It was recently announced that Neill Blomkamp, whose Elysium and Chappie have failed to set the world on fire quite like his overvalued District 9, will be directing the first new Alien movie since 1997. And, what’s more, he plans to ignore the last two installments, 3 and Resurrection. That’s great news for many — Alien and Aliens are universally acknowledged as the superior works, while the last two are largely considered major disappointments — but not this apologist.
Though the bottom half of this list ranking all the significant characters in the franchise is indeed dominated by characters from the unfairly maligned latter entries, every one of those supporting players offers something unique to the franchise as a whole. Ditto the films themselves.
The criteria for these rankings were entirely subjective and largely arbitrary, as is true of most lists, with equal thought given to an individual’s contribution to the movie in which he or she appears and how much we personally like the character. (Also, it should go without saying, but spoilers for all four Alien movies follow.)
33. Dr. Wren (Alien: Resurrection): Every Alien movie needs a ruthless representative of either Weyland-Yutani or, in Resurrection’s timeline, the United Systems Military: a short-sighted corporate drone who sows the seeds of his own undoing by thinking he or anyone else can control the alien. Enter Dr. Wren, who dismisses Ripley and doesn’t consider the creature that killed her 200 years ago a real threat. You can probably guess how that works out for him.
32. Lambert (Alien): There really isn’t much positive to say about Lambert other than how hilarious her delivery of the line “I like griping” is as she, Kane and Dallas explore the surface of LV-426 en route to their eventual doom. She also lets loose on Ripley for trying to honor the 24-hour quarantine rule that would have ultimately saved everyone’s lives and prevented Alien from being a long-running series in the first place.
31. Sabra Hillard (Alien: Resurrection): Poor Sabra isn't given much to do other than be captain Elgyn’s inamorata. She’s clearly demoralized after his passing, and before she goes to a watery grave courtesy of a terrifyingly good swimmer, you can see the last bit of hope fade from her eyes. A minor character, but also a quietly tragic one.
30. Distephano (Alien: Resurrection): Before he was cooking meth as Tuco on Breaking Bad, Raymond Cruz was the last human victim of the alien species. He plays a capable marine who recognizes that Ripley and her motley crew are more honorable partners than the United Systems Military of which he’s a part, ultimately proving valuable in tough situations.
29. Purvis (Alien: Resurrection): “WHAT’S IN-FUCKING-SIDE ME!?” We understand on a gut level that nearly everyone in these movies is doomed before we even meet them, but Purvis is the only character other than Ripley (in Alien 3) to know he’s been "impregnated" with a chestburster and actually do something about it. He manages to take down the malicious Dr. Wren with him, an act of bravery from a man who initially appeared anything but.
28. Golic (Alien 3): Reminiscent of Ash in the sense that he becomes enamored of the alien, whom he calls a “dragon” and practically worships as a god. Golic royally screws over his fellow inmates (who already regarded him with suspicion) on Fury-161 by loosing the alien upon them after it’s already been captured, which leads to much death and misery. (If other prisoners' complaints are to believed, he also smells bad.)
27. General Perez (Alien: Resurrection): Dan Hedaya’s contribution to the series is largely comic, as the manner in which he’s killed is hard not to laugh at: Struck in the back of his head by an alien’s retracting mouth, he spends his final moments feeling at the wound and examining his own brain. Still, it’s worth remembering that his last act s to expertly throw a grenade into an escape pod infiltrated by an alien. He then salutes his fallen comrades, and deserves one in return.
26. Elgyn (Alien: Resurrection): The Betty’s captain doesn’t do all that much other than shoot the shit with Perez and die before anyone else in his crew (shades of Dallas from Alien here), but his raspy voice and roguish charm are enough to give the impression that he departed too soon.
25. Johner (Alien: Resurrection): Not the man with whom to fuck. Ron Perlman’s comically unsavory smuggler is consistently entertaining, though a few of his lines do exemplify screenwriter Joss Whedon's tendency to inject a style of humor that isn't in keeping with Alien's spirit. Still, Johner does eventually come around, and his combat acumen is a large part of the reason more characters survive Resurrection than any other entry in the franchise.
