Everybody knows that the Alien franchise is just a huge goo-dripping ode to the terrors of reproduction. I knew that before I ever even watched ALIEN and the five subsequent movies, because you literally can’t talk about scary movies without someone mentioning the THING that comes out of the guy’s CHEST. You know the one I mean:
The thing is so iconic that you don’t have to watch the movies to know that reproduction is the central gross-out. So I hadn’t felt compelled to watch. I, too, find reproduction gross but I’m also a uterus-owner and I don’t like to always BE the monster in my horror, you know what I’m saying?
On the other hand, you can’t have a lifelong obsession with feminist literature and TWO entire theater degrees without knowing who Allison Bechdel is. Graphic novelist extraordinaire, co-creator of the Bechdel-Wallace Test, and protonym of my child.
Bechdel’s test of whether or not women are people in a given film famously appears in a 1985 comic strip from her long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. It uses ALIEN (1979) as the most recent example. I knew that fun fact probably about a decade before I ever watched the movies. (I’m a riot at social gatherings involving Elder Uncles.)
Long story long, I couldn’t stay away from this feminist talking point any longer and I have watched the whole shebang. The six films (four original, two prequel) are ranked from least uterus-hating to most uterus-hating. They are not in order of how much I actually liked the movies (although unsurprisingly there is a correlation).
ALSO: Don’t yell at me, I didn’t watch any of the Alien vs. Predator franchise. 6 was more than enough.
6. ALIEN (1979)
Obviously the film that least hates women’s bodies is the only one in which the woman-hating is only a visual metaphor. In most of the other movies misogynist space-goons take up a lot of screen time, but in this cinematic gem we get to forget Ripley is a woman basically until she takes her clothes off in the last five minutes of the movie.
I gave Ridley Scott a lot of personal credit for how ahead-of-its-time this movie feels until I finally got around to watching PROMETHEUS. Now I think it was some kind of miraculous accident. Nevertheless! Scott cast a character who was originally male with the love of my life, Sigourney Weaver, and in so doing gave a gift to all humankind that can never be un-given.
Not only does the first ALIEN movie pass the Bechdel test, but also there’s only one (1) sexual joke aimed at the non-Sigourney Weaver woman character.
There’s no escaping that the monster is at various times a penis and a vagina, but at least this first iteration of snakey-goo-creature plants itself in a dude’s chest cavity. A very un-yonic place in my personal experience.
I don’t think it needs to be said but I’m going to say it anyway: this movie kicks ass.
5. Alien: Covenant (2017)
After a grueling four follow-ups to the original I had run out of hope for COVENANT to be anything other than a Magic School Bus ride into ovaries from hell. But it was mostly not that!
Sure, it’s weird that literally all the female characters are married to male crew-members but the film gives at least a plausible explanation. After all, they’re colonizing a new planet. Presumably they gotta make some babies when they get there. Props to the movie, we don’t dwell on that.
The whole god/creator/who made us all?? theme that dominates the two prequels is in this movie pretty focused on masculine creators. We get maybe one or two lewd comments and ok, yeah, there’s the gratuitous sexy shower scene that ends in death (spoiler, I guess?). By and large, though, the women are just part of the crew, getting eaten and blown up in the usual way.
4. Aliens (1986)
I hate that Ripley turns into a mom in this movie. She spends a chunk of screen time doing mom stuff like grooming this dirty child and tucking her into bed. Ripley stays totally badass throughout this unwanted transformation, HOWEVER.
For whatever reason (James Cameron is the reason) the future of militarized space has sexy outfits for women and the exact same kind of misogynist “locker room talk” we see in the modern war movies I don’t watch. Vasquez is cool but she dies fairly early and not before weathering multiple comments about her femininity/fuckability. Ripley also has to endure way more commentary on her gender than ever before, although Hicks does save the day somewhat by backing her up in the sexiest way possible: by basically saying “what she said.” Very hot. Bring back Hicks you cowards.
Also, you know, we get that the monsters are scary and gross. They’re monsters! But when you have a close-up of one against the glass of a test-tube and it looks JUST like a vagina… Something tells me there’s not a heck of a lot of cunnilingus happening at James Cameron’s house.
3. Prometheus (2012)
PROMETHEUS definitely hates women’s bodies at least a little bit. But the more glaring issue is how much this movie does not understand how they work.
Somehow Logan Marshall-Green ingests alien goo that transforms his sperms into alien sperms. (How??) They have sex and the very next day Rapace’s character is 3-months pregnant with an alien baby.
I’m willing to suspend my disbelief this far. Sure, it seems almost guaranteed that IRL a woman on a space mission would be on birth control to avoid giving birth in space. And sure, it’s impossible for her body to sustain life inside her uterus without it first doing the normal things that pregnant bodies do like ovulating, changing hormone levels, filling up the placenta with fetus-sustaining blood, yada yada whatever. But it’s an alien! Other movies have told us they grow fast! OK! Fine!
