Alien (1979) Screenplay Analysis

Alien (1979), written by Dan O’Bannon, is perhaps the best horror film that takes place in space. It felt eerily similar to Life (2017), another film that centers around a hostile alien life form and a crew’s attempt to remove it. So, I’m guessing it’s the inspiration for many such horror films, a genre in which I am not well versed in.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: “Revised Final thru Oct. 4, 1978
  • Type: Spec
  • Page Count: 112
  • Reading Speed: Fast
  • Setting(s): Spaceship
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
  • Genre(s): Horror
  • Theme(s): Aliens, Fear, Trust, Robot
  • Protagonist Change: Significant

Overall Thoughts

Another script in which I waited too long to write my analysis (forgetting stuff now). But, let’s jump in anyway.

A while ago I was listening to an episode of The Screenwriting Life podcast and if I recall correctly the guest was Andrew Stanton of Pixar. He recommended every new screenwriter read Alien. He even mentioned reading a specific draft where the action lines were written in “Haikus.”

Well, the action lines aren’t written in Haikus here, but some are pretty close (at least in structure… less so theme). Page 99:

Ripley pauses.

Most of the wires undone.

Ash’s voice slowing.

Here’s another example of the unique writing style (Page 86):

Ripley staggers towards an emergency panel.

At the far end of the corridor.

Pinging sound.

Misty atmosphere.

Tries to activate the door.


Lambert appears other wise of bulkhead.

Actives door from outside.

Rush of oxygen.

Writing the bare minimum that’s necessary, or at least being deliberate in how one writes, creates a relatively fast-paced and in this case extremely vivid read. It’s quite unique.

How about the story? Well, it works for a bunch of reasons, chiefly that it plays on our core fear of… well… fear itself. And it’s a fear that the crew must face because they are stuck on a ship with an alien. And surprisingly for horror, it does pack an emotional punch and asks broader societal questions, as well as showcase human ingenuity.

There are of course some great scenes and sequences as well, particularly when Ash is discovered to be a robot. Timing, pacing, and overall story progression are worthy of separate analyses.

That’s about all I have to say in regard to this screenplay. It’s worth a read because while tight and dare I say formulaic, it’s written in a unique way.