Fincher's Alien 3: The Troubled Production and Legacy of a Cult Classic

03 April 2023
The film production of Alien 3 was notoriously troubled, with numerous creative conflicts, budget issues, and delays plaguing the project from start to finish. The film was directed by David Fincher, who was a relative newcomer to feature filmmaking at the time and was produced by Walter Hill and David Giler, who had worked on the previous two entries in the Alien franchise.

One of the major challenges facing the production was the script, which went through numerous revisions and was written by a number of different writers. Vincent Ward was originally hired to direct the film and wrote a story treatment that was set on a wooden planet inhabited by monks. However, his vision for the film clashed with the producers, and he was eventually replaced by David Fincher. 

The script was then rewritten by a series of writers, including William Gibson, Eric Red, and David Twohy, before ultimately being credited to Hill, Giler, and Larry Ferguson. The constantly changing script led to confusion and frustration among the cast and crew, as well as disagreements between the filmmakers and the studio.

Here's just a taste of the history of the film's troubled production.

alien 3 xenomorph ripley

The early scriptwriters of Alien 3

In the early stages of the development of Alien 3, several writers were hired to prepare scripts for the film. William Gibson, Eric Red, and David Twohy were among the most prominent writers who worked on the project.

William Gibson, who is best known for his groundbreaking cyberpunk novels such as Neuromancer, was hired to write the first draft of the Alien 3 script. Gibson's script, which was titled "Alien III: Gibson Draft," was very different from the final film. It was set in a corporate-run research facility in space and featured a new type of alien that was created through genetic experimentation. Although Gibson's script was never filmed, it had a major influence on the final version of the film and introduced several key concepts that were incorporated into the story.

Side story: 

In 2018-19, Dark Horse Comics published a five-part comic book series called "William Gibson's Alien 3." The comic book series was an adaptation of William Gibson's original screenplay for the movie "Alien 3," which never got produced. The adaptation was done by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain.

The comic book series follows the story of the survivors of the spaceship Sulaco, which has crash-landed on a planet called Anchorpoint. The planet is owned by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which is conducting secret experiments on the Xenomorphs, the deadly creatures from the "Alien" franchise. The survivors of Sulaco, including the series' protagonist, Hicks, find themselves caught in the middle of a power struggle between the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and the United States Colonial Marines.

Back to the revolving door of scriptwriters...

Eric Red, who had previously written scripts for horror films such as Near Dark and \classic The Hitcher, was hired to write a second draft of the Alien 3 script. Red's script, which was titled "Nightmare Asylum," was also very different from the final film. It was set on a military-run space station and featured a new type of alien that was created through genetic engineering. Red's script was eventually rejected, but several of his ideas were later incorporated into the final version of the film.

David Twohy, who would later go on to write and direct the sci-fi films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, was hired to write a third draft of the Alien 3 script. Twohy's script, which was titled "Vincent Ward's Alien III," was based on the original concept for the film by Vincent Ward, who was initially hired to direct but later left the project. Twohy's script was set on a wooden planet inhabited by monks, and featured a new type of alien that was created through a symbiotic relationship with its host. Although Twohy's script was also ultimately rejected, several of his ideas were later incorporated into the final version of the film.

ellen riplely alien 3

Vincent Ward's effort to direct Alien 3

Vincent Ward (River Queen, What Dreams May Come) was a New Zealand director (oh so NZ has directors other than Peter Jackson? - Ed) who was initially hired to direct "Alien 3" in the late 1980s. Ward's vision for the film was vastly different from the previous two installments of the franchise. His idea was to set the movie on a wooden planet populated by monks who had taken a vow of celibacy. The story would have involved the arrival of Ripley and the Xenomorph on this planet and how the monks had to confront their beliefs and the alien threat.

Ward's unique approach to the franchise excited the producers, but the studio was hesitant to greenlight his vision. They wanted a more traditional sequel that would follow the action-packed style of the previous two movies. Ward and the studio went back and forth for several months before he finally left the project due to creative differences.

Despite Ward's departure from the project, his vision had an impact on the final version of "Alien 3." The wooden planet concept was eventually scrapped, but the setting of a prison planet was retained. The monks were replaced by violent criminals, and Ripley became the only female character in the movie.

The final, formally credited screenwriters

After what already seems a 'party of screenwriters' had already taken place, the formal script credits for Alien 3 reflect the contributions of several writers who worked on the film's screenplay. Vincent Ward as noted above had written a story treatment for the film, which was set on a wooden planet inhabited by monks. Although Ward ultimately left the project and his version of the script was not used, he received a "Story By" credit for his contributions.

