“Alien” 30th Anniversary

posted by Coate on August 21, 2009 at 8:00 am

In space no one can hear you scream.

On May 25, 1979, Twentieth Century-Fox released “Alien,” Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic about the crew of the Nostromo who get more than they bargained for after investigating a distress signal from a mysterious planet. Suspense, atmospheric moodiness and Oscar-winning visual effects highlighted the film which starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto. The popular and influential film spawned several sequels and numerous imitations.

Back in May of this year, around the time of the actual 30th anniversary date, I considered posting an anniversary tribute for “Alien,” but I talked myself out of it because (1) five years ago I had written something for the film’s 25th anniversary and I thought writing a 30th anniversary piece would be unnecessary and redundant, and (2) “Alien” was covered in the Cinema Treasures news posting A look back at the year 1979: the year of science fiction. I’ve since reconsidered, but instead of writing something new I’ve decided to simply quote selected passages from my 25th anniversary article including the original bookings list, all of which focus not so much on the film itself but the experience of seeing the film.

[quote][i]If released today, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” would have opened on several thousand cinema screens across the country. Back on Memorial Day weekend of 1979 when the film was originally released, however, there were fewer than 100 engagements, 91 select-market engagements to be exact. That number may seem unusually low to a contemporary audience, but, in fact, it was selected as part of a calculated plan by the film’s distributor, 20th Century-Fox. The film would open in selected cities and then take its time expanding to cinemas across the country depending on a variety of factors, including film critics' reviews, box-office performance, and moviegoer word-of-mouth. Those days are long gone.

Nearly all of the 91 original engagements of “Alien” were in the deluxe 70-millimeter wide gauge format, which amounted to a record number (at the time) of large format prints made available at a single distribution launch. Ashley Boone, Twentieth Century-Fox Senior Vice President for Domestic Marketing, described the initial release strategy as providing a “proper presentation,” offering moviegoers an “extraordinary” and “special event.”

“Alien” grossed an impressive (for the time) $3.5 million in its opening weekend, resulting in a phenomenal $38,709 per screen average. Influenced by good reviews and capacity-filled screenings, Fox expanded the release of the film two weeks later on June 8, and by June 22 the film was playing on over 500 screens throughout the U.S. and Canada, the majority of which at this time were conventional 35mm presentations.

Fox’s 70mm print order was 110 prints, more than 80 of which were put into circulation in the May 25 first wave release. Of the remaining 70mm prints, they were put into circulation during the expansion waves in markets just beginning an engagement (such as Montreal) or as additional engagements in markets included in the first wave (like Los Angeles), and, later, in a number of international markets (including London, Sydney and Tokyo).

A noteworthy role “Alien” played in film exhibition history is that the movie was the first of the post-roadshow-era 70mm releases to get wide distribution, meaning that cities other than the very largest could get prints if the studio chose to make them available. (Even in the roadshow days, where 70mm prints were plentiful, the distribution typically would be staggered over a several-month span.) And though the introduction of Dolby Stereo and one-two punch of “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” largely fueled the 70mm comeback two years prior, it was actually the release of “Alien,” with its large 70mm print run, that was the forerunner of a trend that continued throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s: the release of major motion pictures in 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo. This practice thrived for over a decade as each year more and more newly-built and existing cinemas were having the requisite equipment installed, and every year the studios would release more and more films in 70mm, and with more and more prints (sometimes exceeding 200). For many years, the 70mm exhibition format was the top-class manner in which a film could be experienced, but with the introduction and eventual widespread adoption of digital sound on 35mm in the 1990s, the use of the 70mm format came to an abrupt end.

After several months in release, “Alien” concluded its North American release with a cumulative box office gross of over $75 million, $40.3 of which was considered the “rental” and returned to the distributor. Not bad for an R-rated film and 1979 ticket prices.

Those moviegoers who saw “Alien” in a theatre in 1979 may feel a touch of nostalgia looking over the engagement list. As well, moviegoers with an appreciation or fondness for classic or hometown cinemas may be saddened by the realization that most of the cinemas included in the engagement list are no longer in business.

“Alien” remains a sci-fi/horror classic, and it is doubtful those moviegoers who ventured into a cinema in 1979 have forgotten the experience.[/i][/quote]

Here is the list of original bookings of “Alien,” and, for those who may wish to read more about a particular venue, courtesy links have been added. All were 70mm presentations except where noted.

