In 1979, the Ridley Scott directed horror/sci-fi movie "Alien" opened in theaters. As the opening credits popped up, the name of the actor Sigourney Weaver came in second place after Tom Skerritt.
But after four decades, Weaver's character in the film "Ellen Ripley" is considered one of the greatest female roles in science fiction films. In fact, it is unnecessary to compartmentalize Ripley just as a female pop culture icon. She can be easily called a hall of famer, ranked among the stalwarts such as Darth Vader, Deck Rickard or T-800.
In four decades, the Alien franchise spawned four movies with Sigourney Weaver. Ripley and Weaver have become synonymous over the years. Ripley is quintessentially the heart of the Alien saga. But she didn't even emerge as the principal hero until 45 minutes into the first movie. Every horror/sci-fi movie has a watershed point when a hero steps up to save the day. When Ripley did so, she was destined to be immortalized as a sci-fi queen.
Ridley Scott and James Cameron, the directors of the original film and the sequel respectively, did not shy away from putting Ripley as a commanding character. Back in the '70s and '80s, female characters merely had a chance to stand toe to toe with men on the silver screen. Just two years after Leia Organa shot stormtroopers with her laser gun in 'Star Wars: A New Hope,' Ripley appeared in 'Alien.' As the film revolves around a cargo spaceship in outer space, Ripley confronts an extraterrestrial threat on the ship. In a fateful turn of events, she emerged as the person in charge whom her colleagues underestimated.
Ripley stands out as a genre queen because she is not flawless. Throughout the first film, she suffers from PTSD which exposes her vulnerability. Still, she goes back to the place that gave her those nightmares to defeat the demons that damaged her life. She is iconic not because she always wins, but because she never gives up.
Sigourney Weaver's first Oscar nomination came with her role of Ellen Ripley. She did not win. It is not surprising because the Academy was never ready to acknowledge genre hits as 'serious films.' Regardless, Ripley is in a league of her own.
The impact of Ellen Ripley as a genre icon will not diminish anytime soon. Her trailblazing presence on screen is a reminder to the individuals she represents. While there are a handful of female characters in genre entertainment, the Ellen Ripleys and Leia Organas remain far too few.
For now, we leave you with a quote from Weaver.
"I think I was really lucky, and I hope someday to complete the Alien saga. I meet so many people for whom these movies mean a lot and it would be great to let the story be finished properly instead of kind of – which is my fault really. I didn't want to do 5 with 4 because I wanted some distance. But maybe someday we'll get to do the final installment and Ripley will find some peace. I hope so."
We second you, lieutenant Ripley!