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Face-Off: Aliens vs. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Nice to see you again, fans of the cinema! This is the Face-Off, where two movies enter and both movies leave, but one leaves in a slightly better light. Yes, here we take two competitors and compare their key elements and see who comes out the champion. It's a fierce competition that results in blood, tears, and online arguments, but the more brutal the battle, the sweeter the victory.

This week sees the release of Marvel's first-ever female-led solo superhero movie, CAPTAIN MARVEL, with Brie Larson in the starring role While we have yet to see the movie it's a fantastic step forward for the franchise and has the added benefit of making us recall some of the other incredible leading ladies to don a super suit or pick up a gun and fight the same fight the men have been for decades. With that in mind, we will be looking at two movies that star two of the most fascinating, complex and badass female action heroes in movie history, both of which are featured in two of the best movie sequels of all time: It's ALIENS vs. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. 

The first movie in the bout is the sequel to the sci-fi classic ALIEN from Ridley Scott, with James Cameron taking on the new outing and switching things from straight horror to a more action-heavy approach. The results are arguably better than what Scott did, and at the center of it all is a stirring performance from Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, one of the greatest movie heroes ever. Next, we have TERMINATOR 2, also directed by Cameron and yet another sequel that stands above its predecessor in terms of scope, style and everything else. While Schwarzenegger's name is above the title, Linda Hamilton turns in a commanding, career-defining performance as Sarah Connor.

Both of these movies are iconic and timeless for several reasons, including impressive visuals, showstopping action and incredible performances from their leading ladies. But which wins the battle of sci-fi sequel showdown? Scroll down to find out. 

The Ensemble

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
Michael Biehn as Corporal Dwayne Hicks
Paul Reiser as Carter Burke
Bill Paxton as Private Hudson
Lance Henriksen as Bishop
Carrie Henn as Newt
William Hope as Lieutenant Gorman
Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasquez
Al Matthews as Sergeant Apone

Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator/T-800
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor
Edward Furlong as John Connor
Robert Patrick as T-1000
Joe Morton as Miles Bennett Dyson
Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman

The Cameron

Cameron probably deserves this point for having to deal with such an infamous production shoot, one that found him dealing with problems over tea breaks, quitting crew members, and a crew at the famous Pinewood Studios that simply didn’t take him seriously. But as the director would go on to prove over the decades, he is one that proves through the thickest of trials that he knows what he’s doing and that it’s all for the benefit of the film. But where he gets a point is not only for his perseverance through a production more terrifying than the movie itself, he also does for operating at his boldest level in his entire career. Sure he did amazing things with big-budget movies like T2, TITANIC and AVATAR, but with ALIENS he entered a series not started by himself and not a ton of clout, but still said: “No, we’re changing style completely or you can walk out the f**king door.” Taking the horror film approach of the original and turning it into an action flick with Vietnam themes was an undeniably bold move that paid off unbelievably well, thanks for his uncanny ability to marry shocking sci-fi terror with intense, no-holds-barred action. While that combo elevates the movie on a visceral level, Cameron is not one to leave his movies mindless and soulless, and while crafting the action and effects-heavy sequences manages to keep alive the heart of the story – Ripley and her motherly protection of Newt – throughout the whole thing. ALIENS has so much going for it as it plays with genres and themes, and Cameron is smart enough and creative enough to nail each level.

As for T2, you may notice another checkmark at the top. Here, Cameron worked with a WAY larger budget, making for, at that time, the most expensive movie ever made (unadjusted for inflation). A big budget doesn’t always mean a good movie (*cough* too many movies to mention in one “cough” *cough*), but Cameron, as said before, is too smart and too good a filmmaker to let it all go to waste. He isn’t managing as complex or layered of a story as he was with ALIENS, but he more than makes up for it by displaying far more confidence behind the camera (was it even possible for him to have more?) and showcasing a stronger visceral punch this time around. Even compared to modern action masterpieces like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT, T2 remains the masterclass in heightening the action and moving it across locations like the flow of a mighty, bloody river. Take the sequence that starts in the mall, with T-1000 hunting Connor, made more intense with the “which android is there to kill him” element, pepper in some arresting visuals (the rose box), all for it to migrate seamlessly into the flood-tunnel chase, which to this day remains one of the most impressive, satisfying action set pieces put to film. If ALIENS was about reinventing a wheel, TERMINATOR 2 is about upping the ante in every department, including character work, thoughtfulness, sci-fi elements and visual flair, and Cameron, once again proving his genius, made yet another one of the best sequels ever.

