Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been in stasis for 57 years, after she abandoned and destroyed the space-tug Nostromo and the creature that killed the entire crew except for her and the ship’s cat. She expected to be picked up in her shuttle in short order, but much has changed. The planet LV-426, where the alien species was found, is now the sight of a terraformation colony, which is in danger. The Weyland-Yutani Company pretend not to believe her story about horrendous monster aliens, but when contact with the colony is lost, the company sends her there on the spaceship Sulaco.
Accompanying her are Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), android Bishop (Lance Henricksen), and a squad of Colonial Marines: Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope), Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), Corporals Dietrich (Cynthia Dale Scott), Ferro (Colette Hiller, and Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), Privates Hudson (Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Drake (Mark Rolston), Frost (Rico Ross), and Wierzbowski (Trevor Steedman).
A dropship delivers them to LV-426, where they find the colony deserted. All they find are two live alien face-huggers in tanks, and a traumatized little girl named Newt, who has been hiding. They detect humans beneath the fusion-powered atmosphere processing station and head down the creepy, slimy corridors. They find the colonists cocooned and being used as incubators for the alien offspring. Aliens die, colonists die, and Marines die. Ripley, of course, takes command. They order the dropship to recover the survivors, but there is an alien aboard who kills the pilot, and it crashes.
Burke had ordered the colonists to investigate the alien ship that contained the eggs, because Weyland-Yutani wanted the aliens for—you guessed it—biological weapon research. Also, the crashing ship has damaged the power-plant and it will soon explode. Android Bishop sets off to reach the colony and send a call for help. Ripley and Newt are threatened by facehuggers. It seems Burke hoped they would be impregnated by the aliens and thus transport them home. Burke gets what he deserves.
More die, lots more, and Newt is taken. Ripley sets out to rescue her in some of the coolest iconic action scenes ever made. The eggs are destroyed, and Ripley, Newt, injured Hicks, and Bishop escape just before the colony goes up in a nuclear blast. But the Queen Alien is on their ship and it’s mano-a-mano between the giant queen and a seriously-pissed-off Ripley in an exosuit cargo-loader. The Queen is killed, and the survivors go into stasis for the return journey.
20th Century Fox behaved like the Weyland-Yutani of studios. There were lawsuits and changes in management and the usual crap that great movies go through to be born. James Cameron was hired to direct because he did Terminator. The production was tumultuous. Even James Horner, who wrote the music, ended up with only two days to do it in. After seven years, the movie was released to critical acclaim, as they say. Sigourney Weaver was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars, for an SF film, which was unheard of. The studio hadn’t wanted her, or Gale Anne Hurd, who was the only person able to handle Cameron. The British crew hated the brash, demanding Cameron, who didn’t believe in tea-breaks. The movie is now considered one of the greatest action films ever made. It spawned five sequels of lesser quality.
The film received eight Saturns, a Hugo, and two Oscars. It probably saved Fox Studios. Cameron suggested the actors playing the Marines should read Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Jenette Goldstein’s character Vasquez inspired the Tasha Yar character of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The fact that Goldstein was not Hispanic offended some people, but she was the only actress with the required muscles. She was afraid to fire the gun, so Gale Ann Hurd did it. Stan Winston Studios built the aliens, including the huge Queen, which worked on hydraulics. The alien nest set was used later as the Axis Chemicals set in Batman, but they had to clean out the alien nests first. Many businesses wanted to buy power loaders and were disappointed that they didn’t exist. The Marine ship Sulaco is from Joseph Conrad’s book Nostromo. Much has been made of the Ripley/Alien Queen conflict—two mothers protecting their young.