The xenomorph inner-mouth is pretty unique, I don't think I've ever seen it or anything similar in any real creature.

Do we know if Ridley Scott found inspiration for it anywhere in nature or did he think it up completely from scratch?

enter image description here

  • 34
    I think it might have been H. R. Geiger’s idea (thought I’m not actually sure). Commented May 4, 2016 at 11:20
  • 5
    the Xenomorph is definetly one of Geiger's (moviepilot.com/posts/1567769) in the originals before the concept art in the previous link the inner mouth was phallic. I will post a proper answer once I get to my own computer and can reference the links and evidence :)
    – GMasucci
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 13:22
  • @GMasucci Re phallic - IIRC from a documentation about Geiger, condoms were used in the construction Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:41
  • 8
    @PaulD.Waite, GMasucci, Hagen von Eitzen: It's Giger, not Geiger
    – Ubik
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 21:52
  • 3
    @Ubik: oh lord. Thank you; I did well to link to his Wikipedia page and still manage to misspell his name. Commented May 5, 2016 at 8:13

10 Answers 10


H.R. Giger actually came up with the second mouth, not Ridley.

I have read interviews with Giger where he describes the second mouth as being added to evoke male oral rape. Some of Giger's paintings show that in a much more obvious manner (warning, NSFW!).

Much of the xenomorph original design was based around the feelings Giger wanted to evoke with it, such as having no eyes.

  • 18
    But where did Giger get the idea from? Office equipment? media.giphy.com/media/xTiTnqt1AJswuOyoyk/giphy.gif Commented May 4, 2016 at 16:17
  • 6
    @joeytwiddle from his own twisted subconscious I believe. All his artwork, even pre-alien, has a very oral focus...
    – evilscary
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 16:26
  • 2
    Maybe he got the idea from a drink machine. Sometimes the drinks come out the wrong way, and you have to stick your hand up the machine's mouth to get it out. Commented May 9, 2016 at 2:13
  • @evilscary Freud would probably have diagnosed him as orally fixated. (Please don't listen to Freud, he smoked too much cocaine).
    – Pharap
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 13:44

There really are abominations in nature with double jaw. For example Moray eel.

I don't now about any in letter confirmation of this as source of inspiration, but I would be willing to put small bet on it.

  • 2
    The paper describing this came out in the 2000s, so I don't think this can be the inspiration. Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharyngeal_jaw
    – DQdlM
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 13:17
  • 3
    Not sure if that's really the inspiration (despite what the video says), but in the case of the Moray, the inner jaw does not shoot outside of the mouth like in Alien, which seems like an important difference. Commented May 4, 2016 at 18:12
  • 5
    @KennyPeanuts: The papers cited in the wikipedia article came out in the 2000's, I seriously doubt that was the first time they'd ever been noticed (as existing, not necessarily the particulars of their function). Commented May 4, 2016 at 18:14
  • 1
    @MattBurland Reading the intro to the Nature paper and looking at the first couple of sources, it looks like the presence of pharyngeal jaws was known but this paper from 2007 is the first demonstration that they are raptorial, that is launch out like the xenomorph's.
    – DQdlM
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 18:22
  • 4
    @KennyPeanuts It seems it is indeed not, though he was apparently amused by the similarity (quote at bottom)
    – Tim Stone
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 19:48

I think all the inspiration for the overall look of the xenomorph, the ship, the space jockey and the second jaw came from H R Giger's work.

There is a book about Giger and "The artwork behind Alien", the book is called "Giger's Alien".

It was published in 1994, but it's all the artwork that Giger came up with for the original film.

