Even after 40 years, Ridley Scott’sAlienstill manages to generate scares for audiences, remaining as gripping now as it was back in 1979.
Its success spawned a series that continues to this day, with another movie reportedly gestating like a xenomorph in Hollywood’s belly. It’s hard to believe that Scott wasn’t the first choice of director but it can’t be denied he achieved his goal of simply wanting to “scare the shit out of people”.
Alienstill does that and much more, but it could have actually been so different.
20th Century Fox
There would be noAlienwithoutStar Wars(kind of)
Before 1977, science fiction movies were deemed too risky an investment for studios and producers, especially when talking about a script as vividly violent and grim asAlien. The worldwide success ofStar Warsallowed sci-fi to be explored more, and soon afterAlien(originally titledStar Beast) was given the green light.
With the film officially on the cards, Ridley Scott, fresh from his success withThe Duellistsat Cannes Film Festival was flown in to read the script.
“I thought the script had an inordinately good engine. I thought it had virtually no characterisation whatsoever. It was, ‘And then and then and then’. And then I got to a page where it says, ‘And then this thing comes out of the guy’s chest’,” Scott toldThe Hollywood Reporter.
“And I’m thinking, ‘This has put off four of the directors’ – because I was number five on the list. Obviously, clearly, the previous four went, ‘What?!? This is ridiculous’, and just put it down. Because I’m a bit of a designer, I could see the film and I knew exactly what to do.”
Ripley was a man
In the early stages of production, Ripley was only ever characterised as a male. The tables turned when Scott decided to transform his final guy to a strong final girl.
20th Century Fox
“I just had a thought. What would you think if Ripley was a woman?” Scott asked, according toEmpire. “She would be the last one you would think would survive – she’s beautiful.”
The decision created a film that was fresh and unlike anything in the cinema catalogue at that time. Ripley has since become an iconic female hero – one who made audiences crave more strong female leads.
Meryl Streep was almost got the gig
As hard as it is to imagine anyone else other thanAlien‘s leading lady Sigourney Weaver taking on a xenomorph, it almost happened. That other actress was three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep.
AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVASGetty Images
According toThe Hollywood Reporter, Streep was unable to consider work at the time due to her partner, John Cazale, having passed away. That’s when reportedly Warren Beatty suggested that Scott should consider talking to Weaver, who at that point was mainly a theatre actress.
“I went and met with her. She appeared – she had an afro, she had high heels on, [so] she was like, 7-foot-6,” Scott toldEW. “It felt like I was going out for dinner with Mummy.”
Ridley had to fight Fox to keep HR Giger
HR Giger / Titan Books (The Alien Archive)
The tagline for the film was, famously, “In space, no one can hear you scream”. For that to work, you need a genuinely scary monster. The xenomorph, created by HR Giger, is one of the most unique and influential creature designs in cinema history.
At the time, though, it seems Fox weren’t Giger’s biggest fans and Scott revealed he had to fight for the designer to stay on the project. “Fox at the time thought Giger was a bit obscene and a bit rude and a bit sexual. And I said, ‘This all sounds good to me’ which nearly saw me off the case,” Scott toldThe Hollywood Reporter.
Thanks to Scott’s persistence, we got a creature that still fuels nightmares.
It nearly had a TOTALLY different ending
20th Century Fox
Alienis already pretty bleak, with Ripley the only character to survive, and it’s hard to think of it ending any darker than it did.
But if Scott had his own way, the final scene would have been ten times darker and more graphic, and one that would have made any sequels with Sigourney Weaver virtually impossible.
In the film’s final scene, audiences saw Ripley have one last showdown with the xenomorph as she fled the Nostromo in her shuttle before it detonated. But originally, Scott was planning one last bloody moment.
“I thought that the alien should come in, and Ripley harpoons it and it makes no difference, so it slams through her mask and rips her head off,” Scott said toEW, whilst promoting 2017’sAlien: Covenant. The idea didn’t go down well with the big bosses.
“Now I’m pitching this to the studio, and I could feel the tension over the phone,” he said. “Rips her head off. And there’s this long silence. ‘And?’ I said, then I cut to the desktop and the alien’s hand comes in and then in a perfect mimic, mimics Dallas’ voice and says, ‘I’m signing off’.
“The first executive arrived within 14 hours from Fox, tried to fire me on the spot. So we didn’t do that,” he added.
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