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Ridley Scott’s Alien is widely heralded as one of the greatest movies of all time and certainly one of the best films that fused the horror and sci-fi genres. The film’s tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream,” was particularly fitting in describing the sense of terror and claustrophobia that pervades the film’s runtime.

Given its success, Alien spawned many sequels, spin-offs and even video games that would ultimately vary in success and quality. What Alien managed to achieve, however, was to birth the sci-fi horror genre by placing its audience in a world that was unknown to them — strange, terrifying, hell, alien.

The film follows the crew of the Nostromo spaceship, who discover a distress signal from a strange alien spacecraft. Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, leads the team in investigating the signal. They eventually find one of the creepiest horror antagonists of all time, in the shape of a ‘xenomorph’, which begins its life as a small creature but evolves into a towering behemoth that stalks the Nostromo, taking out its crew one by one.

One fascinating facet of information surrounding the casting of Alien was that Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusset – who wrote the film’s story – had primarily focused on developing the alien rather than the crew of the Nostromo. The writing duo had written all of the roles of the crew generically rather than explicitly stating their backgrounds.

Shusset once said: “The crew is unisex, and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” The benefit of this was that Ridley Scott could interpret the characters as he wished and cast the actors to play them according to his own vision. Scott himself was able to write the backstories – including their genders – of the characters and even the lead role of Ripley. A further upshot of this uniqueness was that audiences were able to identify with the characters in the film because of their generality.

American film critic Roger Ebert once noted the unique nature of the cast, stating: “None of them were particularly young. Tom Skerritt, the captain, was 46, Hurt was 39 but looked older, Holm was 48, Harry Dean Stanton was 53, Yaphet Kotto was 42, and only Veronica Cartwright at 30 and Weaver at 28 were in the age range of the usual thriller cast.”

He added, “Many recent action pictures have improbably young actors cast as key roles or sidekicks, but by skewing older, Alien achieves a certain texture without even making a point of it: These are not adventurers but workers, hired by a company to return 20 million tons of ore to Earth.”

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