Should Alien 5 be the “true sequel” to Aliens?

It’s official: 20th Century Fox is making yet another sequel to Alien, 18 long years after the last one (not counting, of course, various prequels and crossovers). Reportedly, attached writer-director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) tried unsuccessfully to get the project off the ground for a while, until he posted some of the concept artwork to Instagram. The designs provoked a huge reaction on social media, one thing led to another, and now the studio is moving forward with the film.

Obviously, what got everyone so excited was a couple of illustrations depicting Sigourney Weaver as an older Ellen Ripley, taking up arms next to Michael Biehn as an older Corporal Dwayne Hicks (his face scarred from being hit with alien acid blood in Aliens). Weaver has all but confirmed she’s coming back to play Ripley for a fifth time, and Biehn has allegedly been contacted about reprising his role of Hicks (but this scoop comes from a random Redittor, so take with the requisite dose of salt).

Should Alien 5 be the "true sequel" to Aliens?

But mixed in with the excitement is a huge amount of disconnect, because those who saw Alien 3 will recall it opened with—spoilers for a 23-year-old film!—the death of Hicks (clumsily wedged in between opening titles, no less) and ended with the death of Ripley, as she threw herself into a giant furnace to kill the Alien Queen gestating inside her.

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Alien 3 was (and still is) considered a major disappointment, coming as it did after two Alien films that became near-instant classics. The film was saddled with an unfinished script, an unprecedented amount of studio interference, and a director named David Fincher (who’s since said of the film that “no one hates it more than me”) with nothing under his belt but Madonna videos. Ultimately, the third entry in the saga was little more than a dull and downbeat retread of the first film, and the casual way in which it offed characters who had done so much to survive the previous movie (not only Hicks, but also Newt and Bishop) was an added poke in the eye for Aliens fans.

Should Alien 5 be the "true sequel" to Aliens?

So when these new concept images hit the internet, it inspired hope that Blomkamp’s sequel would be the Alien 3 everyone wanted back in the ‘90s. With Ripley and Hicks alive and well and ready to kick Xenomorph ass despite looking a decade or two older, the immediate assumption was that Blomkamp would wipe the slate clean: His film would surely have to ignore Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection and be the “true sequel” to Aliens. This seemed to be confirmed when Blomkamp spoke about it in an interview during the press tour for his latest film Chappie.

Blomkamp: I want this film to feel like it is literally the genetic sibling of Aliens. So it’s: Alien, Aliens, this movie.

Understandably, everyone figured he’d be pulling a Superman Returns on the Alien franchise by pretending the series’ derided third and fourth installments never existed.

His comments sparked a lot of controversy, and Blomkamp has since walked them back, insisting he’s not planning to “undo” any previous film. I’m going to guess the Alien 3 fans got to him; they may not be great in number, but they can be extremely… vocal about their love for the film, and Fincher’s eventual status as an A-list director has only inspired them to defend it that much more loudly. (But then again, I’m pretty sure every sci-fi film that was a commercial or critical failure in its original release gets declared a “misunderstood masterpiece” sooner or later.)

But assuming Blomkamp wasn’t simply trying to stanch the flow of angry tweets, how can his film possibly coexist with Alien 3 and Resurrection? How can Ripley be alive years after she clearly and unequivocally died on camera? And not only did we see her die in Alien 3, but the whole premise of Resurrection was built around cloning Ripley with the Alien Queen still growing inside of her. How can the Alien series possibly remain internally consistent if Blomkamp’s sequel gets made?

Should Alien 5 be the "true sequel" to Aliens?

I strongly suspect that at this stage of development, Blomkamp himself has no idea. So in the interests of helping him make up his mind, I now present a few compelling arguments both for keeping Alien 3 and Resurrection in the official Alien continuity, and for ignoring them completely.

The case for ignoring Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection

For the vast majority of fans, this argument begins and ends with “they sucked”. Why should all creative decisions in the Alien franchise from now until the end of time be straightjacketed by two lackluster movies, both of which have been largely disowned by their creators? Why should a new writer stifle his creative freedom to preserve the sanctity and validity of two (at best) mediocre movies? If the choice is between bringing back Ripley and Hicks and tossing out a couple of movies few people liked, I think the vast majority of fans would gladly throw Alien 3 in the trash.

