Bizarre things that happened on the set of the Alien movies

In 1979, Ridley Scott created a legendary sci-fi franchise that's still flourishing today. But over the course of the first four Alien movies, the cast and crew have gathered more than a few crazy stories from their time on set. You're not going to get a chestburster without breaking a few ribs, after all. Here are some of the weirdest things that happened on the set of the Alien films.

Nobody in the cast of Alien knew what was going to happen in the chestburster scene

The first time the now iconic alien burst from John Hurt's chest, the audience was completely shocked. Sure, we'd seen aliens, gore, and space violence, but no one expected such a uniquely graphic scene. Turns out, the cast was just as surprised as the movie goers.

Director Ridley Scott didn't tell the cast what was going to happen in the scene. He wanted their reactions to be as real as possible. Sigourney Weaver told The Independent, "All it said in the script was, 'This thing emerges.'" The cast never imagined how it would eventually "emerge" and the crew was simply hoping that it would "emerge" in the way they planned.

Thankfully, it all went according to plan and the cast was legitimately stunned by the alien's first appearance. The chest was full of fake blood and real organs from the butcher, so when that sprayed all over Veronica Cartwright's (Lambert's) face, she passed out. The rest of the cast was just as freaked out and the scene has delightfully disturbed audiences for almost 30 years.

Veronica Cartwright thought she would be playing Ripley in Alien until she got on set

Veronica Cartwright played Lambert in Alien, but thought she'd be playing a much bigger role. When she originally auditioned, she only read for Ripley. Scott came close to casting Cartwright in the lead, but eventually thought Weaver was a better fit. But when Cartwright got the call that she'd be appearing in Alien, she figured it was for Ripley. It was the only part she read for after all. Not until Cartwright got a call from the wardrobe department to schedule a fitting for her Lambert role, did she find out she wasn't playing the lead.

Even Cartwright's agent thought she was going to play Ripley, so now the actress was in London about to start shooting a film for a role she hadn't prepared for. It's completely strange for an actress to almost get to set without knowing what part she's playing, since she'll need time to prepare and hopefully sign a proper contract! Fortunately, Cartwright got into the part very quickly and grew to really enjoy Lambert. Though, she was disappointed that a number of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

John Hurt and Veronica Cartwright were poisoned during the filming of Alien

If being actually poisoned on set isn't bizarre, nothing is. Hurt and Cartwright were filming exterior shots in their full space suits, when a leak sprang from one of the tubes leading to their helmets. Aerosol leaked into their costumes, slowly poisoning them. The two nearly fainted in the shot, but were able to remove their helmets before passing out. 

While the crew insisted that the aerosol couldn't cause any real damage and it was a simple fix, in the commentary track for Alien, Hurt seemed skeptical about how safe the whole operation really was. But, Hurt and Cartwright left the shoot fairly unscathed, though they certainly had some scares along the way.

The crew of Aliens nearly quit in protest

For the sequel, Aliens, James Cameron took over the directing chair and didn't get along well with the British crew. Like the first film, Aliens was shot in London, but with Cameron at the helm (who wasn't used to the British crew's union rules) things got a little tricky. He was a driven director, who needed to prove he could honor the original film, do well with a big studio budget, and he was ready to work around the clock. The crew did not feel the same way, according to Slash Film's report on "Tea Trolley Mutiny."

The British crew was used to a relaxed pace with breaks and fairly long lunches at the pub, so they weren't pleased with Cameron's demanding schedule. In England, the crew's union mandated two tea breaks a day and it didn't matter what they were shooting, when the tea trolley came in, the crew immediately took their break. This infuriated Cameron. 

Combined with Cameron threatening to end tea breaks and his firing of the British assistant director, the crew stopped working in the middle of the day to protest the director's treatment. After a meeting between Cameron and the crew that dragged on for hours, they came to a compromise. Cameron got a little more enthusiasm from the workers and the crew got their tea.

The cast of Aliens had a last minute change because of a drug charge

The cast of Aliens works together so perfectly, it's hard to imagine that one of them was a last minute replacement. The cast rehearsed together for weeks, personalizing their guns and costumes, and trained together to feel like a real team. But James Remar, who was to play Colonel Hicks, had to leave abruptly.

For years, Remar said he left to attend to an emergency at home, but more recently he's told the full story. "I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it. I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit…I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs," Remar told the Sidebar podcast (via Indiewire). Though many Hollywood stars have run ins with drugs it's pretty bizarre to have to leave a huge studio sequel for drug possession charges from another country. It's even more rare for the director to be able to find a worthy replacement.

