One critic called it “as difficult to sit through as a Black Mass sung in Latin.”
It’s not uncommon for movies that end up becoming fan-favorite classics to get trashed upon their initial release, which makes one wonder if we tend to need a little distance from movies before we can truly appreciate them. Take John Carpenter’s The Thing, for example. Today, it’s widely considered to be one of the best horror movies ever made, and a high watermark for practical effects. When it was released back in ’82, however, many critics hated it. And it didn’t do well at the box office. Almost hard to imagine, isn’t it?
Another classic sci-fi/horror film that wasn’t so well received when it came out? Ridley Scott’s Alien, which was trashed by critics well before Prometheus became the subject of a whole lot of scorn in 2012. The website Strange Shapes collected together many of those negative reviews from back in the day, and we wanted to share some of them with you today.
What did critics think of Alien back in ’79? Let’s head into the time machine to find out.
“An empty-headed horror movie with nothing to recommend it beyond the disco-inspired art direction and some handsome, if gimmicky, cinematography.” – Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
“A horrid film, skillful and studied in its nastiness, and there is little the cast can do to mitigate its manipulative horror.” – Film Illustrated
“Has the usual number of inconsistencies, improbabilities and outright absurdities characteristic of the sci-fi and horror genres.” – John Simon
“[An] empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery can not disguise imaginative poverty.” – Time Out
“Unlike Star Wars, Alien has no affection for past movies of its genre; it just rips them off. Stripped of its futuristic setting and pretensions, this film is an oldtime B monster picture. Alien might just as well be about a huge scorpion loose in a haunted house, circa 1953. The toothy alien is no fun: his ever changing appearance summons up everyone’s worst fantasies about shellfish.” – Time
“An overblown B-movie… technically impressive but awfully portentous and as difficult to sit through as a Black Mass sung in Latin … Alien, like Dawn of the Dead, only scares you away from the movies.” – Michael Sragow, L.A. Herald Examiner
“Occasionally one sees a film that uses the emotional resources of movies with such utter cynicism that one feels sickened by the medium itself. Alien … is so ‘effective’ it has practically turned me off movies altogether.” – David Denby, New York
Of course, not all critics were as dismissive of what Ridley Scott brought to the table with Alien, but it’s interesting to look back and see how many of them initially wrote off a film that would go on to become one of the all-time greats. What’s perhaps even more interesting is that many of those Alien criticisms are much the same as the 2012 criticisms for Prometheus. Both films were widely panned for having boring characters that made dumb decisions, as well as for plot developments that made little sense – so maybe there’s hope yet for Prometheus in the court of public opinion.
Maybe we just need more distance.