And let’s face it, any attempt to try to reconcile an older Ripley and Hicks with their apparent “deaths” in Alien 3 is most likely going to be really stupid. The Aliens: Colonial Marines video game (declared “canon” at the time of release by Fox, presumably not so much anymore) suggests Hicks was never aboard the escape pod that crash landed on the prison planet in Alien 3. According to the game, the dead guy we thought was Hicks was really an LV-426 colonist who awakened Hicks from hypersleep, and then somehow fell into his cryo chamber just before the Sulaco’s escape pod ejected. This bit of retconning was greeted with about as much enthusiasm as you’d expect. Now just imagine a scene like this actually happening in the movie.

Should Alien 5 be the "true sequel" to Aliens?

Other lame possibilities floated by fans include Ripley and Hicks being androids built by Weyland-Yutani, or Ripley and Hicks being clones, both concepts which would be massive copouts (hell, Resurrection itself already came off as a copout for the same reason). And we can’t forget the dodgiest fanon explanation currently bouncing around the net: the latter two films are merely Ripley’s lengthy, detailed bad dream while in hypersleep. Yes, people are seriously suggesting this. Are we trying to bring back Corporal Hicks or Bobby Ewing?

What’s really scary is I know exactly how they could do it. If the filmmakers decide that Alien 3 and Resurrection actually “happened”, all they have to do is adopt the same method of restarting franchises that’s very much in vogue these days, thanks to the Star Trek reboot, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the upcoming Terminator film: Have a character travel into the past, going from the timeframe of Resurrection to just after Aliens to stop whatever disaster befell the Sulaco, causing the creation of an alternate parallel timeline that splits off in a totally different direction from Alien 3.

I’m about 80% positive that’s what they’ll do, but believe me, I really and truly do not want to be right about this. When I think about time travel hijinks and headache-inducing paradoxes and reset buttons being introduced into the Alien universe, the “it was all a dream” explanation suddenly starts looking pretty reasonable.

In that case, they’d be much better off simply disregarding the latter two films, especially since there’s already precedent in the Alien series for disregarding movies. The Aliens vs. Predator films are technically part of this franchise, but they were basically ignored by the Alien prequel Prometheus, which offers up a different origin for the Xenomorphs, and introduces a totally different founder of Weyland Industries: Prometheus has Peter Weyland, while AvP has Charles Bishop Weyland, who stupidly looks exactly like his distant descendant from Alien 3, Michael Weyland (though, I’m sure with a heavy dose of fan-wankery, someone can make it all fit together).

Should Alien 5 be the "true sequel" to Aliens?

Not only that, there are plenty of Alien tie-in novels and Alien video games and Alien comic books that everyone is perfectly comfortable in ignoring. I know that with most franchises, the rule of “if it happens onscreen, it’s canon” is taken as gospel, but when you think about it, isn’t that sort of an arbitrary line? Aren’t the video games “onscreen”, after all? If people can forget Colonial Marines existed—and it would seem most of the people who played it already have—then why not a movie or two?

The case for keeping Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection

If you liked either of these movies, it makes sense to not want to see them de-canonized and viewed as lesser entries (even though that’s not what “canon” means—canon is really just whatever the current owner of the property says is canon). But even if you’re like me and you found these movies pointless, to simply say they never happened just feels lazy on a fundamental level. With the amount of time and money being invested in the new sequel, you’d think the very least they could do is hire a screenwriter who can come up with a decent story that works within the confines of what came before.

I know what you’re thinking: Hey, you just said any attempt to bring back Ripley and Hicks after their onscreen deaths would be really stupid! Well… that’s exactly right. That’s why any decent story that continues the Alien series should probably not include Ripley or Hicks. Frankly, it’s probably for the best to finally let Ripley go.

Remember, they already had two chances to give Ripley’s story a proper ending, and they failed on both counts. And it’s unclear what’s inspiring all this confidence that they’ll get it right this time. Is it the presence of Blomkamp? Because while District 9 was a great film, Elysium was a preachy bore, and Chappie doesn’t look much more promising with its current 31% Rotten Tomatoes score.

And is a Ripley-centric film really all this franchise has to offer? If they were making a straightforward reboot or remake of the original Alien, everyone would be freaking out, bemoaning the death of originality in cinema, and complaining that Hollywood is out of ideas. And yet, for some reason, “Ripley fights aliens for the fifth time” is treated as a brilliant concept that absolutely needs to happen.

And while there may be a great deal of bitterness over Newt and Hicks being killed off in Alien 3, their deaths don’t literally make Aliens a worse film in retrospect. Trust me, the movie still holds up just fine. Yes, Hicks and Newt do die senselessly, but come on, it’s an Alien movie; the first film is nothing but people dying senselessly.

Should Alien 5 be the "true sequel" to Aliens?

