Ridley Scott's groundbreaking alien space shocker set the template for a thousand imitators... but none quite delivered the visceral shock of the original. The crew of the ageing hulk Nostromo receive a mayday call from a nearby planet and send a rescue party down to investigate. They come back with a extra-terrestrial monster that clinically works its way through the crew until it's up against Sigourney Weaver's fiendishly resourceful warrant officer Ripley. Controversial Swiss surrealist HR Giger crafted the viciously sinister predator and the special effects landed an Oscar... but it's Scott's chilling vision and taut direction that distinguishes this as one of the finest horror films ever made.
Harry Dean Stanton
It was never the most original storyline - a mixed bag of workers discovering something nasty in the woodpile which ends up devouring them one by one.
But director Ridley Scott, who cut his teeth on TV's Z-Cars and had only one major feature - The Duellists - under this belt, decided to set it in space.
The result was a spine-shredding cat and mouse chiller, although the cat in this case was a reptilian killing machine whose predatory instinct was only matched by its appetite.
A clean and precise movie, it adhered to the dictum that less is more - so you never actually see it in its entirety - just a dripping, machine-like mandible or a lethally swishing tail.
Rather than eat its victims, the alien impregnated them in the most nightmarish way possible - clamping itself to their faces and inserting a rampant nipper.
Visually, the film was divided, with Rob Cobb responsible for the design of the space-ship, a vast lumbering deep-space cargo vessel ready for a galactic breaker's yard.
Eccentric Swiss-born designer HR Giger's unique vision became the alien - the cinematic template for vengeful life-forms ever since. (He also designed the alien lair, with rather fruity references to female genitalia.)
Unlike previous space-set yarns, the voyage of the Nostromo's crew - basically a bunch of grimy space truckers - was essentially a mundane one.
Scott also injected the drama with humour - witness the laddish exchanges between engineers Brett and Parker (Kotto and Dean Stanton) - which made the dynamics of the crew so believable.
To many a pimply whippersnapper, it also elevated Weaver's Third Officer Ripley to an iconic status, in no way hindered by a totally gratuitous scene whcn Sigourney wrestles into a space suit in her smalls.
They said in space no-one could hear you scream. The screams just got louder.