Alien: the 1978 Scripts


Alien’s script, much like the creature itself, was an ever-evolving beast. That Dan O’Bannon’s original screenplay was rewritten by Walter Hill and David Giler is pub trivia; but what shapes the script took between its first incarnation in 1976 and the final draft of the film issued December 1978 is something of a mystery. I have spent some time trying to find different variations of the script from throughout 1978, the year that Alien finally went into production and, it seems, underwent some of its more drastic changes from O’Bannon’s: Ripley being changed into a woman (occurring sometime in early ’78 when Ridley first came aboard), the near excision of the Space Jockey, and various permutations of the Nostromo crew’s fates. There was also a larger battle waging between O’Bannon, Ron Shusett, and the producers at this time concerning whether the film should feature alien civilisations and pyramids or a government conspiracy that depicted the Alien as a bioweapon encountered in an installation known only as the Cylinder.

The aforementioned concept appears in a script in my possession that is, unfortunately, undated, so I cannot tell if it is from 1977 or 1978 (I suspect early ’78) and I cannot compare its contents to other scripts from early 1978 because I’ve yet to peruse any scripts prior to June 1978.

So, I am putting forth all the different variations of the script that I know of from 1978. Perhaps someone who is luckily enough to possess one of these drafts will be able to let me know of any substantial or notable differences that occur within or between them.

The first script I can find for the year is dated February. This is the month where pre-production was really kicking into gear, with Ridley being hired, the cast and production crew being assembled, and the visual design of the film being ironed out. It’s possible this is the first draft to feature Ripley as a woman.

Alien February 1978

The next picture here is cut off, but the script date is intelligible as March:

Alien March 1978

Another Revised Draft appeared in May:

Alien May 1978

Next up is the Revised Final Draft, dated June. Apparently this is the last draft that Walter Hill and David Giler worked on together. “The last couple we did in New York in my room at the Navarro (now the Ritz Carlton) while I was prepping The Warriors,” said Hill, but his involvement with that film apparently caused consternation between him and the Alien production in England, who were attempting to reconcile disparate visions for the film. “And finally at the last minute,” said Dan, “I saw that everyone, including Ridley, was so fed up with Giler and Hill’s failure to make any of the promised revisions that they said they were gonna make, that a little sliver of opportunity was created. I was standing there, I said, ‘You know, I’ll fix it if you’ll let me.’”

Alien June 1978

Rewrites carried out by O’Bannon (apparently aided by Shusett, Scott, and Gordon Carroll) were dizzying: Revisions came on July 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 17th, August 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, 11th, 24th… essentially culminating in a new draft dated October. “It’s amazing,” said Cobb at the time. “The whole film is in a constant state of flux. Script revisions are going on every day. Things that haven’t been shot are still being rewritten and that’s why Dan is feeling better, because he and Ron Shusett are having substantial input into these last minute script changes. They’re fixing it quite well, strengthening it considerably.”

Alien October 1978

A final draft was pieced together in December, some two months after principal photograph had concluded. The first inner page notes: “This script reflects dialogue changes added in post production for story clarification. Changes also reflected are: all computer readout information, miniature effects shots, scene composition and scene omissions, all as written and edited after completing principal photography on October 21st, 1978.”

Alien December 1978
If anyone has these scripts in their possession, most certainly the pre-June drafts, then please give me a shout, either in the comments or via e-mail. Much appreciated!


Filed under Alien

13 responses to “Alien: the 1978 Scripts

  1. Great work! I wish I could read a full script with the Cylinder and all that discarded stuff in. Really curious to read the first ever draft by Brandywine.

  2. Nice work. Didn’t know Dan did more work on it after Giler & Hill started re-writing.
    I have a facsimile draft at home, but don’t know the date. I’ll have to check.

  3. BillTed

    I’ve often wondered about an early version that Wrrrmvrrrm mentions where the Alien gets onto the ship hidden in the SJ skull.

    The chestburster is obviously indispensable to Aliens timeless appeal, but the loaded skull sounds like a pretty good gimmick too.

  4. thenostromofilesblog

    I am fascinated by the ALIEN screenplays and you have managed to put together a fascinating timeline of the revisions. Should I come across any in my journeys beyond the Outer Rim, I will be sure to send you a transmission! 😉

  5. Pingback: Alien: the 1978 Scripts – The Nostromo Files

  6. I have a copy of a draft dated May 1978. Mine is marked number 44, but I can’t see the corresponding number on your May one. Would be happy to discuss via email.

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  8. thenostromofilesblog

    So I have found the following screenplays with dates:
    Hill and Giler, “Revised Final June 1978.” This is online and has editor’s notes where the transcriber says he stripped out the scene numbers and deleted slugs. It is called “shooting draft,” whatever that is.
    Hill and Giler, “June 1978” (Terry Rawlings’ copy). This Rawlings’ notes, which is very interesting.
    Hill and Giler, “Revised Final June 1978, rev thru Oct 4, 1978 (the latter is revision date is handwritten).
    O’Bannon, signed, undated. This has a synopsis and artwork.
    O’Bannon, First Draft August 5, 1978. The only artwork in this iteration is the pyramid graphic used to depict both a symbol found on the alien ship’s console and an edifice located later on the planetoid.

    In several interview, O’Bannon talks about the changes Hill and Giler made to his screenplay (acerbically noting, in his “Perfectly Disgusting” essay, that they changed all the names of the characters). O’Bannon seems to imply his draft preceded their works, yet the dates indicated otherwise. Curious…

    Darrell C

  9. It’s fascinating from both a film buff and Alien afficianado’s perspective to read these early pieces of critique on one of the most enduring and groundbreaking films of modern history. One major element I take from these editorials regarding the frequent revisions and refinements to the script, is how film is a collaborative effort. A crucial feature seemingly lost on a certain Mr Lucas when constructing the much-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. One wonders what could have been had this philosophy been put into practice for those films. Great article as always, sir. As an Alien geek, you are a man after my own heart!

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  12. Darcy Mahoney

    Hello there, I have a copy of the revised final draft of Alien. It’s not a facsimile and ‘feels’, authentic. less than a tenner on ebay about ten years ago. it was one of many being sold after someone had passed away. I don’t think the seller new or considered it anything of worth and I didnt really think it would be authentic but it certainly looks and feels it. Anyway, if you want to talk about it I’m here. Cheers, Darcy

  13. I have a revised final draft of Alien dated June 1978


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