So overall, I don’t think we need another “true sequel” to Aliens. It would be far more interesting if Blomkamp made a film focusing on other characters within the Alien universe. Sort of like Prometheus, only without all the dumb stuff. But of course we’re getting another movie with Ripley, because Fox knows that whatever Prometheus grossed at the box office, a “true sequel” to Aliens starring Weaver and Biehn will put those numbers to shame.

At this point, I feel the same way about the Alien franchise that I feel about the Terminator franchise: the first film was an unexpected classic, the second film beat the odds and became just as highly regarded as the original, and now the owners of the property are on a hopeless, embarrassing quest to get lightning to strike for a third, fourth, and now a fifth time. If there were never another Alien (or Terminator) film, I’d be totally okay with that.

So ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Keep Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection in continuity, or ignore them completely. Whichever approach wins, we lose.

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  • K-Man

    “Why should a new writer stifle his creative freedom to preserve the sanctity and validity of two (at best) mediocre movies?” Excellent question – if Blomkamp and company are concerned bout how his movie will relate to the last two then its destined to fail.
    If there was a movie franchise that was more mishandled than Alien I can’t think of it…well maybe Terminator.

    • What about The Hobbit or Amazing Spider-Man?

      • K-Man

        I stand corrected.

    • Toby Clark

      How about Highlander? This is why I’m always telling people to get some perspective.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Seeing the responses makes me realize that Hollywood execs never learn.

  • The idea of a ‘true sequel to Aliens’ seems like just a fanboy dream to me. After 23 years (longer than I’ve been alive, and I can buy alcohol even in America now) I doubt more than a handful of people are still broken up about Newt and Hicks’ deaths, they just seem bigger on the internet. All it reminds me of is seeing Superman Returns in the cinema, and not being well-versed in blockbusters from my dad’s adolescence I felt I was missing something.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Using Superman Returns by way of example is an excellent point. I didn’t like Superman Returns at all and I am old enough to have seen Superman I & II in theaters. I loved those two movies but I wasn’t looking for a sequel to them. Better if Singer had gone his own way and did something new rather than be enslaved to the past. Maybe if he had done that we wouldn’t have gotten the horrifically depressing Man of Steel.

      • If he’d done that we’d probably have gotten a series of Bryan Singer Superman films.

  • Ripley

    I’m at the point where all I care about is a good movie. I’m in the camp who enjoys Alien 3 and Resurrection, but if Blomkamp can make a good movie by ignoring 3 and Resurrection then go for it. If the movie bombs my 3 and Resurrection blu-rays are not going to disappear off my shelf. I like continuity, yet I’m tired of the continuity bondage some franchises take to make one “reality.” Remember, at the end of the day we are arguing over which set of fiction is more real or not.

  • Premonition_45

    Alien 3 deserves to be de-canonized because it unnecessarily undid Aliens’ accomplishments. Ripley got herself a new family and regained her peace-of-mind, and Alien 3 needlessly took those all away.

    Sequels that straight-up negate their predecessor(s)’ accomplishments are, IMO, worse than those which just recycle them.

    • Can you do it without spending $100m filming someone’s fanfic though?

      • Thing about fanfics.

        A. At least it would be complete unlike Alien3’s script.
        B. The person writing it is more likely to care about the source material since they’re not being paid and they’re writing characters who are created and owned by others.
        C. Fanfics is a medium that, for good or bad have been successful (Good: Star Trek fan films. Bad: 50 Shades of Grey)
        D. James Cameron doing both the writing, designing and directing can be considered a fanfic of ALIEN.

        Basically, I don’t care what you call it. If the movie is good in the end, what does it matter if it’s fanfic or not?

        • The problem with fanfic is that it’s almost always just used by the writer to place their own power fantasies within a popular iconography, to give it an air of legitimacy. It doesn’t care about the meat and bones of the story and what it means, as long as it can satisfy your personal kinks (sexual or otherwise).

          There’s a massive difference between Cameron writing Aliens and Blomkamp writing Alien 5. Aliens was a fundamental reinterpretation of Ripley as a character and what the story meant on a thematic level, while creating an entirely new military iconography in the process. Blomkamp’s sequel will be about repurposing that iconography while replacing the story with whatever he thinks would be cool.

          A fanfic film will never be a great film, because all fanboys (and Blomkamp clearly worships Cameron) only care about details instead of the bigger picture. How many fans have you heard demanding Hicks and Newt return, regardless of how little sense it would make?

