“In 1992, we will discover on Earth, everyone can hear you scream” – how the first teaser for Alien 3 promised an entirely different film.
This feature contains mild spoilers for Alien3.
With the rumour that Aliens, Alien3, and Alien: Resurrection are being remastered in 4K this week (even though it’s a long way off), we’ve been thinking about one of cinema’s most notorious teaser trailers. Nowadays, it’s common practice for movie studios to set release dates for major tentpole movies without a script or director in place, but even by today’s standards, the teaser for the third Alien film jumped the gun.
For those who don’t remember Alien3 (as it was eventually styled) particularly well, this threequel was David Fincher’s feature directorial debut, set on Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161, an off-world penal colony for violent and anti-social male inmates. Stars Sigourney Weaver and Lance Henriksen returned, while Michael Biehn and Carrie Henn, er… didn’t, unfortunately.
To say the film was a troubled production would be putting it lightly, but even so, the original 64-second teaser for the film is one of the most misleading bits of marketing ever put out by a major studio. If you’ve not seen the trailer before, take a look at the video below and we’ll dig into how it came about after.
Alien3 took a while to come to the screen, just as James Cameron’s Aliens had taken its time in development after Ridley Scott’s 1979 original. The key difference is that while the sequel took longer because different executives blew hot and cold on the idea of another film, Cameron’s success made the third film inevitable from the off.
As well as being a commercial hit, Aliens was praised by critics and audiences alike, and even went on to bag two Oscar wins and several other nominations. That changed Fox’s tune, and Roger Birnbaum, then the studio’s head of worldwide distribution, would reportedly call the series, “The Franchise”, at a point where big viable sci-fi movie franchises didn’t come along nearly as often as they do nowadays.
The studio soon approached writer-producers David Giler and Walter Hill to make two more films. Cameron had publicly moved on and although Giler and Hill weren’t especially fussed about returning to the Alien universe either, they got development underway on a third film, initially planning Part 3 and Part 4 a two-part story.
That idea fell by the wayside as the third one grew more challenging, but both producers were determined that whatever came next would have to be as fresh and different from what had gone before as the second film had been from the original. To that end, they pursued an array of story ideas. One idea would have seen Xenomorphs arriving on Earth and destroying New York City, which is as close to the film the teaser suggests as any of the unmade Alien 3 scripts.
Between 1987 and 1990, more than ten screenwriters had a bash at scripting the film, including William Gibson, Eric Red, David Twohy, and John Fasano. Drafts differed on whether Weaver’s Ripley would be in the script or not, whether Biehn’s Hicks had a bigger role or not, and whether the film would be about a “Marxist space empire”, a prison planet, or a satellite full of monks.
The latter idea came from director Vincent Ward, who was signed up to direct the project. However, Fox executives didn’t like his vision for Alien 3, with Jon Landau dismissing it as “more on the artsy-fartsy side than the big commercial one” than the studio wanted. In the end, Giler and Hill wound up writing the screenplay, inspired by various bits and bobs from different incarnations, with co-credit going to script doctor Larry Ferguson.
The producers also approached David Fincher to direct on the basis of his music video work. He accepted and found himself plunged into a $50-million tentpole project that had to start shooting in five weeks. Shooting was due to start in January 1991 for a Christmas release, but with intensive rewriting underway up to and during the beginning of filming, it was clear that it was not going to hit that deadline.
Reportedly, filming was only just starting when Fox’s marketing department put out that teaser, with nothing but a visual of the alien egg over planet Earth and a foreboding nod to the classic original tagline, ending with the title, a credit for Weaver, and the more non-committal “1992” release date…
The big commercial one
Landau’s quote about the studio’s priorities goes to the heart of how Fox viewed “The Franchise”. The teaser would have hit cinemas more than a year before the (vastly different) film did, at a point in time where this kind of lead on hype was far less common than in the online movie news cycle.
More notably, putting out a trailer that had nothing to do with the film David Fincher was about to make might have been a warning sign for the filmmaker. There was extensive studio interference on the film, including gruelling reshoots and a Fox-approved theatrical cut that took half an hour out of the original director’s cut to bring it in at 114 minutes.
Fincher has long since disavowed Alien3 and has rarely said much publicly about the film. The things he has said about it have not been positive.
For instance, he told The Guardian in 2009 “I had to work on it for two years, got fired off it three times and I had to fight for every single thing. No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”
He added “I’d always thought, ‘Well, surely you don’t want to have the Twentieth Century Fox logo over a shitty movie.’ And they were like, ‘Well, as long as it opens.’”
When it did open in May 1992, it came second at the US box office behind another R-rated threequel, Lethal Weapon 3, and contemporary reviews ranged from negative to just plain disappointed. Later, a longer workprint cut of the film (completed without Fincher’s involvement) was released as part of the Alien Anthology boxset in the 2000s, which has earned slightly warmer reviews.
Though Alien3 underperformed domestically, it made almost $160 million worldwide, which allowed Fox to claim it as the highest-grossing film in the series to date in a Variety advert headlined ‘The Baddest of Them All’ in October 1992.
Early on in the development of the next film in the series, 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, screenwriter Joss Whedon submitted various potential endings featuring Xenomorphs on humanity’s own turf, but none of them wound up in the shooting script. We tell the story of that film in our podcast, here…
The Xenomorphs would eventually make it to Earth in the early 21st century in the Alien Vs Predator movies, and a load of bobbins they were too.
Here’s our podcast on that one…
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley is working on an Alien TV series set on Earth for Hulu and FX. Who knows if it can exceed the promise of that vague, cobbled-together teaser, but keep listening out for those screams we were first promised in a bogus trailer almost three decades ago…
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