We report the reduction in residual stress, the crystal structure, surface morphology and nano-mechanical properties of magnetron sputtered AlN thin films as a function of substrate temperature (Ts, 35–600 °C). The residual stress of these films are varying from tensile to compression with temperature (Ts), calculated by sin2ψ technique. Evolution of crystalline growth of AlN films have been studied by GIXRD and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and at 400 °C a preferred a-axis orientation is observed. The cross-sectional TEM micrograph and the selected area electron diffraction (SAED) of these film exhibit a high degree of orientation as well as a columnar structure. Hardness (H) has been measured by nanoindentation technique on these films ranged between 12.8 and 19 GPa. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.