Alien was released in 1979, and quickly became a hit with both horror and science fiction audiences. It was the third highest grossing film that year worldwide. Alien lead to five sequels, and continues to be a popular and successful franchise today.
followed on the success of Star Wars
in 1977. Twentieth Century Fox saw the audience that science fiction could draw.
Alien was intended to be for an older
audience, but would still aim to draw science fiction fans. Jaws was another movie that showed what audiences
were interested in. Jaws showed that
mainstream audiences were interested in horror outside of the standard slasher
One reason that Alien was successful is that it is a
movie that is set in a fictional universe, yet it remains identifiable with
audiences today. The characters are easily identifiable because they are
presented as regular blue collar workers, just in a different setting and time.
They react how we would react in most cases. No year is given to explain how
far in the future this is, which makes it seem less removed from our time. The
technology presented in the movie appears very primitive. This makes allows the
audience to understand what is happening without having to explain how the
technology works or what it does.
Alien has several taglines used to market the film. The most famous is “In space no one can hear you scream”. This simple and effective line explains what that movie is about in simple terms; a horror movie in space. Some of the other less well known taglines were “Just one can kill seven.”, and “A word of warning...” All of these were designed to create a sense of mystery and to pique the publics’ interest about the movie.
Alien has been one of the most critically discussed films in recent years. Academic articles on everything from women’s studies to film studies have used Alien in their analyses. In gender studies, it is a commonly analyzed film because it was one of the first movies with a female action hero. Many critics have also studied how the movie relates to Freudian psychoanalysis, relating to the concept of mothers and “the primal scene”.
The scene that Alien is more remembered for then any other is the scene when the alien bursts out of Kane’s chest, killing him in the process. This scene is very memorable for a number of reasons, first and foremost because it is absolutely disgusting. John Hurt does an excellent job portraying the pain of what it would feel like to be eaten alive from the inside. The sound effects also do a good job in making the audience imagine what is going on inside Kane’s body. Audiences had never seen anything quite like that before this movie.
Part of the reason that the chest bursting scene is so memorable is that it plays into our fear of abjection. Abjection deals with the boundary between ourselves and everything else. When the line is blurred we experience displeasure and pleasure. Displeasure because it reminds us of death, of becoming an object, and pleasure, because it reminds us of the womb and being taken care of in every way. There is no greater way of showing abjection on film then having a creature eat a person from inside out and emerge. Because of this, this scene has survived to be one of the most shocking and horrific in the history of horror.
Movie audiences that might not normally be interested in science fiction turned out to see Alien purely to enjoy the horror aspects of the movie. Science fiction fans who would not normally be interested in horror turned out to see Alien for its science fiction qualities. Alien remains one of the few science fiction films that is mainstream and accessible to almost everyone.