Script

As I said before ALIENS is just a thematically enriching sequel as it is a viscerally engaging one, and lies in Cameron’s script that balances a large, likable ensemble cast among the chaos. Centering the story around a group of Marines and Ripley, we get a story that fits right into the action-terror angle by keeping things contained on a key group of people, all of whom you can fall in love with once they hit the screen. As they venture through the story the Vietnam themes become clear, with a group of soldiers armed to the teeth with high-tech weaponry but no caution to back it up, they’re easily overtaken by the foreign enemy who use their cunning to get in close, and in the case of the Xenomorphs, rip them to shreds. That’s just one element of Cameron’s story that makes this a movie worth discussing and re-analyzing, but the most prolific impact is the feminist angle, in which Ripley, having to deal with the endless barrage of mindless or gung-ho men who never listen to her at any turn. Still, she takes charge, extends compassion to Newt, and at the end survives thanks to her tact and intellect. But those are just the more complex elements. If we’re talking pure enjoyability, Cameron proves a king of the movie quotable here, giving Ripley one of the most iconic lines ever, and Bill Paxton’s Hudson just a few more. All the rich layers worth examining are combined in a neat package fueled by a fast-paced story and populated by interesting and entertaining characters.

When it comes to T2, Cameron’s script is more about the purely enjoyable than anything else, but that doesn’t mean it sacrifices smarts to get there. While we all know the story know, Cameron threw people for a loop by making the Terminator the hero this time around, this time saving the human characters as opposed to, well, terminating them. This angle helps establish a more heartfelt connection for the sequel, a bond establishing between Connor and the T-800. That makes for plenty of deadpan humor as Connor begins teaching the T-800 some modern lingo, which when delivered by Schwarzenegger at key moments makes for several of the most quoted movie lines ever – thus proving why this is his best role ever. One of Cameron’s key traits as a writer/director is strong female characters (go next door again), and this movie is no different, expanding on Sarah Connor and turning her into a warrior goddess after experiencing near death in the first movie (a plot device used in last year’s HALLOWEEN, too). She’s tough and tortured, with much of the movie dealing with her own nightmares about the impending Judgement Day, which fuels the latter half of the movie. It’s certainly a bigger story, as to be expected, and expands of the universe Cameron created the decade before with the first TERMINATOR, but I do find the character dynamics and story elements more engaging and layered in ALIENS. Okay, but the script does deserve credit for inspiring millions of “Hasta la vista, baby” uses. 

Leading Heroine

Action movies have been a bit of a boys club throughout the years, but women have still carved out some incredible places among the pack, like Michelle Yeoh in several Hong Kong action flicks, Uma Thurman in KILL BILL, Charlize Theron in MAD MAX and Gal Gadot in WONDER WOMAN. But perhaps the best of the bunch is Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the ALIEN series, most notably in this entry. Waking up 57 years after the events of the original, she’s haunted by the horrors she experienced in the first film, on top of having to deal with folks (almost all men) not taking her seriously. The movie makes this a key theme of the film and gives her character purpose by having her focused on helping the young Newt, becoming a warrior mom by the end. Among all the great characters in the movie, she rises above the rest thanks to a strong arc, more than a few awesome moments and one of the most triumphant finales in movie history. Weaver is excellent through and through, and you don’t even need to watch the other movies to see why she’s one of the best movie heroes ever. 

