Ridley Scott's epic Alien franchise is multiplying almost as quickly as the Xenomorph in the movies. Almost 40 years after the original film, Alien, was released in theaters, Scott is gearing up to release the sixth official film in the franchise Alien: Covenant. However, as with other massive franchises, the timeline in the Alien narrative has shifted a bit with time, and the ever expanding mythology of the franchise means that the order you should see the Alien movies in doesn't necessarily correlate to the order of their release.
The Alien franchise is essentially made up of two separate series — the original films and the prequels. To star at the beginning of the story, one actually has to start with the most recent Alien release, Prometheus, before working their way up to the original Alien. Unfortunately, this means that if you want to start fresh at the beginning, you're going to have to wait two long movies until you get to the introduction of Ripley, Sigourney Weaver's iconic female hero. If you're hesitant to get into the Alien franchise, I suggest ditching the timeline and starting with Alien. Fall in love with Ripley and her world, and then you can work your way back to the beginning. Luckily, Alien movies tend to follow a formula, and the most important part of said formula is having a strong, female protagonist. So, don't worry, starting from the beginning will still bring you incredible feminist moments and a whole lot of fun.
Prometheus takes place in 2091-2094 and, though it may have been released in 2012, it's actually where the story begins. The film follows a team of scientists, astronauts, and explorers tracing the origin of life on Earth. But when the crew of Prometheus lands on a moon, chasing after a signal they believe could be from the first life in the universe, they don't find Gods, they find creepy, parasitic aliens.
2. Alien: Covenant Prologue — The Crossing & Alien: Covenant Prologue — The Last Supper
The Crossing is a short prologue released online before Alien: Covenant. Spoilers for Prometheus ahead. It gives viewers a glimpse into what happened to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David (Michael Fassbender) after Prometheus, which ended with Elizabeth as the lone human survivor, setting course with David's all-knowing AI brain to escape from the alien parasites.
Meanwhile, The Last Supper is another teaser prologue to Alien: Covenant. It's not necessarily a must-see, as the entire plot is basically just a reference to a scene from Alien, so seeing it before the original film might be a bit confusing. However, it does provide audiences with a feel for the dynamics at play in Alien: Covenant.
It's now 2104 in the timeline of the Alien franchise, 11 years after the events of Covenant, and a new crew is sent to colonize a distant planet. Unfortunately for the heroes of Alien: Covenant, they think they're finding a safe haven for humans, but really they're just going down the same doomed path of the Prometheus crew. This time, however, the crew is made up of couples hoping to make a home on a distant planet, which only heightens the stakes when members begin to perish at the hands of a mysterious alien life form.
5. Alien (1979)
The original Alien film takes place in 2122, when a merchant ship Nostromo intercepts a distress call and... you guessed it, encounters the alien species that plagued Prometheus and Covenant. This film started the entire franchise, and gave science fiction fans one of their greatest heroes ever seen in Ripley. Unlike Covenant and Prometheus, Alien isn't very heavy on the mythology of the alien creature that attacks our protagonists, suggesting that the true stories of the Prometheus and Covenant crews haven't made it back to human society.
Aliens takes place 50 years later, in 2179, after the moon has been colonized. However, when Earth loses contact with the new colony, a preserved Ripley is woken up and sent to battle the alien once again. Ripley believes she is going to the colony to save people and destroy aliens, but alas, as is the norm in this franchise, things are not quite what they seem, and she finds herself fighting against aliens and those who wish to protect the monstrous creatures.
As if she hasn't been through enough already, in Alien 3, Ripley, fresh off her fight from Aliens, crash-lands in a prison. And she didn't come alone. This film, directed by David Fincher, offers a bit more insight into the life cycle of an alien, also known as xenomorphs, and the company that has been funding all of these missions to space, Weyland-Yutani. Expect a lot more gore and story in this follow up.
Alien: Resurrection, the last film in the original series, takes place much later, in 2379. 200 years after the events of Alien 3, Ripley's clone must pick up her likeness' legacy as the xenomorphs continue to pose a threat. (Bonus female heroine played by Winona Ryder!)
For the purposes of sanity, I won't go into the Alien vs. Predator movies and their place in the timeline, which is pretty murky. Since those movies have less to do with the Alien mythology, they don't really need to fit into the Alien franchise. As of now, Alien: Resurrection is where the Alien story ends, but that could change at any moment. A few years ago, director Neill Blomkamp publicly announced that he was working on a possible Alien 5, a film that would bring Weaver and Ripley back to the franchise. The project seems to have ended in development, but that doesn't mean someone else won't come along to pick it back up again. One thing's for sure: we haven't seen the last of Alien.
This post was originally published on May 15, 2017. It was updated on Sept. 4, 2019.