12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Aliens'

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Vote up the behind-the-scenes facts from 'Aliens' that deepen your appreciation of the sci-fi classic.

Universally regarded as one of the best sequels ever made, James Cameron's Aliens (1986) achieved the rare feat of distinguishing itself from its illustrious predecessor while not violating the world and tone the first film created. From Ridley Scott's brilliant haunted-house-in-space concept, Cameron pivoted to a brutally intense military sci-fi action flick. The fulcrum of this pivot was Sigourney Weaver, who provided continuity between the two pictures.

The shoot was anything but smooth going, though. From casting problems to budgetary concerns to an outright crew mutiny, Aliens had challenges right out of the gate. It's a testament to the singular vision of Cameron and his then-wife, producer Gale Anne Hurd, as well as the commitment of the superlative cast, that it all turned out as well as it did.

Aliens is one for the ages. Here's how it actually got done.

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    613 VOTES

    The Queen Was A 14-Foot-Tall Masterpiece Of Puppetry That Required 16 Operators

    Writer/director James Cameron knew he had to bring something new to the table with the Alien sequel, and just adding more Xenomorphs wasn't enough. In the final act, we meet that "something new" - the Alien Queen.

    In 1985, of course, CGI wasn't an option for bringing such a monstrosity to life. The only way to make a large creature like this - at least without resorting to miniatures - was with puppetry. Cameron called upon the puppet master himself, special effects legend Stan Winston, to make the queen a reality.

    Cameron had a clear vision of how he wanted the queen to look, and presented it to Winston in drawings and even a painting. "He was one of the most talented artists I ever had working for me," Winston joked in the DVD commentary. The first test model Winston's team tried out, "the garbage bag test," was a far cry from the finished article, but it proved the concept could work. 

    The puppet was one of the masterpieces of Winston's storied career (a later highlight would be the T. rex from Jurassic Park). It was 14 feet tall and required 16 operators to articulate it.

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    Sigourney Weaver Gave A Bouquet To Each Actor On The Day Their Character Perished

    If James Cameron was the driven visionary determined to will Aliens into being, Sigourney Weaver was the heart and soul of the set - the glue that kept it all together. By all accounts, she was well-loved by the other cast members.

    "Sigourney was so nice," Bill Paxton recalled on the DVD commentary. "I thought, gee, I must be screwing up, 'cause she was so nice to me all the time, but I realized she was really just a genuinely nice person... She was the leader of the cast, absolutely."

    An example of Weaver's above-and-beyond niceness was her habit of "congratulating" actors on the day their characters' deaths would be filmed. Weaver recalled:

    There were a lot of deaths and I gave a bouquet to each character the day they were killed; it was like "Oh that's your day today! You get killed today!" It was fun giving Paul Reiser [who played Burke] his bouquet; I just gave him a bunch of dead flowers.

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    419 VOTES

    The Aliens Were Played By Dancers In Spandex

    Although various sophisticated special effects techniques were used to bring the aliens to life, the filmmakers weren't above using an old-fashioned standby: people in suits.

    In order to make the aliens appear to move fluidly, the producers hired dancers to portray them in motion. Additionally, the costumes were made to be more lightweight and flexible than the rubber suit worn by the first movie's Bolaji Badejo, who had been cast for his body type (extremely tall and skinny) more than for his experience or skill set.

    Winston admitted in a Fangoria interview that he had been let down by the shots of the Xenomorph in the climax of the first Alien: "They had this wonderful monster that you hardly saw throughout the entire film. And when it's finally blown out of the hatch, you get a man in a suit..."

    "What we had to do, because Jim wanted to do a lot of very interesting moves with the warrior aliens, was we came up with a technique to create the suit that really involved a lot of spandex and pieces on it," recalled Winston in the DVD commentary. "[There was] an enormous amount of wire work for all of these stunt alien performers, which required that the alien costumes be extremely user-friendly."

    Winston used every possible trick to make the Xenomorphs seem less human and more, well, alien - from wire harnesses and fast-motion camera speeds (called "undercranking") to additional mechanical parts. "We even redesigned the hands and fingers so that they're longer than the original," he told Fangoria.

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    459 VOTES

    James Cameron Later Felt Bad About His Portrayal Of Marines

    The Colonial Marines in Aliens, while basically competent at their jobs, aren't exactly the most disciplined team. They display open contempt for the officer commanding them, Lt. Gorman, and they casually disregard orders - as when Vasquez starts firing her weapon at the aliens in the atmosphere processor, despite Gorman's explicit mandate only to use flamethrowers.

    Their arrogance also leads them to underestimate the Xenomorphs and barely pay attention to Ripley's warning about the creatures' capabilities.

    "I knew nothing about the US Marine Corps," James Cameron admitted in the DVD commentary. "I now know an awful lot more... and they are much more disciplined than these people. And I just would like to apologize to any Marines who happen to be listening. We did not get that part of it right. These guys are definitely Vietnam-era regular Army."

    However, there was one authentic Marine in the movie - Sgt. Apone, played by Al Matthews. Matthews served with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam, where he received two Purple Hearts. His military expertise was apparent to the other cast members. "He seemed like he knew what he was doing," Bill Paxton recalled. "His orders were so authoritarian that we followed him."