Are Alien and Blade Runner Set in the Same Universe?
We dig into all the considerable evidence that suggests Ridley Scott's Alien and Blade Runner universes are one in the same.
Do you want to hear something shocking? Alien and Blade Runner may be set in the same universe. The two legendary science fiction franchises that are both returning to theaters in 2017 have long been linked due to the fascination with artificial intelligence and all things bizarre that simmer in director Ridley Scott’s imagination. But it may be more than Scott’s fingerprints they share.
There are many in the fan communities for both series’ original films—Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982)—who swear by this theory. And we certainly think, to a point, that it has merit. Granted, if we are being completely honest, the likelihood of ever getting a firm commitment or denial from filmmakers seems unlikely since ambiguity breeds interest. Meanwhile as each franchise is owned by different studios with 20th Century Fox having been the distributor and financial powerhouse behind every xenomorph adventure since the ‘70s, and Warner Bros. buying the rights to Blade Runner in 2011, it is almost impossible to imagine any sort of crossover ever occurring.
Nevertheless, there is enough strong evidence within the actual films themselves, their marketing materials, and even Ridley Scott’s circuitous musings to suggest that at some point somewhere, a xenomorph might be forced to take a Voight-Kampff test. And that’s a world we want to be a part of, dammit!
So join us as we lay out the case for why Blade Runner and Alien constitute the cruelest, most feel-bad shared universe of all.
You have two options: watch the video if you’re short on time, or continue reading the full article for more in-depth analysis!
A Synthetic Solution
The most obvious connection between the two films is how they are both marred by Ridley Scott’s fascination at the possibilities of artificial intelligence… and his relative skepticism for humanity as a species. Each present a dystopic view of the future in which monolithic corporations like Weyland-Yutani in Alien and the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner control every facet of our lives. The name “Weyland-Yutani” itself evokes a vision of an economic fusion between American and Asian conglomerates, which looks a lot like the nameless Japanese companies that rule over a sprawling urban wasteland in Blade Runner’s Los Angeles circa 2019.
This decay of polluting skyscrapers in Blade Runner could very well give way to a spaceship like Alien’s Nostromo, a glorified intergalactic freight train. Indeed, the ’79 movie birthed the term “space trucker” with its grimy and soot-drenched production design by Michael Seymour. Even before a psychosexual Lovecraftian horror, compliments of H.R. Giger, came aboard, the ship was a pretty bleak place to be.
That is because humans by and large have wrought a world of utilitarian uselessness in both films. And the people with real depth and souls are the robots built to serve them. Indeed, one can draw a through-line from Ian Holm’s Ash in Alien to Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty in Blade Runner to Michael Fassbender’s David in Prometheus. While the most recent of those three films is technically a prequel to Alien, it is also a bridge between the other two.
In Alien, Ash is unstable and perhaps the craftiest aspect of the story beside the infamous chestburster itself. An erudite and standoffish science officer nobody else on the crew knows or particularly likes, Holm’s character is an outsider among anti-social misfits. He also was placed on the ship at the last minute because he’s really an android. He is literally a company robot out to perform the interests of Weyland-Yutani, even if it is in direct threat to the crew of the ship.
Still there is something unhinged about Ash that suggests it’s not all ones and zeroes. Perhaps his programming dictated he should kill Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley when she discovered the truth about his orders, but it was Ash’s choice to try to do it by shoving a porno magazine down a woman’s throat—literally trying to physically assault her with the only sexual tool available to him.
Roy Batty is less evil than Ash despite being a robot also in search of humanity via questionable morality. Yet even though he kills several people throughout the film—some quite innocent too—he turns out to have a nobler spirit than any of his flesh and blood alternatives. Whereas Deckard (Harrison Ford) is possibly a human, he also is a hired gun: a glorified hitman that murders very self-aware and sentient Replicants (robots) on behalf of the local government.