Sarah Connor deserves a place among the other women mentioned above as one of the great female action heroes, given depth and personality in Cameron’s writing. In T2 we find her more muscular and primal than the first movie, becoming a survivalist bent on getting her son ready for the impending Judgement Day. Like Ripley, she’s surrounded by men in psych ward telling her she’s nuts, only to find a way to break from confinement and make her own way out. She's fierce and electrifying when she's on screen, and given some moments to showcase som real vulnerability that elevates her character above that of a typical action hero. Linda Hamilton is commanding and passionate in the role, and what's unfortuante is that she doesn't get as much time to shine as her bigger, more imposing leading man - who gets the best scenes and the best lines. Sadly, that means her arc doesn't feel as fleshed out as Ripley's, a shame given she is a noteworthy part of the movie and the most interesting character. 

Best Bits & Lines

Lines:

Ripley: "Get away from her, you bitch!"

-----

Hudson: "That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over!"

-----

Hudson: "Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?"
Vasquez: "No. Have you?"

-----

Hudson: "Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen!"

-----

Ripley: "You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."

-----

Hudson: "He's comin' in. I feel safer already."

-----

Bishop: "Not bad for a human."

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Hudson: "Hey, maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!"

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Newt: "We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night... mostly."

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Hicks: "Eat this!"

Bits:

Discovering Ripley

Nightmare with Chest Burster

The Unit

Meet Newt

First Chest Burster!

Xenomorphs Attack

Ripley Gets Her Gun

Paul Resier’s Shady Shit

Ripley vs Facehugger

The Swarm

Xenomorph in the Water

Ripley Goes Hunting

The Queen

Ripley Unleashes Hell

The Queen Implales/Severs Bishop

Ripley Suits Up

Through the AirLock

Lines:

Terminator: "Hasta la vista, baby."

-----

Terminator: "Come with me if you want to live!"

-----

Terminator: "I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle."

----

Terminator: "Chill out, dickwad."
John: "Great! See, you're getting it!"
Terminator: "No problemo."

-----

Terminator: [after shooting guy] "He'll live."

-----

Terminator: [impersonating John] "Hey Janelle, what's wrong with Wolfie? I can hear him barking. Is he all right?"
John's Foster Mom: "Wolfie's fine, honey. Wolfie's just fine. Where are you?"
Terminator: [hangs up] "Your foster parents are dead."

-----

John: "Is it dead?"
Terminator: "Terminated."

-----

John: "You just can't go around killing people."
Terminator: "Why?"

-----

Dr. Silberman: "You broke my arm!"
Sarah: "There are 215 bones in the human body. That's one."

-----

Sarah: [narrating] "Three billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day..."

Bits:

Battle in the Future

Terminator Arrival

Naked Bar Hop

Arrival of the T-1000

The New Sarah Connor

The Box of Roses 

The Chase

Dead Foster Parents

Sarah Escapes

Terminator vs T-1000 in the Psychiatric Center

Hanging Out in the Dessert

Sarah’s Vision

Cutting Open the Arm

Terminator Takes on the Fuzz

Chopper and the Van on the Highway

Terminator vs T-1000 Final Round

T-1000 Boils Up

Goodbye, Terminator

Production Design & Visuals

Cameron may have his hands in the money bags now, getting insane budgets for movies like AVATAR and ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (that movie cost almost $200 million!), but he was still in the low-budget territory with ALIENS. Still, a student of the Roger Corman way of moviemaking he made every penny count, and ALIENS is rich with stunning, terrifying production details that range from effective, moody lighting to effects and costumes the have proven timeless over three decades later. You can throw a facehugger and hit and a jaw-dropping piece of scenery, with numerous alone in the opening moments. You got the ship and the laser-equipped door opener, all in a scene made better thanks to intricate lighting blending light against the dark surfaces. But no conversation about this movie is complete without addressing the amazing work by Stan Winston and the visual effects team working on the designs of the Xenomorphs, the loader suit and the incredible, intricate alien queen. Everything is so detailed and life-like, which is both terrifying and wondrous. Rewatching the movie makes me yearn for the days of blockbusters filled with practical effects and designs, and ALIENS proves just how far you can take things with a relatively small budget. 

