Viewed as a disappointment upon release, “Alien 3” was troubled from the start. But it found its footing and fan devotion years later.
May 22, 1992, marks the thirtieth anniversary of Alien 3.
This film was plagued with problems from the start, including a rotating door of screenwriters and directors plus numerous issues with pre-production and filming. At times, the film was even shot without a script. Yet, it still managed to become a strong entry in the Alien franchise.
David Fincher earned his directorial debut when plans for Vincent Ward’s suggested version of the film fell through in pre-production. Three screenwriters — David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson — were brought in to fill the void left by previous director Ward. The new screenwriters’ contributions were based on excerpts from Ward’s proposed concept for the film.
Ridley Scott declined an opportunity to return for the third installment as he reputedly felt the ancestry of the Xenomorphs should enter the discussion. Ultimately, the project was deemed too expensive as practical effects were widely used in the 1990s, and some interpretations may have been too difficult to manage.
Scott’s vision did not come to light until 2012 and 2017 with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
With numerous reshoots, scrapped, and rewritten scenes, the original budget of $45 million increased to $65 million. One rewrite was due to the inclusion of Ellen Ripley (a character who originally perished) after Sigourney Weaver had been convinced to return for this film. Her fee for working on this picture was $5.5 million.
The version of the film audiences was presented with included escape pods ejected from the U.S.S. Sulaco. Four ship members in a cryogenic state crash land on Fiorina “Fury” 161, a lice-infested, ex-convict inhabited, ore mining planet.
Upon release, Alien 3 was generally maligned by fans of the series.
The film is dark, nihilistic, and reflects the general unhappiness on set.
Fincher labored on the project for two difficult years. During that time, he experienced three firings and had to resort to insubordinate retaliation to accomplish tasks for the film.
An excellent example of these difficulties is the controversy behind one of the film’s most iconic scenes. In the infirmary scene where the alien corners Ripley, her death is imminent, and the creature pulls back. The audience realizes that not all is as it seems with Lieutenant 1st Class Ellen Ripley.
Producers originally prohibited the filming of this crucial scene, but Fincher and seasoned actress Weaver went against the studio’s wishes and shot it anyway.
With $7 million of the budget going to several sets that were never used and the cost of rewrites due to a constantly changing script, the film seemed destined to fail. Its fate was not helped by the studio setting a release date even before the film had a fully completed screenplay. With the odds stacked against it, Alien 3 was a true underdog.
In spite of its rocky road, the film still managed to become a respectable entry in the beloved franchise— eventually garnering a cult following.
Actress Weaver spoke in defense of Fincher and the crew’s difficulties during production.
Alien 3 could easily have become the new director’s first and only film, tanking his burgeoning career before it ever really got started. But, as we all know, Fincher would later go on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest power players.
Three years after the troubled Alien 3, Fincher would hit a home run with 1995’s megahit thriller Seven. He would follow that success up with The Game (1997) and another cultural phenomenon, Fight Club (1999). Later, he would go on to receive Best Director Academy Award nominations for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), and Mank (2020).
Alien 3 may have faced fan backlash upon its release, but it did receive numerous industry accolades, including both an Academy Award and British Film Academy nomination for Best Visual Effects. It also received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation and an MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Action Sequence.
Alien 3 also earned seven Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actress for Sigourney Weaver, Best Supporting Actor for Charles S. Dutton, Best Direction for David Fincher, and Best Writing for David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson.
30 years later, many fans of the franchise have come to appreciate and defend Alien 3, and the film has enjoyed a critical reassessment and cultural renaissance.