These are the words of a person who has faced terrifying danger. This is someone who has witnessed unimaginable horrors, made the toughest sacrifices, and stared down a monster so unimaginably ruthless, the readers of BadAssDigest.com just voted it the winner of their Movie Villain Death Match. In space no one can hear you scream, and no one knows that better than Ellen Ripley.
When we first meet Ripley in Alien, she’s waking up out of stasis along with her fellow crew members aboard the spaceship Nostromo. We quickly learn that she’s a competent and occasionally surly part of her team. We also learn that, after a quick stopover on an unknown planet, she and the rest of her crew are not alone on their ship. Suddenly, their simple trip home becomes a quest to survive.
As the story develops (and extends in the Alien sequels), we watch Ripley evolve from a survivor into a warrior. Top that off with her flawless portrayal by the incredible Sigourney Weaver, and you have one of cinema’s greatest characters of all time. Here are a few reasons why that’s not an overstatement.
She’s so very human. She doesn’t have super powers, she doesn’t have a “particular set of skills,” she’s not a martial artist. She barely has a winning personality. What she does have is a mostly steady moral compass, strong survival instincts, and an above-average ability to keep her head in a crisis and express feelings of fear, anger, or even compassion at the same time. You know, like humans do. She’s also pretty handy with a really big gun.
She breaks “the rules.” By simply showing up in stories as a whole person who doesn’t exist to be someone else’s emotional touchstone, Ripley is revolutionary. Is this because early drafts of the script had Ripley written as a man? Maybe. What is true, is that by not creating her in relation to another character, but as a hero that can stand alone, Ripley has been allowed to evolve into a woman who’s representative of most women you know–complex, imperfect, and strong.
She understands the enemy. One of the most fascinating things about Ripley is her ability to think like an alien monster, and use that to her advantage. In the beginning, this simply amounts to, “It wants to survive; I want survive more.” As the films and stories progress, however, her enemy’s motivation evolves, and her understanding evolves with it.
She doesn’t know she’s the hero. Certainly we see her that way, but for her this is not an adventure, and there’s no glory to be had at the end of the trip. There’s only dealing with the next thing that pops up (out of someone’s chest). This frees her from the responsibility to be perfect, and that makes her interesting.
She certainly doesn’t know that, here in our world, she’s a hero for carrying a movie franchise while being a woman, and daring to do it without a series of YA novels to back her up. She’s a hero for being so extraordinarily beautiful without a sexy outfit or makeup or even hair. She’s a hero for the way she’s been allowed to grow over time (again, the way humans do). She’s doesn’t just set a standard for “women in sci-fi” or “sci-fi characters.” She sets a standard for “characters worth watching.” And who knows? If Sigourney Weaver has anything to say about it, maybe we’ll even get to see what she does next.
Tell us why you think Ripley is the greatest in the comments below. You can also chat with today’s contributor Dani Ketch about Ripley and all manner of other things on Twitter, @dani_ketch.