In some respects, it was impossible for Alien vs. Predator to ever actually win over fans. Sure, it could have been better, but before it ever hit theaters, we had already seen it a thousand times in our heads. It’s one of the most bizarre studio event films in history because it had an entire franchise’s worth of tie-ins over a decade before the film was actually made. But the origins of Aliens vs. Predator are incredibly easy to trace.
Like other pop culture crossover phenomena, this began with a simple Easter Egg. In Predator 2, director Stephen Hopkins thought it would be fun if in the Predator’s trophy room they included the skull of a Xenomorph from Aliens. They had the rights, after all. Both franchises were owned by 20th Century Fox and Stan Winston, who designed the creatures for Aliens also worked on both Predator 1 and 2. They threw a Xenomorph skull on the wall, just to see if anyone would notice. And by God, people did.
Even in 1990, predating the Internet, fans began speculating on what the inclusion of the skull could mean. Did the Predators regularly hunt the Aliens? How long had this been going on? How often did the two species fight, and of those fights who was the more frequent victor?
These questions would take years to answer on film. But, given that both franchises resided under the same roof, it was a question that was readily explored time and time again in as many forms as possible throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The original incarnation of Aliens vs. Predator, the story that really cemented this idea’s potential as a pop culture powerhouse, was a mini-series published by Dark Horse Comics. Simply titled Aliens vs. Predator, it was the self-titled album that kicked off a great brand.
Set on the backwater planet of Ryushi, the comic series depicted the planet as a breeding ground for Xenomorphs, set up by the Predators as a Big Game Preserve. Only now a newly founded colony is trapped in the crossfire. Perhaps the best thing about the series is that it gave us a kick-ass Asian heroine named Machiko Naguchi who becomes not only the first human Predator, but the first female Predator we had ever seen at the time.
The comic was a huge success and was followed by a sequel miniseries in 1993, as well as a brand-new series written by comic book legend Chris Claremont titled Aliens/Predator: Deadliest of the Species. While the idea of combining these two franchises was becoming more and more widespread, AVP mania didn’t truly begin in earnest until 1994.
This was the year that put the Aliens vs. Predator combination on the map in a huge way. In this single year, we saw two comic miniseries, two novels, two video games and an action figure series.
The trilogy of Aliens vs. Predator novels tell a singular story that is surprisingly strong. The first and third are based off the original comic miniseries and its follow-up Aliens vs. Predator: War. The middle book is totally original, though it carries on from the same characters and same basic story as the original book. The plot of Hunter’s Planet revolves around just that: a planet that is designed as a big game preserve, with everything from dinosaurs to a tucked-away hive of Xenomorphs. It’s the perfect environment to drop the Predators into the middle of. Plus, I love the conceit that Machiko—after having lived with the Predators—now has to deal with the fact that this time they’re coming to hunt the humans, not the Aliens.
In middle school, these books were everything. I read them over and over and I still consider this trilogy to be the definitive AVP story.
My fondest memories, however, lie with the toy series. One of the first toys I ever remember buying was the Bull Alien from the Kenner Aliens line. Initially the Aliens toys were designed to coincide with an animated series that never actually made it to the screen. Instead, they expanded into a line of Predator toys as well and featured two-pack collector’s sets that depicted the two iconic monsters going head to head. I’m clearly not the only one nostalgic for these figures as NECA recently went back to create new versions of some of the classic 1994 toy designs.
With figures like Snake Alien, Mantis Alien and Spike-Tail Predator, the toys were often incredibly different from their on-screen counterparts. But for a monster kid like me, that expansion was part of the fun. The toys made the shared universe of these characters seem so much bigger than it had ever appeared in the films. I have distinct memories of creating all sorts of different scenarios for the ongoing war between the two species, from the makeshift hive in my bedroom (the recipe for which consisted of an X-Men Danger Room play set embossed with some off-brand Nickelodeon slime ) to the wild Predator jungle of my back yard.
That is part of what made the movie so hard to accept as an eventual reality. It was not just a story I’d read a dozen different ways, but one I’d already told a thousand times on my own.
Of course, if anyone knows of AVP outside of the movies, chances are they know about it through video games. Even though some were made for systems I never actually owned, I’ve had the chance to play almost all of them at this point. The first of them was an arcade game titled Alien vs. Predator that was a simple side-scrolling beat-em-up similar to the X-Men and Spider-Man arcade games that were popular at the time. You play as a Predator and beat your way through hordes of Aliens. The gameplay was simple, yet satisfying. This game was also ported over to the SNES for players at home.