  • 4
    In the credits, H.R. Giger is credited with "Alien design", so officially, the credit goes to Giger. See: imdb.com/title/tt0078748/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm Commented May 4, 2016 at 13:16
  • 1
    The book "Giger's Alien" was first published in 1980.
    – Ubik
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 21:55
  • I can recommend the book if you like both Giger and the movie. The only bad thing is that it has a really awkward shape.
    – Skurmedel
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 2:31

I knew Giger provided much of the concept artwork for Alien, but for some reason I always assumed the inner-mouth was a Ridley creation... how wrong I was:

enter image description here


All the concepts come from HR Giger's book Necronomicon, which predates the movie. As soon as Ridley Scott saw the book, he knew what he wanted and Giger came on board. You can get the book on Amazon (very def not-safe-for-maiden-aunties).

  • 4
    Hey! I'm a maiden auntie... OK, so I actually don't like horror movies, and the few scenes that I've unavoidably seen from the Alien franchise have been unpleasant, to say the least, but still. Harumph.
    – Martha
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 23:55
  • 1
    Martha? Why did you say that name!!! Oh no what have I done wrong! I'm sorry, please Clark will you be be my buddy now?
    – JK.
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 5:43

TL;DR: As has been said by other users, Ridley Scott got the idea from HR Giger. Giger said he wanted the xenomorph to be insect-like, but also denies that he modeled the xenomorph on any real-world species. It was based on his highly sexual Necronom series.

However, this isn't exactly true - in fact, it was screenwriter Dan O'Bannon who brought Giger into the fold. Scott certainly supported O'Bannon's wishes to have Giger design the visual effects, but he didn't come up with the idea himself. Long before Ridley Scott had anything to do with the project, O'Bannon had decided to make a movie "about a Giger monster"; O'Bannon actually got Giger to agree to work on the film before Scott was ever involved.

Giger's influences included his earlier biomechanical works with dark imagery suggestive of sexuality and rape; insects; his previous work in industrial design, where everything (like the xenomorph's long head) has a function (like housing an inner piston-like mouth); and Francis Bacon's Crucifixion triptych.

Ridley Scott's actual role:

Despite what most people seem to believe, Alien was first and foremost the brainchild of screenwriter Dan O'Bannon. He was working on the script for a movie he called Memory when a fellow screenwriter named Ron Shusett (then writing an early draft of what would eventually become Total Recall) contacted him after seeing O'Bannon's first film, Dark Star. Soon, O'Bannon and Shusett were working together on Memory, and it began to evolve into what we now know as Alien.

O'Bannon took six months off from writing the script (which now had the working title Star Beast) so he could move to Paris and work on Alejandro Jodorowsky's doomed attempt at a movie adaptation of Dune; when that project fell apart, he returned to LA, where he lived with Shusett and focused again on Star Beast. Despite the failure of the Dune project, his time in France had been very productive, because it introduced him to the work of an artist named HR Giger.

[Giger's] paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster.
- Source

Shusett introduced an idea he'd been mulling over for some time - a story about "gremlins" invading a B-52 bomber during WWII - and the two turned this concept into the second half of the script, which had once again been renamed. The project had finally (and officially) become Alien.

It was around this time that O'Bannon first contacted HR Giger about the possibility of Giger working on the project, and the artist was immediately interested:

"[O'Bannon] speaks very slowly, so that in spite of my poor English I can understand the important things in store for me," reads Giger's July 1977 diary entry. "I am extremely excited to see what happens next."
- Source


"I made the first designs for Alien, even before Ridley Scott was the director"[, said Giger]. But the extent of Giger's contribution and whether he was to continue on the project was not decided. "When The Necronomicon was printed, I had hand-bound copies in French, and I sent the first one to Dan O'Bannon. And that was just the moment when Ridley Scott arrived in Los Angeles."
- Source

With the story ~85% complete, Shusett and O'Bannon began to present their script to movie studios. A new company called Brandywine Pictures (headed by Walter Hill and David Giler) agreed to take on the project, but insisted on substantial rewrites and revisions1.

