All due respect to "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" fans (RIP Leonard Nimoy), but "Alien" is easily my favorite sci-fi franchise of all time.

Why do I love it? Try Sigourney Weaver at her most bad-ass. Try H.R. Giger's incredible Xenomorph, the most oddly beautiful creation in movie-monster history. Try Stan Winston's jaw-dropping Alien Queen. Try the fact that every single movie in the series tried something unique and different. Hell, I even admire aspects of the widely-reviled "Alien: Resurrection," including the infamous Newborn! Can't help it: there is something wildly, transcendently strange about that albinic monstrosity.

That said, the first two films in the franchise are clearly the best, and the crazy thing is I can't even really compare them. They're too different! Ridley Scott's claustrophobic original gave way to full-tilt action in James Cameron's followup, and while my loyalties have shifted over the years I've ultimately found the task of deciding which is "better" to be nearly impossible. Both are great films for almost entirely different reasons.

I don't really know how to feel yet about Neill Blomkamp's recently-announced fifth film in the series -- which will supposedly be set after the events of James Cameron's "Aliens" -- but that has no bearing here. For now, I'd like to pay homage to the greatest moments of the original "quadrilogy," from first scream to last. Thanks for the memories, you slimy beasts.

  • Dinner table banter ('Alien')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Scott and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon's intent with the Nostromo crew was to paint them as, essentially, "truckers in space," and there's a naturalistic banter established between the characters right off the bat that goes a long way in selling us on that idea. Their boisterous first conversation around the dinner table is a jarring counterpoint to the elegant opening sequence that directly precedes it.

  • Introducing the chestbuster ('Alien')

    What's left to be said about this? One of the great -- if not the greatest -- shock moments in cinema history.

  • My, how you've grown ('Alien')

    Here it is: the first appearance by a full-grown xenomorph on film. The scene of Brett's death is a marvel of chilling sound effects (what is that strange, cricket-like buzzing sound?), a creepy-crawly score and an eerie setting characterized by swinging chains and dripping water -- effectively transplanting old-fashioned gothic horror tropes to space. The famed close-up shot of the alien's quivering pharyngeal jaw is a killer image (literally).

  • Cat's eyes ('Alien')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Never has a face been worthier of a close-up than Jonesy's.

  • Dallas gets the shaft ('Alien')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    The scene where Dallas gets snatched in the ventilation shaft is effective for several reasons: 1) the dark, claustrophobic setting, 2) Veronica Cartwright's increasingly frantic navigational instructions, 3) the ominous beep-beep sound emitted by the tracker and 4) the insane jump scare that caps it all off. Ridley Scott plays us like a piano here -- and then snaps the strings.

  • The Company's agenda, revealed ('Alien')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    "Crew expendable." With those chilling words, the reasons for the Nostromo's unexpected diversion becomes clear -- collect the alien specimen and bring it back to Earth, human lives be damned. Ian Holm brings a chillingly dead-eyed quality to Ash, who here is uncovered as a white-blooded android operating wholly in service of the Company's morally-bankrupt prime directive.

  • Lambert melts down ('Alien')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    In the scheme of the first film, Sigourney Weaver's performance gets most of the love  -- and rightly so --  but Veronica Cartwright deserves recognition for turning in an expertly freaked-out performance as Lambert, Chief Navigator of the Nostromo. As anyone who's seen the shock ending of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" knows, nobody does visceral, frantic terror quite like her. "They convinced me that I was the audience's fears; I was a reflection of what the audience is feeling," she was once quoted as saying. You're telling me.


  • Parker and Lambert bite the dust ('Alien')

    When Robert Ebert called "Alien" "basically just an intergalactic haunted house thriller set inside a spaceship" it wasn't meant as a compliment, and yet Ridley Scott's film is, at heart, a pure-blooded horror film that just happens to be set in the future. The chestburster reveal may be the most shocking moment in the film, but Lambert and Parker's death scene is for my money the scariest. The sound of Lambert's terrified screams echoing through the dark, deserted corridors of the Nostromo is truly chilling.


  • Ripley sings ('Alien')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    It was apparently Sigourney Weaver's idea to have Ripley shakily sing "You Are My Lucky Star" to soothe herself during her final showdown with the Alien, and it was a brilliant idea; her gaspy rendition of the tune adds a deeply human note to a horrific scene. Some of the franchise's best moments amount to a study in contrasts, and the romantic "Broadway Melody" ode lends an ironic feel to Ripley's first face-to-face encounter with a full-grown Xenomorph.

  • Meet Vasquez ('Aliens')

    Jenette Goldstein owns as the musclebound Private Vasquez in this movie, and her scene in the workout room gives us one of the best film's best lines: "Hey Vasquez, are you ever mistaken for a man?" asks Bill Paxton's Hudson. "No," she answers. "Are you?" See Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" for a completely different side of the actress; it's clear she underwent a complete transformation for this role, and she completely inhabits the part of a woman soldier who proves to be hardier than the majority of her male counterparts.

  • They're everywhere ('Aliens')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    The moment where "Aliens" first breaks into full-fledged action-movie mode is the sequence where the hardened marines are attacked from all sides by a virtual army of Xenomorphs. Harkening back to the scene of Dallas's demise in the first film, Cameron deftly utilizes the sound of the motion tracker to amp up the tension, and the way the marines melt down as they're besieged by the slimy horde is gripping. Also notable for featuring Ripley's decisive break from cautious bystander to take-charge warrior. Get out of her way, Gorman.

  • 'Game over, man!' ('Aliens')

    One of the greatest things the "Alien" franchise did -- particularly in James Cameron's action-oriented 1986 sequel -- was to subvert the trope of the musclebound, Stallone-esque action hero by giving us a woman who could own the ass of any man who got in her way. Bill Paxton's character in many ways is a deconstruction of the Stallone myth -- the blustery, testosterone-fueled male blowhard who deep down probably isn't as tough as he pretends to be. Bill Paxton's simpering signature line is so iconic it's been printed on t-shirts.

