Aliens is a 1986 science fiction action film directed by James Cameron and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton. A sequel to the 1979 film Alien, Aliens follows Weaver's character Ellen Ripley as she returns to the planet where her crew encountered the hostile Alien creature, this time accompanied by a unit of Colonial Marines.
Aliens' action-adventure tone was in contrast to the horror motifs of the original Alien. Following the success of The Terminator (1984), which helped establish Cameron as a major action director, 20th Century Fox greenlit Aliens with a budget of approximately $18 million. It was filmed in England at Pinewood Studios and at a decommissioned power plant.
Aliens grossed $86 million at the US box office during its 1986 theatrical release and $131 million worldwide. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for Sigourney Weaver. It won in the categories of Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects. It won eight Saturn Awards, including Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actress for Weaver and Best Direction and Best Writing for Cameron.
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the only survivor of the space freighter Nostromo, is rescued and revived after drifting for fifty-seven years in stasis. At an interview before a panel of executives from her employer, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, her testimony regarding the Alien is met with extreme skepticism as she has no physical evidence. Ripley loses her space-flight license as a result of her "questionable judgment" and learns that LV-426, the planet where her crew first encountered the Alien eggs, is now home to a terraforming colony.
Ripley is later visited by Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) and Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) of the Colonial Marines, who inform her that contact has been lost with the colony on LV-426. The company decides to dispatch Burke and a unit of space marines to investigate, and offers to restore Ripley's flight status and pick up her contract if she will accompany them as a consultant. Traumatized by her previous encounter with the Alien, Ripley initially refuses, but accepts after Burke promises that the team will destroy any Aliens found and not attempt to study them. Aboard the warship Sulaco she is introduced to the Colonial Marines, including Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), privates Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and Hudson (Bill Paxton), and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen), toward whom Ripley is initially hostile due to her previous experience with the android Ash aboard the Nostromo.
The expedition descends to the surface of LV-426 via dropship, where they find the colony seemingly abandoned. Two living facehuggers are found in containment tanks in the medical lab. The only colonist found is a traumatized young girl nicknamed Newt (Carrie Henn). The space marines determine that the colonists are clustered in the nuclear-powered atmosphere processing station, where they find a large Alien nest filled with the cocooned colonists. The Aliens attack, killing most of the unit and capturing Apone and Dietrich. Ripley is able to rescue Hicks, Vasquez, and Hudson. With Gorman knocked unconscious during the rescue, Hicks assumes command and orders the dropship to recover the survivors, intending to return to theSulaco and destroy the colony from orbit. A stowaway Alien kills the dropship pilots in flight, causing the vessel to crash into the processing station. The surviving humans barricade themselves inside the colony complex.
Ripley discovers that it was Burke who ordered the colonists to investigate the derelict spaceship where the Nostromo crew first encountered the Alien eggs, and that he hopes to return Alien specimens to the company laboratories where he can profit from their use as biological weapons. She threatens to expose him, but Bishop soon informs the group of a greater threat: the damaged processing station has become unstable and will soon detonate with the force of a thermonuclear weapon. He volunteers to use the colony's transmitter to pilot the Sulaco's remaining dropship to the surface by remote control so that the group can escape. Ripley and Newt fall asleep in the medical laboratory, awakening to find themselves locked in the room with the two facehuggers, which have been released from their tanks. Ripley is able to alert the space marines, who rescue them and kill the creatures. Ripley accuses Burke of attempting to smuggle implanted Alien embryos past Earth's quarantine inside her and Newt, and of planning to kill the rest of the space marines in hypersleep during the return trip so that no one could contradict his version of events. The electricity is suddenly cut off and numerous Aliens attack through the ceiling. Hudson, Burke, Gorman, and Vasquez are killed while Newt is captured by the Aliens.
Ripley and an injured Hicks reach Bishop and the second dropship, but Ripley refuses to leave Newt behind. She rescues Newt from the hive in the processing station, where the two encounter the Alien queen and her egg chamber. Ripley destroys most of the eggs, enraging the queen, who escapes by tearing free from her ovipositor. Closely pursued by the queen, Ripley and Newt rendezvous with Bishop and Hicks on the dropship and escape moments before the colony is consumed by the nuclear blast. Back on the Sulaco, Ripley and Bishop's relief at their escape is interrupted when the Alien queen, stowed away on the dropship's landing gear, impales Bishop and tears him in half. Ripley battles the queen using an exosuit cargo-loader, before expelling it into space through an airlock. Ripley, Newt, Hicks and the still-functioning Bishop then enter hypersleep for the return to Earth.
Cameron opted to hire actors who had, or could imitate, American accents. After over 3,000 individuals in the United Kingdom were unsuccessfully auditioned, American actors were chosen instead, including three who had previously worked with Cameron on The Terminator: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Michael Biehn. Actors who played Marines were asked to read Robert A. Heinlein's novelStarship Troopers and undergo military training, which included running, lifting weights, learning salutes, marches, deployments, and maneuvers, for two weeks. Cameron wanted the Marines to train together so that they would form bonds that would show on-screen. Sigourney Weaver, William Hope, and Paul Reiser were absent from training because of other obligations, but Cameron felt that this suited their characters as "outsiders" in the film.
The principal cast members of Aliens are:
- Michael Biehn as Corporal Dwayne Hicks, one of the Colonial Marines' squad leaders. James Remar was originally cast as Hicks but left the picture because of artistic differences with Cameron. Biehn was hastily cast a week after filming had commenced, and thus was not present for the military training that the other actors playing marines went through.
- Jenette Goldstein as Private Jenette Vasquez, one of the marines' "smart gun" operators. Goldstein received a Saturn Award for best supporting actress for her performance.
- Carrie Henn as Newt, a child who is the only survivor of the colony on LV-426. According to the casting director, Newt was the most difficult role to cast: schoolchildren were auditioned, but many of them had acted in commercials and were accustomed to smiling after saying their lines, a trait that the producers wished to avoid as it would not suit Aliens' dark tone. Henn, whose father was stationed at an American military base, was chosen out of 500 children for the role, although she had no previous acting experience. Henn received a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor.
- Lance Henriksen as Bishop, the android executive officer of the Sulaco.
- William Hope as Lieutenant William Gorman, the marines' commanding officer.
- Al Matthews as Sergeant Al Apone. Matthews attributed his casting to his military experience.
- Bill Paxton as Private William Hudson, the Marine team's technician. Paxton's performance earned him a Saturn Award for best supporting actor.
- Paul Reiser as Carter Burke, a corporate representative for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.
- Mark Rolston as Private Mark Drake, Vasquez's smart gun partner.
- Cynthia Dale Scott as Corporal Cynthia Dietrich, the marines' corpsman.
- Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, reprising her role from Alien. Weaver received a Saturn Award for best actress for her performance and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, her first Academy Award nomination, though she lost to Marlee Matlin for her role in Children of a Lesser God.
Additional marines were played by Tip Tipping (as Private Tim Crowe), Trevor Steedman (as Private Trevor Wierzbowski), Colette Hiller (as dropship pilot Corporal Collette Ferro), Daniel Kash (as dropship crew chief Private Daniel Spunkmeyer), and Ricco Ross (as Private Ricco Frost). Paul Maxwell portrayed Van Leuwen, the head of the review board that revokes Ripley's flight license.