Since it premiered in the United States on May 25th, 1979, the Alien saga has become one of the most surprisingly enduring franchises in motion picture history. With only the first two entries in the ever-growing xenomorph phenomenon able to be called truly great, the Alien films have seen way more misses than hits. (This is said with condolences to apologists for Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, Prometheus and, if they even exist, the Alien vs. Predator movies). So it’s something of a head-scratcher that these flicks are still so beloved by audiences.
But why? First and foremost is the unparallelled creature design. It’s been mentioned ad nauseum since the creature first appeared, but remains saying again: The late genius who was H.R. Giger tapped into something truly primordial and terrifying with his Alien designs. It is the most beautiful and unnerving monster in celluloid history. As such, even a terrible Alien movie is still worth seeing just to witness the majesty of the creature — although this point is somewhat invalidated by the dodgy CGI beasties that are prominent in Alien Covenant, but that is a complaint for another day.
The appeal of these films can also be attributed to Sigourney Weaver’s consistently excellent performance as Ripley. Even in Alien Resurrection (where she plays a clone of her iconic character) she delivers a ferocious and courageous performance that you can’t look away. When combined with the directorial mastery of a Ridley Scott or James Cameron, her on-screen magic becomes something unforgettable. So much so that the subsequent pictures can coast along on the strength of their excellent predecessors without bringing any new innovations to the table. And no, sexy shower kill scenes and useless Alien POV shots are not innovations, despite what 2017’s Scott would have you believe.
With all this said, 20th Century Fox’s marketing department still has to sell these movies to get butts into seats. And merchandisers hoping to cash in on the goodwill generated by the Alien name need to figure out how to use the license to best maximize sales. Which is where this very article comes in. From the cool to the curious to the utterly baffling, let’s look at the most memorable examples of Alien marketing and advertising.
The original Alien movie trailer
Completely lacking dialogue and featuring a deeply unsettling sound design, this original trailer is all about creating mood. And that mood is this: Alien is a movie that will absolutely fuck your shit up. Nearly 40 years later and this is still as nightmare-inducing as it was when it first hit unsuspecting moviegoers like a brick across the forehead.
Alien TV spot
Imagine watching commercials in 1979 and seeing this visual barrage of WTF while waiting for Three’s Company to come back on. Yikes.
Alien radio spots
Without the luxury of being able to share the film’s compelling imagery, the above radio spots relied solely on sound effects, music and a grimly detatched voiceover to sell the flick. It works, creating an aural landscape that more than reflects the movie’s foreboding atmosphere.
Alien UK radio adverts
For good measure, here are some UK radio spots for the film’s inital exclusive engagement at the Odeon Leicester Theatre back in 1979.
Vintage Alien Interview
Despite having some troublesome A/V issues, this vintage 23-minute interview fron 1979 in which Sigourney Weaver, Ridley Scott, Tom Skerritt and H.R. Giger talk up the film is full of interesting insights about Alien.
Alien diehards speak about the above documentary — taken here from a 1979 TV broadcast — with a hushed reverence, as it provides an all-access guide into the dark and compelling world of H.R. Giger. For a look inside the creative process of the late visionary, the doc is invaluable stuff.
Alien action figure ad
For last year’s Alien Day, I wrote an in-depth piece about Alien merchandise that delves into the long, complicated, and frankly, awesome, history of products based on the franchise. Despite having covering the above item — Kenner’s legendary 18-inch action figure of the Big Chap — in that piece, I present it again here because no matter how many times I watch this I find it impossible to believe that ad execs at the company felt this was an acceptable thing to try to sell to Star Wars-loving kids.
Kenner Alien Movie Viewer
Also released by Kenner is the joyously named Alien Terror Movie Viewer, a hand-cranked camera toy that showed the above footage from the film. Jesus.
Alien Atari 2600 game
Another head-scratcher is 20th Century Fox’s Alien game. A shameless rip-off of Pac-Man (the dots are supposed to be xenomorph eggs, natch), this game is surprisingly fun. And the fact that this somewhat obscure title actually exists is rather cool when you think about it.
Aliens original teaser trailer
Drawing inspiration from the original Alien marketing campaign, the original teaser for Aliens relies solely on fast-cut visuals and ear-piercing sound effects to remind audiences that they aren’t even remotely done having their screams go unheard in the vacuum of space. Or their local movie house.
Japanese Aliens ad
It’s always fascinating to see how blockbusters are marketed in other countries. Interesting enough, the above Japanese TV spot has the announcer referring to Aliens as Alien 2. But what you may not have realized is that there actually was an Alien 2, although it had nothing to do with Ridley Scott’s original…
Alien 2: On Earth theatrical trailer
Is Alien 2: On Earth an attempted cash-in on Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece? Duh. But it is one that is done with such thrill and panache that it is able to stand on its own B-movie, William Castle-esque legs. A recent Blu-ray edition of the flick is highly recommended for all fans of rip-off cinema.
Aliens toy ad
In which Kenner trades in the terror of their previous effort to dominate toy aisles with otherwordly monsters with sheer testosterone-driven stupidity. Truly one of the worst film-based action figure lines ever.
Part Lazer Tag, part immersive movie experience, Alien War was a walkthrough experience that give visitors to a London shopping mall the opportunity to become a Colonial Marine. The above documentary gives you a sense of what this long-gone attraction was like. Why these things aren’t a pop-up staple at comic cons is beyond me.
“Just what in the hell could Jem have to do with Aliens?” Jump to 2:53 in the above clip from the episode “Hollywood Jem” to see footage from the truly outrageous toon’s take on the Academy Awards, in which animated actress Sigourney Reaver was nominated for her role in Poltergeist Aliens 4. Life is never anything but amazing.
Konami Aliens sales ad
Because there’s better way to sell your middling arcade quarter basher than with an economy brand Ripley and Newt front and center in the trade ad.
Alien 3 original theatrical trailer
Look, I’m not going to slag Alien 3 here as that movie’s problems have been analyzed to death elsewhere. So without getting into the film’s quality or lack thereof what I will say is that this is a rather horrible trailer that is misleading at best. The bitch is back? Did the marketing team even see the flick? If so, why intone that the Alien Queen would be returning? Seeing how it was no secret how troubled the movie’s production was, you would think that Fox wouldn’t want to add any additional stink to the picture by lying about something that doesn’t even remotely occur in it in the film’s trailer. Sigh. At least it isn’t the stupidest Alien 3 marketing blunder. No my friends, that honor goes to the choice of a new generation…
Alien 3 Pepsi commercial
I always pegged the Alien as more of a coffee fan. Plus, didn’t E.T. used to schill Pepsi? Mixed messages guys. And that’s Lost‘s Jeremy Davies as one of the kids being chased by the Alien.
Prometheus subway promotion
To promote Prometheus, a vacant Paris subway was transformed into a display that used imagery from the film. More stylish than substantive, this remains a fascinating promotion befitting its beautiful but empty cinematic inspiration.
Debbie Harry, “Now I Know You Know” music video
As a bonus, here’s Debbie Harry’s tangentially related music video for “Now I Know You Know,” which was one of two music videos Alien visionary H.R. Giger directed for her 1981 album KooKoo.
BBC news report about the Harry/Giger collaboration
Will there ever be a period as chock-filled with weirdo invention as the 1980s?
The H.R. Giger Museum Bar
Finally, I don’t know about you but all of this strange marketing and Alien horror has got me needing a drink. So let’s wrap things up with this visit to a bar designed by H.R. Giger. Or as I call it, the single most unnerving place to get sloshed on the face of the Earth. Or any other planet for that matter.