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14 Things You Might Not Know About Aliens

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20th Century Fox

James Cameron’s follow-up to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece launched a thousand “Alien vs. Aliens” debates—one of the few times in film history where you could assert that the sequel was better than the original and even be taken seriously. (We decline to take a position on this controversial issue. We love both movies.) Aliens was a giant hit with critics and audiences alike, leading to two more sequels and whatever Prometheus was. In honor of Alien Day, here are some facts about the production to enhance your next viewing of the slimy ’80s action sci-fi classic.

1. CONAN THE DESTROYER HELPED IT GET MADE.

The movie, not the guy. Based on the strength of his script for The Terminator (then in pre-production), James Cameron was approached by 20th Century Fox to write an Alien sequel. But the outline he came up with for Alien II got a lukewarm reaction at Fox, and the idea was put on hold for the time being. Then, as luck would have it, the start date for The Terminator was pushed back nine months so that Arnold Schwarzenegger could make Conan the Destroyer, the sequel to his 1982 hit (in which Conan had been merely a Barbarian). This extra three-quarters of a year gave Cameron time to write three-quarters of a full screenplay for Alien II, not just an outline. (He also co-wrote Rambo: First Blood Part II during this time, by the way.) The Fox bosses liked what they read. Cameron was told that if The Terminator proved successful, he could write and direct the Alien sequel.

2. IT TOOK SEVEN YEARS TO GET THE SEQUEL MADE.

Why did it take seven years to get a sequel made? Lawyers and money, of course. Talk of a sequel began shortly after the original Alien (1979) was a hit, but it was delayed because of a dispute between the film’s producers and 20th Century Fox over the distribution of the original movie’s profits. Fox, reluctant to make a sequel because it would be expensive, finally agreed to it as a way of settling the beef with the producers—basically, “We won’t give you any more of the first movie’s profits, but we’ll greenlight a sequel, and you can make money from that.” (Amusingly, the same producers plus Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd sued Fox again after Aliens, claiming the studio had used “creative accounting” techniques to avoid paying them.)

3. SIGOURNEY WEAVER WAS PAID $35,000 FOR THE FIRST FILM, AND $1 MILLION FOR THE SEQUEL.

James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd (who became Mrs. James Cameron during pre-production) helped Weaver get what she deserved—first by refusing to make the film without her, and also by refusing to keep it a secret that she was the only person in consideration for the lead role. Fox especially didn’t like that second point, as it put Weaver’s agent in a very strong bargaining position. Sure enough, Weaver got $1 million and a percentage of the profits. It got better for Weaver as the franchise went on, with $4 million for Alien 3 and $11 million for Alien: Resurrection.

4. THERE WAS A LOT OF K-Y JELLY ON THE SET.

All that alien slime and drool? K-Y lubricant. (In case the Freudian sexual nightmare of the creature designs wasn’t strong enough.)

5. THE ACTORS PLAYING SPACE SOLDIERS TRAINED WITH REAL MARINES.

Sigourney Weaver, William Hope, and Paul Reiser didn’t join them because of other commitments, but their characters weren’t supposed to be trained soldiers anyway. 

6. THE SET WHERE THE ALIEN NEST IS FOUND SHOWED UP IN TIM BURTON’S BATMAN.

It was a defunct power station, called Acton Lane, and it had the right atmosphere for Aliens. It later appeared as Axis Chemicals, which is where Jack Napier falls into some acid and becomes Joker-fied in 1989's Batman. Parts of the alien hive were still there when Burton and his crew came in, which must have freaked them out a little.

7. THE NOVELIZATION HAS SEVERAL KEY DIFFERENCES.

Alan Dean Foster wrote the paperback versions of the first three Alien films (not to mention some titles in the Star Wars, Star Trek, The Terminator, and Transformers franchises), working from the screenplay before the film was even finished shooting. He stuck closely to what Cameron had written, but there are some major differences. Among them:

- Newt is about 12 years old in the movie, but six in the book.

- Ripley becomes more despondent after the tribunal, withdrawn and depressed, living in a filthy apartment and clearly traumatized by her past. In the movie, of course, she’s a lot tougher.

- Ripley immediately realizes Bishop is an android (though she still doesn’t confront him until later). Also the scene with Bishop’s famous knife trick isn’t in the book.

- There are several colonists still alive on the alien planet, not just one woman.

- Ripley opens fire on the Queen as soon as she sees her, rather than “negotiating.”

- When she is cornered by the Queen, Ripley intends to throw herself and Newt over the railing to die rather than fall into the Queen’s clutches. 

8. PART OF THE REASON ALIENS IS SO GOOD IS THAT JAMES CAMERON USED THE TERMINATOR AS PRACTICE.

“I was thinking of Terminator as a movie no one would see, so I could work on some of the things that I would use on Aliens,” Cameron told the Los Angeles Times. “I remember when I was shooting a scene where [the heroine] crawls through all this machinery, I thought, ‘This will make a good dry run ... I’ll get some of this stuff worked out so I’ll know how to do it.'"

9. IT’S THE ONLY ACTING THAT CARRIE HENN, WHO PLAYED YOUNG NEWT, EVER DID.

Henn was nine years old and living with her family at a U.S. Air Force base in England when casting agents found her. She loved the experience, remained friends with Sigourney Weaver afterward, was invited to the premiere of Alien 3 (even though she wasn’t in the movie) ... and never acted again. Instead, she became a schoolteacher.

10. THE CREEPY DERELICT SHIP WAS THE SAME ONE USED IN THE FIRST ALIEN.

Fox hadn’t immediately planned on making a sequel, so they didn’t keep the sets and models lying around. Luckily, a collector named Bob Burns had the original model (and numerous other Alien artifacts) preserved at his home.

11. CAMERON HAD TO QUASH A MUTINY ON THE SET.

The film was shot at England’s historic Pinewood Studios, which provided its own unionized crew members for productions using the facilities. Some of these workers resented the 14-hour days and, having no idea what Cameron was capable of (The Terminator hadn’t opened yet), thought he was in over his head. In particular, the first assistant director thought he should be directing Aliens. He mocked Cameron, called him “guv’nor,” rolled his eyes at him ... and got himself fired for insubordination. The new first assistant director behaved respectfully, and things were better after that.

12. SIGOURNEY WEAVER DIDN’T WANT TO USE A GUN.

She’s not a fan of them, and she lobbied Cameron to let Ripley go the entire film without using one. Cameron talked her into it after taking her to a shooting range and showing her how fun it could be. (“Another liberal bites the dust,” he joked on the DVD commentary.)

13. GALE ANNE HURD’S HANDS MAKE A CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Jenette Goldstein, the actress who played Vasquez, didn’t have any firearms training. She couldn’t hold a gun properly, which was noticeable when seen in close-ups, so producer Gale Anne Hurd served as her hand double.

14. JAMES HORNER HAD THREE WEEKS TO WRITE THE SCORE.

James Horner thought he’d have six weeks to write the musical score. Instead, he had three weeks, and had to write some parts overnight. The movie was behind schedule, not even finished being filmed (let alone edited) when Horner arrived in England. What’s more, the recording studio he’d been provided with was outmoded, not equipped to handle the synthesizers he wanted to use. Horner called the experience a “nightmare,” and ended up writing the climactic musical cue overnight. Coming away with the impression that a James Cameron film was too stressful and rushed, he figured he’d never work with the director again. And he didn’t ... until Cameron approached him for Titanic. (That rushed Aliens score earned Horner an Oscar nomination, by the way.)

Additional Sources: Commentaries and featurettes on the Aliens Blu-ray.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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