Dan O'Bannon

Daniel Thomas O'Bannon (September 30, 1946 – December 17, 2009) was an American film screenwriter, director, visual effects supervisor, and occasional actor, usually in the science fiction and horror genres.[1]

Dan O'Bannon
O'Bannon in 2008.
Daniel Thomas O'Bannon

(1946-09-30)September 30, 1946
DiedDecember 17, 2009(2009-12-17) (aged 63)
OccupationScreenwriter, director, actor
Diane Lindley (m. 1986)

O'Bannon is best known for having written the screenplay for Alien, adapted from a story he wrote with Ronald Shusett, and writing and directing the horror comedy The Return of the Living Dead. He also contributed computer animation to Star Wars and worked on cult classics such as Dark Star, Heavy Metal, and Total Recall.

Early life

O'Bannon was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Bertha (née Lowenthal) and Thomas Sidney O'Bannon, a carpenter.[2] He attended the art school of Washington University in St. Louis, where he did stand-up comedy routines, did make-up for campus theater productions, and provided illustrations for Student Life, the student newspaper. While there he roomed with future movie producer Michael Shamberg. O'Bannon moved home briefly after Washington University and attended Florissant Valley Junior College where he wrote and directed a short science fiction satire titled "The Attack of the 50-foot Chicken." O'Bannon also attended MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. According to O'Bannon, he was reading an issue of Playboy when he found an article discussing the best film schools, which led him to apply to the University of Southern California (USC).[3] Before applying, O'Bannon was pursuing a psychology degree.[3] It was at USC that he met John Carpenter and collaborated with him on the science fiction student film Dark Star (1974).


Early work

Carpenter expanded the Dark Star short into a feature which was released in 1974 with a final budget of only US$60,000. O'Bannon served in a number of capacities, including scripting, editing and acting in one of the leading roles ("Pinback"). In 1975, Dark Star won the Golden Scroll award (the Saturn Awards' original name) for Best Special Effects.

O'Bannon, growing up a science-fiction and horror enthusiast, abandoned technical work (including a stint as a computer animator on George Lucas' classic Star Wars) for screenwriting.


O'Bannon attended USC Film School and lived near the Los Angeles Campus in an old two-story house affectionately called the "Menlo Manor" which he shared with other USC students (Don Jakoby, who collaborated on several screenplays with Dan including Blue Thunder; and Jeffrey J. Lee, who became a well-known artist in Europe). Part of his student film Dark Star was filmed there, with O'Bannon co-starring as Sgt. Pinback. He spent many late nights in old Hollywood editing his and other student films. His wish was to become a director. Dark Star was edited by O'Bannon using a 1940s Moviola.

He was attached to supervise special effects for an Alejandro Jodorowsky production of Frank Herbert's Dune, but this fell apart in 1975 and the movie was never made as the major Hollywood studios were wary of financing the picture with Jodorowsky as director. O'Bannon's role is prominently featured in the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune. The collapse of Dune left O'Bannon broke, homeless, and dependent on friends for his survival.[4] While living with his friend Ronald Shusett, they came up with the story for O'Bannon's career-making film Alien (1979), for which he wrote the screenplay and supervised visuals.


In 1981, O'Bannon helped create the animated feature Heavy Metal, writing two of its segments ("Soft Landing" and "B-17"). O'Bannon voiced his displeasure with his next big-budget outing, John Badham's Blue Thunder (1983), an action film about a Los Angeles helicopter surveillance team. Originally written with Don Jakoby, Blue Thunder also underwent extensive rewriting, losing some of its political content. He and Jakoby also scripted Lifeforce (1985), a movie based on Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires and directed by Tobe Hooper that veers from alien visitation to vampirism and an apocalyptic ending. It was not well received at the time, and was considered a box office flop. O'Bannon would again collaborate with Jakoby and Hooper for the 1986 remake Invaders from Mars. Purists considered it inferior to the 1950s original and it also performed poorly at the box office.[5] O'Bannon also worked as a consultant for C.H.U.D., helping to create the design concept for the title creatures.[6]

In 1985, O'Bannon moved into the director's chair with The Return of the Living Dead. Like Alien, the film met with success, spawned numerous sequels, and became a cult classic.