  • 35mm presentation
    (2) = shown on two screens in complex

Phoenix: Plitt Cine Capri

Little Rock: UA Cinema 150

Corte Madera: Marin Cinema
Fountain Valley: Pacific Fountain Valley Drive-In
Fresno: Festival Enterprises Festival Cinemas
Los Angeles: GCC Avco Center
Los Angeles: Pacific Sepulveda Drive-In

Los Angeles: UA Egyptian
Newport Beach: Edwards Newport
Orange: Plitt City Center
Sacramento: Syufy Century Complex
San Diego: AMC Fashion Valley 4 * (2)
San Francisco: Plitt Northpoint
San Jose: Syufy Century 22

Denver: Commonwealth Cooper

East Hartford: Redstone Showcase Cinemas
Orange: Redstone Showcase Cinemas

Claymont: SamEric 3 Tri-State Mall

Washington: Circle Uptown

North Miami Beach: Wometco 163rd St.
South Miami: Wometco Dadeland Twin

Honolulu: Consolidated Cinerama

Calumet City: Plitt River Oaks
Chicago: GCC Ford City
Chicago: Plitt State-Lake
Lombard: GCC Yorktown

Milan: Redstone Showcase Cinemas
Niles: Essaness Golf Mill
Norridge: M&R Norridge
Peoria: Kerasotes Beverly
Schaumburg: Plitt Woodfield
Springfield: Kerasotes Esquire

Fort Wayne: Mallers-Spirou Holiday
Indianapolis: Y&W Eastwood

Des Moines: Dubinsky River Hills
Dubuque: Dubuque Cinema Center

Florence: Mid States Florence
Louisville: Redstone Showcase Cinemas

Boston: Sack Charles
Seekonk: Redstone Showcase Cinemas
West Springfield: Redstone Showcase Cinemas

Bloomfield Hills: Redstone Showcase Cinemas
Grosse Pointe Woods: George Woods
Livonia: George Mai Kai
Southfield: George Americana Complex
Southgate: George Southgate
Sterling Heights: Redstone Showcase Cinemas

Minneapolis: Plitt Skyway

Creve Coeur: Wehrenberg Creve Coeur
Kansas City: AMC Midland 3

Omaha: Commonwealth Indian Hills

Edison: GCC Menlo Park Twin
Lawrenceville: SamEric Twin Lawrenceville
Paramus: RKO Paramus Quad
Pennsauken: SamEric 3 Pennsauken

Cheektowaga: AMC Holiday 6
Colonie: Mann Fox Colonie
DeWitt: Cinema National Shoppingtown
New York: B.S. Moss Criterion
New York: Loews New York Twin
New York: Loews Orpheum
Pittsford: Loews Triplex
Syosset: UA Syosset

Charlotte: Plitt Park Terrace

Cincinnati: Mid States Carousel
Columbus: Mid States Continent
Dayton: Chakeres Dayton Mall
Toledo: Redstone Showcase Cinemas
Whitehall: Sugarman Cinema East

Oklahoma City: North Park Cinema 4

Toronto: Famous Players University

Beaverton: Luxury Westgate
Portland: Moyer Eastgate

Fairless Hills: SamEric Twin Fairless Hills
King of Prussia: SamEric King Twin
Monroeville: Redstone Showcase Cinemas East
Montgomeryville: SamEric 3 Montgomeryville
Philadelphia: SamEric Eric’s Place
Pittsburgh: Cinemette Warner
Robinson: Redstone Showcase Cinemas West

Dallas: Plitt Medallion
Fort Worth: Plitt Ridglea
Houston: Plitt Alabama
Houston: AMC Almeda 9 East * (2)
Houston: AMC Northoaks * (2)
Houston: AMC Westchase
Richardson: Plitt Promenade *

Riverdale: Tullis-Hansen Cinedome 70
Salt Lake City: Plitt Centre

Seattle: UA Cinema 150
Tacoma: SRO Tacoma Mall

So…on this occasion of the 30th anniversary of “Alien,” I’d like to ask who saw the film in a theater? Where? How was the experience? Does the movie hold up thirty years after its release? How do you rate the movie among the “Alien” series?

