TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, James Cameron made Aliens. People didn't expect much from it, back in '86—John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China was supposed to be Fox's breakout hit that year, while Aliens was thought to be a cash-in sequel, taking the sick majesty of Ridley Scott's Alien and turning it into a dumbed-down war movie, with Sigourney Weaver as some sort of maternal Rambo.
But not only did Aliens work, it's become a hugely influential piece of genre cinema—Cameron's tale of two badass mothers has spawned so many children that we can't even keep track. I've heard a couple podcast hacks are celebrating Aliens' birthday with a 35mm screening at the Bagdad this Friday. (For more info, see My, What a Busy Week!) Another way to show respect? Shine some light on the more uniquely successful of Aliens' many children.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)—Joss Whedon has admitted more than a few times what a giant mark he is for Aliens, and Ms. Summers is the proof; if Joss never falls in love with Ripley, he never creates Buffy. And if Buffy is one of Ripley's daughters, to a lesser extent, Xander is one of Private Hudson's illegitimate brats. Of course, Whedon's Alien fanfic eventually became the colossal dud Alien: Resurrection but even that worked out, as Resurrection served as the rough draft for Firefly.
Battlestar Galactica (2004- 2009)—Without Cameron nailing the look of a utilitarian, grubby, barely futuristic future, Ronald D. Moore's Galactica would've looked more like Star Trek: The Next Generation's pleather-coated, overlit Hilton in space. Instead, the cramped, claustrophobic feel of Aliens translates just as well for heroes fighting killer robots coming out of the halls, as opposed to killer penises coming out of the walls.
Starship Troopers (1997)—Paul Verhoeven took Robert A. Heinlein's work and made a feast of goofy satire out of it, but Aliens set the table for it in pretty much every way, regardless of whether Verhoeven's admitted it or not. In fact, describing Starship Troopers as Saved by the Bell: Colonial Marines isn't exaggeration. It should be the actual title of the film.