“In space, no one can hear you scream” was the tagline for 1979’s Alien, though over the course of four decades, audiences have encountered plenty of sounds, including blood-curdling yells, tearful cries and the yucky noises of creatures hugging faces and bursting from human chests.
The sci-fi horror franchise has given us a great action hero in Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, who fought monsters for four films but hasn't been seen in an Alien project since the 1990s; a string of androids, the most recent being Michael Fassbender as David in Prometheus and new film Alien: Covenant; the pesky Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which seems to care more about cosmic beasts more than its employees; and the impressively fanged Xenomorph that’s become the iconic villain of the movie series.
That slathering, snarling extraterrestrial is unleashed yet again in Covenant (in theaters Thursday night), which boasts brainy sci-fi themes and gory ultra-violence. But how does the new film stack up to the old-school scares from decades past? Here’s the definitive ranking of all the Alien films so far. (We’re not including the Alien vs. Predator films because they’re kind of their own franchise and honestly pretty terrible.)
6. Alien: Resurrection (1997)
The fourth installment focuses on science experiments run amok and the military's decision to clone Ripley 200 years after she sacrificed herself (see: Alien 3) as a hybrid that gives "birth" to a new alien queen. While not big on actual plot, Resurrection features a bevy of creatures that a crew of mercenaries (including Ron Perlman and Winona Ryder) has to face, and a really strange humanoid monstrosity that shares a surprisingly touching moment before getting sucked out of a spaceship.
5. Alien 3 (1992)
Ripley gets stranded on a planet with an all-male penal colony and not much else. Unfortunately for everybody, an alien stowed away on her space vessel. Director David Fincher explores gender issues and creates really interesting visuals, plus Ripley shaves her head to fit in with the abundance of dudes. It’s a bit of a disappointment when it comes to alien escapades: There aren’t many Xenomorphs and the CGI is definitely lacking.
4. Alien: Covenant (2017)
The newest film mashes up the headiness of Prometheus with the chaotic terror of the earlier movies. A ship carrying the future of the human race makes an ill-fated stop on a paradise planet and all hell breaks loose when a couple of guys get infected with the alien parasite. The creatures are cool but Fassbender is straight up Oscar-caliber in the dual android roles of David and new model Walter.
3. Prometheus (2012)
The most divisive movie among fans, the prequel was a surprise Alien movie of sorts, gradually revealing its ties to the franchise amid a story of human archaeologists trying to map out the connection between mankind and an ancient race of Engineers. Prometheus leans way more thought-provoking than action-packed — though there is plenty of horror, including Noomi Rapace giving herself the gnarliest C-section of all time.
2. Aliens (1986)
Dripping with action-movie machismo, James Cameron’s sequel wakes up Ripley after 50 years of hypersleep and takes her back to LV-426, the world where her crew first encountered alien life. Now, it’s a terraforming colony where Ripley teams with space marines — including a memorable Bill Paxton — to take on extraterrestrial antagonists. Worth it just for Ripley becoming a feminist folk hero and surrogate mother, plus taking on the alien queen for all the galactic marbles.
1. Alien (1979)
Director Ridley Scott’s original is not only the best Alien but one of the top sci-fi films ever in the way it creates an atmosphere of non-stop dread. A team of space truckers are trying to get minerals back to Earth, answer a distress call, and have to fight for their lives while a Xenomorph hunts them down one by one. Even after decades of visual-effects spectacle, the sight of the alien blasting out of John Hurt’s chest is still completely terrifying, absolutely cringe-inducing and totally awesome.