In Alien, it made sense for the whole crew to land on the planetoid. The crew was relatively small (and got smaller as the story progressed) and you might expect the Science Officer (Ash) to go as well as both engineers (Parker and Brett).

It doesn't stretch the imagination to imagine Kane, Ripley and Lambert wanting to go (although perhaps not Lambert). However, in Aliens, does it make sense for the whole crew of the USS Sulaco to land on LV-426? Surely it would have made sense to have some crew remain on the Sulaco?

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    Didn't one stay in the drop shuttle in orbit after dustoff.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 18:10
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    For the record, in Alien they had no choice but to land the entire crew since the actual ship (the Nostromo) splits off from the refinery.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 21:23
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    @Paulie_D - They dropped off the military personnel, then retired to what they thought would be a safe distance, a few tens of miles away.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 21:24
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    @Paulie_D Two stayed with the drop ship: Farro and Spunkmeyer. They were definitely military, I believe both having the rank of lieutenant. They did not go back to orbit but held "on station" nearby on the ground. For some reason they let down the ramp and Spunkmeyer went outside, possibly to relieve himself. An alien infiltrated the drop ship while the ramp was down and killed them both, causing the crash and destruction of the drop ship. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:06
  • Ah, correction, Colette Ferro was a corporal and Daniel Spunkmeyer was a Private, First Class. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:15

4 Answers 4


It is made abundantly clear that everyone on earth underestimates the menace of the Aliens.

This is shown in several occasions from the way the corporation receives Ripley’s story, to the attitude of the crew or the size of the crew itself. Not to mention the fact that they include a civilian and a bureaucrat in the party. They simply are not evaluating the threat to be high. The story grows darker and more sinister as it evolves, drawing the marines slowly into realizing where they’ve gotten themselves into.

Tactically, given the crew size, with a fully capable and armored jump ship and the ability to remote control another one, it would make little sense to leave anyone behind. The advantages are very few and with a reduce crew it makes sense to have the whole team with you. You’re thinking of it in retrospective based on the outcome but from their point of view, bases on what they know, it makes complete sense. There’s just no benefit on leaving anyone behind.

It would have made a lot more sense to use the Sulaco as a command centre if there were several units that would act on different places or there was the need for strategic deployment and control from orbit over a more serious threat or even if nuke from orbit was an option considered in advanced (it’s only considered after, when they realize the actual threat level)

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    As an operation, the inclusion of several more members of crew would not have really been much of an issue. It would seem to me that in any military mission you just don't leave your command centre empty. Just before they departed, Ripley had made them aware of what just one alien was capable of and also pointed out that they were aware of the cargo-hold of eggs.
    – user66716
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:32
  • @jim Remember all the marines seemed to think it would be an easy bug hunt, like several they had been on before. Ripley was unsuccessful in convincing them that the aliens were likely more than mere bugs. Also it doesn't seem like the Sulaco was really the command center, just a logistics tool. The command center seems to have been the APC. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:03
  • Yes but, why was there a 'reduced crew' ? If one team is the standard deployment, why are there two dropships? Why wouldn't they take both in case something went wrong? Why wouldn't that be standard practice? - Who's an authority here?!? (that last one is the answer to the question IMO).
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 1:19
  • Redundancy is standardized in the military as a rule. The Sulaco is an in orbit ship, you don’t want to get there and discover you have to abort the mission just because your drop ship broke. That also applies for not taking both. What’s the need? Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 6:15
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    They don’t leave the command center behind. The sulaco is just a transport ship, is part of the logistic. The command center is the APC, as shown in the movie, with Gorman receiving all the tactical information on screen. They didn’t leave the command center behind. Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 6:20

It might help if you think of the Sulaco and the dropship as a single unit. The Sulaco doesn't need a separate crew since it's just being used as a glorified transport vessel, to get Gorman's military unit from A (Earth) to B (LV-426). The comms officer, the pilots and the science officer that fly the ship are all part of that same military unit.

As such, there's no useful purpose in having extra personnel set aside simply to remain on the Sulaco. It's not clear what they'd even do while the military unit is doing their thing down below and in the very unlikely event that they need something from the ship, the ground troops can just travel back up to the Sulaco and load it with only a few minutes notice. They can use the remote uplink (or the colony's satellite) to communicate with Earth if an extreme need arises and the spare dropship can be remotely piloted by Ash if (as happens) the first dropship is disabled and pilots are incapacitated.

In short, lugging around extra people makes no good sense, either militarily or financially.

