A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Alien is a classic of sci-fi horror, and while not as gory as most horror films, it's too intense for younger viewers. In its most iconic scene, a character is killed after an alien burrows out of his chest, shooting blood everywhere. Unrelenting suspense permeates every scene after the first 15 minutes. While the deaths of the characters aren't always shown, gruesome killing at the hands (actually, tentacles) of the alien is strongly implied. One of the characters smokes, and all of them in their panicked states use profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch."
Sci-fi/horror epic isn't for the squeamish; however, creative, mature tweens and teens alike will love it
What's the story?
In ALIEN, the Nostromo, a cavernous and ill-lit interstellar mining ship, is manned by a miniscule crew of seven. They are awakened out of hibernation by an order from faraway Earth to investigate a mysterious distress signal on a dark and stormy planet. There the miners find a huge, grounded spaceship from an unknown civilization, with a long-dead alien pilot. A parasite, apparently the same type that took down the other craft, affixes to the face of a Nostromo crewman. After the crewman seems to recover, a hostile newborn alien bursts out of the doomed man's chest in front of the rest of the crew. The crew struggles to kill the fast-moving, fast-growing, unwelcome visitor before it gets them.
Is it any good?
Kids like scary movies, and this one definitely succeeds; small kids are better off with E.T., though teens can take this movie for the thrill ride it is. Being scary, in new and disturbing ways that hadn't been done before, was the mission of Alien. For a generation of moviegoers, Alien was a state-of-the-art shocker, even though it basically has a second-hand monster plot and characters that behave like cliched horror-movie victims, wandering alone in the dark or waiting like sitting ducks to be picked off. Alien did defy stereotypes of its time in the brilliant move of making the ultimate survivor a vulnerable-looking young woman, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who courageously fights back against the alien marauder.
The 25th-annivesary DVD of Alien includes a few minutes of restored footage of what the alien does with captured prey -- considered too grim for 1979, but no surprise for anyone who saw the sequel, Aliens, or any of the later followups. Most of the violence here, in fact, is suggested in quick edits rather than directly shown, just like the skittering, skeletal/serpentine alien parasite itself. While this once-shadowy monster species has been exposed in inferior sequels, video games, and comic books (even Superman battled them!), some of the best minds in cinema tried to ensure this movie would be a nightmare-inducer, and parents should keep that in mind.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Alien was so effective in evoking fear.
How do you think Alien compares with other futuristic outer space movies featuring aliens?
How do you think the alien in Alien compares with other movie aliens? Do you imagine aliens as friendly or deadly-scary?
- In theaters: February 24, 1979
- On DVD or streaming: January 1, 2002
- Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Adventures, Great Girl Role Models, Robots, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi violence/gore and language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.