This is my favourite film but I've always wondered why Gorman didn't just tell the marines why they couldn't use their weapons under the heat exchanger.

Course, he shouldn't have to but it would've helped surely.

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    As you say, he shouldn't have to (and mostly didn't - only Drake and Vasquez disobeyed). I'm pretty sure explaining an order partially undermines the authority of that order, on a psychological level. Jun 14, 2016 at 11:03
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    It definitely would have helped. And don't call me Shirley.
    – Valorum
    Jun 14, 2016 at 17:18
  • @ToddWilcox It has been a while since I've watched Aliens, but I don't think that the smart-guns Drake and Vasquez used had armor piercing ammunition. That leaves the plot hole of how they were able to penetrate the alien exoskeletons, but Apone didn't seem the type to only halfway comply with orders, even if he disagreed with them.
    – Xantec
    Jun 14, 2016 at 20:58
  • @Xantec Drake and Vasquez gave up their smart gun power couplers, but Vasquez secretly had two extras with her and handed one to Drake while they exchanged knowing looks. Basically, with those huge guns on, if they could not fire, they would be sitting ducks. They were completely insubordinate but since Drake and Apone didn't survive the encounter, and Gorman was unconscious and then later basically let Hicks take over the mission, not to mention the dire nature of the situation in general, there was no thought of discipline for Vasquez. I'll check the CM tech manual on AP of the smart guns. Jun 14, 2016 at 21:29

4 Answers 4


Someone with actual military experience can likely answer this better than me, but here goes:

Gorman was arguably a well-intentioned but narcissistic, cowardly idiot who was completely new to command. We see this again and again throughout he movie as he freezes, freaks out, and loses control of the situation. In this case, he probably assumed that he didn't need to explain- he was the officer after all, and he had given a command. You'll notice how hostile he was, at that point in the movie, to anybody who disagreed with him or who he perceived as not giving him the respect he felt he deserved.

Would it have been better had he told them? Perhaps. But you could say the same thing all along with how much better it would have been had anybody actually listened to Ripley, etc.

One of the strengths of the movie is how fairly believable much of the characterization is. Ripley doesn't give a convincing speech to the marines because she is still struggling with the trauma she faced, which makes them all shrug off her warnings in a completely believable manner. Newt is a weird little kid because she had to be to survive. Their officer is out on his very first drop and finding that real life doesn't match any of the sterile classroom lessons or simulations, and he breaks from it. He ends up having his own arc, finding redemption with Vasquez, but he needed that downfall to find redemption.

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    It is poor leadership, plain and simple. Gorman is a weak leader, probably chosen as he would be easily controlled by Burke. Apone supports him like a good NCO but unfortunately it just exacerbates the situation by causing Vasquez and Drake to circumvent the "no firing order". I'm sure at least some of the Marines understood why Gorman issued the order, at least Hicks does when he transitions to his antique shotgun.
    – Jason K
    Jun 14, 2016 at 18:17
  • 'He was the officer and he had given a command.' : end transmission. "Just do it, Sargent. And no grenades."
    – Mazura
    Jun 14, 2016 at 21:03
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    @JasonK I never considered that he might have been selected by Bourke because he was weak. Tricky. Depends on how arrogant the company is- I mean, we know they are jam packed full of hubris, but it takes Ralph Wiggum levels of reality-altering dumb to purposely choose an idiot to be in command of potentially your very life. Then again, considering the crap the Company does, it's not unreasonable.
    – Broklynite
    Jun 14, 2016 at 21:21
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    It's in the company manual, page 12: 'screw them over for a larger percentage.' "Burke. It was Burke."
    – Mazura
    Jun 14, 2016 at 21:34
  • @Broklynite yeah, I can't come up with any other reason why Gorman would be in command. According to this site (avp.wikia.com/wiki/William_Gorman) it also says Burke specifically chose Gorman, and it cites the Aliens novelization and the Colonial Marines Tech manual as sources. Been a LONG time since I've read either, so I can't confirm. It seems odd to have a junior officer in command of that kinda mission but the USCMC seems to do it a lot. For example, the dropship pilot is just a corporal, while in the real world they would be an officer or at least a Warrant.
    – Jason K
    Jun 15, 2016 at 17:32

I was going to put this in my comment but I think it will work better as a complete answer. It is subjective though, based on my experience with military officers.

Gorman likely issued the order without explanation because he didn't want to open the decision up for debate and he was embarrassed. For starters, he failed to properly assess the location and detect the problem prior to making entry. Second, Ripley is the one who saw it, not him. Finally, he didn't perform a proper risk assessment to determine if pulse rifle and smartgun ammunition could actually damage the heat exchangers (as opposed to all the explosions that go off during the chaotic extraction when the ammunition cooked off [and presumably some grenades]). Burke and Ripley explain the problem to him but I'm not really sure he completely understands the risk himself.

So he was in a very weak position to issue the order. Any challenge to it would be hard to justify and expose his incompetence in not noticing it earlier and not adapting his plan to accommodate the reduced firepower (for example, setting up the remote guns as a fall back position should the squad be pursued). Gorman appears to be very self-conscious and unsure of himself and the early interactions with the squad (almost all negative in some way) reinforce that impression. So instead, he "doubles down" by making a blunt order, silencing any protest, and hoping for the best. He relies on the strength of Apone to enforce the command by collecting magazines instead of appealing to the team as a whole to get compliance.

Hicks at least might have figured out why Gorman issued the order as he transitions to his shotgun. Vasquez and Drake disobey the order which is a clear indication that Gorman failed as a leader (or that they are both malcontents).

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    "A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops" -"Black Jack" Pershing Jun 14, 2016 at 19:48
  • Plus, if there was any discussion to be had, that would not be the time or place (hunting unknown number and location of xenomorphs that took out the colony). Jun 16, 2016 at 16:17
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    I'd point out schlockmercenary.com/2008-11-30 through schlockmercenary.com/2008-12-04 for the counterargument Vasquez and Drake would have made -- and I'll note they held fire until /after/ the ammo bag went boom and collateral damage likely stopped being an issue. Sep 4, 2017 at 15:02

Interestingly, the order of events in the film's official novelisation is actually rather different. The troops are clearly aware of the implication of their actions, they just don't seem to care, believing that their personal safety is worth more than the passingly small risk of causing a containment failure.

"Where’d you get that, Hicks? When I saw that bulge, I thought you were smuggling liquor, except that’d be out of character for you. Steal it from a museum”

"Been in my family for a long time. Cute, isn’t it?”

Some family. Can it do anything?”

Hicks showed him a single shell. "Not your standard military-issue high-velocity armor-piercing round, but you don’t want it going off in your face, either". He kept his voice down. "I always keep this handy. For close encounters. I don’t think it’ll penetrate anything far enough to set off any mushrooms".

  • This question is asking about the movie, not its novelization. And "they just don't seem to care" is an answer (more of a comment, really) as to why they don't care, not why Gorman doesn't explain.
    – Mazura
    Jun 14, 2016 at 21:01
  • @Mazura - Well, the novelisation would seem to imply that the soldiers worked out why they shouldn't be using explosive rounds on their own. That, at least, would apply to the movie as well as the novel.
    – Valorum
    Jun 14, 2016 at 21:13

It was that they couldn't use explosive ammunition. They could only use plain rounds. Its possible that the heat exchanger could take a hit from a bullet but not an explosive one. The marines could then be seen with handguns and pump action shotguns

  • 1
    That may be the case, but the question is asking why he didn't explain the situation to his troops rather than simply ordering them to avoid using those rounds.
    – Valorum
    Jun 14, 2016 at 17:20

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