Brandywine's parent company was 20th Century Fox, which showed no interest in the Alien project, and rejected the script. Then, a wildly successful science fiction epic called Star Wars was released in 1977, and Fox finally gave Alien the go-ahead. However, they put the kibosh on O'Bannon's longstanding intention to direct the picture himself, and gave the director's chair to Walter Hill instead. Hill turned down he offer in favor of other projects, and Fox's next suggestions - Peter Yates, Jack Clayton, and Robert Aldrich - were overruled by O'Bannon and Shusett. Finally, Giler and Hill stepped in and offered the job to Ridley Scott, whose debut film, The Duelists, had impressed them, and everyone seemed to approve.

Scott's initial storyboards convinced Fox to double the film's budget, and Scott took the story in a new direction - emphasizing horror rather than science fiction and fantasy:

I was fully influenced at that moment, mostly by 2001, actually. Oh, and Star Wars. I thought that first Star Wars was formidable. But that was the fairy story, Star Wars was the fairy story. I was going to do The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction, because I still think Texas is one of the most formidable... if you're going to do a horror movie, there it is.
- Source

It was then - with the script already written, and written "about a Giger monster", and with Giger already having agreed to get involved in the project if it ever made it to the production phase - that O'Bannon introduced Scott to the work of HR Giger. When Scott saw Necronom IV, he enthusiastically agreed to let Giger set the visual tone for the film and design the effects. Fox was not so sure - they thought Giger's work was too ghoulish to work, and Producer Gordon Carroll took one look at the Necronomicon and exclaimed, "This man is sick!" Fortunately, Carroll and Fox both managed to overcome their initial reluctance and trusted the shared vision of O'Bannon and (more importantly) Scott. With the benefit of hindsight, Carroll later said:

The first second that Ridley saw Giger’s work, he knew that the biggest single design problem, maybe the biggest problem in the film, had been solved.
- Source

Ridley Scott then flew to Switzerland to formally recruit Giger in person, and for the second time, Giger quickly agreed to take on the job. Scott then put O'Bannon in charge of hammering out the fine details with Giger. Dan O'Bannon sent Giger a "List of Elements to be Designed, which read as follows:



EXTERIOR, ANCIENT TEMPLE. Approximately 20 meters tall. Should suggest an ancient, primitive and cruel culture.

INTERIOR, TEMPLE. This is where the Spore Pods are stored. This room is entered through a vertical tunnel in the roof (the normal entrance has long since collapsed). The Spore Pods can be seen ranked around the altar in the center of the room.

SPORE PODS. These are leathery, egg-shaped objects about one meter tall, which contain the larva of the Alien. They have a small "lid" on top which can pop off when a victim approaches.

THE ALIEN, FIRST PHASE. This is a small, possibly octopoidal creature which waits inside the Spore Pod for a victim to approach. When someone touches the Spore Pod, the lid flies off, and the small Alien (First Phase) leaps out and attaches itself to the face of the victim.

THE ALIEN, SECOND PHASE. Once the Alien (First Phase) has attached itself to the face of a victim, it lays eggs in the victim's stomach, and the egg grows into the Alien (Second Phase). This is a small creature which bites its way out of the victim's body.

THE ALIEN, THIRD (MATURE) PHASE. Having left its victim, the Alien promptly grows to man-size, whereupon it is terrifically dangerous. It is very mobile, strong, and capable of tearing a man to pieces. It feeds on human flesh. This creature should be a profane abomination. Our producers have suggested that something resembling an over-sized, deformed baby might be sufficiently loathsome. In any event, we wish you to feel free to create your own design.
- Source

Giger's Inspirations:

Giger envisioned the creature to be human like but with an armor that gave it full protection. And apart from looking menacing, Giger also laced it with sexuality to further disorientate the audience. This is most notable by the way the Xenomorph (it's widely adopted name) penetrates it's victim with it's inner, phallic, secondary mouth which also has a second set of teeth and evokes "vagina dentata" (a vagina with teeth).
- Source


