Alien: Covenant is now in theaters, and it helps steer the franchise right back into the space-horror territory that captivated audiences when the first Alien film hit back in 1979. While 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars showed filmgoers that science fiction could go beyond cheap B-movies, Ridley Scott’s film was a separate revelation, proof that screen science fiction could also produce quality horror-dramas. His creepy, Freudian Alien captivated audiences, and became an instant horror classic.
But Alien didn’t come out of nowhere. Its filmmaking team was inspired by a whole range of works, both intentionally and otherwise, in constructing its fantastic world and horrifying creatures. Alien also broadly inspired a number of other works after it hit theaters. Here are eight stories you should pick up after blowing through the Alien films one more time.
It! The Terror From Beyond Space
A number of films helped inspire Alien, including Dark Star, Forbidden Planet, Planet of the Vampires, and more. But one that stands out is It! The Terror From Beyond Space, a 1958 B-movie that follows the lone survivor of a Mars mission. He’s thought to have killed his crewmates, but in reality, a Martian found its way onboard and killed all but one. The premise is very similar to Alien’s, and reportedly, Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon was a fan.
H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness
A great video popped up last November that looked into why we don’t see many mainstream films adapted from Lovecraft’s works. It points to Alien as one example of an instance of where Lovecraft’s vision has been realized. Lovecraft’s stories deal with a particular brand of cosmic nihilism, complete with unimaginable, horrifying monsters that are beyond comprehension. One of the author’s best known works is At the Mountains of Madness, which deals with an expedition to Antarctica, which comes across some long-lost alien creatures. Alien might not draw directly from that story, but it certainly has its roots there.
A.E. van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle
A.E. van Vogt’s novel is collected from a series of short stories, and has long been thought of as a direct inspiration for Alien. The novel’s first story is 1939’s Black Destroyer, which introduces a creature known as a Coeuri, found on a distant planet. It’s hunted its prey to extinction, and happens upon a scientific expedition that’s landed on its home planet. The creature boards the ship and kills several crew members before it’s tricked into a life pod and jettisoned. Van Vogt reportedly sued 20th Century Fox for plagiarism, and eventually settled out of court.
The Alien franchise probably would have never come about if Alejandro Jodorowsky had been able to complete his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The ambitious project pulled together an impressive production team, including H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, and Jean Giraud (known as Mœbius). Jodorowsky's Dune chronicles the rise and fall of that project, and how these individuals influenced the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s production when Dune failed to come together.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Bungie’s Halo franchise emerged from a whole range of science-fiction stories, from Starship Troopers to Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Another huge influence comes from James Cameron’s Aliens. It’s easy to see just where the film pops up in the series when the space marines crash-land on the Halo ring. (Sergeant Major Johnson is a pretty direct copy of Aliens’ Gunnery Sergeant Apone.) The game also features the Flood, a familiar-sounding alien parasite that takes over human hosts and uses their biomass to spread.
On paper, this 2000 Vin Diesel thriller looks very much like Alien or Aliens: a spacecraft crash-lands on a remote planet, and when nightfall comes, the crew comes under attack by the planet’s native creatures. The film is an effective entry in the space-horror canon because it pits its characters not only against the creatures, but against one of the passengers, a monster in his own right. The series steered away from its horror roots in the sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, but later went right back to them with a second sequel, Riddick.
If you talk to the two authors who write the Expanse series under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey, and ask how the books came about, the conversation will inevitably turn to Alien, but not in the way you might think. While the books do touch on some horrifying aliens, the authors were influenced more by Ridley Scott’s blue-collar, truckers-in-space approach to the crew. They translated that into their novels, and that influence has made its way into the Syfy TV adaptation of their books. The last couple of episodes in the show’s second season also included a pretty cool homage to Scott’s film.
One of the latest films to fall under the “inspired by Alien” umbrella is Life, which came out in March. Before the film was even released, it was clear that the people behind the film watched Alien more than once, retelling the story of a terrifying alien aboard a spacecraft. We even noted in our review that Life blatantly borrows from its more famous predecessor, but doesn’t live up to its legacy.