          • You bring up ‘sense’. You want to wrap your head around how Hicks and Newt survived ALIENS? Simple. They did. Now wrap your head around how much sense it makes that an egg somehow got laid on the top corner of a ceiling onboard the Sulaco when the Queen (who doesn’t have an egg laying sac) was occupied with Ripley and Newt in the hanger. Where did the egg come from? Never answered because what the films established makes it impossible for there to be any egg.

            Also, Weaver only wanted to do this movie for three reasons.

            1. She was offered a lot of money.
            2. She was given creative credit.
            3. She wanted to kill off her character.

            And what was that you said about fanfics? “it doesn’t care about the meat and bones of the story and what it means, as long as it can satisfy your personal kinks” Sounds an awful lot like Alien3 since that movie also DIDN’T CARE about the meat and bones just as long as Weaver got her way.

    • It’s actually a bit worse than that. It was Ripley’s actions that got her a new family and a peace-of-mind that caused everything to go bad in the first place.

      This is what makes Alien3 excruciatingly bad in my book. Most sequels like to be more self-contained so that it can tell it’s own story without needing to chew off the previous film. ALIENS does a good job at this because it doesn’t undo anything that happened in the previous film and gives us enough exposition that you can actually show this movie to someone who hasn’t seen ALIEN and totally get what is going on. Alien3 is the exact opposite of that spectrum. It not only throws you in without introducing any of it’s characters, it actually requires that you look at the previous film in a different light. If Ripley hadn’t gone and rescued Newt, everything would have been fine. That’s a betrayal of what the original intent of the whole freaking movie was.

  • Sardu

    Why does any of this have to happen? At all? Most franchises do have only one good film in them, two at best. Even the Bond series only has a handful of really good movies out the 20 or whatever it is. Same with Trek. They just need to let it drop. Quit. No more. Get over it. Move on.

    • Thomas Stockel

      I agree with you. I would like to see Hollywood look to take risks with new ideas rather than recycling old franchises. I have no desire to see a new Aliens movie, not after Prometheus bit me in the ass.

  • Scott

    Resurrection remains canon as long as any new stories — presumably set in A4’s distant past — do not contradict its setup. That is, subsequent films would be prequels to A4.

    As for A3… it was a propaganda film (almost literally; that’s Fincher’s company name) made by W-Y to hide the truth of what really happened.

  • Cameron Vale

    It’s obvious enough why the first movie of a series tends to be good (otherwise no one would make it a series), and perhaps even the second movie (situated in a Goldilocks zone where it has enough continuity to serve as fertile creative ground, but not enough to be encumbered with expectations, and enough of a guaranteed audience to ensure relevance, but not enough to justify half-assing it), but after that there’s no hope.

    • Star Trek 3 was pretty good, and 4 turned out to be one of their most successful films. Granted 5 almost killed the film franchise, but 6 proved that you can recover from a stinker and deliver a solid product.

      I cautiously optimistic.

  • MichaelANovelli

    For what it’s worth, Chappie is a great movie that’s proving far more popular with audiences than it is with critics. I realize we are critics and solidarity and all, but it’s true.

    So, Aliens 5, maybe…?

  • DeanD

    Alien 3 is my favorite of the trilogy (I do not count Resurrection as it made me almost walk out of the theater due to its complete illogical premise) and I really don’t like that they’re likely going to retcon that out of existence. But I also think Sigourney needs to go too. I love her but she will be almost 70 years old trying to fight the alien. It didn’t work for Harrison Ford to come back 30 years later in Crystal Skull, and it could be equally disastrous for Weaver.

    Also, the issues people have with the franchise from Alien 3 forward are issues people might not understand are because of Sigourney and her involvement either with picking writers or picking the director. She may be the face of the franchise, (something I never thought was necessary for it to continue) but her choices have been detrimental to the series and is leading to this sequel. She’s mainly the one at fault for the deterioration of the franchise. She’s an actress, not a producer and should work strictly in that function, at least in these films.

  • ElTapaHoyos

    ALIEN: RESURRECTION: Bad… But entertaining…
    ALIEN 3: BAD + BOOOOOOOOOORING…

    • Joel Schlosberg
      • ElTapaHoyos

        Well, there’s plenty of bad but entertaining movies, so at least you won’t fall asleep when watching them, but in the case of ALIEN 3, it’s both bad + boring, so there are no redeeming qualities at all… (Excuse my English, It’s not my native language)

  • Doc Skippy

    I never left a movie theater angrier at a film than when the lights turned up on Alien 3. Alien Resurrection didn’t make me mad so much as embarrassed on behalf of Sigourney Weaver. In the years since, my feelings have mellowed, as in my old age I try not to invest too much emotional energy into movies. However, I agree with the good Doctor that no “true” sequel to Aliens is required, nor do I have much confidence in Blomkamp after the awful, awful mess that was Elysium. If I were in charge, I’d take the artistic high road and proceed with new characters and a new storyline. Damn the bean counters.