  • A little sexual tension ('Aliens')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Ripley is given very few moments to show her flirtatious side in the series, so it's nice to see Cameron entertain some playful sexual tension between she and Hicks (Michael Biehn) in the midst of the Xenomorph-fueled chaos. Their semi-courtship is satisfying a) because we aren't subjected to a cheesy, highly unrealistic scene where they consummate their relationship on a cold metal floor;  b) because it allows Ripley to show a softer side without betraying the inherent strength and dominance of her character and c) because Hicks clearly respects her as an equal, something a woman like Ripley would clearly demand of any potential lover. Watch the scene where Hicks shows her how to use a new firearm: it's a perfect scene that operates on a number of levels at once.

  • Newt gets taken ('Aliens')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Talk about a study in contrasts. The sight of sweet-faced Carrie Henn getting snatched up by a slithery alien monster -- emerging like an angel of death from a pool of still water -- will burn itself into your brain, guaranteed.

  • Queen Bitch ('Aliens')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    The mother of all movie monsters is Stan Winston's Alien Queen, a spiny, statuesque creation who puts his own T-Rex from "Jurassic Park" to shame. The slow, backlit reveal of the creature  is a great movie moment, and Cameron gives us major bang for our buck by affording her ample screentime in the third act. Winston's work here won him an Oscar, and with good reason: this fearsome xenomorph matron is a flawless practical effects creation.

  • Just in the nick of time ('Aliens')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    The entire first chase sequence with the Alien Queen is incredible, but no single moment can beat the climactic last-minute appearance of the Sulaco dropship to a triumphant swell of James Horner's score. I have yet to experience a more heart-pounding moment in an action film.

  • Bishop splits ('Aliens')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    How did the Alien Queen jump on the Sulaco dropship without anyone noticing? Who cares! The beginning of "Aliens'" fourth act features a shock effect so cool, logic is a secondary concern.

  • 'Get away from her, you bitch!' ('Aliens')

    If there's anything resembling a punchline in the "Alien" franchise, it's this. A simple, brilliantly effective moment.

  • Ashes to ashes ('Alien 3')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Many fans were outraged that Newt and Hicks survived the entirety of "Aliens" only to be dispatched in the first scene of "Alien 3," but to Fincher and Weaver's credit we really felt the weight of their loss; it's not as if they were simply killed off and forgotten. The scene where the two are cremated is intercut with the sight of a xenomorph bursting from the stomach of a dog (an ox in the assembly cut) -- a jarring, metaphorical juxtaposition that thankfully doesn't detract from Dillon's (Charles S. Dutton) moving eulogy and Weaver's expert rendering of Ripley's grief.

  • Ripley's bald mirror reveal ('Alien 3')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Weaver's bald head is visually indicative of Fincher's spare, stripped-down take on the series, and it's a striking image. If you think about it, this was actually quite a daring choice for both Weaver and the franchise as a whole, which is, of course, part of what makes the series so special: particularly for a studio franchise, it's pretty amazing how different each film feels from the last.

  • Up close and personal ('Alien 3')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    If there was one major selling point in the "Alien 3" trailer, it was the sight of Ripley being cornered against a wall in closeup by the dripping jaws of a Xenomorph. It's a striking, horrifying, oddly sensual moment between beauty and beast that's gone on to become one of the most iconic visual landmarks of the entire series.

  • Ripley's Jesus Christ Pose ('Alien 3')

    The moment that effectively ends "original Ripley's" arc in the franchise is "Alien 3's" haunting climax, which sees our heroine sacrificing herself for humanity by elegantly falling backwards into a giant pit of fire. The film may have fallen short of its predecessors, but I would argue it's the most emotional and haunting film in the franchise, and this ending is a big reason why.

  • Underwater pursuit ('Alien: Resurrection')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    In a film light on iconic moments, "Resurrection" at least offers one thrilling chase sequence when Ripley and co. are pursued by xenomorphs through a submerged kitchen. As gorgeously photographed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Darius Khondji, the sequence is arguably even more beautiful than it is thrilling.

  • Confronting the clones ('Alien: Resurrection')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    I can't believe I'm saying this, but: "Alien: Resurrection may actually contain the single most disturbing scene in the entire franchise. It comes with "Ripley 8's" discovery of the seven failed clones that came before her, all of which represent horrifically mangled versions of the final product. There was no way Weaver was getting an Oscar nomination for this thing -- unlike "Aliens," which did bring her a nod, the film wasn't particularly well-received by critics -- but her evocation of Ripley's torment as she prepares to blast her clones with a flamethrower is a genuinely heart-rending moment that's worthy of a statue.

  • The Newborn ('Alien: Resurrection')
    Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

    "Alien: Resurrection" wasn't as good as we all had hoped, true, but I still think there are some interesting ideas and a handful of compelling images in it. One of my favorite moments is the introduction of the much-reviled human/Alien hybrid dubbed the Newborn, which in one transcendently strange scene near the end of the film snuggles with Mama Ripley, whose DNA was used to create it. The slimy, pale-faced animatronic creation was brought to life with the help of nine puppeters, and the emotion conveyed through the face of the creature is stunning and disturbing. Wait for it: the climactic scene where the Newborn is slowly, agonizingly sucked out into space through a tiny hole is genuinely heartbreaking.

A former contributor to sites including MTV's The Backlot and Bloody-Disgusting, Chris Eggertsen worked in film development before indulging his love of pop culture writing full time. He specializes in horror, the intersection of social issues and entertainment and Howard Stern. He's on Twitter @HitFixChris.