The deaths of Newt and Hicks is an issue so contentious and infamous within the series that it is barely worth recapping. Fans of the films usually divide themselves into several camps regarding the matter. In one corner are those who refuse to acknowledge Alien 3’s existence or legitimacy as a valid sequel. In another corner are those who appreciate the tone that their deaths set into motion; after all, even Ripley dies in the third movie. Some appreciate the tone set, but not the offhanded manner in which these characters were discarded, and they regard the inclusion of the lethal ‘magic egg’ as a shoddy inimicus ex machina more deserving of a lesser slasher movie sequel. Other fans sigh with relief and resort to strange displays of misopedia and mockery. It wasn’t always this way. In various continuations of Aliens, from comic books to early Alien III scripts, Newt and Hicks shared a variety of alternate fates.
The first Aliens continuation that was up for public consumption was Dark Horse’s comic book series. First published in May of 1988 and written by Mark Verheiden, D.H.’s sequel took place several years after the second movie, with Ripley AWOL, Newt in psychiatric care, and Hicks back in the military following a spell in quarantine. Bishop is absent also, though in one of the issues’ letters pages it is hinted that he may have been obtained by the military or Weyland-Yutani, with data regarding the Aliens downloaded from his memory banks (when asked about Bishop’s whereabouts in 2012, writer Verheiden answered, “I don’t remember. Sorry!” The editor’s speculation sounds good enough, however.)
“I can’t remember who came up with the Newt/Hicks story years later,” Verheiden told JamesCameronOnline, “but either way it felt like a rich direction, and I really enjoyed imagining where those characters might have gone post-Aliens.”
Aliens: Book One picks up with Newt as a disturbed young woman plagued by nightmares of Acheron. As we meet her, she is confined to a mental institution. Similarly, Hicks is also disturbed by his memories of LV426. He is shunned by his peers, who deride and accuse him of being infected with some alien disease. This one-time “rock of Gibraltar” and cool-headed Corporal now lives as a pariah, prone to drunkenness and outbursts of frustration. The overall story concerns Earthly interest in obtaining an Alien as a bio-weapon. Hicks is recruited to train a squad of Marines to take on an apparent Alien threat, though this is really a ruse by a Dr. Orona to obtain samples. Meanwhile, Newt’s doctors decide that her nightmares and outbursts are too extreme to handle and plan to lobotomise her. Catching wind of this, Hicks breaks Newt out of her asylum and smuggles her aboard his ship to keep her close. However, as the Marines leave on their mission, the human scientists obtain a specimen from the infected body of a space freighter captain, and a hive is quickly established on Earth. The hive’s population is perpetuated by a cult of Alien worshippers who willingly give over their bodies to the Queen’s spore. Meanwhile, the off-world Marines are routed by Aliens, slaughtered, and revealed to be a squadron of androids – a fact that they, to a man, were all ignorant. The survivors return to Earth after an encounter with a threatening Space Jockey, and the story continues in Aliens: Book Two.
Book One was critically lauded and acclaimed, but the storyline was retroactively altered upon Alien 3‘s release, with Dark Horse clumsily altering the names of Hicks and Newt to Billie and Wilks in order to bring it into line with the third film’s canon. Newt and Hicks, despite their collective experiences, share an uneasy and at times volatile relationship. She grows and matures, and is the more existential character of the two. She falls in love with one of the Marines, Butler, who is later revealed, along with Hicks’ entire squad, to be an android (bar Hicks, of course). Wickedly, the squadron is programmed to be ignorant of their android biology. Newt reconciles with Butler’s android nature with maturity and a philosophical outlook, “It always comes back to our arrogance, the scientists want to draw a line between man and his machines – but what did it matter? Butler cared for me, not like Hicks, not like Earth’s doctors. What made their hate more alive than their creation’s love?”
Many praise Alien 3 for eliminating Hicks and Newt as it avoids a happy-family-space-adventure scenario, which goes to show how impairing tunnel vision can be. In Book One, the family motif is not mercilessly destroyed, but it is challenged. Newt does not happily assimilate into Earth society, and Hicks does not become the decorated, shining example of a stalwart marine hero. There is no Ripley mother figure. The remaining characters grow, shift, change, and they are absolutely not traded and discarded for a desire to shock. The story, featuring duplicitous and murderous humans, Alien worshipping fanatics, a human/android divide, and not to mention a bleak ending for humanity, is as pessimistic as Alien 3, though perhaps not as devoutly hopeless.
