With Alien 5 being put “on hold”, Luke Owen looks back at the movie’s brief troubled production…
“The way Fox dealt with me was not cool,” Neill Blomkamp recalls of his time on the unproduced Halo movie. “Right from the beginning, when Mary [Parent] hired me up until the end when it collapsed, they treated me like shit; they were just a crappy studio. I’ll never ever work with Fox ever again because of what happened to Halo – unless they pay me some ungodly amount of money and I have absolute fucking control.”
It’s been a bad year for 20th Century Fox when it comes to their public reputation. The troubled production of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four has been well documented, with various sources pointing various fingers at various other parties at who was to blame. Fox claim that Trank was the source of all their problems, while Trank and other sources have said that Fox cut out key scenes right before production and even locked the director out of eleventh hour reshoots and the subsequent editing process. While it is easy for the stories of Trank being a “nightmare” to work with to be true (he was also fired from directing one of the Star Wars Anthology movies), 20th Century Fox have always had a reputation of ‘studio interference’, particularly when it comes to their Alien franchise.
First released in 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien was a masterclass in suspension cinema, horror and science fiction. Like a slasher film set in space, Alien saw a group of astronauts unwittingly allow a Xenomorph creature onto their ship which kills them off one by one, until only Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is left standing. The film was a big success at the box office, earning over $100 million worldwide, and would eventually spawn a sequel seven years later with James Cameron’s Aliens. Upping the budget and the action, Aliens is an all-out war against the Xenomorphs compared to its predecessor, and would achieve a similar level of success with $131 million worldwide. However, it was not plain sailing from there.
After the success of Aliens, 20th Century Fox started to develop a third movie in their franchise. After a multitude of different ideas and scripts over the next few years (including a two-part story involving weaponised Xenomorphs on Earth directed by Renny Harlin with Ripley in just a cameo appearance), Fox turned to newcomer David Fincher to direct Alien3. However the problems didn’t stop there. Slashed budgets, script re-writes and constant interference from the studio meant that Fincher’s Alien3 actually being finished with a coherent story was probably the biggest achievement of the franchise to date. Released in the summer of 1992, Alien3 was, however, the biggest hit of the franchise thus far (not adjusted for inflation), earning Fox $159 million worldwide. Plans for a fourth movie hit the same issues as Alien3, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Joss Whedon writing five drafts of a movie with its third act set on Earth that never got made, before being asked to write up a new take that focused on Newt from Aliens (who had died previously at the start of Alien3). Although they were impressed with his drafts, Fox wanted to shift focus back to Ellen Ripley as they saw her as the cornerstone of the series, despite the character sacrificing herself at the end of Alien3 to kill off the Alien Queen she’d been impregnated with. In the end, Fox released Alien: Resurrection in 1997 that saw a clone of Ellen Ripley take centre stage and do battle with a human/Xenomorph hybrid. Though not a critical darling like the first two films, Alien: Resurrection was a success and earned $161 million worldwide.
Though Fox wanted more movies, it seemed as though the series was over with for the time being. Whedon had written an Earth-based script for Alien 5, but Weaver wasn’t happy with the setting and said she would only return if she liked the story. James Cameron had started to develop plans for another movie, but with Fox’s announcement of Alien vs. Predator, based off the successful comic book series that combined the two movie universes, he cancelled all of his plans stating that a crossover movie would “kill the validity” of the series much like Universal’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. Ridley Scott also threw his hat back into the ring for another stab at the Alien universe, but his plans were put on the backburner for Paul W.S. Anderson’s blockbuster crossover event.
The development of that movie wasn’t an easy ride either. Plans for Alien vs. Predator had begun as far back as 1991 when Peter Briggs (Hellboy) adapted the original 1989 comic and pitched it to an enthusiastic Fox, but the movie was placed on ice for the development of Alien3 and then on hold again for Alien: Resurrection. The idea was returned to in 2002, following the fan backlash of Alien: Resurrection, and was eventually released in 2004 as AVP: Alien vs. Predator to a sea of mediocre reviews but a global box office return of $172 million. Cameron, who had slated the movie before it was even made, would later say that it was his third favourite movie featuring the Alien creature. It’s sequel, however, was not quite as successful. With a very short amount of time allowed by the studio for production, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem was released in 2007 and received the worst reviews of the series to date. With a box office total of $128 million, it took the lowest of the franchise when adjusted for inflation.
In 2012, Ridley Scott eventually returned to the Alien franchise he’d created with a prequel movie entitled Prometheus. The film, however, suffered from an identity crisis. Fox initially announced the film as a reboot to the Alien franchise, but then simply said that it would act as a prequel. As the movie rolled into production, Scott attempted to further his movie away from the franchise by saying it was set in the same universe, but would have no bearing on the Alien series. Although it divided fan opinion, Prometheus was a massive success and brought in over $400 million worldwide for 20th Century Fox. Plans for a sequel began quickly, but stalled just as fast with Scott going on to direct Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Martian while developing the next part of his Prometheus sequels, which seemed to be the future of the Alien franchise.