 1990s. The James Cameron-directed Aliens pit Marines against Xenomorphs. Just a year later, Arnold Schwartzenegger led a special ops team into the jungle, only to be ambushed by an extraterrestrial with an affinity for spinal columns. The two creatures were among the meanest and baddest of the 1980s. Now, they’ve become legacy IP characters, and strangely, both represent a path forward for R-Rated content from the House of Mouse. With any luck, we’ll continue to see entries from the two franchises moving forward. In the meantime, let’s rank the franchise as it stands today.
Theater 12 – Split Showing: Alien vs. PredatorRequiem/Alien vs. Predator
We only have 12 theaters, and it’s getting the short stick this week. The Alien vs. Predator films that give the combined franchise its namesake also happens to be the worst in the franchise. AVP fails to ignite anything unique about its humans or its monsters. The ending teases a far more interesting concept for a future film, which might have worked if the sequel AVP: Requiem was not the cruelest film imaginable. Instead, it might be the most unlikeable film, despite some genuinely creative kills. We’ll double bill these two, with AVP getting 3 showings to AVP: Requiem‘s 2. They come in at 12 and 13, respectively.
Theater 11 – The Predator
Shane Black‘s return to the franchise, from dead meat to director, could have been a genuinely exciting film. Instead, Black could not get out of his own way, writing shockingly regressive jokes, gawking at Olivia Munn, and casting the most boring lead of these films. Worse, Boyd Holbrook (a guy I had stock in) gets blown off the screen by Trevante Rhodes. Also, turning the Autism spectrum into a superpower may be the most apparent self-own in franchise history.
Theater 10 – Predator 2
Danny Glover gets to play Murtagh and Riggs in a single character. Held back by regressive racial tropes, Predator 2 features some exciting setpieces. A real shame that it could not get out of its own way. A modern “concrete jungle” film could likely fly today without the racially tinged jokes.
Theater 9 – Alien Resurrection
Jean Pierre-Jeunet might be the most unlikely director of an Alien film. Yet, at the same time, it’s impossible to argue with the zaniness he brings to the table. A stellar cast, including Weaver, Ron Pearlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif, and Michael Wincott, shines with pure scumbag energy. Sadly, it loses points for undermining Ripley’s story arc from Alien3. Still, this one is oddly entertaining from start to finish.
Theater 8 – Alien3
Putting David Fincher into this franchise could yield some incredible results today. However, in 1992, Fincher got bulldozed. The concept of a prison colony featuring the worst criminals in the galaxy alongside zealous monks could be a thrilling story. Fincher extracts as much as possible from what he was allowed to keep. However, killing the other survivors of Aliens to open this film (with a highly upsetting montage of their burnt bodies) gets us off on the wrong foot. Few actors clicked with Sigourney like Charles Dance, and Charles S. Dutton also gave a stellar performance. The bold ending was eventually undone. This was not what audiences were looking for after Aliens, but the ideas are too good for this to rank low.
Theater 7 – Predators
While many misattribute the film to Robert Rodriguez (who did produce), Nimród Antal’s film flirts with greatness. Antal stacks the cast with legendary characters actors (Lawrence Fishburne, Danny Trejo) and a few future stars (Mahershala Ali, Walton Goggins). Instead of dropping Predators into a dozen different settings, Antal brings the potential survivors from their worlds into a shared space. Shockingly, Adrian Brody exhibits leading action hero chops, something we should clock for a possible turn in the next decade or so. An entertaining film with some great Predator executions, Predators cannot live up to the ambition or filmmaking of the others on the list.
Theater 6 – Alien: Covenant
The ideas and concepts in Alien: Covenant would put this in contention for the best in the franchise. The unbelievable performance from Michael Fassbender should have found love on the awards trail. There are other great performances populating the film, with Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Katherine Waterson and all giving unmistakable energy. However, the CG Xenomorphs undermine the film’s visual allure. The darkness on the screen does little to hide the bad CGI. Finally, the decision to butcher a vital character of the last film never sat right. While ambitious, it punishes its viewers with a nihilism that is tough to ignore. In fact, it may have killed the franchise in theaters as it drove audiences away.
Theater 5 – Prey
A gorgeously shot action flick, Prey would rule even if its monster had been a new creation. However, it quickly takes a spot near the top of the Predator franchise, delivering the goods for the first time since the original film. Amanda Midthunder anoints herself as a star to watch, while Dan Trachtenberg puts in a claim to be one of the best directors to turn to when your franchise hits the doldrums. The fact that Prey cannot be seen in theaters is a genuine afront to audiences.
Theater 4 – Predator
Action heroes have never been allowed to let their freak flag fly like they did in Predator when it was released in 1987. Anytime you can have Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, and Carl Weathers in your supporting cast, you have to go for it. The real magic comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s titan-inspired performance. There may never have been a man who looked more like a God on screen. John McTiernan stamped his ticket to the action movie hall of fame with this film, especially when you read the undercurrent of anti-American Imperialism coursing through the film’s veins.
Theater 3 – Prometheus
A misunderstood sci-fi epic got a bad rap when it was released. Then again, most audiences thought they were about to see Alien 0.5, despite many trying to warn them about the incoming crash. Prequels deliver the compelling storylines audiences believe because they rarely have stakes. Instead, the individual character beats of Prometheus ring with emotional and physical exhaustion. Arguably the most outstanding cast since Alien, Ridley Scott delivered the best late-period film of his career.
Theater 2 – Aliens
While James Cameron became something of a punchline for his overly ambitious sense of adventure, it has always served him as a filmmaker. Taking the reigns of a sequel to one of the darkest films ever made, Cameron makes Aliens a Vietnam-war allegory dripping with personal stakes for its characters. Sigourney Weaver delivers the greatest performance of her career, showing off the range of her talent. Seriously, we need to give everyone more credit for this film working because there’s no reason it should.
Theater 1 – Alien
Arguably one of the best American studio films ever made, Alien plants a flag as one of the best horror films of all time. Even crazier, it can almost make the same claim in Science Fiction. The film glistens with iconic imagery, thanks to Giger and Scott’s collaborations. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon would never write a script that stole from world cultures as efficiently, but fusing so many ideas and philosophies into a single film remains one of the most impressive feats of storytelling in the medium’s history. A violent, sexual, and terrifying film, Alien, makes us confront the worst of ourselves while delivering an enduring classic in the same breathe.