BUT THEN. They “don’t have the technology” to end this pregnancy. She’s 3-months pregnant. Even in 2020 that’s a pill. YEAH RIGHT ANDROID GUY. Then, she uses a surgical chamber that is programmed for only male bodies (I understand this is For A Reason, but also I Don’t Believe It) to do a C-section on herself. The machine makes one giant slice across her abdomen and pulls out an entire alien baby in it’s amniotic sac. It does ZERO repair to her uterus (does Ridley Scott know babies aren’t just floating around in there?) before stapling her up and then: she RUNS FOR HER LIFE. She never pops a staple. Her perfectly flat abdomen never swells or bleeds. She’s a rubber replica of a real girl and I hate the shit out of it.
Add on to all of that the casual misogyny, rape-y android, and badly written Charlize Theron character who is way too obsessed with her dad (seems like a male fantasy, gotta say), and you have yourself a movie that does not like women much.
Plus I was very disappointed with how little Idris Elba and Emun Elliot got to do. For shame, Ridley!
OH. Not to mention:
2. Alien 3 (1992)
It’s hard to hate women more than a movie that leaves them out entirely.
In ALIEN 3 Ripley lands on a planet with zero women and the only surviving non-Ripley female character from ALIENS (the irritating child) is killed offscreen. The prison planet dudes try to rape Ripley and then somehow I’m still supposed to care when they get eaten alive.
On top of that, Ripley for no clear reason initiates sexy-times with one of the dudes apparently as a deflection tactic. This despite the fact that Hicks just died like five minutes before. The whole movie just seems like some gross male power dynamic fantasy that I want no part of. I watched the whole thing anyway. Never again!
1. Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Rarely has rage stayed with me so long after watching a movie as it did after RESURRECTION. I will never forgive Joss Whedon for writing it as long as I live. Not even FIREFLY, BUFFY, and CABIN IN THE WOODS combined can redeem him. Even when you throw DOLLHOUSE and DR. HORRIBLE in there…I just don’t know. (Hi Joss! If you’re reading this, I’m totally kidding! I love you! Please hire me!)
It’s going to be hard to cover every element of this movie that hates the female body, but let’s try.
First of all, in RESURRECTION the only important female characters are not actually human. Sigourney Weaver’s character is a test-tube clone baby that’s part alien. Wynona Ryder plays an android with self-loathing problems. So she isn’t human at all but she still has to model the trope of pretty competent girls not liking their own bodies.
Second, like PROMETHEUS, this movie is really into getting explicit with female anatomy. The new big bad alien for some reason has a normal human female reproductive system because Ripley does. Which leaves me no choice but to point out that no other alien has ever grown a penis because their host had one. Nevertheless we are forced to watch a 50-foot lady alien undergo a bastardization of the human labor and delivery process.
None of the men involved in making this movie should ever be allowed in a human woman’s birthing room.
Alien mama births an alien unlike any we’ve seen before. One that looks like a human skeleton baby, but with a nice big vagina painted on its stomach to make sure you don’t forget ladies are bad.
The things I’ve already discussed would be more than enough to put this movie at the top of my Do Not Watch list, but there’s more.
Throughout the story Ripley has a maternal connection with the alien monster because she’s genetically tied to it from the cloning process. This leads her to do mom-type-things, like knowing when the alien is nearby by sensing it, or leaping into a writhing mass of man-eating monsters in order to comfort her laboring progeny. You know, like moms do. BECAUSE WOMEN ARE INHERENTLY MATERNAL YOU GUYS DON’T YOU GET IT?
Most egregiously, RESURRECTION commits a cardinal movie sin by including a “please kill me” scene. This is a scene where a character (almost always a woman) begs another character (almost always a male love interest) to kill them. It’s usually framed as an act of mercy: the begging character is near death anyway, or somehow believes their death will save the protagonist. In RESURRECTION, a bunch of disfigured Ripley clones pass a miserable existence until Main Ripley comes along and then one of them begs Main Ripley to kill her. With tears in her eyes, Main Ripley burns them all with a flamethrower in what I can only imagine was an incredibly painful and drawn-out death.
If I may get all dramaturgical for a moment, the symbolism here is thick. In RESURRECTION the only good female body is a strong and attractive body. The disfigured clone seems to be in pain but it’s also clear no one has tried to help her be not in pain. Could she ask for help instead? No one is stopping Ripley from picking her up and taking her somewhere else to seek medical attention. Yeah, ok, they’re in the midst of running for their lives but a LOT MORE IMPLAUSIBLE STUFF has already happened so I’m not really interested in that argument. Ripley killing the less-perfect versions of herself is one giant crap-tastic metaphor for how women ought to be, and what ought to happen to the other kind of woman. NO THANKS, JOSS. I’M GOOD.
There You Have It
Thanks for reading! Here’s another Bechdel to scrub your eyes:
If you have opinions about ALIEN I’d love to hear them in the comments. If there’s another seminal (lol) horror series you want me to watch and rank on arbitrary metrics, tell me about it!