He doesn’t think about his job; he just pulls the trigger. Otherwise, he would have realized Replicants deserved to live before going to bed with the synthetic Rachael.
Conversely, Roy Batty knows how precious life is and chases it with a vengeance since Replicants have a meager four-year lifespan. After he meets his maker and is denied a reprieve from oblivion, he ultimately chooses to spare Deckard’s life in his final moments, despite the fact that Deckard killed Roy Batty’s lover, Pris (Darryl Hannah). His final words about his fading memories being lost like “tears in the rain” is one of pathos and mournful beauty.
There is another famous fan theory that suggests Deckard himself is a Replicant (there’s plenty of evidence for that too), and if so, it’s only when he learns to see his own kind as worthy of life does he become a good man. Only when he rejects the so-called superiority of humanity.
Prometheus’ David is the perfect bridge between the two. He has a more complicated set of motivations and aspirations than Ash, and he savors living like Roy Batty while being crueler than either. He’ll wipe out whole civilizations for his own ends.
And as Alien is set in 2122 while Blade Runner occurs in 2019, the 2093 setting of Prometheus makes the most sense from a technological level. Roy Batty is fiercely soulful and independent while David is just as intellectually curious but enjoys the upgrade of eternal life (Roy’s short lifespan contributed to his madness).
Meanwhile later models become more and more docile and subservient, first with David serving his maker Peter Weyland better than Roy served Eldon Tyrell, and then with Ash perfectly obeying his corporate masters but with a sadistic streak in Alien. Finally, Bishop in Aliens (1986) is a benign and dutiful synthetic, albeit he was never programmed to betray his crewmates. For humans, Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is the preferred robot to keep around, but that is because he is the least like us and the least likely to follow the beat of his own drum.
And if this all seems like reaching, Ridley Scott more or less coyly confirmed a spiritual connection between his fair robots in Alien: Covenant. In that Prometheus sequel, the ostensible hero of the film, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is assaulted by David. Upon being attacked, she stabs him in the chin with a giant nail she’s kept as a necklace since her late husband’s death. After being stabbed, David hisses, “That’s the spirit!”
It’s a moment almost identical to the scene above where Hauer’s Roy Batty stabs a giant nail into his own hand once it starts to fail him, and then when Deckard clocks him in the face with a crowbar, he screams, “That’s the spirit!”
The Same Technology
Of course, the most referenced and telling connection between Alien and Blade Runner is how they share what is essentially the same tech. In Alien when Sigourney Weaver prepares to fire up her escape lifeboat from the Nostromo, she revs the engines by commencing to “Purge” them.
The screen that appears on her monitor is the exact same “Purge” screen that appears when Gaff (Edward James Olmos) fires up the thrusters for his flying police cruiser near the beginning of Blade Runner. Further, as Gaff and Deckard enjoy a late night pleasure cruise in the smog-encrusted sky of LA, they do so while using software that looks identical to the release clamps used by the Nostromo at the beginning of Alien as the ship disengages its cargo load to commence a fateful survey of a distress beacon on LV-426.
Now this connection between the spinner (flying car) in Blade Runner and the spaceship in Alien could easily be explained away by Scott just reusing some of the special effects already created in his previous English sci-fi production of only three years ago while during the making of Blade Runner. However, it is more fun to muse that the Nostromo is such a cheap piece of junk for Weyland-Yutani that it is scrapped together from technology that is over a hundred years old and ready to fall out of the sky. And whatever real-life reason there may be for this similarity, within the films they are pretty damn convincing.
Always Check the Fine Print
But for whatever is in the actual movies, those in charge of marketing and fan-baiting at 20th Century Fox have been stoking this theory for years. Look no further than the 20th anniversary Alien DVD from 1999, which hid deep in its extras this fascinating easter egg: apparently Tom Skeritt’s Capt. Arthur Dallas freelanced a stint for the Tyrell Corporation of Blade Runner.
