In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream: Alien Collectibles

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A science-fiction masterpiece, Alien is still popular with collectors. While the alien egg design eventually changed, the original movie poster, seen here, still features an egg design that resembles a chicken egg.

It is hard to beat a good science-fiction film. The best of the genre tread carefully between speculative fiction and allegory, often showing us the dirty underbelly of humanity. If someone asked what my favorite film was for most of my years, I would instantly answer with Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner. But if pushed to expand that list, I would undoubtedly include the film Scott directed immediately before my beloved replicant flick: Alien.

Pitched as a Jaws in space, Alien took a circuitous route to existence. The brainchild of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, it took a failed attempt at adapting Dune by director Alejandro Jodorowsky for the pieces to fall into place. After that adaptation failed to materialize, O’Bannon took inspiration from some of the people involved, notably Chris Foss, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, and H.R. Giger, to develop a screenplay following a group of astronauts as they dealt with an alien siege. Development took nearly a year, as different production companies and directors were involved. Still, by October 1978, Ridley Scott had wrapped filming on O’Bannon’s vision.

Alien was finally ready to meet the public in the summer of 1979. Initially, critics were not sure what to think of the film, as some expected something akin to the family-friendly space opera Star Wars. Instead, they found themselves taken aback by the grimy and dark horror story that unfolded. But as the summer wore on, the public and society warmed to the film, and it finished the year as the ninth highest-grossing film. Now, decades later, Alien is widely recognized as one of the greatest science-fiction films and franchises in history.

Despite the original film recently turning 40, there is still an active base of collectors that seek memorabilia and collectibles related to the film. I know this for a fact, as I am one such collector, with a vintage Alien poster tucked away in my office. For those who might be budding Alien collectors or those always on the hunt for the next great item to flip, I have highlighted some noteworthy collectibles that many Alien fans would be delighted to own.

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Before the poster was redesigned immediately prior to the film’s release, the advanced release poster, seen here, featured repeating text, a group of red astronauts, and a different tagline.

Kenner Figures

After Star Wars: A New Hope took the box office and toy stores by storm in 1977, major studios were keen on getting in on the sci-fi cash cow. When 20th Century Fox signed on to produce and distribute Alien, they wanted to monetize the movie similarly. So in 1978, while Alien was still in production, Fox approached Kenner Products to create a line of Alien action figures. Kenner has already found great success with its line of Star Wars figures and was rapidly expanding into other licensed products.

Working with designs Giger provided, Kenner developed six different character designs, a game, and a movie viewer. As movie-based figures were still a nascent market, Fox and Kenner decided they would release the toys in stages, starting with a soft release of three items before rolling out the rest of the toys the following year if the film proved to be a success. The initial release wave included the Alien board game, the movie viewer, and a 19-inch Xenomorph (Alien) figure.

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As the lore surrounding Alien was fleshed out over a series of films, the alien species, like this Kenner doll of the original alien, came to be known as Xenomorphs.

The Alien board game was a survival game where players attempt to save their astronauts from the attacking aliens. Marketed as an “exciting game of elimination and escape,” it was supposedly suitable for children seven and up. The movie viewer was a small plastic handheld device that played Super8 film featuring stills from the movie. Finally, the large-scale figure was a somewhat terrifying replica of the film’s monster, complete with a glow-in-the-dark skull and moveable jaws. Kenner and Fox kept all of these items a secret until the movie’s launch. The studio did not want to spoil the surprise surrounding the alien’s eventual reveal.

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This movie viewer allowed children to view stills from the film and was, surprisingly, marketed for children “5 and up.”

What both Kenner and the studio somehow failed to realize along the way, though, is that Alien is decidedly not a family-friendly film. A gruesome tale, the movie was rated for mature audiences only in nearly every country in which it was released. If you have seen the film, it comes as no surprise that the Kenner toys flopped upon launch, failing to find an audience with children. The expanded rollout of the five additional figures was scrapped within weeks of the movie’s debut.

The Kenner trio is popular with collectors and a worthwhile purchase if you find them in good condition and at a reasonable price. As with many figures, unused items in their original box are often more valuable than loose figures.

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The original Alien board game, seen here, required players to move their astronauts around the board to evade the rampaging alien aboard the Nostromo.

ReAction Reboot

For years, interest in the Kenner toys remained strong with diehard Alien fans, especially once images surfaced of the unreleased designs. In 2013, toy manufacturer Super7 released these figures as part of their nostalgic ReAction line of toys. Timed to launch at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, the figures and packaging perfectly captured the aesthetic of vintage Kenner toys. Five different designs were released: Ash, The Alien, Kane, Ripley, and Dallas. While not nearly as valuable as their historical counterparts, the ReAction toys are somewhat rare and must-have for any Alien fan who covets those classic 3¾” toys.

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ReAction released a set of figures, like these, in 2013 based on the original Kenner prototypes. The preorder set included a bonus figure, a translucent Xenomorph design.

Zippo Lighters

Perhaps a nod to the Nostromo crew’s weapon of choice, Zippo has released two different sets of Alien-themed lighters. In 1999, Zippo partnered with the H. R. Giger Museum to release three Xenomorph lighters, all included in movie-inspired packaging. These lighters, produced in Japan, were limited to 800 items per variant, and each lighter is engraved with its edition number. These rare lighters often sell on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars if they are in good working condition and even more unused in their original packaging.

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Zippo released three different limited edition Alien designs in 1999, like this lighter. All three were developed in conjunction with the H.R. Giger Museum and released in special packaging that highlighted the artist’s career and involvement with the film.

As 1999 was the 20th anniversary of the original film, Zippo also released a set of four anniversary lighters to commemorate the occasion. These designs are all engraved to celebrate the anniversary and feature 3D design elements inspired by the franchise that protrude from the surface of the lighters. While more common than their Giger-specific counterparts, these anniversary lighters can still sell for quite a bit over retail.

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Zippo released four different designs, the complete set pictures here, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film.

Movie Posters & So Much More

Beyond the items mentioned above, there are many other Alien collectibles popular with collectors, like original and variant movie posters (for collectors like myself) as well as an array of replica maquettes from brands like Sideshow Collectibles. Buying, selling, and collecting Alien collectibles can be a rewarding endeavor.

If you would like to see children playing with the 19-inch Kenner Xenomorph, the original television advertisement can be found on Youtube. If you would like to learn more about the making of Alien, there are two documentaries on the subject: Memory: The Origins of Alien and The Beast Within: The Making of ‘Alien.’ I also highly recommend the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, if you would like more context on the project that made Alien possible.

Megan Shepherd is a curator, freelance writer, and artist. She has worked in fine art museums for a decade and holds two master’s degrees in the field. When she takes a break from art, she enjoys science-fiction books, antiquing, backpacking, and eating her weight in Dim Sum.  

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