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.

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.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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10 Facts About David Fincher's The Social Network for Its 10th Anniversary

Jesse Eisenberg stars in David Fincher's The Social Network (2010).
Jesse Eisenberg stars in David Fincher's The Social Network (2010).
Merrick Morton/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network—a movie made when Facebook was less than seven years old and the social media era was relatively new—seemed destined to age poorly. But in the decade since its premiere in October 2010, the film’s depiction of the website and its young founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is more relevant than ever.

Even if you haven’t logged onto Facebook in years, the film offers plenty to love, from David Fincher’s detailed direction to Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script. In honor of its 10-year anniversary, here are 10 facts about The Social Network.

1. Aaron Sorkin started writing the script for The Social Network before the book it's based on was published.

Aaron Sorkin makes a cameo in The Social Network (2010).Merrick Morton, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network is officially an adaptation of The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich's 2009 book detailing the founding of Facebook. But according to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, he had already completed 80 percent of the script by the time he read the book. The project came to him in the form of a 14-page book proposal the publisher was shopping around to filmmakers ahead of the title's release. “I said yes on page three," Sorkin told Deadline in 2011. "That’s the fastest I’ve ever said yes to anything."

Instead of waiting for The Accidental Billionaires to be completed and published, Sorkin started working on the script immediately, doing his own first-hand research for much of the process instead of referring to the book.

2. Shia LaBeouf turned down the role of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.

When Transformers star Shia LaBeouf turned down the role of The Social Network’s lead character, Jesse Eisenberg was hired to play Mark Zuckerberg instead. Superbad's Jonah Hill was another star who came close to being cast in the movie, in his case as Napster founder Sean Parker; ultimately, Fincher decided Hill wasn’t right for the role and cast Justin Timberlake instead.

3. The Social Network wasn’t filmed at Harvard.

Harvard University is integral to the legend of Facebook, and setting the first half of The Social Network there was non-negotiable. Filmmakers ran into trouble, however, when attempting to get the school's blessing. The 1970 adaptation of Love Story been shot there, and damaged the campus; the school has reportedly banned all commercial filming on the premises since then. To get around this, The Social Network crew shot the Harvard scenes at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and two prep schools, Phillips Academy Andover and Milton Academy, in Massachusetts.

4. David Fincher did sneak one shot of Harvard into The Social Network.

To convince the audience that they were indeed seeing Harvard, Fincher couldn’t resist sneaking in a shot of the campus’s iconic architecture. When Jesse Eisenberg runs across Harvard Square (which is not on Harvard property) in the beginning film, some nearby arches (which are on Harvard property) appear in the background. Fincher got the lighting he needed for this scene by hiring a street mime to roll a cart with lights on it onto the campus.

“If security were to stop him, the mime wouldn’t talk," The Social Network’s director of photography Jeff Cronenweth told Variety. "By the time they got him out of there, we would have accomplished our shot.”

5. Natalie Portman gave Aaron Sorkin the inside scoop on Harvard.

Natalie Portman attended Harvard from 1999 to 2003, briefly overlapping with fellow star alum Mark Zuckerberg. While enrolled, she dated a member of one of the university’s elite final clubs, which are an important part of The Social Network’s plot. When she learned that Sorkin was writing the screenplay for the movie, she invited the writer over to hear her insider knowledge. Sorkin gave the actress a shout-out in the final script. During one of the deposition scenes, Eisenberg's Harvard-era Zuckerberg is described as “the biggest thing on a campus that included 19 Nobel Laureates, 15 Pulitzer Prize winners, two future Olympians, and a movie star.”

6. Armie Hammer and his body double went to twin boot camp for The Social Network.

Armie Hammer and Josh Pence (as Armie Hammer) in The Social Network (2010).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Armie Hammer is credited as playing both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, but he wasn’t acting alone in his scenes. Josh Pence was cast as a body double and Hammer’s face was digitally pasted over his in post-production. For every scene where both twins appear on screen, Hammer and Pence played separate Winklevi, and then they would swap roles and shoot the scene again. This method allowed the characters to physically interact in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with split screens. Pence’s face may be missing from the movie, but his physical performance was still essential to selling the brothers' dynamic. He and Hammer worked with an acting coach for 10 months to nail down the characters’ complementary body language.

7. The Social Network's tagline was changed at the last minute.

For The Social Network’s main poster, designer Neil Kellerhouse made Jesse Eisenberg’s face the focal point. Over it, he superimposed the memorable tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Originally, the text read “300 million friends,” but it was changed under the assumption that Facebook would hit half a billion users in time for the movie’s October 2010 release.

“We were really hedging our bets," Kellerhouse told IndieWire. "But we scooped them on their own story because right as the film was coming out they got 500 million [members] so we got their publicity as well. It worked out super serendipitously.”

8. Fight Club’s Tyler Durden (kind of) makes a cameo in The Social Network.

Sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed the Easter egg David Fincher snuck into The Social Network. In the scene where Mark Zuckerberg is checking someone’s Facebook to cheat on a test, the name “Tyler Durden” can be seen in the top-left corner of the profile. Tyler Durden is the name of the narrator’s alter ego (played by Brad Pitt) in 1999’s Fight Club. Fincher directed both films.

9. The real Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t a fan of The Social Network.

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010).Merrick Morton, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network doesn’t paint Mark Zuckerberg in the most flattering light, and unsurprisingly, the real-life Facebook founder wasn’t happy about it. Following the movie’s release, he called out its “hurtful” inaccuracies, specifically citing the fictional Mara Rooney character that’s used as his motivation for founding the website. But even he admits that some details were spot-on. “It’s interesting what stuff they focused on getting right," Zuckerberg said at a Stanford event. "Like every single fleece and shirt I had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own.”

10. A sequel to The Social Network is not out of the question.

The Social Network premiered when Facebook was less than a decade old, and the story of the internet giant has only gotten more dramatic since then. Since settling lawsuits with Eduardo Saverin and the Winkelvoss twins, Facebook has been battling scandals related to privacy issues and its influence on the 2016 election. The last 10 years have provided more than enough material for a sequel to The Social Network, and both Aaron Sorkin and Jesse Eisenberg have expressed interest in such a project. As of now, there are no confirmed plans for a follow-up.