Indeed, in an aged DVD extra titled “Nostromo Dossier,” which you can glimpse above, only eagle-eyed fans who scrolled all the way to the bottom of Dallas’ entry are rewarded with the seemingly throwaway mention that at some point Dallas took a paycheck from Tyrell Corporation, manufacturer of the fabled Replicants.
Yet more on the nose still is the below image from the UK steel box release of Prometheus on Blu-ray. Yep, if you look at the text files buried in the materials of that Alien prequel, you get a transcribed ramble from Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who in the midst of his droning heavily implies that Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) was his mentor.
While he never mentions Tyrell or Replicants by name, he talks about an old man who wished to live like a god in his pyramid that towered above a city of angels. He also gave his own synthetic robots false memories, which Weyland mocks as implicitly naïve. Anyone who’s of course seen Blade Runner cannot forget the stunning art deco pyramid-skyscraper hybrids that populate a hellacious Los Angeles (City of Angels) skyline. Tyrell lives in one of these where he, among other things, attempts to create false memories in his Replicant robots, including Rachael (Sean Young) and possibly Deckard.
While these could be construed as marketing gimmicks or winks, there is yet a certain sleek logic to the idea of Tyrell being Weyland’s mentor. In addition to Tyrell being the god of Replicants, and Weyland having “perfected” androids with David, above whom he considers himself a god in both deleted Prometheus scenes and in Alien: Covenant, the latter Australian tech genius shares many other similarities Blade Runner’s central company.
Both Weyland’s Mars office glimpsed in a hologram in Prometheus and Tyrell’s pyramid office share nearly identical architecture. And more acutely similar are the journeys both men are on. While Tyrell never lives long enough to feel the icy tinge of fading mortality, his “son” in Roy Batty does. This Adam-like figure seeks Tyrell out to beg for more life. When Tyrell cannot grant it to him, Roy stops seeing his maker as a god and realizes he’s simply a man who can be snuffed out. Conversely, an aged and dying Peter Weyland funds the entire Prometheus mission in order to meet Engineers: the aliens who are responsible for all life on Earth.
Like Roy before him, Weyland wishes to entreat his maker for more life, and also like Roy he is disappointed. Another similarity is the disappointment the human characters (and perhaps the audiences too) feel in the Engineers being mortal aliens and not deities… those that are also quite destructible, just as Tyrell’s skull was in Roy Batty’s hands.
Just Ask Ridley
At the end of the day though, the person who will always be the best equipped to answer the question about these similarities is Ridley Scott. And Scott has a bit of a reputation for giving sometimes contradictory information about the sci-fi worlds he’s built.
Nevertheless, he has still offered a pretty fascinating hint that Blade Runner’s Earth and Alien’s cold cosmos are one in the same universe.
While speaking on one of many Blade Runner DVD director’s commentaries, Scott said this about their similarities:
“So almost this world could easily be the city that supports the crew that go out in Alien. So, in other words, when the crew of Alien come back in, they might go into this place and go into a bar off the street near where Deckard lives. That’s how I thought about it.”
If it seems good enough for Sir Ridley Scott, it should likely be good enough for us. Again, their intrinsic values are so similar that a union between the franchises feels fairly natural. Both series deal with the concepts of humanlike beings that attempt to instill order onto a cold, desolate, and meaningless universe filled with suffering and unknowable horrors. Whether it is a leathery egg with a chestburster waiting for you, or the slave colonies for Replicants “off-world” in Blade Runner, this is an empty, silent universe that is as uncaring what happens to you as Jonsey the cat is while witnessing poor Harry Dean Stanton’s massacre in Alien. The Engineers, Tyrell, and Weyland try to play god (so too does Weyland’s own creation, David). But they are trying to put order onto a cosmos that is filled with indescribable dread.
The only purity in these films is the oblivion offered by a xenomorph. In that sense, Blade Runner and Alien were literally made for each other—far more than Alien and Predator ever were.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.