History, Legacy & Showmanship
Monday, 18 July 2016 11:00

This Time It’s War: Remembering “Aliens” on its 30th Anniversary

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“It’s a fun film that also demanded you to take it seriously. I think some people missed all that and just wanted to indulge in the ‘bug hunt’ war porn of it all. But beneath its rollercoaster surface, Aliens is a pretty sophisticated genre classic.” — Documentarian Charles de Lauzirika

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective article commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of Aliens, the action-packed follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror classic featuring Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters, Working Girl) in her Saturn-winning and Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated reprisal of Ellen Ripley, the lone survivor of an Alien attack on her ship, the Nostromo. In the sequel, after several decades in hypersleep, she returns to exomoon LV-426 along with a team of Marines — and awesome sound and visual effects — to destroy the Aliens.  [Read on here...]

Aliens, directed by James Cameron (The Terminator, Titanic), opened 30 years ago this week, and for the occasion The Bits features a compilation of box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, passages from vintage film reviews, a list of the 70-millimeter “showcase” presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with a group of Alien franchise authorities.

On the set of Aliens


  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning R-rated movies of 1986 (calendar year)
  • 2 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 2 = Rank among top-earning R-rated movies of 1986 (legacy)
  • 4 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie (weeks 1-4)
  • 4 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (summer season)
  • 6 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (calendar year)
  • 7 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 7 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 7 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (legacy)
  • 9 = Rank among Fox’s top-earning movies of all time at close of original run
  • 56 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1980s
  • 59 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release (rental)
  • 63 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release (gross)
  • 151 = Number of 70mm prints
  • 1,437 = Number of opening-week engagements
  • $89.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release
  • $6,995 = Opening-weekend per-screen average
  • $10.1 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross
  • $18.0 million = Production cost
  • $39.6 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $42.5 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
  • $85.2 million = Box-office gross (domestic)
  • $93.5 million = Box-office rental (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $98.2 million = Box-office gross (international)
  • $183.3 million = Box-office gross (worldwide)
  • $187.4 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $215.9 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
  • $403.1 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)

Aliens in 70mm


“The class act thriller for many summers to come…. Guaranteed to knock the wind and wits out of you.” — Peter Travers, People

“Spectacular! For sheer intensity, Aliens is not likely to be matched by any movie this year. A triumph of bravura action.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

“[W]ritten and directed by James Cameron, the Canadian boy from Chippawa, Ont., Aliens is smartly conceived and executed, and it does contain its share of thrills and scares. But it is very much a sequel, and the element of surprise, the most invaluable of commodities in enterprises such as this, has been lost.” — Ron Base, Toronto Star

“Director James Cameron makes all the right moves. [H]e brings to Aliens a solid gift for action, pacing and excitement…. Though Aliens is unable to eschew some obvious sci-fi conventions and those of other genres as well, it brings a fresh and lively spirit to this tired cinematic clime. Scene to scene, encounter to encounter, its tension builds unrelentingly. So, fasten your seat belts. It’s a blast.” — Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune

Aliens is about nothing at all beyond squeezing yet another buck from what seven years ago was an original, arresting — and profitable — science-fiction-horror [film]. Alien was so good because it said all that needed to be said on its subject. [S]equels are superfluous, dictated by pure greed as opposed to any driving artistic compulsion.” — Richard Freedman, The (Springfield, MA) Morning Union

“One of the best science fiction movies ever!” — Michael Healy, The Denver Post

“If the sequel doesn’t equal Alien in cardiac-arrest value, it’s only because stainless-steel teeth, repulsiveness and slime have gone about as far as they could go (with John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing), then gone on to be a laughing matter in Ghostbusters.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

“The greatest horror movie since Frankenstein!” — Scott Cain, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Long after the thrills and chills wear off, I would argue that Aliens will be remembered not for its military saltiness, but for the role that Weaver takes to full-bodied heroics.” — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle

“Director James Cameron’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s Alien is long on brawn and short on brains. Too many Marines, too much noise, and too many acres of heavy hardware clutter up the scenery.” — Catharine Rambeau, Detroit Free Press

“[Aliens is] a sequel that exceeds its predecessor in the reach of its appeal while giving Weaver new emotional dimensions to explore.” — Richard Schickel, Time