TERMINATOR 2 also sports some Oscar-winning visual effects, with Cameron not losing his touch for practicality with an opening, apocalyptic stage setter featuring massive ships and robots with big guns. Much of that is still in play throughout the movie, like with T-800’s robot skeleton showing through as he takes damage, and when he exposes his arm by cutting open his arm in that gnarly, awesome moment. Much of the effects budget was likely spent creating that liquid metal making up the T-1000, which is showcased in a variety of ways. He can form simple blade objects, morph into other humans, and reshape himself from a melted form. It still looks good upon a rewatch, but the problem with big digital effects like this is they tend to not age as well when compared to the modern effects that bombard our eyeballs. This is a small gripe, as the digital effects have aged here better than on, say, THE PHANTOM MENACE, but ALIENS' effects hold up even better – made more impressive by the smaller budget and emphasis on practical design. 

Musical Mastery

I mentioned how Cameron had a helluva time working on ALIENS, and composer James Horner’s time on the movie was no less easy. Coming into score the movie before it was even done, he often clashed with Cameron and didn’t have the time he needed to get the movie score to where it needed to be. But sometimes difficult circumstances lead to amazing results, and Horner’s score for ALIENS masterfully captures the sudden terror, ominous setting and overall intensity of the movie. He may have had only a short time to compose the score, but there’s a richness to the layers of individual pieces as they move between different styles to match the movie’s quick turns from horror to action. This is a score where you can find ethereal, mysterious tracks fit to play with an image of a ship floating through space, all before getting into screeching, unsettling tracks to play with alien carnage. The music is befitting of a movie that blends terror, sci-fi and action, and always puts the most perfect of touches to any moment.

For the TERMINATOR 2 score Brad Fiedel blends the kind of synth score that made the original BLADE RUNNER’s score such a masterwork with the heavy-duty, militarized action scores that defined the 80s and would go into the 90s. It’s a fine score, and one that adds an undeniable energy to the action pieces, but simply put, none of it really blows upon a rewatch/relisten. Several pieces have an impactful, heavy sound the underscores the impending doom of Judgement Day, which makes for the opening theme that sets the stage. But from there nothing else makes it hold a candle to Horner’s work on ALIENS, which is ever-evolving and never fails to elicit emotion.

Sci-Fi Action

ALIENS lives up to the promise all 80s action movies should, which is big guns, big egos and completely over-the-top action at every chance it gets. Evolved from real weapons the guns the Marines handle are absurd in every sense of the word but make incredible sounds when they take another Xenomorph’s life. Elevating the action above sheer carnage is the added layer of shock and terror that often kickstarts the shooting, with aliens making sudden appearances to the tune of Horner’s score. The action is well choreographed, well-shot, and as entertaining as you could ever want. My only gripe with it, and really my only minor gripe with the movie as a whole? The fact these big guns take down the Xenomorphs so easily is a bit disappointing in the sense these creatures are indeed so dangerous. When the aliens are able to overcome the Marines it’s through sheer force of numbers, which makes for more terror and terrific production values, but ever so slightly dims the intimidation of the creatures. Still, it’s a very, very minor dent for me in a movie that is flawless in virtually every way.

This, this is where TERMINATOR 2 rises above not only ALIENS but most action movies in general. Even compared to modern action masterpieces the action in T2 is on a level all its own, as Cameron and his stunt team leap fearlessly into the relentless action that blurs the line between reality and fiction. I mentioned the flood tunnel chase before, but on top of that, the scene is rivaled by the climax, which starts in the Cyberdyne building, and moves onto the highway in an always-thrilling chase between a helicopter and a police van. Across these massive set pieces is a firm sense of logic and placement that makes the action both structurally fascinating and endlessly entertaining. Upon rewatching the movie for this I am amazed at how long I’m still thinking about the action sequences after it’s ended. My stomach is in a perpetual knot of anxiety thanks to the sheer level of excitement certain moments operate on. Almost three decades later nothing about the unbridled action scenes loses luster.

