Dreadlocks and acid blood. Yautja and Xenomorph. “Predator” and “Alien.” For more than 35 years, the landscape of science fiction films has been forever etched with the chestbursters and plasma cannons of cinema’s most iconic extraterrestrial franchises. However, both series have consistently fluctuated in quality, each experiencing a rollercoaster trajectory from critical acclaim to outright loathing. But with the release of “Prey” (the fifth standalone “Predator” movie), it’s become clear that “Predator” has regained its footing, while the “Alien” franchise seems to be swept away by the rushing tide of expansion.
The two film series, which actually share the same universe, have been related to each other for decades. Ridley Scott introduced Xenomorph aliens in his 1979 tour-de-force science fiction horror film “Alien”. “Predator” took theaters by storm in 1987 and took another eight years. Both spawned successful franchises under the 20th Century Fox banner.
‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’
“Alien,” still widely considered one of the greatest sci-fi horror films ever made, is a masterpiece of terror and atmosphere. It’s a quietly tense film that hinges on the mystery and fear of the iconic Xenomorph alien, which wreaks havoc on the Nostromo’s crew of personalities. From the incredibly gruesome murders to the indelible performances of Sigourney Weaver and company, the original film had all the ingredients for a hit that would stand the test of time.
In 1986, James Cameron took the wheel from Scott and delivered another classic in “Aliens.” Opting for a less scary, more action sci-fi approach, Cameron excelled at the original while still grounding the “Alien” universe in tangential features. Throw in a little commentary on the Vietnam War and some terrific action set pieces, and you’ve got yourself a sequel that rivals the first in quality.
A year later, “Predator” replicated much of what made “Alien” great by introducing a new killer creature: the Yautza. Where “Predator” deviated was its status as a kick-ass action genre film. Packed with muscle men, machine guns and brutal kills, “Predator,” delivered one of the greatest action movies ever made. Its clever one-liners, outrageous kills, brief action set pieces and mysteriously murderous villain make “Predator” not only a great genre flick, but also a time capsule of a special moment in Hollywood filmmaking.
Three years later, “Predator 2” fails to capture the magic of its predecessor — though it continues to serve as cult classic fodder thanks to its willingness to lean into the outrageous. Embellished with a head-scratching plot featuring voodoo drug lords and a notable lack of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film is a full-on schlock fest that, while entertaining, doesn’t match the machismo blow-the-roof-off action. original
Two years later, “Alien” met with its own relative failure. “Alien 3” leans into nihilistic melodrama, resulting in a dark installment that hits like a shocking ice bath after a gung-ho, rip-roaring film. While “Alien 3” still works well on its own terms, its lack of luster compared to previous films has always made it stand as a disappointment among the franchise. In fact, legendary director David Fincher – who made his feature film debut with this film – has rejected the film due to problematic production. The new director was initially forced to shoot the movie without a complete script, several other directors came and went during pre-production and $7 million of the film’s budget was in the hole from the start. In the end, “Alien 3” is a step back for the property, as it feels like it was written by 30 different people due to its twists and lack of thematic focus.
1997’s ‘Alien: Resurrection’ was even worse. With a resurrected Ripley (because… science?) and a human-xenomorph hybrid, the fourth installment is all over the place. Overall, the launch of the “Alien” franchise seems afraid to let go of a story that has already exhausted its vitality.
‘Aliens vs Hunters’
By the turn of the century, both series seemed to have slipped by the wayside. The “Alien vs. Predator” movies of the mid-2000s didn’t do much to help their track record, either (though, of course, seeing the Xenomorph’s yautza fists is dope). The next eras in the franchises, however, brought different levels of success that led them to their current position.
The 2010 film “Predators,” starring Adrien Brody, was the closest the franchise came to capturing the magic of their original films. Following a similar predator-prey-prey premise, “Predators” is followed up with a straight action movie with kick-ass combat and even more kick-ass Predators. It focused on what “Predator” did best: be simple, and do it very well.
In “Predators,” the franchise has shown that it doesn’t care to tie up any major storylines. The “Predator” series is essentially an anthology. It follows a different set of characters in a different setting in each installment, with the only constant being Yautza on the hunt. While it resists deep thematic resonance for the series as a whole, “Predator” doesn’t care. Each movie feels like an open invitation to explore new adventures, new characters, new worlds and new murders. “Alien,” on the other hand, asks viewers to immerse themselves in its mythology and story. Another “Alien” installment, “Prometheus,” falls victim to the same feeling.
Ridley Scott returns for “Prometheus,” a new take on the 2012 “Alien” franchise. Scott’s beautiful camerawork dazzles, his direction focuses on deep ideas of origin, purpose and perfection, leading the franchise to a near-biblical plot. Here, Scott created an interesting science-fiction film with a deep thought and message, but “Prometheus” pushes the definition of an “alien” movie so much that it breaks its own belt buckle. It still leans on the mythology established in the previous films, but instead seeks to “revive” the series with an entirely new storyline focused on Michael Fassbender’s David and his focus on the “perfect existence”. While “Predator” is creating self-contained stories that stand on their own accord, the “Alien” franchise is clawing for a new, weightier storyline. It’s ambitious, yes. However, ambition calls for greater execution. “Prometheus” aims high, but falls only Short of its ambitious goals.
Although the latest “Alien” installment, 2017’s “Alien: Convent,” reintroduced the word “alien” in the title, the film still feels like it’s wading through a quagmire of biblical proportions and philosophical arguments. It once again harps on the storyline of David and the Engineers, and it still feels stuck on an idea that leaves little to care. The characters are less real humans than they are moving targets to raise in a roundabout fashion, and it’s fair to say that most fans don’t look to the “Alien” movie to learn more about their creation and purpose in life. Not even a devilishly outrageous Fassbender performance can save this movie.
Overcoming the massive misstep of Shane Black’s messy 2018 movie “The Predator,” the “Predator” series has promised it’s perfectly happy sticking to its simpler roots. “Prey,” which is now the highest-rated installment in the franchise on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes with a 93% rating, has received acclaim online for its lyrical and brooding hunter-vs-hunter storyline. Comanche Nation.
Even though a movie like “Prey” may have the same basic DNA as its parent, it works because it still feels completely fresh and full of ideas. Director Dan Trachtenberg creates a worthy “Predator” entry while painting a fresh, thoughtful portrait of heroism and bad-assery. It doesn’t feel like “Hunting” is woven into a complex web of deep ideas, but it doesn’t feel like a soulless piece of corporate IP either.
The timelessness of “predation” is the presentlessness of “alien”. Rewatching “Predator” or “Prey,” one might sit back and marvel at the well-executed genre filmmaking. It’s a fun, rewarding experience, just like “Alien” and “Aliens.” Rewatching any of the “Alien” movies beyond the first two, though, can feel like homework instead.
The decisive crux of “Alien” lies in its intense — but respectable — ambitions. It’s reaching for the sky (or heaven, for that matter), but it falls short. Meanwhile, “Predator” is offering little capsules of action-packed but not completely braindead fun. It is attractive because of its ability to go anywhere and anytime. With “Alien,” the overarching tone is that whether we like it or not, we’re in it for the long haul.
In reality, it all comes down to this: the “alien” is trying to round out complex, biblical mythology while the “hunter” is hoisting a bear carcass over his head. Who wore it better?