The Alien franchise has an interesting history not just because of the films that hit the big screen, but also because of the ones that did not. This is a look at some of the Alien films that came close to getting a greenlight, but were never made.
During the movie production process, it is not uncommon for a film to undergo several major changes in concept before becoming fully realized. The Alien franchise is one franchise that has seen its fair share of changes along the way. However, it is also unique due to the shear volume of potential films that have hit the drawing board but never progressed. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that the Alien franchise has run into many different problems along the way. For one, it is a rare franchise with a multitude of different filmmakers and producers involved off and on at different points. This resulted in different writers being brought in for each film to try and have a fresh approach for each film - some more successful at this than others. It also didn’t help that the franchise went through several legal issues during its run, and also, that Twentieth Century Fox was never always firmly committed to making more Alien films. These challenges caused long delays in sequels being released, which in turn allowed for more time to work on developing potential movie ideas. This is a look at some of the ideas for Alien films that went the furthest, but never actually made it to production.
After Alien became Twentieth Century Fox’s biggest box office hit of 1979, and the Star Wars craze continued to make gains for science fiction, it seemed like a sequel would be a sure thing. Even as early as the promotional run of the original film, producers Walter Hill and David Giler began to put together some ideas to pitch as a sequel. At first, things were going well. The idea was to expand upon the idea of Weyland-Yutani (referenced as Weylan-Yutani in the original film) trying to get the alien. Both Ridley Scott and the producers talked about making a more standard science fiction film - more about exploration and providing answers for what the xenomorph is and where it came from.
Most of the early ideas centered around returning to LV-426. Unfortunately, these concepts never got a chance to be expanded upon because Alan Ladd Jr., the head of the studio who had overseen both Star Wars and Alien, left the company to start his own company.
Ladd’s replacement, Normal Levy did not want to make a sequel. At the same time, Brandwine Films, which had helped to produce Alien had a lawsuit against Fox regarding profit sharing. Therefore, even if Fox wanted to make a sequel, it would have to wait until the lawsuit was resolved, which wasn’t until 1983. At that point, Levy was no longer the head of Fox, and there was renewed interest in a sequel. The sequel would have to be bigger than the original film, and Hill and Giler’s idea to accomplish this was to make it an action-thriller rather than a horror hybrid. They took inspiration from the 1981 film, Southern Comfort, which tells the story of a military training exercise gone wrong. Returning to LV-426 would make this concept work, where the characters could be hunted unexpectedly by the xenomorphs or the space jockeys. Another inspiration for the sequel was Magnificent Seven - the characters could be mercenaries banding together to take on the alien menace.
At this time, Hill and Giler needed someone else to help them bring this film to life. They needed someone who had experience in science fiction. A script for The Terminator caught their attention, and the rest was history. James Cameron took the guns vs. aliens idea from the initial treatment for Alien II and blended it with ideas from other projects. At the time, Cameron was also writing a treatment for Rambo II, and that’s when he came up with the idea of using the Vietnam war as an influence. From this point on, the concept of Alien II began to progress towards what would actually be seen on screen in Aliens.
William Gibson’s “Alien III”
There were many attempts at making a sequel to Aliens (actually 10 total!). Writer William Gibson, known for his cyberpunk novels, was the first person brought onboard in 1987. He completed an entire script, which has been widely available. Gibson used the Cold War as an inspiration for the backdrop of his film. He also added additional biological and mutative aspects to the xenomorph’s arsenal. He made it possible for the xenomorphs to leave genetic residue behind which could mutate biological material into new xenomorphs. This makes it possible for xenomorphs to be onboard the Sulaco after the end of the last movie, and also made them a much deadlier foe.
The Sulaco drifts into space controlled by a socialist faction, who are enemies of the Colonial Marines from Aliens. They board the ship and recover Bishop’s torso, which is later determined to be infected with the xenomorph’s residue. When a facehugger onboard attacks their search party, the socialist faction retreats and the Sulaco drifts back towards its destination in space controlled by the Colonial Marines. In the meantime, the socialists experiment on the material they recovered, trying to make a biological weapon of their own - just like Weyland-Yutani.
