When a film franchise starts to play with the prospect of prequel films that backfill the universe, it gets a little hard to keep in mind which films go where. Star Wars is most famous for this phenomenon, but at least in that franchise there’s a numbering system that helps keep things straight for six of the proposed nine Skywalker Saga movies. The Alien movie timeline is a similar mixed bag, as one numbered entry and some suggestive titles help hint at the order in which the films are supposed to be watched in.
If you ask us though, this is one of those instances where hints are for fools, and good sound facts are needed. So leave it to us here at CinemaBlend to help you sort out how to watch the Alien movies in chronological/story order! While we’ll also give you the list of how to watch the films as they were released, it’s important to start with the order that the Alien timeline dictates within its unique universe.
Kicking things off, here’s the list of Alien movies, in order of their occurrence on the franchise’s timeline. We’ve noted the years each film covers next to their titles, for easy reference:
Alien Movies In Chronological Order
Prometheus (2089 – 2093)
The start of the entire Alien timeline, Prometheus shows us the initial journey that took humanity into the stars, crossing our paths with the race of lifeforms known as “The Engineers.” As this entry takes place a little under a century before Alien, we don’t see Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley or any of the other space truckers that director Ridley Scott’s first film introduced us to.
However, humanity’s first voyage into deep space, under the cover of exploration, yields a deadlier, more horrifying result than anyone could have anticipated. As far as characters go, we do get two new figures that are integral to the earlier years of the Alien series: Michael Fassbender’s David, an android sent by the Weyland Corporation to aid in the journey, and Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, an archeologist who not only helps find the location of The Engineers, but gets to experience the first steps in the creation of the Xenomorphs up close.
As David’s arc stands as the narrative glue for the Alien movie timeline’s origins, and Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland is one of the enigmatic forces behind the eventual Weyland-Yutani Corporation that dominates the world of the Alien movies, this is the foundation all other films are to operate upon.
Alien: Covenant (2104)
In Alien: Covenant, we’re only 11 years past the point that Prometheus left off on, with a brand new crew of human settlers making their way on a deep space colonization mission. With a supposedly suitable world that could shave years off of their voyage, the crew of the Covenant run into someone who’s had experience with deep space exploration, and the creatures that hide in its shadows.
We see Michael Fassbender pulling double duty in the Alien movie timeline, as a new android named Walter is introduced by crew of Alien: Covenant’s voyage, and we see the roots of the franchise’s stories pertaining to androids with a hidden agenda. Though there’s also leaps and bounds to be had in terms of the evolution of the Xenomorphs, thanks to David also being a part of this film’s story.
What's also important is the second, and so far last, appearance of Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland. While we haven’t seen the Weyland-Yutani Corporation form just yet, the increasing obsession that Weyland has with observing The Engineers, learning their secrets, and weaponizing their own creations continues to strengthen.
We’re now caught up to the “modern” era of the Alien movie timeline, with Alien’s legendary story finally slotting into the overall series at roughly 18 years after Alien: Covenant’s events. What was once a random mission to obtain a secret cargo on LV-426, Alien’s adventure now connects to a greater mythology that shows a humanity that’s dominated by mega-corporations, with one of them looking to get their hands on this perfect, remorseless killing machine.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley makes her franchise debut in Alien, and takes over as the focused lead of the Alien movie timeline from this point on. And as of this moment, there are no further links between her lineage and the worlds of either Prometheus or Alien: Covenant. Though there is an eventual adversarial relationship that Ripley will have with androids (in the form of Ian Holm’s Ash in Alien) as well as the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.
Ripley’s aversion to synthetic beings and “The Company” aren’t totally developed here. We see the Xenomorph and Ripley square off for the first time in what will be a battle across time, as both parties find themselves on one hell of a ride from this point on.
The genesis for what we’ve come to know the Alien timeline to represent comes mostly from writer/director James Cameron’s efforts in the series’ first produced sequel, Aliens. The story of Ellen Ripley waking up 57 years after the harrowing terror of Alien had concluded, it’s up to her and a team of space marines to land on LV-426 and investigate a Weyland-Yutani Corporation colony that’s just gone dark.