Giger’s philosophy was apparent in the Xenomorph’s physical being, but it made its way into the creature’s life cycle, too. It began with forced entry, with the facehugger pushing its embryo down a host’s throat. Its birth — a forced exit — would be even more violent, bursting forth from the host’s chest cavity, inextricably linking its life to the death of another creature. As an adult, it kills with another phallus, a set of pharyngeal jaws. This is what made the cold, unthinking Xenomorph so terrifying and made Alien as much a horror film as it was science fiction. It turned our own weapon against us, so to speak, and showed us the terror of what we do to each other and the creatures we torture and exploit every day as a matter of simple survival. It was a penis come to life, running amok in a ship full of dark corners.
- Source

Word of God:

Among Giger's inspirations were disturbing imagery suggestive of sexuality and rape; insects; his past work in industrial design; and Francis Bacon's Crucifixion triptych.

H. R. Giger, the Swiss artist who created the alien for the director Ridley Scott, was amused by the researchers’ discovery [of the similarities between xenomorphs and moray eels].

“It’s funny,” he said. “The double teeth came when I did my first drawings. Ridley Scott told me to make it so that it could move. I hadn’t studied any animal. My instructions were that it should be somehow frightening and horrible, and I did my best.”
- Source


We decided to make a very elegant creature: quick, and like an insect.
- HR Giger, Cinefex, 1979.


We come to the conclusion that we must make the beast blind and give it a terrific set of teeth - something like the detail in Francis Bacon's Crucifixion triptych.
- HR Giger's diary, quoted in Giger's Alien


It was Francis Bacon’s work that gave me the inspiration,” Giger said, “Of how this thing would come tearing out of the man’s flesh with its gaping mouth, grasping and with an explosion of teeth... it’s pure Bacon.”

enter image description here
Francis Bacon, Crucifixion triptych


"It was Francis Bacon's work that gave me the inspiration," [Giger] said in a 2009 interview posted to the National Post site in Canada. "Of how this thing would come tearing out of the man's flesh with its gaping mouth, grasping and with an explosion of teeth."
- Source


In the first design for the alien, he had big black eyes. But somebody said he looked too much like a.. . what do you call it... a Hell's Angel; all in black with the black goggles. And then I thought: It would be even more frightening if there are no eyes! We made him blind! Then when the camera comes close, you see only the holes of the skull. Now that's really frightening. Because, you see, even without eyes he always knows exactly where his victims are, and he attacks directly, suddenly, unerringly. Like a striking snake.

Then I started thinking. That long skull ought to have a function. I thought: I can make a long tongue come out. The end of the tongue even looks like the head of the chestburster. See the muscles and tendons of the jaw? We made them out of stretched and shredded latex contraceptives.
- Source


Hmm. During the last shot you can see the Alien's "tongue" slowly coming out. And always to have these big long heads for the monster, because I worked as an industrial designer. Every object needs to have a function. So if it has to be a long head, there's space for a long "tongue". I gave his tongue teeth. I thought it was very good as a filmic device.
- Source

Evolution of the Xenomorph's pharyngeal jaws in Giger's art:

The xenomorph was largely based on an earlier Giger work called Necronom IV; even here, you can see double rows of teeth, suggesting two mouths. The first hint of an extendable double mouth appeared in Necronom II, but with one crucial difference: The finished xenomorph's pharyngeal jaws were merely "phallic"; in Necronom II, the inner mouth is quite literally a phallus.

Necronom IV:

enter image description here

Necronom II (NSFW):

enter image description here

Alien II:

enter image description here

Alien V:

enter image description here

Alien Monster V:

enter image description here

Original xenomorph head prop with pharyngeal jaw:

enter image description here

Xenomorph costume and inner mouth as seen in the finished film:

enter image description here

Just for the hell of it, here's the original concept art for the xenomorph, drawn by Ron Cobb to Dan O'Bannon's specifications before Giger was involved:

enter image description here

1One of the elements introduced by Hill and Giler was the subplot revolving around the android character, Ash; O'Bannon thought this addition was unnecessary, but Shusett said it was one of the best parts of the film.