Michael Biehn got a call from producer Gale Hurd on a Friday to see if it was available to do the film. By Monday, he was on set in London. Though he got almost no prep time, had to jump into a film that already starting film, and the cast had previously bonded with Remar, Biehn gave possibly the best performance of his career.

Bill Paxton got cut during the "knife trick" scene in Aliens

Aliens didn't give the cast quite as big of a surprise as the Alien chestburster scene, but that doesn't mean there weren't a few tricks on the set. Lance Henriksen, Bishop in the film, thought that one of the scenes was a little stagnant and he had an idea on how to liven it up. So, with Cameron's permission, Henriksen grabbed Paxton's hand and performed his "knife trick."

Paxton knew that the "knife trick" would be part of the scene, but thought it would be Henriksen performing it on himself. It wasn't until the cameras rolled that Paxton found out that his hand would be at risk. Usually, if anything dangerous could happen to an actor, the actor is well informed of that beforehand, not suddenly faced with a fast moving blade, so this was a really strange choice. 

Thankfully Henriksen nailed the trick… the first time. Cameron needed another take on the scene but when Henriksen did it in reshoots, he nicked Paxton's pinky. Paxton was okay, but probably a little shy about any knife scenes in his future films.

The original director of Alien 3 wrote his own version of the script before walking off the film

After Alien and Aliens, Alien 3 had to live up to some pretty high expectations. Unfortunately, Fox couldn't decide on how to approach the third installment. They went through draft after draft, including ideas of Ripley fighting aliens on Earth, xenomorphs taking over Western-looking far away planets, and one even included a space station that somehow becomes a 50-story alien at the climax of the film, according to Den of Geek.

The studio eventually settled on the idea of Alien 3 taking place on a prison planet and added Ripley to the script while Vincent Ward was hired to direct. It seemed like everything was finally coming together. Except that Ward didn't want to do a space prison movie, he wanted it all to take place on a wooden planet. So Ward wrote his own version of the script featuring an ancient planet full of monks, drew up storyboards, and began pre-production.

But Fox decided that they wanted no part of this weird wooden planet, so Ward walked off the film, just as they were getting ready to start shooting. In the end, Alien 3 combined ideas from many drafts, so the film ended up an odd mishmash of ideas thrown together at the last minute.

David Fincher was fired and rehired three times during the making of Alien 3

After Ward left, Fox hired David Fincher to direct. Not only was it his first feature film, he was suddenly responsible for a legendary franchise. It didn't help things that he had to jump into a film that was already in preproduction with another man's ideas in place. And it really didn't help that the script still wasn't finished.

One day, Fincher got a visit from the franchise's original director. "Ridley asked how it was going and I said 'Really bad' and he said, 'It never goes well, this is not the way to make movies, make sure you make a little film where you have some control while they're beating you up.' And all he did was tell me he still hasn't seen a dime from the first Alien." Not exactly the pep talk Fincher needed.

Fincher had a horrible time making the film. He told The Guardian he was fired three times over the two years it took to shoot and that the studio wouldn't listen to any of his concerns about the quality of the movie. Sure, Hollywood does have a history of studio meddling, but it's rare they fire and rehire the same director three times for the same film. Fincher was later quoted as saying, "A lot of people hated Alien 3, but no one hated it more than I did."

Joss Whedon had to write five endings for Alien: Resurrection

Alien: Resurrection wasn't well reviewed, but its biggest critic was probably the man who wrote it—Joss Whedon. Originally, Whedon signed on to write a movie about a teenage clone of Newt. Since Whedon had such success with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he seemed a good fit to pen a film about a sci-fi, teenage action heroine.

But the studio decided they had to have Ripley back, so Whedon changed course. Originally, the movie would end with a fight out between Ripley and the Newborn after they landed in a forest back on Earth. But the studio didn't like it. 

So, Whedon wrote endings that took place in a junkyard, a maternity ward, and a desert, but the studio still wasn't pleased. In the end, the final scene took place aboard the ship. But even after all those changes, Fox played around with the ending one more time. Now, from a deleted scene, you can see that Whedon's fifth ending was to have the ship landing in a destroyed Paris where Ripley and Call step out into the world. Apparently the studio really hated the idea of Ripley getting back to Earth. Looking back, it's completely bizarre that the studio had zero faith in Joss Whedon, who went on to create some of the best sci-fi and big budget adventure films of the last 20 years.