Are you in the mood for a perfect movie trailer? Look no further than the trailer for the 1986 masterpiece Aliens:
The first time I saw this trailer was on a VHS copy of Aliens: Special Edition, which includes deleted scenes that were left out of the theatrical cut. The trailer came on just before the feature film itself, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to whet my appetite for the film I was about to see. Seriously, I can’t watch it without yearning to watch the movie itself. It’s that good.
So I’m going to talk about what makes the trailer for Aliens so perfect.
It Doesn’t Explicitly Reference the First Film
I imagine the decision not to mention Alien in this trailer was because they wanted to distance Aliens from that film. They didn’t want fans of the original to think that more of the same was in store for them. Aliens has a completely different feel from its predecessor, which is something this trailer captures perfectly.
The only reference, however oblique, is in its title and tagline: “Aliens: This time it’s war.” That lets the audience know that there was a time before this, and that there is going to be more than one alien this time around. It’s a bold move to let this film stand on its own and not depend on past greatness to sell this sequel. I can’t imagine other sequels following suit.
Compare the trailer for Aliens to the teaser and full trailer for Alien3. They explicitly reference both Alien and Aliens and definitely don’t have the same power or intensity as Aliens’.
It must have been tempting to add a voiceover throughout the trailer, or at least at the beginning. It probably would have been an epic voice that said, “Lt. Ripley was the sole survivor of her crew in mankind’s first encounter with the alien. Now, she and a squad of elite warriors are gearing up to face off with hordes of aliens.” And then the image flashes of Ripley telling Newt, “These people are here to protect you. They’re soldiers,” followed by Newt ominously saying, “It won’t make any difference.” Then cut to nonstop action sequences.
But then it would have felt a lot like the trailer for Die Hard 2:
I like Die Hard 2, but the voiceover guy in that trailer feels a little annoying. Just get out of the way and let everyone else do the talking, okay, buddy?
The trailer for Aliens, thankfully, lets the characters speak for themselves, giving us a few choice lines here and there. A voiceover guy does show up at the end, just to say the movie title and tagline, and that’s it.
It Builds Suspense
Don’t you just love the way this trailer takes the time to build suspense and also let itself breathe? So many trailers come across as loud, brash, and desperate to grab your attention, but this one is effortlessly arresting the whole way through. It never feels forced; it feels intense and scary. The buildup to the attack on the Marines is flawlessly handled, making us feel claustrophobic and terrified of the unseen yet encroaching danger of the aliens.
Then, after showing us glimpses of aliens and exciting action set pieces, the trailer does something so smart. It quiets down for a moment and lets us breathe. It introduces the idea that the aliens aren’t just some mindless killing force, but an extremely intelligent and calculating enemy that knows how to cut the power and get past the humans’ defenses.
When was the last time you saw a movie trailer that actually got your heart pumping and your adrenaline rushing? Most trailers for action films in the past few years just blur together for me into one generic heap. Not so with Aliens. The final few seconds, when the Alien Queen emerges and surprises everyone, are absolutely amazing. The music and visuals come together to form a beautiful crescendo of suspense and excitement that leaves me on the edge of my seat.
Compare that to the trailer for Predator, which is never really captivating. Its music doesn’t build to a fever point and the voiceover once again gets in the way:
James Horner’s Influential Score
The late James Horner famously composed the score for Aliens at breakneck speed. Because of delays in the film’s schedule, even a rough cut wasn’t ready until very late in the game. Being a young, hungry composer, Horner bravely pushed ahead, turning out one of his best scores – and that’s saying something.
His score for Aliens is used extremely well in this trailer, especially in the final seconds. He did such a good job that other films used his music cues in their trailers, as well, most notably 1994’s Timecop:
The music is great, but the trailer doesn’t have the same punch as the one for Aliens.
A Cut Above
I don’t think I’ve ever focused on movie trailers in an article before. The fact is, Aliens is one of my favorite movies, and I love the way its trailer captures so much of what makes the movie great. It doesn’t even have any major spoilers, except showing Newt. Even then, it doesn’t give away the significance of her character to Ripley. Sometimes trailers don’t give an accurate idea of what their films are going to be like. Aliens’ trailer gives a perfect preview of what the film is. In my opinion, movie trailers don’t get any better than this.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All trailers are the copyright of their owners.
Very good review! I feel the same way.
Have you seen the Aliens rap? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcLTaMpRl2o
Thank you very much! I had never seen that rap before. That’s pretty awesome.
And to think, not one BWWWWAAAAAHHHHHH
Yeah, I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of the trailer for Alien. I understand that it’s classic, but that blaring alarm sound gets a bit tiresome.
Have you read this from the New Yorker:
It’s about the rise of the BWWWAAAHHH – very interesting. The author attributes it to Hans Zimmer, along with the “vaguely ethnic wail” made popular in the noughties by Gladiator.
Have you watched the trailer of ‘American Sniper’ ? I think it qualifies well as heart pounding. Would be awesome if you would check out my views on trailers in which I pick out my favourite trailers and list out the vices of trailers when you have time. Here’s the link https://demandedcriticalreviews.wordpress.com/2015/07/25/top-11-movie-trailers-why-trailers-are-not-doing-their-job/