12. Aliens

12. Aliens (1986). James Cameron’s magnificent bastard of a science fiction war movie is unforgettable—it’s also a terrifying first-time experience. Its horror elements are front and center, with jump scares, fake-outs, gross-outs, rape imagery, and up-and-down action beats that keep the adrenaline flowing even when there aren’t any gruesome extraterrestrial monsters on screen. This is the post-World War II American war experience writ in acid blood and xenomorphology. This is the failure of our technological superiority and attitudes of nationalist exceptionalism, revealed to us by the biomechanical horrors of H.R. Giger and Stan Winston—horrors that thrive precisely because of our narcissistic blundering in the dark corners of “our” frontiers. What could possibly be more terrifying to American audiences?

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