As part of his relentless Avatar promotion, James Cameron did a headline feature for Empire in which several other filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro, Rian Johnson and Edgar Wright asked him questions about his long career, including Aliens.
Wright asked him directly about a story that has become something of a Hollywood legend, specifically how Cameron got Aliens greenlit.
The story is that Cameron used his success in 1984 with The Terminator to get a meeting with 20th Century Fox to pitch a sequel to Ridley Scott’s famed and critically loved 1979 horror sci-fi Alien.
“I had lunch with a bigshot producer when I was about to start Aliens who said, ‘This is a no-win for you. If your movie’s good, Ridley will get the credit. If it’s bad, it’s all you. It’s a career-ender.’ I said: ‘Yeah, buuuuuut… I like it.’ I was maybe a dumbass fanboy, but I could see it so clearly in my head that I just had to go make it.
And yes, it’s true. I was in a meeting with the studio head and the executive producers, and I turned my script over and on the blank side of the last page I wrote ALIEN. Then I drew an ‘S’ on the end. Then I drew two vertical lines through the S and held it up to show them. Maybe it was just Pavlovian conditioning when they saw the $ sign connected closely to the word ‘Alien’. Or maybe it was the confidence I projected. But they said yes.”
So the legend that his pitch included him writing “Alien” on a piece of paper and simply adding an “S” in front of executives is true.
Unbelievably, the budget of Aliens was only $18.5 million and it recouped more than ten times that figure.