David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson are credited as the screenwriters for Alien 3. Giler and Hill were the producers of the film and had worked on the previous two entries in the Alien franchise, while Ferguson was brought in to help them write the screenplay.

Although the final version of the screenplay for Alien 3 was heavily revised from the original story treatment by Vincent Ward, it still retained several elements of his original concept, such as the idea of the alien being born from a human host rather than an egg. The screenwriters also incorporated ideas from earlier drafts of the screenplay by other writers, such as William Gibson and Eric Red.

Despite the final screenplay being credited to Giler, Hill, and Ferguson, director David Fincher made significant changes to the film during production and post-production, leading to tension between him and the producers.

Speaking of...  

Enter David Fincher

prisoners alien 3

After Ward's departure, several other directors were considered, including Renny Harlin and David Cronenberg. However, it was David Fincher's work as a music video director that caught the attention of the producers. Fincher had directed music videos for several high-profile artists, including Madonna, Aerosmith, and Michael Jackson, and had established a reputation for his edgy and visually striking style.

Despite having no experience directing feature films, Fincher was eventually hired to direct "Alien 3." It was a challenging project for him, as he was given a tight schedule and had to deal with constant interference from the studio.

David Fincher's experience directing "Alien 3" was a challenging one, marked by numerous production problems and clashes with the studio. One of the major issues was that he was hired late in the process and did not have much input on the script. The studio was constantly revising the script, which made it difficult for Fincher to develop a cohesive vision for the film. Additionally, the studio had set a tight release date for the movie, which gave Fincher only a limited amount of time to shoot and edit the film.

Fincher also clashed with the studio over the tone and content of the film. The studio wanted a more action-packed movie, while Fincher wanted to focus on character development and atmosphere. This led to tension on set and disagreements about the direction of the film.

The production was also plagued with various problems, including malfunctioning equipment, uncooperative actors, and even a fire that destroyed one of the sets. These setbacks further added to Fincher's frustration with the project.

To make matters worse, the studio interfered with the editing process, making significant changes to the film without Fincher's approval. This resulted in a theatrical cut of the film that Fincher believes does not accurately represent his vision.

Furthermore, the film's ending was changed several times during production, with the studio insisting on a more upbeat and hopeful finale than Fincher had originally intended. This further strained his relationship with the studio and added to the difficulties of the project.

All of these issues took a toll on Fincher, and he has since described the experience as incredibly frustrating. In fact, he briefly considered quitting the film industry altogether. Despite these challenges, Fincher managed to complete the film and deliver a unique and visually stunning entry in the "Alien" franchise, albeit one that was heavily compromised by studio interference.

The critical reception to Alien 3 was....bad

The reception to "Alien 3" was mixed, with some critics praising the film's atmosphere and visuals, while others criticized its convoluted plot and lack of character development.

The film received mixed reviews from critics, with many noting that it did not live up to the high standards set by the previous entries in the "Alien" franchise. Some reviewers praised the movie's dark and moody atmosphere, as well as its visually striking design. However, others criticized the film's convoluted plot, weak character development, and reliance on shock value over genuine scares.

Alien 3 was released in 1992 and had a worldwide box office gross of approximately $159 million, which was less than the box office grosses of the previous two films in the Alien franchise. The film's production budget was estimated to be around $50 million, making it a financial disappointment for the studio.

However, Alien 3 did have some success in the home video market, where it was released on VHS and LaserDisc. According to reports at the time, the film was one of the top-selling titles in the rental market in the United States and was also a popular seller in the home video market.

When compared to the success of the previous two Alien films, Alien 3's box office performance was lower than that of its predecessors. The first Alien film, released in 1979, had a worldwide box office gross of approximately $104 million, while its sequel, Aliens, released in 1986, had a worldwide box office gross of approximately $183 million.
Thus "Alien 3" was also a commercial disappointment, failing to match the box office success of its predecessors. Part of this may have been due to the lukewarm critical reception, but the film's troubled production history and various delays likely also contributed to its lackluster performance at the box office.

Fincher eventually disowned the film...

David Fincher has been open about his dissatisfaction with the final product of "Alien 3" and has disowned the theatrical cut of the film. In interviews, Fincher has expressed frustration with the compromises he was forced to make during the production process and with the final edit of the movie, which he feels does not accurately represent his vision.