Aliens could have used a lot more of what made the first ill-fated voyage such a harrowing experience: creeping horror that is so cold-blooded and unspeakable you scream but nothing comes out.” — Glenn Lovell, San Jose Mercury News

“An action-thriller that women will cheer for.” — Judith Crist, WOR-TV

“In a summer of disappointing sequels, it’s a pleasure to announce that Aliens is every bit as good as the original. That said, it’s also quite different, which is probably why it succeeds where other sequels have failed.” — Marylynn Uricchio, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Talk about relentless. There probably has never been a cliffhanger as outrageous or as ingeniously sustained as Aliens, writer-director James Cameron’s absolutely smashing sequel to Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction/horror classic…. Aliens proves that a bigger budget and more elaborate special effects haven’t spoiled Cameron, and that he can still generate that involvement. In many ways, this is one sequel that improves on the original.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“Count me out of the fan club for this one. To me Aliens is one extremely violent, protracted attack on the senses…. Toward the end, the film resorts to placing a young girl in jeopardy in a pathetic attempt to pander to who knows what audience. Some people have praised the technical excellence of Aliens. Well, the Eiffel Tower is technically impressive, but I wouldn’t want to watch it fall apart on people for two hours.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“The director, James Cameron, has been assigned to make an intense and horrifying thriller, and he has delivered. Weaver comes through with a very strong, sympathetic performance. The supporting players are sharply drawn. The special effects are professional. I’m giving the movie a high rating for its skill and professionalism and because it does the job it says it will do. I am also advising you not to eat before you go to see it.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“[L]ittle touches make Aliens much more fun than the run of the science-fiction genre. And its creatures are much more ingeniously mean than the gremlins of two summers ago.” — Marsha McCreadie, The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic

“[O]ne of the things that makes Aliens work is the performance of Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role from the first film. She is strong and serious and very human. And she puts to shame the spate of one-dimensional macho heroes we’ve had lately who all look like plastic imitations of each other.” — Christopher Hicks, (Salt Lake City) Deseret News

“The special-effects specialists are featured prominently in the credits that precede Aliens, and so they should be. Under the direction of James Cameron, they have put together a flaming, flashing, crashing, crackling blow-’em up show that keeps you popping from your seat despite your better instincts and the basically conventional scare tactics.” — Walter Goodman, The New York Times

“The original Alien was a haunted-house movie, brilliantly transposed to outer space. Claustrophobia was its primary tool of terror, and it featured a gross out unparalleled in movie history. Aliens writer James Cameron had the good sense to try to make a different kind of movie. Aliens resembles less its predecessor than The Terminator.” — John Podhoretz, The Washington Times



The following is a list of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Aliens in the United States and Canada. These were, arguably, the best theaters in which to experience Aliens and the only way to faithfully hear the movie’s Oscar-nominated audio mix and Oscar-winning sound effects editing. Only eleven percent of the film’s initial print run was in the deluxe, expensive-to-manufacture 70mm format. And of the 200+ new movies released during 1986, Aliens was among only sixteen to have 70mm prints produced, and the film had the highest number of large-format prints that year and the second-highest in 20th Century Fox’s history behind Return of the Jedi (1983).

For this release, Fox employed the services of Lucasfilm’s Theater Alignment Program (TAP) to evaluate and approve the theaters selected to book a 70mm print. As well, the movie was booked into as many THX-certified venues as possible.

The film’s 70mm prints were blown up from spherical 35mm photography and were pillarboxed at approximately 1.85:1. The noise-reduction and signal-processing format for the prints was Dolby “A,” and the soundtrack was Format 42 (three screen/one surround + baby boom).

A 70mm trailer for The Fly was sent out with the 70mm Aliens prints and which the distributor recommended be screened with the presentation.

The listing includes those 70mm engagements that commenced July 18th, 1986. The listing does not include any of the additional wave, mid-run upgrade, move-over, second-run, re-release or international engagements, nor does it include any of the movie’s thousands of standard 35mm engagements.