Aliens vs. Predator really made a mark for itself in the video game world with the release of a PC game in 1999. This immersive first-person shooter allowed for total fan wish fulfillment by allowing players to be either a Colonial Marine, Predator, or Alien depending on preference. It was like three wildly interesting games in one, as each came with their own individualized story and skill sets. The Predator was the most fun for me, not simply because it had the best weaponry and could turn invisible, but because as a fan it was cool enough just to be able to sit their and toggle through all of those vision modes that the Predators would embrace in the films.
This was followed up with an even better PC game in Aliens vs. Predator 2, which even now stands as an absolute high mark in the Alien vs. Predator legacy. Improved gameplay, improved graphics, better story—all that and allowed the option of online play and the ability to play as several different kinds of Aliens and Predators, including the Alien Queen.
Just before the release of the movie, we saw a game for PS2/Xbox titled Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction that was honestly pretty bad. It was a very different thing from what fans of the PC games had been used to. The gameplay was limited, frustrating, and ultimately very short.
But it didn’t dampen my excitement for the property. Aliens vs. Predator was a franchise on its own, one that I had grown up with and one that I had always loved dearly, all before it ever resulted in a feature film. I always knew it was coming, of course. As a horror fan, reading so many rejected scripts for Freddy vs. Jason, I often thought that one would never see the light of day. But I never doubted that Alien vs. Predator would make it to the screen.
I had just stupidly, somewhat naively always assumed that it would adapt the story I was used to. When it began casting, I was confused as to why there was no sign of Machiko Naguchi, why the film appeared to be set on Earth—in Antarctica, no less. And admittedly, some of those things I still don’t understand. I’ve always thought that with both species being aliens, space would be the common ground. It would be easier to inject Predators into an Alien movie than to try and inject Aliens into a Predator movie.
But the 2004 film instead sought to shoe-horn both species into H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, a bizarre choice that ultimately didn’t pay off. I was still incredibly excited to see it in theaters, even if I had my reservations about the plot. When I sat down to watch it, I was confused by all the things that did make it into the finished product that stemmed from the original comic series. The notion of Predators breeding Xenomorphs to hunt, the idea of a surviving woman teaming up with a Predator and being marked by him as one of their own, the climactic final battle with the Queen—all of that stemmed from the source material, so why not just actually adapt it instead of including random elements?
I don’t have answers for that. Like much of Paul W.S. Anderson’s work, I think Alien vs. Predator works as exactly what it’s supposed to be: a popcorn movie. But by the time that feature hit theaters, I was already intimately aware with how a fight between the two species would actually go down. I knew exactly what Alien vs. Predator was supposed to look like, even though the books and comics I’d read had all had wildly different stories. There had always been a core concept that I gravitated to, one that I loved deeply as a child and still continue to have a great fondness for to this day.
I do not think that the box office and critical failure of these features mean that the two titles do not belong together. Quite the contrary. I’ve always associated Alien and Predator with one another as franchises. I’ve always put the two together in my head. They’ve been together since before I even reached kindergarten and, yes, they might experience a healthy separation every now and then, but they always get back together at the end of the day.
Maybe more than any two franchises to ever go head-to-head there’s something about Aliens vs. Predator that just feels right. The ultimate hunter breeds the ultimate prey. A creature that won’t kill anything unarmed takes on the ultimate living weapon, just for the sport of it. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter. They’re just two great tastes that taste great together.
I have faith that there is a way to bring these characters together on screen in a way that would satisfy fans. By the time Anderson made his movie, the crossover already had ten years of history. That’s a lot of great material to pick and choose from. In that time and the decade plus since, Alien vs. Predator has existed in many different forms. From comics, to novels, to toys and games and beyond. And if it continues on in just one of those incarnations, that will be a success.
I’d like to think we’ll see another attempt at a big screen crossover someday, even if I’m the only one at this point. But it’ll be a long time coming if it ever does happen. Even still, we’re getting a new Alien movie and a new Predator movie almost back-to-back. That’s not only good enough, it’s astonishing. If the legacy of both characters is being carried on, that’s enough. That will always be enough. Whoever wins…