Alien 3 was forced to change its ending at the last minute due to a rival blockbuster. Alien 3 ranks alongside the likes of Apocalypse Now and World War Z when it comes to nightmarish productions. The sequel spent years in development hell before David Fincher was hired to direct, but from an incomplete script to creative disagreements and other production hassles, the project appeared cursed. The film was a critical and commercial disappointment upon release, though it has received some reevaluation over the years.
Alien 3 is one of the bleakest blockbusters ever mounted by a major studio too. The sequel opens with the gruesome deaths of Hicks and Newt and ends with the demise of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley herself. The oppressiveness was no doubt aided subconsciously by the struggle of filming Alien 3, but its commitment to delivering such a dark closing chapter for Ripley’s story is almost admirable. It was one of Weaver’s conditions that Alien 3 ended with Ripley’s death, but while that ending was always in place, the finale had to be reshot to distance itself from another big sci-fi sequel.
How Alien 3’s Original Ending Was Different
Alien 3’s finale sees Ripley and the prisoners luring the lethal “Dragon” Xenomorph into a trap, and finally killing it. As Ripley was previously implanted with an Alien Queen embryo, she planned to die by suicide before the Weyland-Yutani corporation can arrive and extract it from her. While Ripley is briefly tempted by Bishop II’s (Lance Henriksen) offer to surgically remove it and save her life, she decides to rid the universe of the creature once and for all. The original Alien 3 ending saw her leap backward and descend into the molten lead, where she – and the embryo inside – are quickly consumed by the furnace.
Alien 3 Changed Its Original Ending Because Of Terminator 2
While Alien 3 was filming, Fox and producers Walter Hill and David Giler had heard about the ending to Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. To recap, T2 also concluded with a finale set around a vat of molten lead where the human characters are chased around by a relentless killing machine. In Judgment Day, both the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) are destroyed by molten lead; in the case of the latter, it’s an act of noble sacrifice, as his complete destruction is the only way to ensure Skynet won’t destroy the world.
Despite the context and characters being quite different, the filmmakers behind Alien 3 became worried critics and viewers would assume they had ripped off Terminator 2’s ending. Reshooting an entirely different demise for both the Xenomorph and Ripley was out of the question, so they instead shot an additional moment to help differentiate the two finales. In Alien 3’s theatrical release, the Alien Queen embryo bursts out of Ripley’s chest trying to escape its impending demise. With an almost serene look, the dying Ripley just holds onto the writhing creature as they fall into the vat.
Why Alien 3’s Original Ending Is Better
Both co-star Charles Dance and Giler would later confirm Alien 3’s ending was reshot to avoid T2 comparisons. The producers of Alien 3 would have saved themselves some heartache had they shot a few versions of the ending in the first place. Some drafts featured alternate endings, such as the Alien Queen bursting out of Ripley and trying to escape before her jump, with the two then falling into the vat.
The ending to the theatrical cut is somewhat hampered by crude green screen effects during Ripley’s death dive, but it does give her the final victory over both the beast and Weyland-Yutani, as she goes to her end knowing she’s destroyed the former and outsmarted the latter. That said, it’s an added moment of bombast the sequel doesn’t really need. It still works emotionally, but it feels like the purpose of Ripley’s sacrifice is needlessly underlined. The original Alien 3 ending – which was later restored for the Assembly Cut – just works better. Ripley makes her decision and jumps, and the execution of the moment already distances it from Terminator 2.
The response to Ripley’s Alien 3 demise was predictably mixed in the aftermath of the sequel’s release too. While it may have been designed to close out the saga, a few years later, Weaver would sign on to play a Ripley clone in Alien Resurrection. While she had once considered an Alien 5 return for a concept spearheaded by director Neill Blomkamp, that project’s cancelation has seemingly killed her interest in reprising Ripley again. As of now, Alien 3 stands as the final chapter of the Ellen Ripley story; in hindsight, it’s also tricky to see how anyone felt her ending could be seen as a Terminator 2 ripoff also.