It’s The ‘Alien’ 40th Anniversary, What Will Disney Do With Its New Xenomorph?

Forty years ago Saturday, Alien premiered in theaters in the United States. Directed by Ridley Scott, the 1979 science fiction horror movie overflowed with talent, including H.R. Giger, a Swiss painter whose xenomorph design has become one of the most iconic monsters in movie history. In March, Disney bought the Alien series along with their acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Two weeks after, during a at CinemaCon, the national convention of movie theater owners, Disney affirmed their plans to develop new Alien movies (and Planet of the Apes). But can they successfully reinvent a series that's floundered for decades?

On Friday, Scott confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Disney discussed future installments —”So we're looking where we're going to evolve,” he said— but also voiced skepticism that a satisfying sequel to Alien is even possible.

“There's only ever the one,” Scott told The Hollywood Reporter. “It's like trying to do a sequel to 2001. Fundamentally, you can't. Really, with the greatest respect to Star wars, the best film by far is the one that George directed, right? By miles. It was unique. It was absolutely wonderful to me. It was the fairy story of all fairy stories in place. And to follow through is a tough call. So, same with Alien.”

While Star Wars had pioneered a decaying, scorched and weathered sci-fi aesthetic, after decades of sleek consoles and shiny spaceships, Alien brought it home, to our galaxy. The Nostromo crew—Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Kane (John Hurt), Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and the android Ash (Ian Holm)—bicker over their share of the haul, protocol and poor treatment from management. Rather than fantasy, Alien depicted a human future of grinding toil aboard a dripping, steaming, creaking mining ship. Space is black and the galaxy is full of terror, but the human spaces are almost as alienating as the derelict alien ship the Nostromo crew investigations on moon LV-426.

But the human element was only one of the reasons the original Alien remains so entrancing. With its steam-spitting spacesuits, curling alien eggs and the titanic dead pilot of the crashed ship—its own chest ripped open by xenomorphs—Alien is a design classic. Except for the Alien Queen, nothing invented for the franchise since, including the giant, dough-baby Engineers, has come close. Which is one reason why it continues to be so hard to make satisfying sequels: the world of Alien is profoundly dark and upsetting and won't fit easily into the Disney action-adventure franchise model.

After the success of the James Cameron directed sequel, Aliens, which abandoned the claustrophobic horror of the original for harness-mounted machine guns, the series pivoted from one disaster after another, releasing two more lackluster sequels to diminishing box office returns, then squeezing the franchise dry with two movies pitting the Alien xenomorph against the big game hunting Predator.

“You get to the point when you say, ‘Okay, it's dead in the water,'” Scott said. “I think Alien vs. Predator was a daft idea.”

Scott's own reinvention of the series, beginning with Prometheus in 2012, fared better at the box office, but was less well-received by critics. Its sequel, Alien: Covenant, performed worse.

Scott described Prometheus as “not bad actually” to The Hollywood Reporter. Disney's open-ended development for the series suggests Scott's planned sequel to Alien: Covenant is an unlikely direction for the future of the Alien series. Scott could be right, it's been 40 years and there's only ever the one.