Dan O’Bannon, writer of ‘Alien’ and ‘Total Recall,’ dies at 63

Dec. 18, 2009 | 10:00 p.m.

Dennis McLellan, the fine obituary writer for the Los Angeles Times, has some sad news for fans of “Alien” and “Total Recall”…

Dan O'Bannon

Dan O’Bannon, the acclaimed science fiction/horror film screenwriter who was best known for writing the blockbuster hit “Alien” and who also directed and wrote the zombie fest “The Return of the Living Dead,” has died. He was 63.

O’Bannon, whose credits include co-writing “Blue Thunder” and “Total Recall,” died Thursday at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica after losing his 30-year battle with Crohn’s disease, said his wife, Diane.

His career began with the low-budget 1974 sci-fi film “Dark Star,” a dark comedy directed by John Carpenter that began as a USC student project and was co-written by O’Bannon and Carpenter from their original story. (O’Bannon himself played what has been described as a “reluctant, flunky astronaut.”)

He went on to write the script for “Alien,” director Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic about a spaceship terrorized by a hideous alien being. It was based on O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s story.

O’Bannon said in a 2003 interview that he modeled the alien’s behavior after the life cycle of parasitic microorganisms.

“One thing I realized hadn’t been exploited in science fiction movies were the physical aspects,” he told the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. “The real world offered many examples which were extremely loathsome and I thought, if it’s good enough for Mother Nature, maybe it will work on an audience.

“One review said that watching this movie was like turning over a rock and finding something disgusting. That was a pretty good description of what I was going after…”


— Dennis McLellan


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Photo: Dan O’Bannon in 1985; Credit: Los Angeles Times

More in: Uncategorized, Alien


2 Responses to Dan O’Bannon, writer of ‘Alien’ and ‘Total Recall,’ dies at 63

  1. bob k says:

    The idea for Alien was taken from A. E. Van Vogt's 1939 short story "A Discord in Scarlet," which is incorporated into "The Voyage of the Space Beagle" Read it online free at
    beginning at Chapter 13 p.118
    lawsuit summary:

  2. Michael Rodriguez says:

    I was so sad to hear of Dan's death. I was a big fan of his work, especially Alien. His screenplay for the film was brilliant and that film changed my life in so many ways. I first saw it in the theaters in 1979 and was never the same. From its' storyline, effects, H.R. Giger's Alien designs and Ridley Scott's excellent direction…….it is almost perfect! Farewell Dan, we loved you!!!!!!!

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