24. Jonesy (Alien, Aliens): The only feline to come face-to-face with a xenomorph is also one of the lucky few who lives to tell the tale. (He’s also the reason Brett gets killed when and how he does, which is kind of uncool.) The Nostromo’s official mascot escapes with Ripley, who makes the wise decision of leaving him behind when she’s forced to return to LV-426 early on in Aliens. At least someone had a happy ending.
23. Vriess (Alien: Resurrection): A paraplegic whose crush on Call is the worst-kept secret on the Betty, Vriess is one of the kindest Resurrection characters (not to mention one of the survivors). That trait is rarely rewarded in these movies, and he's a welcome exception.
22. Lieutenant Gorman (Aliens): An ineffectual leader who’s semi-responsible for half his crew getting wiped out during their first encounter with a nest of xenomorphs, Gorman redeems himself late in Aliens by blowing himself up along with the far more capable Vasquez. In this sense he actually evolves more as a character than several of his more memorable counterparts, who are comparatively static but more interesting nonetheless. Good guy, bad lieutenant.
21. Kane (Alien): Kane, we hardly knew ye. John Hurt's sacrificial lamb may be best remembered for serving as the parasitic alien’s first vessel, but the iconic reveal thereof is legendary for a reason—not just the chestburster's brutal emergence, but also Kane and everyone else's reactions.
20. Brett (Alien): Right.
19. Dr. Gediman (Alien: Resurrection): Alien has a plenitude of great character actors, few of whom were better cast than Brad Dourif (also known for playing Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings and Doc Cochran in Deadwood) as the lead scientist responsible for cloning Ripley in order to extract the xenomorph embryo inside of her. It’s he who asks his superior (the dastardly Dr. Wren) for permission to keep the host alive once the surgery goes well; he’s fascinated with her the way a kid is after waking up on Christmas morning to see the toy he’s always wanted under the tree.
18. Morse (Alien 3): Both an example of, and exception to, the biggest problem with Alien 3’s large ensemble cast. Ripley arrives on the prison planet Fury 161 to meet a couple dozen lifers who’ve found God (to save their souls) and shaved their heads (to save their scalps from lice), making most of them virtually indistinguishable from one another. Morse doesn’t stand out from the crowd until late in David Fincher’s brooding contribution to the Alien mythos, when the lion’s share of his brethren have been killed off and he emerges as Ripley’s de-facto aide. After our heroine casts herself into the molten lead and 85 gets killed trying to help her, Morse also ends up the sole survivor of the original trilogy.
17. Captain Dallas (Alien): Assumed by many to be the star of Alien when it first came out, the highest-billed actor in the original installment belongs to the proud tradition of the group’s leader dying early. The stoic captain goes out bravely, volunteering for what ends up being a suicide mission to take a flamethrower into the Nostromo’s vents and rid the ship of the alien once and for all. If only...
16. Clemens (Alien 3): A bit of a missed opportunity, Clemens is Ripley’s most clearly defined love interest — after potential boyfriend Hicks is killed off, she wastes little time taking the shamed surgeon to bed. Fury 161’s medical officer comes complete with a sad backstory and the sense that he himself gets killed off long before his character had been fully explored. This makes him loom large as a big “what if” figure, as well as yet another reminder that the alien doesn’t care if your narrative arc has been completed yet.
15. Hicks (Aliens, Alien 3): Aliens is easily the most chaotic installment in the series, and it isn’t until Hicks' superiors get killed and he becomes commanding officer that an actual plan comes into effect. Once things calm down under his leadership, the film's artistry becomes even clearer. Many are justifiably upset that Hicks is dead by the time Alien 3 begins, but, if reports that Blomkamp plans to disavow the last two installments are indeed true, we may yet see Michael Biehn’s cool-headed marine once again.
14. Aaron AKA 85 (Alien 3): Second-in-command on Fury 161, Aaron’s cruel nickname (a reference to his IQ) belies his sound logic and essential role in helping Ripley survive just long enough to stick it to the Weyland-Yutani man. That he's so easy to overlook is ultimately one of his strengths; Aaron stays under the radar for so long that his evolution is all the more remarkable once you finally notice it.
13. Apone (Aliens): File under “gone too soon.” Apone is the only one who comes close to keeping Hudson in line, though that leaves him little time to command his squad. He doesn’t survive initial contact with the alien nest, which is a shame — there were many more cigars to be smoked and xenomorphs to be killed. Assholes and elbows!