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    +1 I expect Ferro and Spunkmeyer are also qualified for remote piloting of drop ships, but they were unavailable by that point. Even though Bishop (Ash was the synthe- I mean artificial person in the first movie) says "I'm the only one qualified to remote pilot the drop ship", I always assumed he meant the only one left alive at that point. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:13
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    @ToddWilcox - They went into the drop with 3 out of 8 of their crew (not to mention Ripley who's also a qualified pilot, albeit one whose license is currently suspended) qualified to remote-pilot the dropship.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:20
  • 8? I believe the marines total numbered 12, if you include Bishop. Gorman, Bishop, Apone, Ferro, Spunkmeyer, Hicks, Vasquez, Drake, Frost, Hudson, Dietrich makes 11. Maybe that's the count. i thought it was two fire teams of four plus two pilots plus Lt plus XO, but I could be wrong. Or I'm missing someone. Ha! Almost forgot Weirzbowski. So 12. Note that once you add Burke then Ripley becomes the lucky number like Bilbo in The Hobbit. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:28
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    @ToddWilcox - I trust you on this. Either way, they've got plenty of pilots and no need of one waiting up in space.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:33
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    Furthermore the Sulaco itself doesn't need a crew. It runs and navigates on its own just fine while the mission personnel are in hypersleep. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:39

Remember, the real goal was not to investigate what was happening, save anyone, or fight the xenomorphs. In Aliens, as in Alien, they wanted to bring alien samples back alive. That is what Burke is there for.

Since he's meaning to gull everyone else on the mission, killing them if need be, Burke wants everyone as close as possible to his domain of control. He doesn't want an independent group of people making decisions without his immediate presence. When he tries to get back on to the orbiter with alien organisms in tow, he doesn't want anything to resist his entry and return to civilization. (Remember, Ripley wanted to keep the alien out in the first movie.). Ultimately, it boils down to Burke (and his bosses) deciding that was the best way for him to control the situation.

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    Burke doesn't make the military decisions though. That's down to Gorman
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 20:19
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    That doesn't really answer the question; Burke-the-company-stooge was playing a role of a cooperative-guy-who-just-wants-the-best-for-everyone, and the former would have to present any plan of action in the guise of the latter. So what reason within the meta-fictional world of Burke being a good guy was there? Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 0:00
  • It's not clear what the relationship is between Weyland-Yutani and the Colonial Marine Corps, but it doesn't seem to be that the latter is in any way subject to the decisions of the former. Burke was almost certainly along primarily because his company owned the whole colony. Also it's clear that there is some hubris at work in the CMC. They are used to "bug hunts" being easy due to their superior intelligence and firepower. The Sulaco has nukes, in the worst case scenarios. The strategy of the CMC seems to be to maximize use of technology and minimize use of personnel. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 12:55
  • @Acccumulation -How to Win Friends and Influence People
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 1:21

Not maintaining a human presence on the Sulaco (the marines' only interstellar transport (of huge dollar value)) is, in my honest opinion, what you might call a 'plot hole'. But a necessary and forgivable one, I think.

If you take a step back from the movie itself and think of James Cameron writing the script, he has often in interviews stated the importance of creating suspense. He does this right from the point that Ripley agrees to return to LV426. She knows and we the audience know that there is likely to be trouble ahead. From there on the level of suspense only grows more overwhelming - that's why Aliens is such an immersive experience. You have to watch right to the end before a level of safety/equilibrium is restored to the lives of the main characters - the ones we've learned to care about.

Anyway, back to the Sulaco being left unmanned. If there were crew present on the mothership, which in real life would always be the case (no matter the level of automation), then the marines on the planet below would have a potentially quick and painless way to escape their pressure cooker of a situation.

Let's say for argument's sake that the Sulaco was controlled by a powerful AI (as the Nostromo is in Alien) then surely it would be monitoring the activity at the colony site below? Not only that but it might conceivably compute in a microsecond the action it needed to take to save the marines i.e. send the second dropship down?

If there was a caretaker crew left on the Sulaco, then they could send the second dropship to the surface. This would have significant consequences for the logical flow of story events. Bishop would not need to make his constricted crawl along the service pipe. And, crucially, there would be no descent into the hell of the alien hive for Ripley, and no splendid finale face off with the dreadful queen.

So, as I said earlier, it's all about maintaining a level of suspense, i think. By eliminating the easy solutions one by one, the marines are left in an ever more precarious scenario.

Just my opinion, but happy to contribute my thoughts.

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