Ridley Scott may have some duds in his history as a filmmaker, but Alien towers over most of his work along with anyone else in the business. The classic sci-fi horror flick turned 40 years old this past May. Now it is Oct. with Halloween around the corner, it is time to celebrate with 40 facts that you may never knew about this landmark movie.
#40: A Different Title
The recognizably simple name was almost not Alien, instead it would have been titled Star Beast. Dan O’Bannon was writing the first draft with the later name and did not like it. One writing session inspired him with some dialogue that changed the name to Alien, mostly because he liked that the word is both an adjective and noun.
#39: Star Wars Sold Alien
O’Bannon and co-writer Ronald Shusett had trouble trying to convince a studio to get this horror film made. After a missed deal with B movie writer, producer, and director Roger Corman lead to landing an official deal Brandywine Productions, a company with ties to 20th Century Fox, but a wall was still being hit as Fox wanted to change the script. Once Star Wars smashed the box office, every studio needed a sci-fi flick, opening up the door for Alien to come out the way the writers wanted.
#38: Creature Designs Come From a Painter
The facehuggers, chestbursters, and the Xenomorph all came from a surrealist painter named H.R. Giger, who worked on Dune left to a relationship between him and O’Bannon. The writer was inspired by the artist’s dark artwork and got him on his sci-fi project.
#37: Ripley as a Man?
Sigourney Weaver is hailed as one of the best role models for women looking for an empowering heroine. Except, her iconic role as Ripley was almost a man. The characters were all written as men, but could be swapped without making a difference to the film.
“Looking it over, [producer Walter Hill] and I thought, ‘Here’s this one character who’s not too interesting,’” Brandywine producer David Giler said. “And this studio—I hate to say this, but for very cynical reasons—this studio [20th Century Fox] is making Julia and Turning Point and they really believe in the return of the woman’s movie. [We’d] probably get a lot of points if we turn this character into a woman.”
#36: Ash Was Later Added
Initially the secret android Ash (Ian Holm) was not in the original script. After the producers pushed for it, he joined the rest of the crew. Shusett was on board, but O’Bannon was not a fan.
#35: Nostromo Origins
The ship’s name, Nostromo, comes from a 1904 novel of the same name by Joseph Conrad. The other reference to the author is through the shuttle Ripley uses to escape, Narcissus. That other novel has an extremely racist title, so we can just move on from here.
#34: The Man Behind the Alien
Balaji Badejo, a Nigerian student who out of complete luck got the part as the Xenomorph. He moved to London to study graphic art, and when sitting in a pub, he got spotted by a casting agent who called producer Ivor Powell. The 6’10” student was hired as he was the first person seen who could fit in the large costume.
#33: Chestburster Surprise
The cast was not told what would happen to Kane (John Hurt) besides that a creature would appear. Scott wanted genuine reactions, and that is what he got when the alien bursts out of the man’s torso. Yaphet Kotto who played Parker reportedly stayed locked up in his room and did not talk to anyone after shooting the scene.
#32: Chestburster Inspiration
What inspired the iconic brutal scene comes from O’Bannon’s digestive issues with Crohn’s disease. Something brewing inside of him that felt like something was trying to escape his body.
#31: Meryl Streep and Harrison Ford Almost Got Casted
Eyes were set on Meryl Streep or Sigourney Weaver. Weaver was unknown, and Streep was a huge star after staring in The Deer Hunter. Due to Streep’s boyfriend, actor John Cazale’s death, it was decided it would be best to not put her through a horrifying experience with chest exploding from a worm-like alien. The rest is history as Weaver got to play Ripley, making her the ultimate bad ass.
Harrison Ford turned down the role as he did not want to do another sci-fi flick right after Star Wars. Leading to Tom Skerritt to get the role as Dallas.
#30: A Translucent Alien
The Xenomorph costume was almost translucent as bringing Giger’s designs to life became a challenge. Scott did not like the design when it was made. He came up with the idea to make the alien black to sneak through the shadows and make for a scarier experience.
#29: How John Hurt Got Hired
John Hurt was Scott’s first choice, but commitment issues with another film got in the way. Jon Finch was hired, but due to medial issues with his diabetes, he collapsed and was taken off set. Hurt got an opening at the right moment and got one of his most famous roles.
#28: Cast Clashing With Scott
Scott took a long time to shoot as he wanted everything perfect. This tedious process got on Skerritt’s nerves. He openly expressed his annoyance to the director as the waits were testing his concentration and patience. After the film was done he has said the whole thing was worth the frustration.
Kotto had another problem, he worked best when improving. A tight budget and work schedule does not allow sharp turns to change some dialogue or the character’s action. He brought up ideas to Scott, but was usually shot down.
#27: Facehugger Shot Upside Down
To manage the iconic facehugger scene, Scott had to get creative when filming. The camera was placed upside down so the audience can see the slime that covers the egg to drip up. The director put on some gloves and moved the alien for an added effect along with an air cannon to shoot out pig intestines.
#26: Dallas’ Fate
A deleted scene shows Ripley going through the ship. Dallas who had disappeared into the shadows is then found encased in a cocoon. Scott cut the scene due to pacing reasons, but it does dismiss the mystery of Dallas’ death.
#25: Composer Jerry Goldsmith Got Screwed Over
Scott hated the original score the Jerry Goldsmith had composed as it felt like most other films and feed into the tone. Out of spite, Goldsmith tried to make the weirdest music possible, which the director and producers fell in love with.
