A synopsis suggests little difference between Alien and a Fifties B-movie like It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958): both films are about a spaceship crew being terrorised by a murderous and largely unseen alien presence. But Alien’s genius lies in its visual and conceptual design, which impressed its backers enough to double the production budget, a decision that paid off in spades.
The film brought an unprecedented level of realism to the science fiction genre, while its graphically sexual imagery (much of it originating from the mind of Swiss artist H.R. Giger) fuelled PhD theses galore: the notorious ‘chest-burster’ set-piece as a bizarre allegory of childbirth for example.
At the time, none of the impressive cast could fairly be described as a star (the two Britons, John Hurt and Ian Holm, were closest, but Sigourney Weaver was then totally unknown), and this added to the suspense: anyone could be picked off at any time.