In a 2019 interview with Empire Magazine, Fincher said, "It was a nightmare. The studio had a release date before we had a script. They wouldn't tell us what the release date was, but it was in stone. The first day [of filming], we were on the beach shooting and I got a phone call saying, 'The film comes out in August'. We didn't have a finished script."

He has also been critical of the studio's interference with the editing process, saying that they made significant changes to the film without his approval. In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, Fincher said, "I had to work on it for two years, got fired off it three times and I had to fight for every single thing. No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me."

Alien 3 has actually become a cult film, despite it being part of a mega film franchise

"Alien 3" has become a cult film in its own right, despite being part of a mega film franchise. The movie's dark and moody atmosphere, as well as its unique vision and willingness to take risks, have helped it to stand out from the other entries in the "Alien" series.

One of the reasons that "Alien 3" has gained a cult following is probably troubled production history as discussed above. Fans are often fascinated by the behind-the-scenes drama that went into making the movie, including the clashes between director David Fincher and the studio over the film's tone and content. This has helped to create a sense of mystique and intrigue around the film, which has only increased its cult appeal.

Another factor that has contributed to "Alien 3" becoming a cult film is its willingness to break with convention and take risks. Unlike the previous "Alien" movies, which focused heavily on action and thrills, "Alien 3" is a much more introspective and character-driven film. This has helped to give it a unique identity and has made it stand out from the other movies in the franchise.

Christopher Nolan, who has since become considered Hollywood directing royalty said this of Fincher's effort:

nolan fincher respect

The Assembly Cut of Alien 3

assembly cut xenomorph dragon birth

The Assembly Cut of Alien 3 is an extended version of the film that was put together by filmmaker Charles de Lauzirika for the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set release in 2003. This version of the film was created using a combination of deleted scenes, unfinished footage, and alternate takes, and was intended to be a more complete and satisfying version of the film than the theatrical cut.

One of the most significant changes in the Assembly Cut is the restoration of several key scenes that were cut from the theatrical release. These include a longer opening sequence that shows the escape pod from Aliens crash landing on the prison planet, as well as additional scenes that flesh out the characters and the setting. These scenes help to establish a stronger sense of place and atmosphere, and also provide more context for the story.

One of the major differences is the ending, which is longer and more nuanced than the theatrical version. In the assembly cut, Ripley's decision to sacrifice herself to destroy the alien is given more weight and emotional depth. The scene is also extended to include an important conversation between Ripley and Dillon, a prisoner who has become her ally. The assembly cut's ending provides a more satisfying and emotionally resonant conclusion to the film, as it emphasizes the themes of sacrifice and redemption that are central to the story.

Overall, the Assembly Cut of Alien 3 is generally regarded as a significant improvement over the theatrical version, and is often considered to be the most definitive version of the film. Its inclusion in the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set has also helped to raise awareness of the film and give it a new level of respect among fans of the franchise.

We'll leave the final cut on Alien 3 to Sigourney Weaver

Sigourney Weaver, who played the lead role of Ellen Ripley in "Alien 3," after her iconic stint in the original Alien and Aliens was reportedly frustrated with the film's troubled production. She had originally signed on to work with director Renny Harlin, but when he left the project, she was left without a director she trusted. She also reportedly clashed with the film's producers over the script and the film's direction. In an interview with Empire magazine, Weaver stated that she had "mixed feelings" about the film, and that she felt it was a missed opportunity.

In terms of her contract, Weaver had negotiated a deal that gave her a significant amount of control over the film's direction. By the time she finally signed she had script approval and was able to make creative suggestions throughout the production process. She also reportedly had a clause in her contract that allowed her to veto the use of any footage that she felt was detrimental to her character or the film as a whole.

Sigourney Weaver has said several things about "Alien 3" over the years. In addition to her mixed feelings about the film's troubled production, she has also expressed frustration with the film's marketing campaign, which she felt oversold her character's involvement in the story. She has also stated that she felt that the film was rushed into production before the script was fully developed, which contributed to the film's problems.

At the same time, Weaver has also defended the film, noting that it was an ambitious project that attempted to do something new with the "Alien" franchise. She has praised the film's darker tone and its exploration of themes such as religion and mortality. She has also expressed admiration for director David Fincher, despite the difficult circumstances of the film's production.

Fincher went on to become a celebrated director making notable films such as Seven, Zodiac, and Fight Club (but we can't talk about that). He was instrumental in the success of The House of Cards for Netflix and Serenity's Edge.


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My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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