Scott threw out other musical cues for certain scenes. Some temp tracks were kept outside of editing purposes that made it into the final product. Other parts of the score were moved or thrown out like the credits, leaving Goldsmith to having little impact on the film’s music.
#24: Test Audiences Felt Sick
For today’s standards, Alien is still gruesome and disgusting with all of its slime and guts. Audience members screamed, gasped, vomited, fainted, and one person who tried to flee in the chaos broke an arm. It was the type of reaction that the filmmakers had only dreamed about.
#23: A Box Office Hit With a Limited Release
For its time, $3.1 million is a lot of money for a movie to earn. Despite its small release with a peak number of theaters hitting 757 showings, the fans could not get enough of Alien. Constant sold out shows raked in the cash even with a low amount of places to go see the film.
#22: The Who Helped Out
Rock legends The Who helped with the filming. Blue lights in the egg chamber came from the band’s own lighting system. They were testing somethings out next door and let the crew of Alien use it to add to the atmosphere.
#21: Scaring the Cat
To get Jones the cat to react to the alien, a German Shepherd was brought on set. A screen to separate the two made it so the cat would not hiss immediately until it was lifted up to reveal the dog.
#20: Toned Down Violence
Those fainting and vomiting audience members got some of the blood and gore take down a notch. With the possibility for an X rating, which it did get in the UK, the violence went into R territory for a wider release.
#19: Acid Blood Origins
An alien is hunting your crew down, then why not shoot it? Well, it has acid blood, so no shooting or stabbing it. Concept artist Ron Cobb came up with the idea to avoid having the crew killing the invasive creature minutes after seeing it.
#18: Best Summary Ever?
The producers had readers who would summarize the film. It was described as “It’s like Jaws, but in space.” Brilliant, awesome, and accurate.
#17: Eyes or No Eyes?
Giger’s first drafts in his concepts for the Xenomorph, it had eyes. When gearing up to make the official design, the eyes were removed to remove the emotion from the bloodthirsty alien.
#16: Machine Operated Alien
Before getting Badejo in the costume, Scott wanted animatronics to control the alien, similar to Jaws or down the road with Jurassic Park. Due to technical limitations, the decision was made to make a costume and get someone to wear it despite the fear of it looking too fake.
#15: Film Inspirations
The three main inspirations came from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and 2001: A Space Odyssey for the sci-fi elements and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the horror influences.
#14: Green Facehugger
The original design had the facehugger to be green. After seeing the its resemblance to human skin, O’Bannon argued to keep the color as it is.
#13: Scrapped Sex Scene
Ripley and Dallas were meant to have a sex scene together. It was meant to show how the crew blew off steam and to feel less lonely in the vast emptiness of space. Skerritt told Scott it disrupted the flow and felt unnecessary, which the director agreed and scrapped the scene and any references to it all together.
#12: You Are My Lucky Star
Weaver had the idea for Ripley to sing You Are My Lucky Star from Singin’ in the Rain. Scott liked it, but the studio fought against having the song. The budget was tight enough which caused plenty of issues, so the song would add more tension to the film’s money, but it made it into the final product.
#11: Fox Doubles the Budget
Going from a budget of $4.2 million to $8.4 million was a decision Fox made from some of the film’s concepts. Artwork and storyboards got the suits at the studio to give Scott extra money.
#10: Egg Ingredients
How the crew created the eggs came from various animal parts. It was a mix of cattle hearts, stomachs, and the tubes were made up of sheep intestines.
#9: Up the Hooter
In preparation of Ash shoving a rolled up magazine in Ripley’s mouth, Scott explained the scene to Weaver. Some confusion came out of that conversation as he told her the magazine is going “up your hooter.” In America, that means breast, so Weaver was a little lost going into shooting this moment.
#8: Getting Woman Approval
To make sure Scott had an appropriate heroine, he invited a group of women from the production office to watch a screen test for their perspective. The ladies were impressed by Weaver’s performance.
#7: Ship Name Changes
Nostromo was not the first pick for the name of the crew’s ship. It started off as Snark then to Leviathan, then to the name we all know now.
#6: Storyboard Art Inspiration
Scott’s storyboards were inspired by comic book artist Jean Giraud. The French artist was known for his sci-fi, fantasy, and Western comics.
#5: Held Up By Customs
Giger was held by U.S. Customs at the Los Angeles International Airport when they discovered his concept art for the facehugger. O’Bannon had to come by to explain that it was for a horror movie they were making.
Sadly, people still cannot separate reality from a movie.
#4: Android Blood and Guts
Ash’s internal parts and “blood” was made up a mix of various ingredients. Colored water and for close-ups, milk was used. Pasta and glass marbles were used for his “organs.”
#3: Behind Parker’s Death
Kotto’s head had a fiberglass cast made and filled with pig brains. A wax forehead was created so the teeth of the alien could penetrate easier. Barbed hooks for the teeth helped it bite in easier and that is how movie magic is made, crafting material and animal organs.
#2: Cast Passing Out
The actors had problems getting cool enough or getting enough oxygen in their space suits and within the claustrophobic environment. Several of the cast had fainted under the extreme conditions while shooting.
#1: First Test Screening Failure
The test screening where people ran and vomited was the second. The first test screening had audio issues, causing a lackluster response from the crowd.
Images via 20th Century Fox