So, which North American theaters screened the 70mm version of Aliens? Read on…

In 70 mm


  • Calgary — Famous Players’ Palace
  • Calgary — Famous Players’ Sunridge 5-plex
  • Edmonton — Famous Players’ Londonderry Twin
  • Edmonton — Famous Players’ Paramount


  • Phoenix — Plitt’s Cine Capri
  • Phoenix — United Artists’ Chris-Town Mall 6-plex


  • Little Rock — United Artists’ Cinema City 7-plex <THX>


  • Burnaby — Famous Players’ Lougheed Mall Triplex
  • Vancouver — Famous Players’ Capitol 6-plex


  • Alhambra — Edwards’ Alhambra Place 5-plex
  • Buena Park — United Artists’ Buena Park Mall 8-plex <THX>
  • Cerritos — United Artists’ Cerritos Mall Twin
  • Costa Mesa — Edwards’ South Coast Plaza Triplex
  • El Cajon — United Artists’ Parkway Plaza Triplex
  • Hayward — United Artists’ Hayward 5-plex
  • Huntington Beach — Edwards’ Charter Centre 5-plex
  • Long Beach — United Artists’ Marina Marketplace 6-plex
  • Los Angeles (Hollywood) — United Artists’ Egyptian Triplex
  • Los Angeles (North Hollywood) — United Artists’ Valley Plaza 6-plex
  • Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks) — General Cinema’s Sherman Oaks 5-plex <THX>
  • Los Angeles (Westwood Village) — General Cinema’s Avco Center Triplex <THX>
  • Los Angeles (Woodland Hills) — United Artists’ Warner Center 6-plex <THX>
  • Marina del Rey — United Artists’ Marina Marketplace 6-plex
  • Monterey — United Artists’ Cinema 70
  • Mountain View — Syufy’s Century 10-plex
  • National City — Pacific’s Sweetwater 6-plex
  • Newark — Syufy’s Cinedome West 7-plex
  • Newport Beach — Edwards’ Newport Twin
  • Oakland — Renaissance Rialto’s Grand Lake 4-plex
  • Orange — Syufy’s Cinedome 6-plex
  • Pasadena — United Artists’ United Artists
  • Pinole — Syufy’s Century 9-plex
  • Redwood City — United Artists’ Redwood 6-plex
  • Sacramento — Syufy’s Century 6-plex
  • Sacramento — Syufy’s Cinedome 8-plex
  • San Diego — United Artists’ Glasshouse 6-plex
  • San Diego — United Artists’ Horton Plaza 7-plex <THX>
  • San Francisco — United Artists’ Coronet
  • San Rafael — Marin’s Regency 6-plex
  • San Ramon — Festival’s Crow Canyon 6-plex
  • Santa Barbara — Metropolitan’s Arlington
  • Santa Clara — United Artists’ Cinema 150
  • South San Francisco — Syufy’s Century Plaza 8-plex
  • Thousand Oaks — United Artists’ Oaks Mall 5-plex
  • Westminster — United Artists’ Westminster Mall Twin

Aliens newspaper ad


  • Colorado Springs — Commonwealth’s Cinema 70 Triplex
  • Denver — Commonwealth’s Continental


  • Washington — K-B’s Fine Arts


  • Coral Springs — General Cinema’s Coral Square 8-plex
  • Fort Lauderdale — General Cinema’s Galleria 4-plex
  • Largo — AMC’s Tri-City 8-plex
  • North Miami Beach — Wometco’s 163rd Street Triplex
  • Orlando — General Cinema’s Colonial Promenade 6-plex
  • South Miami — Wometco’s Dadeland Triplex
  • Winter Park — Wometco’s Winter Park Triplex


  • Atlanta — Columbia
  • Atlanta — GTC’s Lenox Square 6-plex
  • Kennesaw — Storey’s Town Center 8-plex
  • Savannah — Litchfield’s Tara 4-plex
  • Tucker — AMC’s Northlake Festival 8-plex


  • Honolulu — Consolidated’s Cinerama


  • Belleville — BAC’s Cinema 4-plex
  • Calumet City — Plitt’s River Oaks 8-plex
  • Chicago — Plitt’s Carnegie
  • Evanston — M&R’s Evanston 5-plex
  • Evergreen Park — M&R’s Evergreen 5-plex
  • Niles — Essaness’ Golf Mill Triplex
  • Norridge — M&R’s Norridge 8-plex
  • Northbrook — Center’s Edens Twin
  • Schaumburg — Plitt’s Woodfield 9-plex

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