The original Aliens film is a bit of an acquired taste, I think. As a piece of science-fiction it is truly inspired, it's sensibilities are more arthouse and indie than mainstream blockbuster though, which is why it's never really appealed to me. There's also the fact that I've never been a big fan of horror movies, which is why there aren't any out-and-out horror films in my list. I still can't get past the 'there's a mad serial killer/alien/monster after us, '...let's all split up...' so we can be more easily picked off one at a time. It's just plain dumb! but is such an timeworn convention of horror movies that it's still being used today. Although, the Alien series of films has it's roots in the horror genre, where the original leans more toward horror than sci-fi, James Cameron's sequel goes the other way.
This is the film that turned Sigourney Weaver's Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley into one of the most revered female film characters of all time. Weaver received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal as Ripley (as well as numerous other awards) - one of the Academy's rare nods to a science-fiction film and the film itself went on to be one of the highest grossing of that year despite having an R-rating.
Cameron takes the original's conceit of Scott's Alien, and then dials it all of the way up to 11, with the inclusion of the team of gung-ho space Marines who are fully intent on cutting whatever it is that has caused the company to lose contact with LV-426, down to size. Little do they know, what's in store for them.
From their first encounter with the Xenomorph's though, it's clear that the Marine's only 'think' they're bad-asses as they are sent running and screaming from the bowels of the reactor as the Aliens mow them down. Aliens' version of the '...let's split up...' convention here is Lt.Gorman's order for the men not to pull out and rethink their approach when they realise where they are, BUT not to shoot at anything and to hand all of their ammo over. Because of Gorman's tactically-flawed, panicked and frankly certifiable order, only three of the original nine that enter the reactor survive the encounter. But this gives us one of the many quotable lines in Ricco Ross's Pt. Drake's: "What're we supposed to use, man? harsh language?"
The Special Edition, first released on Laserdisc (1992), goes on to further establish the fact that it was Burke that sent the first victims - Newt's family - to investigate the cave with the 1000's of eggs as detailed by Kane from the first film, knowing full well what would happen to them.
It's the unrelenting buildup of tension, that starts the moment that Ripley and the Marines land on the surface of LV-426 and doesn't stop until the last few minutes of the film that makes this such a great movie though.
As Hicks so colourfully states at the outset: One express elevator to hell... going down!"