12. Call (Alien: Resurrection): Probably the most human(e) robot Ripley comes across, Winona Ryder’s bleeding-heart synthetic is a delicate-but-spirited fighter amid a sea of assholes and manipulators. She also gives Ripley a much-needed chance to tap into her maternal instincts and is invaluable in keeping her cohorts alive.
11. Burke (Aliens): Paul Reiser marvelously fills the corporate-stooge role established by Ash in the first go-round. Arguably the most snakelike of the bunch, Burke also deserves (dis)credit for how well he conceals his true nature — he play-acts as Ripley’s advocate before siccing a facehugger on her and meeting a suitably karmic end himself.
10. Ash (Alien): Ruthless company men abound in the Alien universe. Ash was the first, and he’s still the best. And, for as great as the chestburster scene was, the reveal that Ian Holmes’s impatient, dickish character is actually a robot is just as shocking.
9. Parker (Alien): Along with fellow malcontent Brett, Parker reps the working class, delivers obnoxiously hilarious banter and goes down like a champ in an ultimately vain effort to buy Lambert time to escape. His give-me-a-break attitude informs the droll sense of humor that comes to mark the series as a whole, which is littered with fallen heroes like him.
8. Newt (Aliens, Alien 3): It’s easy to forget that Ripley’s daughter is never actually mentioned in the original film, so moving is the story of her adoptive relationship with Newt in Aliens. She manages to elude countless xenomorphs after the death of her family and everyone else in the Hadley's Hope colony, a feat matched by literally nobody else.
7. Dillon (Alien 3): The only man of faith in the Alien universe is, perhaps unsurprisingly, also the most charismatic orator. Dillon does all he can to keep his flock of fellow sinners on a righteous path, and isn’t afraid to deliver harsh lessons when they stray from it. Few face the xenomorph with such stubborn fearlessness as he does.
6. Christie (Alien: Resurrection): If this were a list of the coolest characters, Christie would be a lock for no. 1. Carrying two pistols attached to his arms, he calls the aliens “nasties” and lays down his life for that of his buddy Vriess, with whom a throwaway line implies he’s shared many adventures in the past. He’s also the absolute standout in Resurrection’s most memorable set-piece, a thrilling sequence in which we discover that the nasties can actually swim.
5. Bishop (Aliens, Alien 3): In addition to restoring Ripley’s trust in synthetics (though he prefers the term “artificial person”) after her unpleasant run-in with Ash aboard the Nostromo, Bishop is also notable for the spectacularly violent end he meets courtesy of the Queen. There aren’t many genuinely honorable people floating through space, so it makes a certain kind of sense that a robot would be among them.
4. Vasquez (Aliens): The fearless warrior of Aliens and a badass of the purest kind. Vasquez outclasses every other marine in her company and outlives all but a few of them. When her time does come, it’s on her own terms and every bit as courageous as you’d expect. Only a few others get such noble deaths.
3. Hudson (Aliens): Game over, man. It would be an understatement to call Bill Paxton’s despondent marine a half-glass-empty kind of guy. It would also be inaccurate to call him anything less than the funniest, most quotable and entertaining character in the entire franchise. Aliens is the most action-oriented of the "quadrilogy" and, thanks to Hudson, also the most humorous.
2. The Alien: The perfect organism. Alien wouldn’t be Alien were it not for the xenomorph itself, H.R. Giger’s biomechanical monster with acidic blood and some seriously Freudian appendages. Its countless victims can attest to its status as one of the most frightful creatures ever put onscreen, as can anyone who's ever seen one of these movies. Facehuggers, chestbursters, Queens, even the Newborn — all terrifying, all iconic.
1. Ripley: Sometimes the obvious answer is also the correct one. Ripley is the greatest hero of any movie franchise ever (no, not just the greatest heroine). In few characters are rugged survivalism and crippling sorrow so perfectly married. Her evolution from unassuming warrant officer aboard the Nostromo to reluctant hero is one for the ages, and the first four movies wouldn’t be nearly as rich were it not for the maternal instincts that come to inform her character. We’d say you have to be an alien to dislike Sigourney Weaver's unforgettable character, but even some of them love her.
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