Theaters in this post

Comments (30)

William on August 21, 2009 at 9:11 am

Thanks Michael for another Fine list and acticle.
I saw “Alien” on opening day at the UA Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. In fact I saw it twice that day in the second row and from the middle of the theatre. Seeing it on the curved D-150 screen put you into the action. WOW
During the first day or two people got to see and enter a display of props from the film in the forecourt of the theatre. But someone lit some of the display on fire and it was removed. This was a Blockbuster at the Egyptian.

I would say UA got lucky from what Mann Theatres did with the “Star Wars” issue at the Chinese in 1977 on the move-over to the Hollywood Theatre. The Egyptian would get the many of the large 70MM runs from Fox. (“Empire Strikes Back”, “Return of the Jedi”)

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on August 21, 2009 at 9:22 am

I betcha this looked absolutely stunning in the unsplit GCC Avco Center. I would LOVE to hear any of those stories.

SethLewis on August 21, 2009 at 9:36 am

I remember seeing the Alien billboard on Broadway as early as December 1978 and not knowing what it was about…When I saw Alien in its first week at the Leroy (now Vendome) in the main screen in 70 mm I got it…Great great picture with an incredible mix of talent – David Giler the Hollywood insider, Walter Hill the existensial action specialist, Dan O'Bannon, HR Giger and Ridley Scott and a guest of professionals Ian Holm, John Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Yaphet Kotto

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on August 21, 2009 at 10:25 am

I saw the trailer for “Alien” at the Criterion in NYC in early 1979, with “The Great Train Robbery”. They didn’t show much besides an actress I’d never seen before (Sigourney Weaver) creeping along a corridor holding a flamethrower, but it did look intriguing.

I didn’t go to the Criterion on opening day. I figured it would be too crowded and by all accounts, it was. I should’ve gone there anyway – that would’ve been part of the fun. I saw it at the Orpheum on 86th St., the first and last time I’d ever been there.

It was in 70mm there also, and I was so impressed I stayed to see it twice (I miss being able to do that. I miss having movies out there good enough to WANT to do that). The theater reeked of marijuana, but that was quite common in those days, especially at a sci-fi picture.

I knew what to expect when the infamous dinner scene came on – an article in Rolling Stone practically gave the whole thing away.

A few weeks later I finally got to see it at the Criterion with my brother. By now the afternoon shows were practically empty, but that was effective in its own way – this huge cavernous theater with hardly anyone in it … the Dolby stereo blasting away. It was kind of like being onboard the Nostromo.

CSWalczak on August 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm

This, for me, was one of those movies that I can remember seeing so clearly, right down to where and with whom I was watching it. I saw it on opening night at the Holiday I in Fort Wayne, IN. It was a big barn of a place, but had great gently cuved screen and superb sound. I remember that great tagline – “In space, no one can hear you scream,” but one sure could in the theater during that movie. I also remember that advance poster art, that really made me want to see the film; I had to know what the egg-shaped thing was and why it seemed to smile so menacingly. Few other films have so successfully exploited the notion of “It’s not what you see that scares you, it’s what you don’t.” Add to that the other shocks and surprises, the claustrophophic presentation of working in some of the Nostromo’s confines, the Geiger visuals, and the result was a film that really worked the nerves. It was also a terrific counter to movies like “E.T.” and “Close Encounters” that tended to present aliens as warm and friendly.

Jon Lidolt
Jon Lidolt on August 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I saw Alien in superb 70mm projection in Toronto’s long-gone University theatre. It was the first week, the place was packed and the audience loved the movie.

richjr37 on August 21, 2009 at 3:59 pm

This is NOT what a 10 year old boy should see on his birthday because his first choice(“The Muppet Movie”)was sold out.

But,that exactly what happened on that fateful September day in 1979 when on this at the Parkway triplex in Las Vegas,NV.

Not sure if it was 70mm but i think it was since it was in the main auditorium.

Shigeaki on August 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm

I saw ALIEN at Consolidated’s Cinerama Theatre in 70mm on their gorgeous curved Cinerama screen and the presentation was unforgettable. There was a huge turnout when I saw the film very early during it’s run.

carolgrau on August 21, 2009 at 9:18 pm

God I really feel old. We ran this at the Warner in Pittsburgh, Pa. I wish you guys would quit bringing out these aniversary’s makes me feel older than all get out.Great job just kidding.

markp on August 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm

I actually had the pleasure of running it at the split GCC Menlo Park Twin. 800 seats sold out every show day after day. The 70MM rocked. 10 years later, I had the pleasure to run the last 70MM film there in 1989, “The Abyss.”

andysummers on August 22, 2009 at 10:32 am

Year was around 1986 I think.