In the first Alien III script, by cyberpunk author William Gibson, the Sulaco still drifts through space with its sleeping cargo (it doesn’t seem like anyone gets home on time in this series.) The ship enters the territory of the Union of Progressive Peoples (essentially, communists) and is boarded. Inside, Ripley, Newt, and Hicks are still in stasis. Bishop’s cryotube however is home to an Alien egg, which is nestled within his entrails. The U.P.P. take Bishop’s body and send the Sulaco back into drift, where it eventually comes into contact with the Company. Now boarded by Marines, Ripley’s cryotube is damaged in a firefight between the soldiers and a spontaneously appearing Alien (later, a restored Bishop simply states that the Alien Queen “somehow deposited genetic material on the ship.”)
Throughout Gibson’s Alien III, Ripley’s life hangs precariously in the balance, Newt is shipped off to her grandparents on Earth early on, and Hicks slugs on as the protagonist along with Bishop, with both striving to keep the out-of-commission Ripley alive whilst concurrently battling an Alien threat. Producers David Giler and Walter Hill liked Gibson’s script, but were unhappy that the author had not “opened up” the story further in his two drafts. This dissatisfaction, and with the end of the Cold War relegating the plot to an anachronism, saw the script being booted. The next script kept the concept of a male lead but scrapped any notion of Hicks, Newt, Bishop, or Ripley returning.
None of Aliens’ characters appear in Eric Red’s Alien III, and the Sulaco only appears in a dream as a sort of Mary Celeste. Any mention of the previous movie’s protagonists is brief and mysterious. The opening is reminiscent of Gibson’s script, with a team of soldiers boarding the Sulaco and finding a host of Alien eggs. “The freezers have been smashed open,” reads the script. “Alien Eggs, three feet high and slimy with muck, rest in the hypersleep chambers where the bodies of the people were … Bones and shreds of uniforms are quickly glimpsed on the floor in the flashlight beams. Sam picks up a shorn-off nametag with the word ‘Ripley’ on it.” Just as in the prior script, a mysterious and ludicrously large Alien makes an appearance: “The Alien, all armoured, insectile fifteen feet of it, swings down from the rafters onto them … second set of jaws trailing bloody saliva and punching into their skulls.” Fifteen feet seems egregious, considering the Queen was fourteen feet tall. After this sequence, none of the Aliens characters are mentioned or alluded to. The same applies for David Twohy’s Alien III, which concerns itself with prisoners in an orbital prison being subjected to Alien experimentation. Of his script, Eric Red said: “That piece of junk was a product of a few weeks of intense, hysterical story conferences with the studio to rush to get the picture into production, and it turned out completely awful.”
Vincent Ward’s tenure saw the return of Ripley, and was the first script to outright kill Hicks, Newt, and Bishop. Ripley, having crash landed on a wooden space station inhabited by a sect of Luddite monks, find herself yet again in the midst of an Alien adventure. Having observed her approaching EEV, a monk named Brother John (the proto-Clemens) saves Ripley from the ship and brings her ashore (the wooden planet having an artificial lake). No other bodies are found, and Newt is presumed drowned. Again, a mysterious Alien is the cause of the Sulaco’s dilemma. An emergency message made by Ripley prior to the crash reveals the off-screen fates of Hicks and Bishop: “The Crew of the SS Sulaco and all Marine commandos are dead. Ship’s sensors have interrupted the hypersleep cycle. An overlooked Alien egg has hatched. Bishop and Hicks have been killed. Xenomorphs have infested the cruiser. Newt and I are taking pod four.” It’s not clear how Xenomorphs could infect the entire ship, with only one egg and one viable host available, but it is clear that from the very first Alien III script that nobody could figure out a legitimate way to have Ripley or anyone else run into another Alien.
Though Vincent Ward was apparently enamoured with Cameron’s parental theme in Aliens, he wanted to give his film a parental theme of its own – but without Newt. “One of the first things I wanted to do was kill her off,” said Ward of an act for which David Fincher later bore the blame and praise. “She kind of annoyed me,” said Ward. Ignoring that Ripley overcame this exact trauma in the prior movie, Ward explained further: “You can’t keep living your life fighting creatures without much of a family. How would you survive? Families give us something. We’re communal, social creatures. So Ripley’s big regret is that she missed out on a personal life. She seeks some sort of strange atonement for not having had a relationship with her daughter.” If anything, Ward’s desires come across as simply a rehash of themes that have been already explored and resolved.