  • Paul Pelkonen

    I am a fan of Alien 3, a science fiction film that showed that heroes don’t always win…or even survive. I think Alien Resurrection has its moments and a gorgeous production design but goes off the rails in the last act thanks to suit meddling. I see nothing wrong with an “alternate” third movie with a different title. Looking forward to Mr Blomkamp’s film and the next Prometheus and hope both will be entertaining.

  • Nessus

    Personally I’d preffer to keep A3 and A:R, not because I think they’re good movies (I don’t: A:3 is weird disappointing and A:R is mediocre disappointing), but because:

    1) Like you, I feel like it’s sort of a cop-out to just call a do-over. There’s no magical law of nature that forces a sequel to a bad movie to be degenerative. A true creative badass would be able to take the setup left behind by one movie and craft something amazing from it in the next. To a true creative badass that wouldn’t be a saddling limitation, it’d be exploitable raw material. Seriously: just because they were bad doesn’t mean no good squeals can be built on them them any more than Aliens being great was an assurance that its sequel would be great.

    There’s this thing a lot of people seem to do, where if a movie is bad, it’s completely bad in their eyes. They can’t parse the ideas that were good and can be salvaged/recycled from the ideas that were crap and ruined the whole. It’s all or nothing. All three movies (A:3, A:R, and Prometheus) had some legitimately good stuff in them that’s worth keeping, but since the movies were bad on balance, ALL the ideas get tarred with the same brush for these people. They can’t see the the trees for the forest. Its weird (IMO) and kinda sad.

    2) I like the character of Ripley 8. I like the thing she’s got going where she empathizes with both species and sympathizes with neither at the same time. She’s a living echo of Ellen Ripley’s line in Aliens about not knowing which species is worse; “You don’t see them screwing each other over for a goddam percentage”. One parent species is a race of quasi parasitic monsters, and the other treats her like an a livestock byproduct probably destined for a mengele-ish end, and she copes with it with an irreverent “a plague on both your houses” outlook. I think people write her off as just “fake Ripley”, when she’s actually a completely different character, and once you see that, you see there’s actually lot more going on with her than the movie capitalizes on. I feel like in a better movie she’d have really fascinating potential, so I kinda want that better movie to still have some slim chance of happening.

    I feel similarly about Call, the android (lots of interesting potential in the character concept, almost totally unexploited by the movie). All the more so because she and Ripley 8 are VERY well paired on paper. I’d be way more interested in a good director taking those two and making an actual smart movie about them than I would be in a cowardly roll-back to Ripley and Hicks.

    3) A:R gave birth to a fan theory about the Aliens’ biology I particularly like, (which was arguably confirmed by Prometheus), so I’d like to keep it around just for that. The idea was that the facehuggers don’t lay eggs in people: they perform a sort malevolent gene therapy that causes the chestburster to grow from the victim’s own body tissue like a tumor. Makes the cloning squirrelfuckery in A:R actually make sense, and as a bonus fits so perfectly with the stuff in Prometheus that it almost has to be intended/confirmed (and helps redeem Prometheus for me as a result).

    On a tangential note: there seems to be a trend in recent years to favor fan service over new ideas. I don’t mean the whole sequels-and-remakes-and-reboots-oh-my thing, I mean the sequels and such that are coming out seem increasingly more concerned with with cheap callbacks and “cinimatic echoes” than with being stories in their own right. To give a close-to-home example, one of the things bogging Promethius down was it’s need to try and replicate some scene or setpiece from the original Alien every 5 minutes. That and the epic running game of idiot volleyball together comprised, like, 90% of that movie’s failure.

  • Tyche

    I think they should take the Clue approach: That’s how it COULD have happened… but here’s what REALLY happened.

    Why the heck not? At least that would be a lot simpler than having to muck about with all that time travel BS. Ideally, they would use the music from Clue also. And maybe have Tim Curry in it as the alien queen.

  • Mel Leet

    It’s like Matrix. Should have stopped with the first one, and they would have had a cult movie for the rest of history. It’s a shame they had a cheapen it with the BS sequels. I don’t care what the fanboys say, matrix 2, 3, 4 is total garbage.