15 Fascinating Facts About Alien

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Ridley Scott’s Alien was perhaps the first movie to reveal the true terrors of space, where no one can hear you scream. The 1979 horror sci-fi classic gave us spine-tingling new special effects and a revolutionary heroine in Ellen Ripley, the alien’s only worthy adversary. But she almost didn't make the movie. Find out how she wound up in the script, which rock band helped with the lighting design, and more interesting Alien facts below.

1. It was originally called Star Beast.

When Dan O’Bannon was drafting the screenplay that would become Alien, he had a more unusual title: Star Beast. He didn’t like it, but struggled to find a better replacement until one late-night writing session. As he was typing dialogue in which the crew members discussed the alien, that word jumped out at him. He promptly ditched Star Beast for the simpler title, which he loved because it was a noun and an adjective.

2. Star Wars helped Alien get made.

Initially, Alien wasn’t an easy sell. O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (who co-wrote the story, but not the screenplay) bounced between producers for a while, almost landing a deal with B-movie legend Roger Corman. But the script eventually went to a new company, Brandywine Productions, which had ties to 20th Century Fox. The three founding members asked for all sorts of rewrites, but each new treatment O’Bannon and Shusett returned wasn’t swaying the brass at Fox. Then Star Wars arrived and took over the box office. Every studio in town rushed to get anything remotely sci-fi into production, so Alien got the green light.

3. A Swiss surrealist painter designed the aliens.

All the aliens in the movie—the “facehugger,” the “chestburster,” the humanoid “space jockey,” and the big bad adult—were designed by the surrealist painter H.R. Giger. O’Bannon handpicked him for Alien. He had first met Giger in Paris while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed Dune movie. He was struck by Giger’s sinister images, and even more so by his actual demeanor. As O’Bannon recalled in The Beast Within: The Making of Alien, Giger offered him opium immediately upon introduction. When O’Bannon asked the artist why he took opium, Giger replied, “I am afraid of my visions.” O’Bannon assured him it was only his mind. “That is what I’m afraid of,” Giger said.

4. Dutch customs detained H.R. Giger for his designs.

Dutch customs officials once stopped Giger because they thought his paintings were photographs, and were deeply disturbed. But Giger was just annoyed. “Where on earth did they think I could have photographed my subjects?” he responded. “In hell, perhaps?”

5. Ripley was written as a male character.

O’Bannon and Shusett wrote the entire cast as men, but they left a note in the screenplay that “the crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” Shusett admits they never dreamed of the lead being a woman, though. The producers made that call, believing a female Ripley would be more unique but also more palatable to their bankrollers. As Brandywine producer David Giler remembered, “Looking it over, [producer Walter Hill] and I thought, ‘Here’s this one character who’s not too interesting.’ 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.”

6. Ash wasn't in the original script.

Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien (1979)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Ash, the secretly android member of the crew played by Ian Holm, did not appear in O’Bannon’s script. He was invented by the producers. While Shusett loved the addition, O’Bannon was less enthusiastic. He complained in the 2003 DVD commentary, “If it wasn’t in there, what difference does it make? I mean, who gives a rat’s ass? So somebody is a robot.”

7. The ship's name comes from a Joseph Conrad novel.

All the horror unfolds aboard a spaceship dubbed Nostromo. The name was ripped from the title of a 1904 novel by Joseph Conrad, which follows an Italian explorer sent to South America to plunder a silver mine. That’s not the movie’s only Conrad reference, though. The shuttle that Ripley uses to escape is called Narcissus, and that moniker refers to yet another Conrad novel, with a much more problematic title.

8. Cast members regularly passed out on set.

Spacesuits (even fake ones) tend to get hot—especially when they don’t let any air out. Add in set lighting and a summertime production schedule and you have some truly sweltering conditions. Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, revealed in The Beast Within that the actors were fainting so regularly that a nurse was kept on standby with oxygen tanks. But the costumes weren’t actually updated until kids got involved. For a few perspective shots, Scott put his two sons in spacesuits. They also passed out, which finally forced the crew to modify the costumes.

9. A 6-foot-10-inch Nigerian student played the lead Alien.

Bolaji Badejo wore the famous alien suit, and he didn't get the part through a traditional casting call. Badejo was in a pub in London, where he’d moved to study graphic arts, when a casting agent spotted him and immediately called Alien associate producer Ivor Powell. Powell and Scott had been struggling to find someone who fit the praying mantis aesthetic they wanted, but lanky 6’10” Badejo was just their guy. He took mime classes to get the alien motions down and sat on a custom swing in between takes. (With a tail like that, chairs were out of the question.)

10. The egg required hydraulics, hand shadows, and cow tripe.

Most directors make their cameo via a walk-on bit, not shadow puppets. But Scott’s big appearance in the movie comes when an alien facehugger appears to move inside its egg. As io9 noted, that was really just Scott flicking his gloved hands under the moving light. The egg also came outfitted with steel hydraulics along the top. And when it's all opened up? Those are cow intestines, not alien parts, nestled inside.

