Hulu’s recent revival of the Predator franchise, Prey, is not only the best entry of the franchise since the 1987 original, but is also responsible for generating some renewed interest in the Yautja and similar cinematic beasts. It remains to be seen if the Xenomorph will follow in the bloody footsteps of its cinematic brethren, but there’s a good chance the franchise will be expanded in multiple formats.
Marvel’s current run of Aliens comics helps solidify just how important a likable character is in the franchise. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is beyond integral, but she’s not a requirement. Alien spawned a franchise that embraced inclusivity, be it race, gender, orientation,
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) — Alien Quadrilogy (1979-1997)
It’s debatable whether Alien would be one of the highest-grossing horror films of the ’70s if it wasn’t led by one of cinema’s ultimate protagonists. Ellen Ripley, as portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, is the definition of strength. But she is never strong for just herself, as she’s quick to attempt to secure the survival of the Nostromo’s crew just the same as Newt.
Ripley’s an altruist, and she’s also the most qualified person to face the universe’s most vicious beast. It’s not because she’s specially trained, it’s because she’s straightforward. The downfall of many characters in the Alien franchise is their greed, and Ripley possesses none of it.
Dallas (Tom Skerritt) — Alien (1979)
Dallas is a captain who listens to his crew. He’s not short with anyone and seems to value the lives of those around him just as much as he values his own. He’s also played by the lovable Tom Skerritt, a few years shy of Top Gun and The Dead Zone.
Ridley Scott’s Alien is a sci-fi classic for innumerable reasons, among them being its restraint. Dallas is killed off-screen in the (superior) theatrical cut. In the extended cut, he’s revealed to be cocooned against a wall (a piece of imagery that would be utilized in Aliens and beyond), but the succinct nature of his death in the Nostromo tunnels and preceding tension-building is best left alone. It’s difficult and jarring for the audience to process such a likable character’s swift exit from the narrative and crew.
Parker (Yaphet Kotto) — Alien (1979)
Yaphet Kotto was one of Hollywood’s best actors of the ’70s and ’80s. With a start in The Thomas Crown Affair (the Steve McQueen original) and as a Bond villain in Live and Let Die, he was more established than the majority of Alien‘s cast.
Yet in the film, he takes on a relatively low-key role: the guy always complaining about money. But Kotto’s Parker is so much more; His presence is a genuine comfort, he has a functioning sense of humor, and he doesn’t value himself over others. Parker gets the Xeno’s mini-mouth, but it’s thankfully not until well into the film.
Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton) — Aliens (1986)
Along with holding one of the most creative movie sequel titles, Aliens also has one of cinema’s most quotable supporting characters in Bill Paxton’s Pvt. Hudson. His screaming of “Game over, man! Game over!” is so perfect for a terrified grunt that the movie practically wouldn’t be the same without him.
Admittedly, Hudson can be an overwhelming character for some viewers. He doesn’t have much of an off switch and his tirades are often expletive-laden, but for those fully on board for Aliens‘ tone, the late Paxton’s character is a necessary addition.
Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) — Aliens (1986)
Newt and Corporal Dwayne Hicks operate in the same category: Aliens characters who without a doubt should have been in Alien³. Hicks is a kind, decent man who has Ripley’s back just the same as he has his squadmates’. Like little Newt, Hicks is both a person of honor and an integral part of expanding the character of Ellen Ripley in organic, palatable, substantial ways.
Hicks performer Michael Biehn was re-teaming with director James Cameron after their equally successful and noteworthy The Terminator, and it’s saying something that Biehn’s Hicks is every bit as memorable as his Kyle Reese. Aliens put Ripley in a swarm, both in terms of gruff (mostly) male soldiers and vicious Xenomorphs. Hicks is the one who lets Ripley (and the audience) know she’s not still completely alone after the events on the Nostromo.
Bishop (Lance Henriksen) — Aliens (1986)
Like the Yautja of Predator and Prey, the Xenomorph hunts humans for sport. However, Lance Henriken’s Bishop (in Aliens, not Alien³) is a synthetic, so he’s safe for the most part. Even still, Bishop’s decision-making throughout the film’s runtime is for the preservation of human life, whereas the synth of the previous film, Ash, acted in a manner much the opposite.
Bishop even manages to assist Ripley from the “dead” in Alien³. Unfortunately, the latter also meets the man responsible for both the synth’s physical appearance and overall existence.
Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) — Aliens (1986)
Private Vasquez is one of several characters from Cameron’s sequel that have remained in the pop-culturally enthused public’s minds, to the extent she’ll lead the upcoming novel Aliens: Vasquez. A big part of her longevity is her portrayal courtesy of Jenette Goldstein, who just one year later would star in the phenomenal Near Dark, directed by Cameron’s ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker).
Vasquez is tough as nails; A woman more than able to hold her own in the midst of musclebound, machine gun-toting marines with foul mouths. But she’s also a sweet person capable of forgiveness, even when it comes to someone like the incompetent Lieutenant Gorman.
Clemens (Charles Dance) — Alien³
“The Dragon” (AKA Alien³‘s Xenomorph) is one of the best villains in David Fincher movies, but it’s not alone in the film. Ripley is surrounded by some truly loathsome men, but Clemens (Game of Thrones star Charles Dance) is a true diamond in the rough.
Fiorina 161 is a prison for men with a particular disposition for crime and general aggression. Clemens was once a prisoner for a crime he admits he committed. However, he feels his sentence was light, and even upon release, he remains in 161 as its resident doctor to continue his penance. Unfortunately, he dies just under halfway through the film, but Clemens’ early death helps solidify just how likable he is, and how much the viewer will miss him.
Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) — Alien Vs. Predator (2004)
In Paul W.S. Anderson’s forgettable Alien vs. Predator, Sanaa Lathan portrays environmental technician “Lex” Woods, and her lead performance is both committed and commanding. Woods goes along with Weyland Industries on their expedition to a buried Antarctic pyramid.
There was a lot of potential in Alien vs. Predator‘s location alone. Unfortunately, the movie is severely hampered by its PG-13 rating and a short runtime with too much unrealized ambition within. But Woods is a strong central protagonist in more ways than one, and Lathan carries the weight of the movie on her shoulders with ease.
Walter (Michael Fassbender) — Alien: Covenant (2017)
Michael Fassbender owns the deeply flawed Alien: Covenant just as he owned the deeply flawed Prometheus, lending both films a formidability they would have otherwise lacked. Like David in Prometheus, Covenant‘s Walter is a synth made by man in his own image.
But Walter is far more docile than David, practically domesticated. Both are interesting characters because both are trying to find their unique, soulless place in a vast, dangerous universe. Admittedly, David has the edge, but Walter’s pondering of love’s definition is both compelling and endearing.