Regrettably enough I only saw Alien at late night showing at the once called Cannon cinema Westover road Bournemouth screen 2 which is not an okay cinema for front stereo LCR. The surrounds are, okay not totally impressive but at least they surround you!

I believe it was monaural print as that is what one of the projectionists said to me. It was type A NR it even had the original X certificate rating on the BBFC opening.

The print was a bit worn but playable.

Too bad they couldn’t get hold of 70mm print and show it in screen 1 upstairs as that is fitted with Dolby CP200. Thou at the time the sound system upstairs was only okay it was the old huge speakers from the 60’s with wings on them?

Other than that I was pleased to have seen Alien in scope rather than poorly treated TV/Video presentation of P&S.

William on August 22, 2009 at 11:08 am

Back in July of 1981 at the Picwood Theatre in West Los Angeles. We got booked with a double feature of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Alien” both 70MM. Another Great Presentation from this long gone theatre.

egcarter on August 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm

I attended the advertised sneak preview test screening of ALIEN at the fabulous, packed Plitt Medallion in Dallas on April 6, 1979 in 70mm. It was indeed a stunner; Ridley Scott was ensconced in the lobby. An usher peaked into the auditorium just when the chest-burster scene was onscreen…he fainted! Mr. Scott was apparently elated.

We filled out the preview cards after the screening; I was then interviewed via phone the next day for three hours, giving my reactions and recommendations on the film (there were a couple of expository issues). I was happy to see that upon release of the film, my issues had been resolved with some re-editing! The preview print that we saw had temporary “vanilla-flavored” titles as well.

There was another preview at the Creve Coeur in St. Louis the night before the Dallas screening.

Mark_L on August 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I saw the film during the opening weekend at the beautiful Dayton Mall Cinema I. All 1100 seats were full! Scared me like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I deliberately read nothing about the film ahead of time, so it was all a surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to be so scary. Scariest thing in the film was just a guy walking down a hallway…you were SURE the thing was going to get him, but, nothing happened. It just made things more frightening later. It was brilliant to show so little of the Alien so you never knew exactly how it was going to attack. The audience was really pulled into the movie this way.

Saw it later at Cinema East in Columbus (Whitehall). Charlie Sugarman was really proud that he was getting a 70mm print, even though they did not have 70mm Dolby equipment. At that time, a number of 70mm prints were struck without Dolby encoding.

This is the film that brought back 70mm to a larger audience. This film went out beyond the major cities. It proved that audience would come out in droves for these special presentations.

JodarMovieFan on August 22, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Great retrospective, Michael even though the site has discussed this movie before. I like your 70mm feature on in70mm.com, too.

I was too young to see a rated R movie, much less anything else in a theater so said my conservative parents. By that time, in early ‘79, I had seen Superman, Rocky and Escape From Alcatraz in theaters since my oldest brother pretty much forced us (my brothers) since he had the car and driver’s license. I do vividly remember the ads on tv for it and even those were creepy. The eerie music, the slow title revelation and the very short snippets of the movie and the cracking egg and light effects. It wasn’t until early '80 that I snuck in to see this movie, at a midnight showing, at the now closed AMC Academy 6 in Greenbelt MD. The theaters were one of the first of the AMC’s in the DC area and were basically shoe box theaters with Dolby sound. The crowd was packed and for a pre-teen having not seeing such a film was shocking to say the least. The chest burster scene had people screaming as well as the other scenes involving the alien. What was especially cool was the final countdown when Ripley engages the auto destruct and runs through the Nostromo corridor with that cool strobe lighting effect in the theater.

When they released the re edited version in ‘04, I caught it in DLP and THX and thoroughly enjoyed it and the new scenes. Even though by that time I had seen the movie many times, the digital sound mix still had me and my movie going friend jumping during the scary scenes.