11. The Who's Roger Daltrey helped with the lighting.

When the Nostromo crew disturbs the facehuggers, there's a beam of blue light, which indicates early trouble. And you have The Who to thank for that. Lead singer Roger Daltrey was experimenting with lasers right next to the studio where Alien was shooting, and he graciously lent his equipment out to Scott.

12. The actors were genuinely shocked by the chestburster scene.

For the iconic scene where a chestburster shoots out of John Hurt’s torso, Scott wanted the best possible reaction from his cast. So he deliberately kept details hidden from all the actors, aside from Hurt. They knew a creature would emerge, they had seen the puppet, and they were more than a little suspicious of the raincoats they’d been given. But they had no idea what kind of gore was in store. Their reaction to the bloody burst is completely genuine. According to The Guardian, Yaphet Kotto (Parker) shut himself in his room right after the scene and wouldn’t talk to anyone.

13. The chestburster was inspired by Dan O'Bannon's medical problems.

No real person has ever “birthed” an extraterrestrial through the chest, but Alien’s screenwriter understood this horrifying affair better than most. O’Bannon suffered from Crohn’s disease, and it directly inspired the chestburster scene. He likened his digestion process to “something bubbling inside … struggling to get out.”

14. Ash's innards were made from milk, caviar, pasta, and marbles.

Remember that weird white goo that seeps out of Ash’s android head when he’s decapitated? Scott’s crew made that from a combination of milk, caviar, pasta, and glass marbles. It was especially unfortunate for the Holm, who hated milk.

15. A cocoon scene was cut.

The movie initially offered a much more concrete ending for Ripley’s crewmates Dallas and Brett. In a deleted scene, Ripley encounters them both as she’s rushing to the shuttle. They’ve been wrapped in an alien cocoon, and only Dallas can make out any words. When it becomes clear to Ripley that they’re beyond saving, she torches the entire cocoon. Almost everyone involved felt the scene dragged down Ripley’s escape, and since the original cut was well over three hours, it was left out of the final film.

This story has been updated for 2019.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now

A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. Making a Murderer (2015-)

One of the major true crime phenomenons of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling. Three years after the docuseries became a surprise hit for Netflix, it returned for a second season in 2018.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. The Staircase (2004-2018)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife, Kathleen, had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was The StaircaseJean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. And Netflix's addition of new episodes in 2018 led to a resurgence in interest in this mind-boggling case (with armchair detectives even positing that an owl was the real killer).

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Flint Town (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. The Jinx (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. The first was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO Now and Hulu

5. Wild Wild Country (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Wormwood (2017)

Documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Five Came Back (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. The Devil Next Door (2019)

In 1980s Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was living a quiet life as a grandfather and auto worker. Suddenly, he was being extradited to Israel over accusations he was once notorious Nazi concentration camp monster Ivan the Terrible. As Demjanjuk mounts a defense, the trial captivates a country—but was he really the monster? This riveting series will have you guessing until the very end.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Ugly Delicious (2018-)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. Evil Genius (2018)

At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck detonated as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight. The bizarre incident was just the beginning of Evil Genius, which documents the peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade.

Where to watch it: Netflix

11. The Confession Tapes (2019)

A spare room. One or two detectives. A weary suspect. That's the set-up for this series that lets archival footage of police interrogations tell its own arresting stories.

Where to watch it: Netflix

12. Our Planet (2019)

Be amazed at the sensational vistas and eclectic wildlife with this beautifully-photographed trek through some of nature's most astounding sights—and the environmental perils that affect them. David Attenborough narrates.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. The Innocent Man (2018)

After two brutal murders in 1980s Oklahoma, four men are convicted of the crimes. All of them maintain their innocence, causing observers to question whether they were guilty or themselves victims of police coercion. This drama is based on John Grisham's 2006 book of the same name; Grisham executive produces.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. Last Chance U (2016-)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. Later seasons switch focus to a team out of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. Vice (2013-)

The series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens. The first six seasons are available on HBO, with a seventh airing on Showtime in 2020.

Where to watch it: HBO Go

17. Chef's Table (2015-)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. There's no shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. The Toys That Made Us (2017-)

Who knew the origin of classic toy lines could be so dramatic? This series puts the spotlight on the creative friction that led to some of the most iconic playthings of the 20th century, from Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Where to watch it: Netflix

19. The Eighties (2016)

CNN's series highlighting the pop culture of the neon-colored decade boasts familiar talking heads like Tom Hanks and enough nostalgia to keep you afloat for weeks. The network's The Seventies and The Nineties are also available.

Where to watch it: Netflix

20. Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)

This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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