Meanwhile, the Sulaco is recovered by the Colonial Marines after it reaches Anchorpoint, a kind of giant habitable station complete with a shopping mall. A battle onboard ensues to eradicate the xenomorph infection and recover Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and what was left of Bishop. Ripley’s hypersleep chamber is damaged, which puts her into a coma (Sigourney Weaver did not want to be in another Alien movie at the time). Bishop’s legs are recovered, which also have the xenomorph residue on them. The material is experimented on in secret - under the guidance of Weyland-Yutani. Newt is sent home, and Hicks is discharged. Some time later, Hicks learns of the secret experiments. Around the same time, the socialists repair Bishop and send him back to the Colonial Marines to hide the fact that they are doing their own experiments.
When Bishop learns of Weyland-Yutani’s efforts to experiment on the residue, he teams up with Hicks to break into the lab at Anchorpoint and destroy the samples. They succeed, but the people who were doing the experiments have already been infected - they later morph into xenomorphs themselves. The xenomorph infection begins to spread and soon the station is overrun. At the same time, the socialists send a distress signal noting that the same thing has happened to them. Ultimately they nuke their research station to prevent the xenomorphs from spreading. This inspires Hicks to take command of a group of Marines and try to take back the station. Soon it becomes apparent that the only thing they can do is destroy the station.
The climax of the film was to occur in space. The air ventilation inside the station becomes a source of transmitting the xenomorph’s genetic material, so Hicks and Bishop have no choice but to escape onto the outside hull of the space station. There is no escape as the xenomorphs follow and begin to swarm. At the end, a survivor from the socialists arrives, and manages to save Hicks and Bishop before the station self-destructs. In the end, the xenomorph menace becomes a common enemy for the two factions to unite against.
David Twohy’s "Alien III"
The future director of the Riddick films was the next writer to get closest to having his idea for an Alien film movie into production. Twohy was the third writer brought in by Twentieth Century Fox to take a stab at the third Alien film. Eric Red had done some work after William Gibson, but his version of the film was not well liked by anyone and didn’t gain much traction - hence the decision to hire Twohy in 1989.
Twohy’s film took place many years after the events in Alien. Like Gibson’s script, it didn’t include Ripley because it seemed Weaver would be difficult to bring back to the franchise. Twohy’s film took place in an orbiting prison, which was also being used by Weyland-Yutani as a laboratory to do experiments on xenomorphs. The xenomorphs are shown to have been sourced from a preserved facehugger found in amber inside an asteroid (just like Jurassic Park). The prison operates a foundry, and is mostly policed by the prisoners themselves. Many of the prisoners are serving death sentences, and when their time is up, they are brought to a gas chamber where they appear to be killed. The scientists actually keep the “executed” prisoners alive to use as bait for their experiments with the xenomorphs.
One night, one of the xenomorphs escapes and attacks some of the prisoners. Based on this attack, a group of the prisoners make an attempt to try and escape through the station’s water pipes, but all but one are killed by the xenomorphs. The guards manage to kill the xenomorph responsible for killing the escaping prisoners, and the survivor is put into solitary confinement. The survivor convinces an acquaintance to try and find out what is happening, and she locates the lab. She helps the survivor escape, but as they try and escape from the guards, their gunfire breaches the station’s hull and causes a pressure loss, killing many of the prisoners. An explosion then causes an incoming shuttle to crash, releasing the xenomorphs into the prison. The survivors team up to overthrow their captors and kill all the xenomorphs.
Many aspects of this script ended up in the actual Alien 3 and also in Alien: Resurrection.
Vincent Ward’s "Alien III"
Concurrent with Twohy’s work on the script, Ward was hired to be director. He didn’t like Twohy’s idea, and instead came up with his own. When Twohy learned that Ward was planning on filming his own script, Twohy stopped work. Ward’s script would be the closest to the film that would actually be produced, and was also the version that progressed the furthest before studio intervention and estimated costs for his vision became prohibitive to its continued production. The final script of Alien III would be written by producers Walter Hill and David Giler. Hill and Giler combined ideas from Ward’s script with Twohy’s to ultimately come up with the final product.
