Alien is one of those movies that launched a cottage industry of imitators. This haunted house in space movie changed the way we see, well, aliens. No longer would they look human or like little green Martians. Everything from here on out was going to be HR Giger xenomorphic grossouts with multiple mouths and dripping ooze. The following ten movies — and then some — are films that took a page — or three — from the adventures of the crew of the Nostromo.
1. Xtro: For those of you that watched Alien and felt there weren’t enough things that turned your stomach or blew your mind, allow me to introduce you to this film. A man is abducted by something that’s either a Lovecraftian race or aliens, then comes back for his son. He’s also reborn at full human size from a woman and instructs his boy on how to make his Action Man doll come to life and kill people. Also: Maryam d’Abo gets cocooned and not in the nice Steve Guttenberg hot tub love scene kind of way.
2. The Intruder Within: People wanted to see an Alien sequel so badly that even Starlog magazine hyped this as a sequel set on Earth. In fact, the creature here looks so much like an HR Giger design that for years, it’s been erroneously reported that he worked on it.
3. Alien 2: On Earth: Speaking of Alien making it to Earth, you have to hand it to the Italian film industry. Director Ciro Ippolito rushed this one out before copyrights for the original were finished — that never stopped any Italian ripoff film before, as we’ll soon see — and they even have Michel Soavi, the future director of Cemetery Man and The Church, in the cast. Bonus points for getting Oliver Onions to do the score!
20th Century Fox was enraged by the title of the film and attempted to sue Ippolito $10,000,000 for using the word alien in the title. Luckily, a British lawsuit pointed out a novel from the 1930s with the same title. Speaking of lawsuits, Ippolito later tried to sue the producers of 2005’s The Descent for stealing the plot to this film.
4. Alien Contamination: Speaking of Italian films, Starcrash director Luigi Cozzi took his love of the look of the film Zombi — and its star, Ian McCulloch — and made this gory and demented cover version of Alien. Best of all, he got Goblin to do the soundtrack, which makes any movie so much better.
5. Shocking Dark: Call it Terminator 2. Call it Alienators. Whatever you call this Bruno Mattei film, shot from a Claudio Fragasso script, you will never call it boring. Sure, the Space Marines all wear rollerblade gear and scream racial slurs at one another, but they also randomly get thrown off high structures by aliens that are living in the sewers of Venice. Just writing about this movie for a paragraph makes me want to watch it again. You can get it from Severin.
6. The Deadly Spawn: The Italian film industry isn’t the only one that can rip off a film’s title and present a film as a sequel. Witness this 1983 movie, which was also released as Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn and The Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn. That said, Ridley Scott’s film does not have a scene where a bunch of old society ladies decimate one of the xenomorphs.
7. Forbidden World: Somehow, this shot in the time it took to write this article movie has entertained me through multiple digit watches. The best way I can explain this movie is that it’s the arthouse version of Alien, except that halfway through it turns into softcore lesbian porn. If you’re not rushing to watch it right now, you don’t know how good life can be.
8. Galaxy of Terror: This movie may share sets with the film above it, but while that one at least attempts to not be a sleazy take on Alien, this one revels in absolute wanton alien roughie terror. A host of your TV and horror movie favorites are menaced, maimed, mutilated and molested on the way to the planet Morganthus. This one isn’t for the easily upset.
9. Inseminoid: This movie has been criticized for bad sets, poor acting and bad special effects. In truth, these are all things you truly need to make a great genre film. But right there in the title, you know what you’re getting if you want to get it. Someone is getting inseminated by something from space. Shudder…
10. Lifeforce: Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon wrote this Tobe Hooper directed film that — for the first half — feels like it could be an Alien ripoff. Then it wildly veers from expectations, like a man unsure of his place in Hollywood doing mounds of coke and trying to make a Quatermass movie with tons of nudity. Oh wait — that’s exactly what it is.
Argh! There are too many movies to fit them all into one list of ten, so let’s summarize a few more:
Creature: Klaus Kinski is frightening enough, but this movie also has special effects from Robert and Dennis Skotak, who would later work on Aliens.
