How to Watch the Alien<\/em> Movies in the Right Order

We can talk for days about Sci-Fi stories, horror movies, and all-around action flicks. But there’s one franchise that’s been going for 40+ years now (and counting) that combines all of that—and that’s the world of Alien.

Alien began in 1979 with the titular film, which to this day remains one of if not the best movie that legendary (and prolific) director Ridley Scott has made. The movie is nearly half a century old, but still manages to hold the tension and thrills of a movie that could’ve come out last week. Why? Because there’s hardly any special effects—there was nothing to date or age poorly. It’s all about the mood and the dread of what could be coming.

Of course, the Alien franchise evolves; director James Cameron (ever heard of him?) took over for Aliens, the second and substantially bigger film, in 1986, and the franchise has continued to expand its world and its ambition in the years since.

Scott returned to the world of Alien in 2012 and 2017 for a pair of prequels, titled Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, continuing to round the world of the Weyland company out even decades later. While we don’t know about the future on the big screen, it was announced last year that Noah Hawley (who’s previously made the Fargo show and Legion) will be making his own Alien series for FX. That seems like an interesting cue to start watching (or, for many of us rewatching) the Alien movies. And there’s really only one best way to do that.

Before we get too into it, a couple quick things. We’re specifically going to exclude the Predator franchise (which is, you know, an entirely different world) and the two Alien vs. Predator movies (which are also mostly unrelated from the rest of the Alien world). The rest of the movies have some degree of a throughline, but those, really, don’t.

The newer films in the Alien franchise are technically prequels. So if you want to watch them in “chronological” order, you’d watch those first. But, really, we would not recommend those at all! There are key reveals and key references made that assume the viewer has watched and understood the previous Alien films. By starting with the newer films that take place earlier in the timeline, you’ll be spoiling those older films for yourself. But if you really wanted to (and, again, we don’t recommend it) this would be the chronological order:

Prometheus (2012)
Alien: Covenant
Aliens (1986)
Alien 3 (1991)
Alien: Resurrection

But, again, seriously, if you want to actually watch these movies the way they’re meant to be watched (and if you want to get the most out of them), just watch in the order they came out. It’s a fractured timeline, but we believe in you—you can keep up. Like the MCU, Star Wars, and the X-Men movies, we’re going to recommend that you watch the movies based on the order in which they were released in theaters.

So this is, really, the best order in which to watch the Alien movies.

Alien (1979)

The movie that started it all. Ridley Scott’s original Alien is an exercise in tension, dread, and terror, as we follow a small crew that has no idea what sort of mission they’re being sent into. Here we get our first meeting with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, a true badass, and our first glimpse at the chestbursting Xenomorphs. The movie is set in approximately the year 2122.

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Aliens (1986)

We pick back up with Ripley in an entirely new setting, aboard a busy space station, 50 years later (in 2179). James Cameron takes over for Ridley Scott, and just about everything involved with the movie is bigger: wider scope of story, more action, and huge set piece fight/battle sequences. This movie rules.

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Alien 3 (1992)

Also set in 2179, Alien 3 picks up with Ridley right after the events of Aliens. The movie was helmed by David Fincher—his first feature film, though he was not happy with the finished product (in 2009 he even said “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me” in an interview with The Guardian). Still, if you’re interested in the total story of this franchise, this is canon—you’ve got to follow along. And it’s still Alien. There’s a lot of fun stuff happening.

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Alien: Resurrection (1997)

After Alien 3, we jump around 200 years into the future (approximately 2318) for the events of Alien: Resurrection. This story follows a cloned version of Ripley, and the movie also stars Winona Ryder. While Resurrection (which was written by Joss Whedon) was planned to have a number of sequels, they never happened; the story did, however, continue in a series of Alien comics (which did cross over with The Terminator and Predator).

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Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus is the first film in the Alien franchise (not counting the aforementioned Alien vs. Predator movies) to not feature Sigourney Weaver or Ripley…and that’s because it’s set way back in the timeline. Prometheus is set in the 2089-2093 range, going as far back as this world has gone to date. The movie, which was once again directed by Ridley Scott and written by Damon Lindelof, and serves as a quasi-prequel to the first Alien movie, showing us the origin (of sorts) to this strange world, with a ton of mythos and action to boot. The cast includes Noomi Rapace as the protagonist, along with Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce, and Michael Fassbender. This story continues in a comic series.

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Alien: Covenant (2017)

Covenant, also directed by Ridley Scott, is set in the year 2104—therefore serving as a quasi-sequel to Prometheus, but a prequel to the original Alien film. It’s sort of a mash-up of everything you like about this franchise—thrilling action, an unnerving sense of dread, and some genuine freak-out moments. It also has something else in common with the other movies: a great cast. This movie prominently features the returning Michael Fassbender (once again playing a creepily off-putting android) along with newcomers Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.

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