Ward’s concept for Alien III has been widely covered in the last decade and is perhaps the most famous Alien film that never made it to the big screen. Ward was hired based on his film The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, in which 14th century Christian villagers find their way to modern times. This contrast between old and new, along with the theme of religion significantly influenced Ward’s vision for his Alien film.
Ward’s Alien III took place on a small artificial planet that was inhabited entirely by a group of monks. The planet was to be constructed of wood, with tons of intricate detail and an absence of modern technology. The film starts when Ripley crash lands on this wooden planet in an escape pod, fleeing from xenomorphs onboard the Sulaco. She is the only survivor, and her appearance comes as a shock to the monks. They believe that her arrival is a test of their faith and celibacy. Meanwhile, it is revealed that they have discarded all their technology because they believe that the Earth had been destroyed because of humanity’s reliance on machines. Therefore, there is no possibility for Ripley to be able to leave.
When it is revealed that a xenomorph was onboard the escape pod, the monks believe that it is the devil come to punish them for their sins. They lock up Ripley because they think that she is responsible for bringing this evil to them. Here she finds an android that had been cast aside by the monks. When people start to be killed by the xenomorph one of the Brothers asks Ripley for help. She eventually agrees if he also releases the android. They travel into the internals of the station to try and find something to fight the xenomorph. What they discover is that the station doesn’t actually have any way to make oxygen. It was built by Weyland-Yutani to get rid of the monks and their followers. Their anti-technology beliefs were harmful to the company on Earth, and so the wooden planet was supposed to be a way to kill them off.
However, the xenomorph causes a fire which begins the destruction of the station, including using up all of the oxygen. The survivors intend to escape on Ripley’s escape pod, but before they can reach it a xenomorph appears. During the ensuing fight, its acid blood eats through the floor and it falls below into a vat of molten glass in the station’s glass works. It survives the plunge, but Ripley acts quickly by dosing it with water, causing it to shatter. At this point, Ripley figures out that she has a chestburster inside her. She decides to stay behind, but the Brother she is with will not let her. He manages to get the chestburster out of her but it ends up inside him. He stays behind, walking into the expanding fire as Ripley escapes in the pod.
Alien Revelation / Alien 5
Before Alien: Resurrection was released, Joss Whedon was already working on the film that would follow. His film would have possibly been called Alien: Revelation, and would have taken place on Earth. The film was to further explore Ripley 8 and her abilities. Whedon liked the idea of the film taking place on Earth because he felt the previous films had all been repetitive by taking place inside a constrictive environment. However, Sigourney Weaver reportedly did not like the script, and after the disappointing box office results of Alien: Resurrection, Whedon wasn’t very interested in putting any more work into it.
Ridley Scott, however, maintained that he was still interested in exploring the Alien universe, and wanted to provide the answers to the origins of the xenomorphs that were never provided in the 3 sequels (which, today he is getting to do in the prequel films). Similarly, James Cameron expressed an interest to also work in the Alien universe again. Cameron wanted to ignore what had happened in the third and fourth film, making a sequel to his own film. However, the studio didn’t think this was a good idea, and so he began to discuss with Ridley Scott and ultimately the two agreed upon a few ideas to move forward with.
James Cameron would produce and Ridley Scott would direct. They actually came up with an idea for two films. The first film (the fifth in the franchise) would take place on Earth. In this film, it would be revealed that the xenomorphs are in fact the biological weapon of a technologically superior race, the space jockeys or navigators. The xenomorphs had a sort of telepathic connection with the space jockeys/engineers, so they had seen everything that had happened so far. With the creation of Ripley 8, they had a new connection, and they were able to find Earth. They send attack ships to Earth and Ripley 8 feels guilty for leading them there. She locks herself away to try and prevent them from using her to take out humanity.
In the sixth film, the navigators have taken over Earth and are attacking other planets. Ripley knows that it is up to her to stop them. She ends her exile and fights back, travelling to the navigator’s homeworld. Some preliminary work may have been done, but in 2003 Fox had a script for Alien vs. Predator in hand and they decided to move forward with that movie right away. This made James Cameron less interested in working on his Alien sequel, and ultimately he stopped working. Of course, Ridley Scott’s interest in exploring the origins of the xenomorphs was still there, and he finally got his chance 10 years later.