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Aliens: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts From James Cameron's Sci-Fi Action Sequel

Carrie Henn and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

In July 1986, James Cameron unleashed Aliens, the action-packed thrilling sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien and showed how a fresh set of eyes, a unique idea, and some practical magic could open up a universe bursting at the seams with lore waiting to be explored. The successful summer blockbuster introduced audiences to not only a new Xenomorph but an entire army of the ferocious aliens led by a massively terrifying queen, while also bringing back the legendary scream queen Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.

The story of Aliens doesn’t begin with the film’s release, but instead much earlier as the following behind-the-scenes facts show. This assortment of stories from essentially every part of the production process has something for longtime fans of the landmark sci-fi action flick and newcomers alike.

Carrie Henn and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

James Cameron Had A Rather Unorthodox Way Of Pitching The Title Aliens

One of the most talked about urban legends surrounding the making of Aliens is the story of James Cameron’s pitch meeting with 20th Century Fox where he wrote out his preferred title, but instead of having an “S” on the end, the cheeky director replaced the final letter with a “$” sign. Cameron confirmed this legendary story during a December 2021 interview with CinemaBlend. Basically, Cameron felt the movie needed to have a pluralized title because there would be an "army" of aliens instead of just one, and he added the "$" sign at the end as his way of saying the movie would be a success. 

Sigourney Weaver in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

20th Century Fox Was Initially Hesitant To Bring Sigourney Weaver Back As Ellen Ripley

Given Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Ellen Ripley in Alien and her star-power at the time, you would think that securing the actress for Aliens was a top priority for 20th Century Fox. However, the truth (which in this case is stranger than fiction) is probably not what you expected to hear. In an excerpt from J.W. Rinzler’s 2020 book The Making of Aliens (via SyFy Wire), it is revealed that there was a lot of “studio resistance” to casting Weaver because Fox was afraid of the large fee the actress would require. But Weaver was eventually cast to play the lead, and was reportedly paid roughly $1 million plus a percentage of box office profits, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

James Cameron Tried To Find A Balance Between An Homage To Alien And Making His Own Movie

Although they are set in the same universe and feature some of the same characters, Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens couldn’t be any more different. This was a conscious decision by Cameron as he felt he could not outdo the more horror elements of the 1979 film that started it all, and so he had to come with the proper balance, as he explained during a Film4 interview in 2016:

I was as much doing an homage to what Ridley [Scott] had created as I was making my own movie, but I did set out to do both in a balance. I didn’t think I could outdo Alien for pure shock. … So I had to come up with an end run around that would be equally entertaining for an audience but in a different way.

Later in the interview, the director explained that after some consideration he found a way to jump off from the horror premise and create an action film by continuously tightening the screws to add tension to those memorable action sequences.

The alien queen in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

To See If The Alien Queen Puppet Would Work, Stan Winston And James Cameron Built A Contraption With Two Puppeteers And Trash Bags

One of the most iconic characters in the entire Alien franchise is the alien queen from Aliens. Since CGI wasn’t an option for James Cameron, Stan Winston, and his small army of puppeteers and designers, the massive creature was brought to life by old-school practical effects. When still in the early planning stages, Winston and Cameron carried out the famous “Garbage Bag Test,” which saw two puppeteers control a crude skeleton of the creature covered in black trash bags. Despite its appearance, the gigantic puppet was a success and the Aliens crew had what would later become their Xenomorph queen.

Michael Biehn in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Michael Biehn Was Cast As Hicks After James Remar Was Arrested For Heroin Possession 

Michael Biehn gave one of the best performances of his career as Colonial Marines Corporal Dwayne Hicks in Aliens, but the role was originally played by a much different actor, and that actor was James Remar. In the Netflix documentary series The Movies That Made Us, Remar explained partway through the shoot in England, he was arrested for possession of heroin and was subsequently fired from the production. A couple days later, producer Gale Anne Hurd hired Biehn, who previously worked with James Cameron on The Terminator, and quickly reshot most of the footage featuring Remar.

Bill Paxton in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Bill Paxton Came Up With The Iconic ‘Game Over, Man’ Line In Aliens

Bill Paxton’s William L. Hudson is responsible for some of the most memorable lines in Aliens, but the cream of the crop is his famous “Game over, man” speech after the Colonial Marines' ship is destroyed and they're stranded on LV-426. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Aliens at San Diego Comic Con in 2016, Yahoo! Entertainment sat down with members of the cast and crew to talk about the landmark movie. At one point during the chat, the late actor revealed he came up with an entire backstory for Hudson where the character “came up on simulators and video games,” and thought it would be a good idea. Never did he think it would become a monster of its own.

Lance Henriksen in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Milk Used To Replicate Bishop’s Android Blood Went Sour After Several Days Of Shooting His Encounter With The Alien Queen

One of the most traumatizing alien attacks in Aliens comes near the very end when it looks like Ellen Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and Bishop (Lance Henriksen) escaped the queen and are about to go home. But just when Ripley is apologizing for the way she treated him earlier (remember, Ripley had a bad experience with androids with Ash in Alien), the queen pulls the android in two and throws him to the ground, leaving him covered in a milky white blood-like fluid. In The Winston Effect: The Art & History of Stan Winston Studio (via Stan Winston School of Character Arts), crewmember Lindsay Macgowan recalled that after several days of shooting, the milk that was used for the blood began to spoil and Henriksen was just lying there and forced to endure the awful sour smell through it all.

Sigourney Weaver in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Powerloader Scenes Were Pulled Off With Miniatures And Puppeteers In Suits

We see powerloaders a couple of times throughout Aliens, first when Ellen Ripley is proving her worth with the Colonial Marines shortly after they awake from hypersleep and then in the climactic battle between Ripley and the alien queen. In order to pull off these scenes (remember, CGI wasn’t really an option at the time), Stan Winston’s crew developed a system in which a person inside the massive suit would help Sigourney Weaver move around the set. In a 2016 Entertainment Weekly oral history, Weaver explained that she would spend her lunch breaks working with John Lees (the guy in the suit) to get their movements down before it was time to film the scenes. When it came time for the final showdown at the end of the movie, Winston’s team would use miniatures of the powerloader and queen in addition to the full-sized suit.

Sigourney Weaver in Aliens

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Sigourney Weaver Tried To Avoid The Aliens Set Whenever The Alien Queen Wasn’t ‘In Character’

In order to fully believe in the alien queen in Aliens, Sigourney Weaver insisted on avoiding the monster on set whenever it wasn’t “in character.” During a 2016 appearance on TODAY to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, Weaver explained that she “believed in the queen,” and thought it was better to approach the situation seeing the creature as a realistic entity and not a massive puppet controlled by a small group of technicians.

Aliens by James Cameron

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

James Cameron Was Hired To Write Aliens The Same Day He Agreed To Script Rambo: First Blood Part II

Aliens and Rambo: First Blood Part II were both box office successes, and James Cameron was responsible for writing both of them. This fact gets even crazier when you learn that not only was Cameron working on both scripts simultaneously, he was hired to write both on the same day. In 2016, Cameron told Entertainment Weekly that from the time he was hired to pen both scripts, he had three months to turn in drafts, which took some ingenuity. To keep himself organized, the filmmaker had a desk for each script — one in his bedroom and the other in his living room. He did this to make sure everything was in the right place when bouncing from one movie to the next.

Now that we’ve gone through all these behind-the-scenes facts from the making of James Cameron’s Aliens, it is the perfect time to go back and watch all the Alien movies in order. If not, take at glance at all the 2022 new movie releases.

Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.