Ripley’s second big grudge is finally nailed into place, with Weyland-Yutani sending a rather untrustworthy human, courtesy of Paul Reiser’s Carter, instead of the now typical android menace. In a strange reversal, the mission’s android Bishop, played by Lance Hendrickson, actually turns out to be one of the more heroic synthetics in the history of the Alien movie timeline.
While the newer Alien movies have started to build the backstory to Weyland-Yutani’s formation as “The Company” that poses the greatest human menace in the series, Aliens was where it started to take hold in the original era of storytelling through the Alien franchise.
Alien 3 (2179)
One of the more controversial sequels that occupy the Alien movie timeline, Alien 3 takes place right after the events of Aliens. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is now the lone survivor of the events of the second film, with director David Fincher’s entry into the franchise stranding our hero on a hellish penal colony.
But seeing as it’s a sequel in the Alien timeline, Alien 3 does see the return of the Xenomorphs, as a random Facehugger has laid its egg in Ripley’s chest. This was supposed to mark the end of the Alien series, as Ripley surely wouldn’t survive tangling with an alien inside of her. Not to mention, her grudge against the Weyland-Yutani Corporation saw what looked like its ultimate resolution.
With Ellen Ripley carrying a queen alien embryo inside of her, and Weyland-Yutani wanting to recover this specimen for their ultimately nefarious purposes, her supposed death was the ultimate nail in the coffin. Though as any good writer will tell you, if there’s a will to continue a franchise, there’s a way.
Alien Resurrection (2379)
Jumping 200 years into the future, into the latest point in the Alien timeline, Alien: Resurrection sees Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley returning in the most unconventional way possible: as a clone. With her DNA on file, and the queen embryo mixed in as part of the state that Ripley was found in Alien 3, a new queen Xenomorph is also born, as part of the same military experiment.
We now get to see Ripley having somewhat of a psychic, and spiritual, connection with the very creature she’s been known to hate in the Alien timeline. With a crew of smugglers that feel like a first draft of Firefly’s eventual rag tag team, Alien Resurrection sees Ripley team with these fun criminals to survive the day, and destroy the queen in the process.
As far as the adversarial structure of Alien Resurrection goes, the shadowy space military led by Dan Hedaya’s General Martin Perez is the human menace; with their scientific branch bringing Ripley-8 and the Queen Alien hybrid into being through cloning experiments. And while Weyland-Yutani’s thread is officially closed out, there’s still a synthetic friend to be had in Winona Ryder’s Call, a member of the team of bandits inadvertently helping the military with their Xenomorph experiments.
What we’ve gone over so far is what constitutes the current run of Alien timeline history, as all six films are laid out in chronological order above. However, the Alien movie timeline runs a bit differently in our reality, which means it’s time to clarify how the series should run according to human history.
If you’re interested in watching the Alien movies in the order in which they were released, then you’d have to compartmentalize things a little differently. You’re probably asking how much differently things run in the “correct order,” to which case we have the following timeline to lay down:
Alien Movies Ordered By Release Date
Here's the order of the Alien movies by release date for those interested:
Alien 3 (1992)
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Alien: Covenant (2017)
With the course of the original Alien entries running pretty much straightforward in order, the story is pretty easy to follow along in a linear fashion when it comes to Ellen Ripley’s part of the story. However, once you get to Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, it’s obviously going to feel like the Alien movie timeline has taken its cues from the Star Wars universe.
Thankfully, the story’s not so involved that it’s difficult to understand how things match up, no matter which way you decide to enjoy the Alien series. Should you be looking for a recommendation though, it would be safe to side with the chronological order, as they help flesh out events and themes that the franchise ultimately aims to portray throughout its entire run.
And keep in mind, should Ridley Scott get to make another Alien prequel, planned to fit somewhere between Alien: Covenant and Alien, the bonds between the modern and classic era of the Alien timeline just might get even stronger. As it currently stands though, these are the definitive timelines to the Alien movies, so enjoy whichever way you see fit, and be careful next time you come across a field of giant, pulsating eggs.