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20th Century Fox

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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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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10 Badass Facts About Jason Statham
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Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

Jason Statham is one of the preeminent action heroes of a generation—some would say he’s our last action hero. On the screen, he's been a hitman, a transporter, a con man, a veteran, and a whole host of other unsavory, but oddly endearing, tough guys. Before he stepped foot on his first movie set, though, Statham had a past life that would rival any of the colorful characters he’s brought to the screen. To celebrate his 50th birthday, we’re digging into what makes this English bruiser tick with these 10 fascinating facts about Jason Statham.

1. DIVING WAS HIS FIRST CALLING.

Before becoming a big-screen tough guy, Jason Statham exuded grace and fluidity as one of the world’s top competitive divers in the early 1990s. He spent 12 years as part of the British National Diving Squad, highlighted by competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Though he was an elite diver, Statham never qualified for the Olympics, which he admits is still a “sore point” for him. "I started too late," he has said of his diving career. "It probably wasn't my thing. I should have done a different sport."

2. HE DABBLED IN MODELING.

With his diving career over, Statham entered the world of modeling for the fashion company French Connection. If his rugged image doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to the world of male modeling, that was exactly what the company was going for.

“We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for French Connection, said in a 1995 interview with the Independent. "His look is just right for now—very masculine and not too male-modelly."

3. HE DANCED HALF-NAKED IN A COUPLE OF MUSIC VIDEOS.

A word of warning: The internet never forgets. Back in 2015, two ‘90s music videos went viral—“Comin’ On” by The Shamen and “Run to the Sun” by Erasure—and it’s not because the songs were just that good. It’s because both videos featured a half-naked, and quite oily, Jason Statham curiously dancing away in the background.

Both make liberal use of Statham’s lack of modesty, which is a far cry from the slick suits and commando gear we’d later see him sporting in The Transporter and Expendables series. So which one is your favorite? Leopard-print Speedo Statham from “Comin’ On” or his Silver Surfer look from “Run to the Sun”? And no, “both” isn’t an option. (Though “neither” is acceptable.)

4. GUY RITCHIE CAST HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SELLING KNOCKOFF JEWELRY AND PERFUME ON THE STREET.

After years of high dives, modeling, and pelvic gyrations, Statham was still looking to make a real living in the late ‘90s. His next odd job? Selling knockoff perfume and jewelry on London street corners. Luckily, that type of real-world hoodlum was exactly what director Guy Ritchie needed for 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Ritchie was introduced to Statham through his modeling gig at French Connection and saw the potential this real-world con man had for the movie. He wrote the role of Bacon specifically for Statham, which would end up being the movie that propelled him to Hollywood stardom.

5. JOHN CARPENTER WANTED HIM AS THE LEAD IN GHOSTS OF MARS.

Though Statham gained acclaim for his role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he wasn’t quite a leading man yet. Director John Carpenter wanted to change that by casting him as James “Desolation” Williams, the main character in Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter was convinced that Statham was ready for the role, the producers weren’t. They pushed the director to cast someone with more name value, eventually settling on Ice Cube. Statham stayed in the movie in a smaller role as Sgt. Jericho Butler.

6. HE REGULARLY DOES HIS OWN STUNTS.

Jason Statham in Wild Card (2015).
Lionsgate

In addition to being in impeccable shape, Statham also takes pride in doing many of his own stunts in his movies, from hand-to-hand combat to dangling from a helicopter 3000 feet above downtown Los Angeles. In fact, he’s almost dogmatic in his belief that actors should be doing their own stunts.

“I'm inspired by the people who could do their own work,” the actor said. “Bruce Lee never had stunt doubles and fight doubles, or Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I've been in action movies where there is a face replacement and I'm fighting with a double, and it's embarrassing.”

The worst offenders? Superhero movies. And Statham isn't shy about sharing his thoughts on those:

"You slip on a cape and you put on the tights and you become a superhero? They're not doing anything! They're just sitting in their trailer. It's absolutely, 100 percent created by stunt doubles and green screen. How can I get excited about that?"

7. FILMING EXPENDABLES 3 ALMOST KILLED HIM.

For all the authenticity that Statham likes to bring to the screen by doing his own stunts, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. While filming an action scene for Expendables 3, the brakes failed on a three-ton stunt truck Statham was driving, sending it off a cliff and into the Black Sea.

If you've ever wondered if the real Statham was anything like the movie version, his underwater escape from a mammoth truck should answer that.

"It's the closest I've ever been to drowning,” Statham said on Today. “I've done a lot of scuba diving; I've done a lot of free diving ... No matter how much of that you've done, it doesn't teach you to breathe underwater ... I came very close to drowning. It was a very harrowing experience."

8. HE PRACTICES A RANGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.

Statham’s fitness routine is about more than just weights and core work. The actor is also involved in a variety of different fighting disciplines like boxing, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Out of everything he does to stay in shape, it’s the martial arts that have the been most helpful for Statham’s onscreen presence. “That’s what I have to give most of my time to these days: training for what I have to do in terms of providing action in an authentic manner," he told Men's Health

Statham is not alone in his passion for martial arts; director Guy Ritchie is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in karate. When Men’s Health asked Statham if the two ever sparred, he responded, “I remember when we started out, we’d go on a press tour for Lock, Stock… and we’d be moving all the furniture out of the way in the hotel room, trying to choke each other out.”

After all, what are collaborators for?

9. HE’S WELL AWARE SOME OF HIS MOVIES HAVE BEEN DUDS.

When asked by Esquire if he ever watched one of his movies during the premiere and thought "Oh, no ...," his response was a very self-aware: "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah."

He went on to rattle off his Guy Ritchie movies, The Bank Job, Transporter 1 and 2 (not 3), and Crank as being among his favorite films. As for the others, the actor joked, “And the rest is sh*t."

He clarified that remark as a joke and said, “I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good.”

He then compared his work to the inner workings of a watch, saying, “A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."

10. HIS MOVIES HAVE MADE MORE THAN $1.5 BILLION IN THE U.S. ALONE.

Statham's films may have a tough time impressing critics, but audiences and studio executives can’t get enough. Taken as a whole, Statham’s filmography has raked in just a touch more than $1.5 billion in the United States, with the worldwide total standing at $5.1 billion.

A lot of this is due to his more recent entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, but he’s also had seven movies cross the $100 million mark worldwide outside of that series. This isn’t an accident; Statham knows exactly what type of movie keeps the lights on, as he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the f*cking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20 million. You can't fault these people for wanting to make money.”

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