Director: Ridley Scott (US)
Alien was not just a benchmark in science fiction, although Ridley Scott’s seminal picture arguably paved the way for the numerous sci-fi blockbusters that have followed. The reasons the film remains such an influential picture to this day are manifold.
Firstly, and crucially, in Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, audiences were exposed to their first truly iconic female action hero. The fact that, even now, only a select group of actresses have achieved action-heroine status gives some suggestion of how revolutionary was the casting of a central female lead.
There are other ways in which Alien was subversive in its use of gender roles. Sexual imagery is rife throughout, but it is the male cast members who are targeted — penetrated, forcibly impregnated and impelled, in the famous chest-bursting scene, to give birth.
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon later recalled: “I said, ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I’m going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs.’”
Just as Ripley is the female action hero against whom all others are judged, so the alien itself, brilliantly conceived by HR Giger and, equally brilliantly, concealed by Scott and kept in shadow for much of the film, is one of the most terrifying monsters in cinema history.