In 1990, O'Bannon and Shusett re-teamed to make Total Recall, an adaptation of the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. This was a project the two had been working on since collaborating on Alien. The film earned well over US$100 million. An earlier screenplay by the duo titled Hemoglobin was also produced as the low budget feature Bleeders (1997).

O'Bannon's second directorial feature, The Resurrected (1991), was a low-budget horror effort released direct-to-video. Based on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, it focused on a family's ancient rituals that awaken the dead. In 1995, O'Bannon received a co-writing credit for the sci-fi film Screamers adapted from the Philip K. Dick story "Second Variety", having written the initial version of the screenplay with Michael Campus in the early 1980s.[7]


In 2001, O'Bannon was the filmmaker-in-residence at Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.[8]


In 2013, Dan O'Bannon's Guide to Screenplay Structure was released, co-written with Matt R. Lohr.[9]

Personal life and death

He and his wife Diane had a son, Adam.[10] O'Bannon died from complications of Crohn's disease in Los Angeles on December 17, 2009.[1][11] O'Bannon credited his experiences with Crohn's for inspiring the chest-bursting scene from Alien.[12]


Title Year Director Writer Other Notes
Blood Bath 1969 Yes Yes No Short film
Dark Star 1974 No Yes Yes Actor: "Sergeant Pinback" / Editor / Special effects supervisor / Production desinger
Star Wars 1977 No No Yes Computer animation and graphic displays: miniature and optical effects unit
Alien 1979 No Yes Yes Visual design consultant
Phobia 1980 No Uncredited No
Dead & Buried 1981 No Yes No
Heavy Metal 1981 No Stories No Segments: "Soft Landing" and "B-17"
Blue Thunder 1983 No Yes No
Blue Thunder 1983 No Yes Yes Television series (Writer 2 episodes / Executive story consultant 6 episodes)
The Return of the Living Dead 1985 Yes Yes Yes Actor: "Helicopter Loudspeaker Officer / Bum Outside Warehouse (voice)"
Lifeforce 1985 No Yes No
Invaders from Mars 1986 No Yes No
Total Recall 1990 No Yes No
The Resurrected 1991 Yes No No
Screamers 1995 No Yes No
Bleeders 1997 No Yes No
Area 51: The Alien Interview 1997 No No Yes Documentary film (Actor: "Interviewer 1989")
Delivering Milo 2001 No No Yes Actor: "Clerk"
Alien vs. Predator 2004 No Story No
Total Recall 2012 No Story No Posthumous release


  1. Bruce Weber (December 20, 2009). "Dan O'Bannon, 63, Who Wrote Screenplay for 'Alien,' Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved September 11, 2014. Dan O’Bannon, whose screenplays for “Alien,” “Total Recall,” “The Return of the Living Dead” and other films made him a cult hero among science fiction aficionados, died on Thursday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 63.
  2. "Dan O'Bannon Biography (1946-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  3. Newton, Steve (May 1992). "Dan O'Bannon: A Career Resurrected". Fangoria (112): 36–39, 68 via Internet Archive.
  4. Miska, Brad (December 18, 2009). "R.I.P. Dan O'Bannon". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  5. "Invaders from Mars". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  6. "Financing". chudfacts.com. Archived from the original on July 8, 2011.
  7. "Rest in Peace: Dan O'Bannon". Dread Central. Archived from the original on December 19, 2009.
  8. Script Magazine (February 13, 2013). "Screenwriting the Dan O'Bannon Way". Script Magazine. F+W. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  9. Hurwiztz, Mathew (December 1, 2012). "Dan O'Bannon's Guide to Screenplay Structure by Dan O'Bannon & Matt R. Lohr". Cinemachine. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  10. Reynolds, Simon (December 18, 2009). "'Alien' writer O'Bannon dies, aged 63". Digital Spy. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  11. Williams, Owen (December 18, 2009). "Dan O'Bannon 1946–2009". Empire. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  12. Levi, Lawrence (July 5, 2011). "The Horror! The Horror! Fright Flicks Finally Get Their Due". New York Observer. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
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