Legacy

Upon its release ALIENS was met with universal praise, many ranking it alongside GODFATHER PART II and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as one of the best sequels of all time – of not the best. In the decades since that distinction holds, and ALIENS is fondly looked back on as one of the greatest sequels ever, thanks in large part to the shifting approach to an action movie and a perfect performance from Weaver. There are classic lines to be quoted (“Get away from her, you bitch”; “Game over, man!”) and scenes to reference (Ripley vs. Queen), to the point where you can’t blame anyone for knowing a lot about this entry and nothing about the first or the ones after. So much holds up so well, and it is often ranked as one of the best movies ever, with IMDb readers ranking it as the 68th best movie ever, and Empire magazine currently having it as #15 (updated yearly). A cherry on top is Weaver’s nomination for Best Actress, a nomination that’s considered a milestone given the Academy often ignores movies like this outside of the tech realm. 

Everything about ALIENS that holds up today goes the same for T2, if not moreso. There are more lines to be quoted (“Hasta la vista”; “Come with me…”; “I need your clothes…”) and scenes to fondly remember (flood tunnel; rose box; anything with liquid metal), and all wrapped in a neat little bundle that hasn’t aged a day. Not as critically beloved as ALIENS to an exact level, T2 is still regarded as one of the best sequels of all time, to the point where you’re more likely to find people who love this one more than the first. The movie was a cultural behemoth when it came out, capitalizing on Arnold’s super stardom and going on to make over $500 million around the world. In terms of ranking, IMDb users rank it #43, AFI has Terminator at number #48 on their “Best Hero” list AND #77 on their “100 Years, 100 Thrills List” AND #8 on Top 10 Sci-Fi movies (the first ALIEN beats it at #7). Simply put, this is one blockbuster that has lost none if its appeal over 28 years. 

Awards, Praise & Money

Awards:

Oscars:

Winner:

  • Best Sound Effects Editing
  • Best Visual Effects

Nominee:

  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: Sigourney Weaver
  • Best Score: James Horner
  • Best Editing
  • Best Sound
  • Best Art Direction

Golden Globes:

Nominee:

  • Best Actress in Motion Picture - Drama: Sigourney Weaver

**18 Wins & 23 Nominations per IMDb**

 

Praise:

Rotten Tomatoes: 99% (94% Audience Score)

Metacritic: 84 (9.0 Audience)

IMDb: 8.4 (Top Rated Movie #68)

 

Money:

$85 million ($131 million globally)

Awards:

Oscars:

Winner:

  • Best Sound Effects Editing
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Sound
  • Best Makeup

Nominee:

  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Editing

**31 Wins & 33 Nominations per IMDb**

 

Praise:

Rotten Tomatoes: 93% (94% Audience Score)

Metacritic: 75 (9.1 Audience)

IMDb: 8.5 (Top Rated Movie #43)

 

Money:

$204 million ($520 million globally)

ALIENS

TERMINATOR 2, dollars to donuts, is the more entertaining movie of the two. It's got a stronger sense of humor, action and heart, on top of excellent performances from Hamilton and Schwarzenegger. It deserves every ounce of praise it still gets as one of the best movie sequels ever. However, ALIENS is just as great on as many fronts, as well as being superior when it comes to its visual effects and designs, music and a script from Cameron that delivers a story worthy of countless re-examinations. As well, Weaver turns in a performance for the ages as Ellen Ripley, arguably the ultimate movie heroine who's complex, engaging, tough and not one to be f**ked with. T2 may have the thrills and quotes over ALIENS, but the latter is no slouch in those departments either and benefits from being the smarter, more well-rounded movie. Whatever your preference, there is no wrong answer to which you prefer more because, in the game of sci-fi movies and sequels, both of these movies ranks far above much of the rest. 

*Years ago our own Brian Bitner did a segment on Sarah Connor vs. Ellen Ripley, so click here to find out the result of that Face-Off!*

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