Deepstar Six*: If this movie was made in Italy, it would have been called Alien: Under the Water. Or Leviathan, a movie that came out the same year with the very same idea. Or if you make an Italian rip-off in the Philippines, you’d call it The Rift or worse, The Evil Below.
Parasite: Demi Moore — in her first movie — falls in love with a man who has an alien parasite. They went with the first title they came up with.
Scared to Death: That’s not a serial killer. That’s a Syngenor (SYNthesized GENetic ORganism), who also stars in Syngenor, a movie that isn’t a sequel to this. Sort-of-kind-of sequel-cum-remake: Creature.
The Critters movies: Big teeth aliens, minus the size.
Split Second: Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall versus a Giger-ish monster.
Star Crystal: The alien GAR kills everyone until it reads the Bible and becomes a good guy. No, I didn’t make that up.
Pitch Black: BIg teethed xenomorphs meet Vin Diesel.
Species: Is it really a ripoff if Giger designed the creature?
Lily C.A.T.: This Japanese anime about xenomorphs battling the crew of a ship that has a robotic cat also is influenced by John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Biohazard: Fred Olen Ray put his son in an alien costume and told him to menace aging Hollywood star Aldo Ray and burlesque queen Angelique Pettyjohn.
Dark Side of the Moon: This one changes up the alien-threatening-the-crew-plot: this time Satan escapes from The Bermuda Triangle and “soul jumps” from crew member to crew member.
Nightflyers: Based on a 1985 novella by George R. R. Martin (HBO’s Game of Thrones) a group space voyagers search mysterious alien being. Instead of a gooey alien, we get a ghost that possesses the ship’s computer that goes “Hal” on them.
Within the Rock: The Sci-Fi Channel’s (before the “Ys”) answer that meshed Armageddon with Alien.
*Let’s round up the underwater-based Aliens into one convenient list . . .
Well, way back, there was 20th Century Fox’s The Neptune Factor (1973),
And MGM Studios’ “snakes on a submarine” variant, Fer-de-Lance (1974),
And the aforementioned TV movie with its prehistoric eggs on the ocean floor, The Intruder Within, aka, The Lucifer Rig (1981) . . .
Then came James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) . . . and the aquatic crop of The Abyss knockoffs released around 1990:
Leviathan: Bad Russian vodka-fed monsters.
DeepStar Six: Carolco Pictures’ giant anthropoid “sea scorpions” jarred loose-by-drilling.
Lords of the Deep: Roger Corman’s psychic aliens and damaged ozone layer horseplay.
The Evil Below: Wayne Crawford of Jake Speed fame with with haunted ocean floor shipwreck baloney.
The Rift, aka Endless Descent: The great R. Lee Emery stars in a tale of an evil underwater lab conducting DNA experiments.
Aliens from the Deep: Antonio Margheriti’s Italian cheapjack about Greenpeace discovering a local factory dumping radioactive waste into an active volcano that spews forth a creature.
And 20th Century Fox Studios brought it full circle with 2020’s box office bomb, Underwater.
Spaceballs — Also, never forget that Mel Brooks even brought back John Hurt to redo the chestburster scene in a diner. I love that the crew of Alien had no idea that this effect was about to happen when they filmed the dinner scene.
Alien itself is a ripoff of…
Queen of Blood: This 1966 science fiction film stars John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Dennis Hopper and Judi Meredith as astronauts responding to a distress call and take an alien on board that slowly kills them off, one by one. Its director, Curtis Harrington, said, “Ridley’s film is like a greatly enhanced, expensive and elaborate version of Queen of Blood.”
Planet of the Vampires: Mario Bava directed this 1965 film where, after a crash landing, the disembodied inhabitants of an alien planet possess the crew of a rescue ship and take over their bodies. There’s a scene when the crew examine an alien ship and discover the gigantic remains of the long-dead inhabitants of this planet that is 100% stolen in Alien, no matter what Dan O’Bannon and Ridley Scott said otherwise.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space: This 1958 black and white horror film — about the sole survivor of a crashed ship being rescued and slowly killing the crew of another vessel — is incredibly close to the ideas in Alien.
What are your favorite Alien ripoffs? Let us know!