The best movie monster doesn’t even need to exist. Aliens, James Cameron’s bigger, action-forward 1986 sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 space horror classic, fulfilled the requirements of its title simply by featuring more than one of the titular beasties. And it had plenty more than one, pitting series heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a team of marines against dozens of cosmic killing machines over the course of the film’s first three quarters. But Cameron, whose superhuman pacing abilities are underrated (perhaps because of his penchant for three-hour runtimes), recognized that in order to one-up Scott’s original—which ends in a perfectly-calibrated one-on-one duel between Ripley and her alien foe—he would have to call back to his predecessor’s finale while also outdoing it in size and scope.

Enter the Xenomorph Queen. The classic xenomorph, inspired by the designs of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, had some insectile qualities, and these were doubled-down upon for the Queen, who resembles an ant or termite queen both in appearance and behavior. She lurks far in the depths of the overrun space colony facility where most of the action in Aliens takes place, protected by her offspring while pumping out eggs through an ovipositor. She is not, however, helpless, and she is able to detach herself from her egg-laying apparatus in order to protect herself.

The Xenomorph Queen is terrifying to behold even when viewed today, and her appearance in the film works so well because it’s so surprising while also making complete sense. Of course the alien eggs, so strongly established from the very beginning of the first film, would need to come from somewhere. And of course they would come from something big. She also fits into the film thematically; Cameron’s films often deal with maternity as a key theme. Ripley discovers the orphan Newt (Carrie Henn) soon after arriving on the distant moon LV-426, and over the course of the film she becomes her surrogate mother. Ripley finds the Xenomorph Queen after Newt has gone missing, and in order to save her, she has to traverse a room full of the Queen’s deadly eggs.

Yet, even though the Queen is ostensibly the villain, we see how much she cares for her children, and the lengths she’ll go to in order to protect them. When Ripley sets the eggs on fire in order to prevent the aliens’ birth, the Queen disengages and goes on the hunt. The maternal aspects Cameron gives to the Queen (as well as her obvious intelligence) serve to elevate her, and her alien children, from monster to character.

While the Oscar-winning design of the Queen and her introduction are enough to cement her as the best movie monster ever, the film’s climax has kept her on the throne for over 30 years. After a fakeout ending that finds Ripley, Newt, love-interest Hicks (Michael Biehn) and android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) escaping LV-426 as the facility is blown to smithereens, Ripley discovers that the Queen has somehow managed to stow away on their escape vessel. This leads to one of the best fights in cinema history, with Ripley donning a canary yellow exo-suit and going fist to fist (wrench-to-claw?) with the surprisingly agile Queen. In addition to being an adrenaline-pumping throwdown, it’s a weirdly poignant fight, as Ripley has murdered all of the Queen’s children, and the Queen is now simply out for revenge. This revenge, of course, means targeting Newt, which gives us that classic Ripley line, “Get away from her, you bitch!”

That bitch, the Xenomorph Queen, is not only a great film antagonist and creepy, slimy space oddity, she’s the best movie monster ever created. She’s horrifying and creative, sure, and she’s also gigantic, surprising and deadly. But the most striking thing about her is her depth. She’s 15 feet tall and has multiple mouths full of razor-sharp teeth and acid for blood, and she lays eggs filled with murderous, parasitic space squids, but she’s also a sympathetic character, and a worthy adversary for one of cinema’s most iconic heroes.

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One Comment

  1. adi kotler

    January 29, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    The picture at the top is the queen from AVP, not Aliens.

    Reply

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