Many elements of Ward’s script found themselves in David Fincher’s Alien 3. Of course, one of the most crucial and controversial is the death of every Aliens character bar Ripley, who is intermittently spared to battle the Alien. Simply put, if you were incensed at Fincher’s movie for its dismissal of Aliens’ characters then Ward’s version would not have satisfied you either, and many of the flaws associated with Fincher’s movie have their beginnings with Ward and even Red and Gibson. In fact most of the problems with the film seem to have been present from the get-go. In Alien 3 as we know it, Hicks is killed by a safety beam and Newt drowns in her cryo-tube. Bishop is smashed beyond repair and consigned to the rubbish heap.
In 2011, Michael Biehn talked to AICN about Hicks’ fate: “The only way I was involved was I was shooting another movie in Los Angeles (Timebomb), working with a producer named Raffaella De Laurentiis, and Raffaella took off during our shoot, went over to England and came back and she said to me jokingly, ‘I saw you over in England,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘I was at Pinewood Studios and I saw you over there.’ [I said] ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Your character, Hicks, I saw him. He was over there.’ They had done a face cast on me [for Aliens] because they had to do those burns on my face… ”
Biehn continues: “Raffaella [said] ‘Your chest is burst open and obviously the Aliens have come out of your chest.’ I’m like, ‘Oh really? I didn’t know anything about that.’ So I called my agent up and he called up Fox and said, ‘You can’t use Michael’s image.’ They said, ‘Okay, we’ll get back to you.’ I got a call from David Fincher saying, ‘Please, can we just … We’d really like to use your character.’ … I was pretty pissed off and said, ‘f**k you for even calling me, so go f**k yourself.’ Now I wish I hadn’t, because now he’s [laughs] now he’s ‘David Fincher’, but I was upset at the fact that I was not in the new movie. What I said was, ‘f**k you for having that happen to my character.’ There was no way I would ever let that character have a monster come bursting out of his chest, so you can forget about that happening.”
He continues “Jim [Cameron] wasn’t happy about that either, so they dropped that idea and then they came back and they said, ‘We want to use your picture,’ and I said, ‘Okay, you can use my picture. It’s going to cost you and it’s going to cost you a lot.’ So they paid me a lot of money to use my picture in that movie. It was really probably the most disappointing moment in my career … I never saw the point in that because that’s what you want. You want the characters from the first ones to be in there, that’s what people identify with, but I don’t know.” On the Alien Anthology, Biehn clarified that he didn’t mind Hicks dying, but not in the flippant manner that he did.
“Killing Newt was not only an obscenity, it removes the principal rationale for Ripley to fight to stay alive. Filmmakers love to shock, even if it goes against logic, reason, and plot. They suffer from a misguided belief that shock equates to art … My thought in the killing of Newt in Alien 3 was to explain that her capsule was damaged and that she would therefore have to remain in deep sleep until it could be repaired. That way, she remains alive but inactive for the duration of the story, Ripley’s motivation to fight to remain alive in order to sustain her is maintained, and Newt’s status being iffy (she can live or die at any time) adds another element of suspense to the film. And of course, having Newt as an older person with a unique insight into the Aliens would have opened up some wonderful spin-off possibilities. But Walter Hill essentially killed off everything I tried to add to the story.”
~ Alan Dean Foster, writer, and Alien series novelist.
Carrie Henn however, was less disappointed. “Life goes on,” she told Empire magazine in 1995. Henn went on to pursue a career in education (earning a degree in liberal studies and child development), though she did turn up at Alien 3‘s premiere, where Sigourney Weaver gifted her with a jacket baring the words ‘Carrie Henn – Aliens‘. “Gosh, she is the most wonderful and beautiful young woman,” Weaver said of her co-star during a 2011 cast reunion. Henn has yet to express any regret for the outcome of Alien 3‘s fatal opening credits and, content to live a Hollywood-free life, usually shrugs or laughs off the death of her character.
Still, for most other fans, casual or otherwise, the deaths of Newt and Hicks remains a point of contention, and remains, arguably, Alien 3‘s main point of infamy.