Hollywood boasts plenty of false legends that some still believe are proven history. There are still, for example, fans who will swear to you that the hoverboards in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II were real, but the technology was suppressed because of pressure from parents’ groups. Of course there’s also the famous urban legend about a munchkin actor supposedly hanging themselves on the set of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and the corpse showing up on screen (it was a bird). But according to filmmaker James Cameron, there’s at least one movie legend that’s true, and it has to do with the making of his 1986 hit Aliens.
Cinema Blend recounted the legend in which James Cameron presented his idea for the sequel to Sir Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien. In the legend, in front of “a room full of corporate suits,” Cameron writes the word “Alien” on a board, then adds an S at the end. Wanting to illustrate what that “S” means, Cameron strikes two lines through the letter to turn it into a dollar sign. Hence, Aliens was greenlit. Cinema Blend got a chance to sit down with the director, who says the story is true. Well, it’s kind of true.
James Cameron told the site that he was sitting with three of the film’s producers when he told them he had an idea for the title. That’s when he wrote first “Alien” and then the all-important S on the back of–well, on the back of something. Cameron said it might have been a script, the Aliens treatment, or possibly a “presentation document.” The director said he highlighted the pluralization of the word, saying, “because we’re not dealing with one. Now we’re dealing with an army, and that’s the big distinction.” He said he ended with, “But here’s what it’s going to translate to,” which is when he added the lines to make the dollar sign.
But unlike the legend that suggests this meeting is how James Cameron got Aliens greenlit, from what he tells Cinema Blend, Aliens was already a go by the time the famous meeting happened. Cameron wasn’t pitching the film here — he was pitching the title. Speaking of his clever presentation, Cameron says, “And apparently it worked! Because [the producers] went with the title. They never questioned it.”
And it worked. Aliens was a critical and commercial success — not earning quite as many accolades as its predecessor, but raking in a comparable amount of dough. The sequel was James Cameron’s first directorial effort after 1984’s The Terminator, and helped lay the foundation for a storied career. The sequel has a different tone than the first film. While it’s certainly scary like Scott’s Alien, there’s a stronger focus on action. You get the sense that one or two of the colonial marines in Aliens could’ve taken care of the monstrous villain of the first film before it could rack up a body count. But, of course, because of that S on the end of the sequel’s title, the guns and armor doesn’t make all that much difference in the end.
James Cameron is still telling stories about aliens, but of a much different kind. Since 2017, the director has been working on the production of four sequels to his 2009 mega-hit Avatar. Principal photography has wrapped on Avatar 2 and Avatar 3, with the former film set to premiere in December 2022.