The Alien film franchise created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett became a cultural phenomenon starting with Alien (1979). According to lore, 20th Century Fox wanted a movie to follow up on the success of Star Wars (1977). Alien had been in development for years and got the green light to start production with a much higher budget than expected. With Ridley Scott at the helm and visual concepts created by the artist H. R. Giger, Alien was hugely successful earning $185M at the box office on a $11M budget.
A total of six feature Alien films have been released (eight if you include the crossover ‘Predator’ films). The movies are typically categorized as sci-fi/horror, although subgenres of action, adventure, thriller, and mystery could be applied. Every one of the movies is rated R given the content. So how do the Alien films score in terms of home theater experience? We’ve looked at the movies in the highest quality possible on 4k Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and Digital 4k to come up with this ranking.
1. Alien (1979)
“In space, no one can hear you scream,” is one of the best taglines for a movie, ever. It may be fitting then that the film is still the best of the franchise, and the seed that spawned at least seven more films as well as video games, comic books, fan literature, and an upcoming TV series produced by Ridley Scott. But what about the home theater experience? The 4K restoration of Alien is one of the best of all time, revealing details in shadow areas that were never evident before, and sharpness in details that were lost in previous formats such as DVD and VHS. The audio isn’t offered in Dolby Atmos, but nevertheless delivers an intense and immersive experience at home in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. If you haven’t delved into the Alien franchise yet, you definitely have to start with the original which remains a perfect amalgamation of story, action, acting, and special effects work.
2. Aliens (1986)
The follow-up to Alien is one of the best sequels of all time, and a great home theater experience. Directed by James Cameron, Aliens takes Ripley back to her worst nightmares where she finds more horror than anyone anticipated. We are just months away from the 4K Blu-ray release of Aliens (announced with James Cameron’s The Abyss and True Lies), but for now, you can experience the movie in Digital 4k with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos by purchasing the December 2023 release of the remastered movie. The new presentation has received some criticism for video processing that results in loss of grain and depth in the image (referred to as DNR scrubbing), but regardless is an incredible upgrade for the film that was produced almost 40 years ago. The gorgeous cinematography, special effects and new Atmos sound mix in Aliens make the movie a great experience at home.
3. Prometheus (2012)
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is just an incredible home theater experience with a high rewatchability ranking. Prometheus doesn’t have Dolby Atmos, but rather an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that immerses viewers in the environment that Ridley Scott created for this pre-Alien story. One of the audio highlights is when Fifield (Sean Harris) releases his drone “pups” to scan the interior of the artificial structure that houses a spacecraft. The spatial audio design is realized in multiple speakers with perfection. The visual effects work on the exterior and interior of the spaceships is just gorgeous in 4K and HDR10, especially on 4k Blu-ray with high bitrates that ooze with detail. The sharpness and color depth of Prometheus help rank the movie as one of the best of all time for your home theater, and the story is one of our favorites in the franchise. Prometheus is available on 4k Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray, both with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1.
4. Alien: Covenant (2017)
Not our favorite storyline in the Alien franchise, but the visuals and sound qualities are exceptional in this Ridley Scott film that serves as a sequel to Prometheus. The exterior views of the USCSS Covenant spaceship and expanding solar sails, along with the interior digital overlays in the ship controls add up to a lot of detail to be enjoyed in 4k with HDR10. Michael Fassbender is also notable for his performance as the android Walter One (as well as the older model David 8 destroyed in Prometheus). The Dolby Atmos soundtrack improves upon the already-strong DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track found in the Blu-ray version, with subtle but noticeable improvements in low-frequency effects and placement of overhead sounds. Perhaps if you saw ‘Covenant’ without the preceding Alien films you would see more of its story and horror as novel. But regardless of how much the film rehashes Alien moments, the audio and visual presentation is superb on 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray.
4. Alien 3 (1992)
Only available on Blu-ray Disc in 1080p, David Fincher’s Alien 3 (stylized as Alien³) takes place after the events in Aliens (1986) when Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crashes on a dangerous planet and penal inhabited by violent male prisoners. The film takes on some darker themes than Alien and Aliens, but is nevertheless a favorite among fans who revel in the cast and plot. The special effects and cinematography would surely be improved with a 4k remaster, and for this cannot compete with the Alien films ranked higher. However, the audio qualities of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix are impressive on a surround sound system with low-frequency subwoofer(s) in place. The end of the second act when Ripley and the remaining prisoners try to trap the Alien in a series of tunnets offers some effective immersive spatial audio. We’re hoping to get a 4k remaster of Alien 3 sometime soon.
5. Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and written by Joss Whedon, Alien: Resurrection brings back Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley (but cloned) 200 years after Alien 3. The movie is only available in HD (1080p) in any format (disc or digital) so it’s hard to rank any higher than its predecessors available in 4k. The soundtrack is offered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 as well as multiple languages in 5.1 audio. One of the most interesting aspects of the script was the introduction of the synthetic Annalee Call (played by Winona Ryder), and, the cinematography by Darius Khondji adds some different looks to the franchise. While the film skirts on the edge of being just a B-grade horror flick without the Alien lore, the special effects and soundtrack offer a good home theater experience that’s best viewed in a home theater environment with surround sound speakers.
What about Alien crossovers? Maybe we’ll get to Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem at a different time. But not today.