Since I did the first two Predators, it's only fair I do the first two Aliens as well. This is slightly different, since both of these movies are universally praised, and I think public opinion on which is better is pretty much split 50/50. So this shouldn't shock too many people, but Aliens (2) > Alien.
In fact, I'm going to make a bold statement and say Aliens is my single favorite movie. This is looking at it from every way possible: The acting, the directing, the creature effects, the writing, the cinematography, even the editing combine to really make this the perfect movie. To top it off, the subtexts of the film are actually pretty powerful.
The main point of the film is a battle between two mothers On one side, there's Sigourney Weaver/Ripley, who was cryogenically frozen for years between the two films. During that time, she lost her daughter, but she is given a second chance when she finds Newt, the only survivor of the colony after the aliens torn it apart. On the other side is the Xenomorph Queen, and all of her hatchlings who were being killed by Ripley. Then as far as the marines go, the movie is an allegory of the Vietnam war. They have such better weapons and technology, but they are being killed by these aliens hiding in shadows. The great thing is, you can watch this differently every time, and still get so much enjoyment out of it.
Aliens was director James Cameron's second big movie after Terminator (which was actually a flop at first, and didn't develop much of a following until after it went to VHS) and the studio didn't trust him much. Ha. Let me repeat, the movie studio did not think James Cameron could make a successful movie. Aliens would gross $131 million, which really isn't that great considering Cameron's Titanic and Avatar combined for 4.5 BILLION dollars. Anyway, Avatar is the EXACT SAME MOVIE as Aliens, except with cute glowing blue cat people instead of nightmarish phallic bloodthirsty monsters. A big part of both movies involved the corporate guy trying to use the aliens for profit. He might as well have been the exact same character.
Now lots of people say you can't compare the two Alien films since they are such different genres. True, the original Alien is mainly a thriller while the sequel is action packed as you get. But, the second one is still unbelievably scary. The alien fights were so intense, you never get a chance to sit back in your chair for the last hour and a half. And that scene with the facehuggers... shutters. Aliens has so many more thrills than the original. There is just so much more to the sequel, it is just such a better movie.
And again, the first Alien is still a classic, and the chest bursting scene will go down as one of the greatest moments in movie history. The android scene is a truly underrated great scene too.
Aliens 3 and 4 and the VS films range from ok to horrible, but none of them have any of the magic that the first two do. Maybe I'll get into those some day when I hate myself more.
Speaking of hate, what is the deal with Ridley Scott's new Alien prequel? At first it was going to be about the humans, and not have aliens in it at all. Huh? The originals do a great job with the characterization of the humans while still having plenty of alien slaughter. I mean, Ripley is considered one of the greatest characters on film even from mainstream sources. Now it has aliens, but it's not called Aliens but Prometheus or something. I don't know, but Scott making a Monopoly movie. As in the board game. I'm done with him.
One final note, Aliens ends perfectly. Both films end with the exact same scene, her going to sleep in the cryo-chamber. Pay attention to her at the end of the first and at the end of the second. It's the same scenario with the same character, but with a completely different outlook of life. It's a perfect contrasting harmony.