The chest-bursting, hissing aliens first seen in the 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien are back for Alien: Covenant. But in terms of the chronology, these xenomoprh creatures are actually returning, but for the very first time. Because Alien: Covenant is both a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien, the story it’s telling is a little confusing. Is Alien: Covenant just Prometheus 2 or what? The answer isn’t simple. Here’s how Alien: Covenant fits into the Prometheus and Alien movie timeline.
Without a doubt, as Peter Capaldi pointed out in Doctor Who, real-life intelligent aliens would be really offended that a series of horror movies is just called “Alien.” And yet, in terms of chronological order, the movie that launches the Alien series doesn’t have the word “Alien” in its title. Like The Phantom Menace is a prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope, and The Magician’s Nephew was retroactively placed before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in everyone’s Narnia boxed set; before 1979’s Alien, there was the events of Prometheus in 2012. When charting the canonical timeline of the Alien-verse, Prometheus is the figurative and literal patient zero.
Most of Prometheus happens in the year 2093, and the events of the forthcoming Alien: Covenant are set roughly ten years later, sometime in 2103. The original Alien is set in 2122, so that puts the famous first adventure of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) roughly another decade after Covenant. Ridley Scott also considers James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens, to be canonical, which finds Ripley waking up in 2179 after being in suspended animation for over five decades.
So, by just focusing on Prometheus, Alien: Covenant and Alien, this seems as simple as one, two, and three. But, it’s not. Because at SXSW this year, Ridley Scott said that there will probably be another movie called Alien: Awakening, and it would happen before the events of Covenant. Really!
“It will go Prometheus, Awakening, Covenant,” the director said and implied that the journey of “this colonization ship” is “integral” to the events of a future film, which presumably will occur in the past, but after Prometheus. In the same interview, Ridley Scott also said there are “four” additional films in development. In theory, one of these four movies includes the mysterious Awakening, but it’s not clear if the other planned films would also take place before Covenant or, potentially, even after Alien. In looking at the gaps in the chronology, Scott has plenty of room to place all sorts of movies. It’s even possible that all these future films could be in the decade in between Prometheus and Covenant. Meaning, right now, Alien: Covenant is Prometheus 2, but if the theoretical Alien: Awakening turns out to take place before, then Covenant could retroactively become Prometheus 3, so to speak.
There’s also set to be at least one flashback in Alien: Covenant, which will find the android David (Michael Fassbender) talking to his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) before the events of Prometheus. What this proves is that even when Ridley Scott’s Alien films inch closer to the future of the original, they can always keep one foot — or tentacle — firmly in the past.
Alien: Covenant opens on May 19 in wide release.