  • Why does the original prop have eye and nose holes?
    – JAB
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 22:59

The idea of the xenomorphic inner-mouth undoubtedly came from H. R. Giger's work on Alexandro Jodowsky's failed early attempt to film a movie based on the Frank Herbert book "Dune". Around 1974, a story board book for this never filmed Dune movie was produced, the production failed but copies of the book made it to Hollywood and nearly every science fiction movie since, has "borrowed" from that work.

enter image description here

H. R. Giger's vision of a sand worm from the failed "Dune" movie


I have no way of knowing how H. R. Giger got the idea for the xenomorph "inner-mouth". I would just like to point out that he could have gotten the idea from a critter in an existing science fiction story, namely, the novelette "Arcturus Times Three" by Jack Sharkey, which first appeared in Galaxy Magazine, October 1961, and is available at Project Gutenberg. Sharkey's beast does not resember Giger's xenomorph in any other way, but it does have mouths within mouths within mouths.

The hero is Lieutenant Jerry Norcriss, the Space Zoologist on an expedition to Arcturus Beta. His job is to study alien animals from the inside, by wearing a helmet which projects his mind into the brain of a target animal:

A man in Contact wa no longer a man. He was the creature whose mind he inhabited, save for a miniscule remnant of personal identity.His job was to Learn the creature from the inside out. As his mind, off in the alien body, Learned, the information was relayed via the Contact helmet to an electronic brain on the ship, to be later translated into code-cards for the roborockets.

Here he is inside the first of several critters that he Contacts:

Jerry stimulated what should be his tongue into action, checking for the presence of fangs. Within the mouth of the creature, which felt large in relation to its head, he sensed a rasping movement, a kind of dull dry rustling, but could feel nothing with the tongue itself. "Best have a look at it," he decided suddenly, and, opening his jaws, extended the tongue.

Jerry was distinctly shocked by the thing that skewed and writhed forward from beneath his eyes. His sensation was not unlike that of a man who opens his mouth and finds a snake in it. And Jerry further realized that he was now seeing with another sextet of eyes, at the end of the tongue.

He was not one alien — he was two!

His primary six eyes took in the pink-and-gray horror extending ahead of him. The tongue was almost like another animal, serpentine in construction, and had two horny — what? — arms? — pincer-jaws? — at either side of the "head". They were tubular, like a cow's horns, and lay at either side of a wide slit-mouth in the tongue itself.

On impulse, Jerry swiveled the tip of the tongue back upon itself, and gazed through the six eyes around the tongue-slit-and-jaws/arms at the main body of his host. Then, suddenly feeling ill, he snapped the tongue back into his mouth and shut his jaws.

It had been a horrible sight. Where he'd expected to see the abdominal region of his host, just behind the thoracic section, there lay a wet, red concavity, in the midst of gaping jaws. Jerry himself was enhosted in a "tongue" of some still larger creature within that soft earthen burrow! And some remaining fragment of his host's awareness told him that the creature of whom he was the tongue was itself the tongue of yet another creature. He was a segment of some gigantic segmented worm-creature whose origin lay who-knows-how-far beneath the earth.

Carefully, stilling a mental feeling akin to mal de mer, he reprotruded his tongue and looked more carefully at it. Sure enough, just behind the "head" of the thing were two stubby growths, not yet mature. In time, Jerry realized, those growths would develop into a pair of double-elbowed front "arms" with semi-tactile tesselated pads at the base, and the curving jaws/arms would drop off or be resorbed, while that "tongue" extended a "tongue" of its own.


It could be from a dragonfly larvae that use a similar inner mouth to catch their prey

(sorry, I have no info to backup that...)


Also see the Goblin Shark which was also an influence on the mouth structure.

  • 3
    How do you know that it was an influence?
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 23:50
  • Because I remember hearing it from one of the many documentaries. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:04

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