Even though I did not experience this movie in 70mm, it still is quite an experience in 35mm or even DP. They don’t make them like this anymore. I hear Ridley Scott is involved in a prequel. It should be interesting and one to see when it comes out.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 23, 2009 at 5:00 am

I saw it at the Dadeland Twin in South Miami in 70mm. The sequel, ALIENS, in 355mm was the better film in a mediocre series.

pbubny on August 23, 2009 at 10:31 am

“Alien” in 70mm/6-track mag Dolby on the giant screen of the RKO Paramus was electrifying. The slow buildup got the nerves jangling, and I recall the tension being so high during the final 20 minutes that I peed nonstop for about three minutes after the movie! I saw it twice more that summer in 70mm at the Cinema 23 in Cedar Grove, NJ (still years away from being carved up into a fiveplex), but the experience was somewhat diminished, partly because the Cinema 23’s sound system was noticeably inferior to the one in Paramus. “Aliens,” seven years later and also in 70mm, this time over at the Route 17 triplex in Paramus, was an entertaining action flick but failed to live up its hyperbolic ad tagline (“the scariest movie, ever”).

moviebuff82 on August 23, 2009 at 10:43 am

Alien 3 sucked even more, but the fourth one was so-so. I can’t wait for the prequel.

KingBiscuits on August 23, 2009 at 10:57 am

I like all of the Alien films (I like Aliens the most). But usually, I think of the series as being more of a directors' series than a horror franchise (since the styles of Scott, Cameron, Fincher and Jeunet are actually quite different).

SteveJKo on August 24, 2009 at 5:30 am

I saw Alien twice the week it opened. The first time was a Sunday matinee at the Charles in Boston. The 70mm presentation there was great, the stereo sound adding to the anxiety of the audience. I can still remember the buzz of the audience on the way out of the theater, with people debating the fate of the alien victims. Two days later I saw the film again at the Redstone Showcase Theaters in West Springfield, Massachusetts. As much as I loved the Charles, the Showcase presentation was even better. It was in their theater number five, which was the last of it’s undivided giant curved screen auditoriums. When the red velvet curtains opened, the theater was filled with that ominous sound track. Does anyone here know, were the 70mm Alien prints released with split stereo surrounds? The presentations I saw sure sounded like that.

William on August 24, 2009 at 6:23 am

The 70MM prints of “Alien” were mono surrounds or format 42 on a Dolby CP-200. (Dolby print with mono surrounds)

Giles on August 24, 2009 at 6:42 am

in honor of the 30th Anniversary, the Film Forum in NYC had screened a new 35mm print of the ‘director’s cut’ in July and the DC engagement of it will occur Sept 11-17th at the AFI Silver.

Aparofan on August 24, 2009 at 11:35 am

I saw it sometime during its first run at the Midland in Kansas City, a gorgoeus movie palace with a huge screen and great sound. It was in 70mm but I was a little young to fully appreciate it. I was nine years old and it scared me half to death. My dad thought it was going to be more like Star Wars and was pretty shocked when it wasn’t. I’d think the R rating would have tipped him off. We stayed for the whole thing though. To this day, it’s the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

KingBiscuits on September 26, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Recently, Pandorum tried to be this decade’s Alien but it came off as Resident Evil 4. Very disappointed.

Oldtheatremanager on November 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm

While I was closing down the Creve Coeur in St. Louis, MO we found some of the original footage there was about 100 frames of it in 70mm format. It was shoved in a box in the basement.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on October 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Played First Run at NATIONAL HILLS THEATRE in Augusta,Ga.Even though it was 35mm it was great on that large screen.Played several weeks in a 781 seat house.

raysson on October 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Played First-Run at PARK TERRACE THEATRE in Charlotte,NC. Was shown in the largest auditorium(seating capacity of 700)and in 70MM-Six Track Dobly Stereo. The only North Carolina theatre that show it in 70MM during its original enagement.

Other cities wouldn’t get the film until June or July of 1979 that was either presented in 35MM and in Dobly Stereo….

Terrace Theatres 1 & 2

Village Plaza Theatres I-II-III [DOBLY STEREO]

Cardinal Theatres 1 & 2

Lakewood Center Theatres 1 & 2 [DOBLY STEREO]

Bordeaux Theatres 1 & 2

Oleander Cinemas 1 & 2

raysson on November 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Rumor has it that there will be another installment of ALIEN…this time around with Swedish newcomer Noomi Rapace in the title role. You know from the “Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”?

MichaelAD on April 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Thanks for your work on this. I think that you may have the listing for Denver CO wrong. Alien opened at the Continental rather than the Cooper. I could double check it at the Library’s microfilm section if you are interested. Great memories either way. Thanks again

Norm on December 17, 2020 at 5:24 pm

I saw it at the King of Prussia: SamEric King Twin as a 13yo it scared the crap out of me.

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