Alien’s Ripley Is My Favourite Action Hero Ever

Alien’s Ripley Is My Favourite Action Hero Ever

Image from Alien via screengrab

Not heroine. Hero, period.

While it’s rad that Ellen Ripley happens to be a woman, that doesn’t at all impact her level of badassery — though it does inform her character in ways that make her much more interesting than virtually any other cinematic hero. She’s complicated, she feels real, and I have total confidence the Alien movies would not have become classics without her.

When we first meet Ripley, she’s just an ordinary person with a job to do. She’s not in charge of the Nostromo, but she has a certain amount of authority as warrant officer, a job that she clearly takes pride in. When crew member Kane has his much-too-close encounter with a Facehugger, Ripley is the voice of reason, reminding everyone about the necessary quarantine period.

When she’s undermined, first by Dallas (who orders her to disobey the rules) and then by Ash (who pops open the door, since he has secret motivations of his own), she’s pissed. But she’s still a team player. She cares about Kane and while she doesn’t forget the slight, she rolls past it in the interest of tackling the next crisis at hand.

That incident — which obviously ends up proving Ripley so completely right, because of course you should not let that guy with a damn alien clamped to his face onto the ship — moves the plot forward into horror movie territory, but it also illustrates the level of human (artificial and otherwise) bullshit Ripley has to put up with on a regular basis.

Obviously fighting the alien is the flashier way of demonstrating one’s heroism, and Ripley does that capably using a variety of tactics. But her employer and some of her co-workers are the other monsters in the Alien movies. Imagine going through all of the events of Alien, only to wake up decades later in Aliens, surrounded by a snooty, dismissive panel of corporate superiors who flat-out don’t believe your story.

Burke, Paul Reiser’s sleazeball company-man character in the sequel, is arguably the biggest menace in a movie that still features a giant alien queen that oversees the annihilation of an entire space colony and the deaths of multiple Colonial Marines.

Somehow, Ripley is able to get through the movie without strangling Burke, even though his behaviour endangers not just the crew, but also potentially the entire human race if he’s able to carry out his plan of bringing alien specimens back home.

And Burke isn’t the only idiot-with-power that Ripley has to contend with in Aliens. Lt. Gorman puts the whole team at risk when he proves incapable of making quick decisions when things are shitty.

Meanwhile, Ripley is capable and cool-headed in nearly every situation, to the point where she just takes charge when the Marines’ initial investigation into the lost colony at LV-426 suddenly becomes a bloodbath. She knows when to follow the rules, but also when to break them, that sometimes you have to disobey an inexperienced leader, and most importantly, what’s most important is getting all the survivors the hell away from a terrible situation.

Obviously, she is extremely brave, but she’s also human. She gets scared. She has nightmares. In Aliens, she sparks with Hicks and feels a powerful maternal connection with Newt. She even loves Jonesy the cat.

And her emotions are capable of evolving. When she first meets Bishop, she’s suspicious of him because of her bad experience with the insidious Ash in the first film. But as things fall apart in Aliens, she can still recognise that Bishop is incredibly loyal and self-sacrificing.

A lot of Ripley’s triumphs as a character are obviously due to Sigourney Weaver’s intense and layered performance; even in Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection (in which Ripley… isn’t Ripley), she is the most magnetic thing in them. I saw Alien: Covenant last night, which I went into with very low expectations and ended up enjoying more than I thought I would — but its biggest problem may be that it has no Ripley.

I don’t mean her, specifically; I mean there’s no remarkable central character for the audience to connect with, to care about. Nobody will walk out of Covenant remembering how awesome the hero was.

For all its attempts at delving into the Alien series’ mythology, Covenant is really just a big, silly monster movie set in space. There are lots of movies that fit that description.

But there is only one Ripley.


  • I saw Aliens first.

    When I finally saw Alien, it was a shock, such a different movie.

    But yeah, Weaver’s arc as the ‘hey look it’s THIS character that evolves and has the will to survive’ plot slowly fits into view was something that was lost on me at first.

    Aliens, kind of over-rated. I know it set so many templates for years to come.

  • Covenant needed the story to be about what’s her face, but it was always going to be about David.

  • Like most, I saw Aliens first, but I was young and a lot of it was lost on me apart from the gunfire and screeching aliens. Wasn’t until later, and after seeing Alien that Ripley’s character made more sense. Hell, I even love Alien3 and believe it got an unfair rap for the most part. I enjoyed seeing her at ‘I just don’t give a shit and I’m not even afraid anymore’ stage. The shaved head, the tired yet still fierce attitude. She still kicked ass even then. They never broke her.

    If we can all just continue pretending Resurrection was a terrible dream and never really actually happened, yeah, that’d be great.

  • Ressurrection is a good film. If you can watch Harry Potter movies and enjoy them then don’t complain about Ressurrection.

    • I enjoyed everything about Resurrection until the alien baby. It just was too oddball for me.

    • The implication is that while ‘heroine’ strictly refers to female characters, ‘hero’ can refer to both male and female. Thus, out of every hero onscreen ever, Ripley is Eddy’s favourite.

      Heroine is a subset of hero (due to language usage). Connotations matter just as much as denotations my friend.

  • I’m in full agreement, but I don’t think of her as an action hero as such (admittedly partially because I don’t think Aliens is anywhere near as good a film as Alien) just a plain hero. Her heroics aren’t so much in the actions she takes but in how she takes them – it’s not blowing the alien out of the shuttle by depressurising the cabin that makes her as fantastic as she is, but the fact that she does so after strapping herself in.

    She’s so fantastic because she saved the grapple gun (?) for the possibility that the Alien might manage to hold on to something rather than what might have occurred in a lesser film with a lesser hero who might have shot first and thought about it later. In my eyes she’s a hero of the mind more than a hero of action, even if her actions are also heroic.

  • Ripley is, without a doubt, my favourite hero too. No other hero comes close. She is what made Aliens such a great movie. I love how the marines went from sniggering at her behind her back to respecting her as her leader. Or how she starts off as cold and a stickler for the rules, but ends up having her heart melted by Newt, because she clearly sees herself in Newt.

    I love how, if I were Ripley, I wouldn’t abandon Newt either. How often does that happen? You actually can relate with a character intentionally deciding to meet an almost-certain death. Her fierceness, her rage and her determination practically bleeds through the television set and is completely contagious. I end up feeling the same way Ripley feels – that if she didn’t try to go back for Newt, she would probably never be able to live with herself. She’d rather die trying to rescue Newt.

    If there were no Ripley in Aliens, you would be able to watch the film maybe a couple of times, but watching Ripley is what keeps me coming back. The story is about her, more than anything else. I’ve watched it (and Alien) at least a dozen times each over the years. Still two of my absolute favourite films – Alien for the alien, and Aliens for Ripley.

  • I’m not sure why any deal about gender is being made here since Ripley has been considered for many years by people of all types of backgrounds and differing genders yo be next-level badass as well as being one of the best characters in some of the best films of their generation. I’m not sure distinction needed to be made, since I’m pretty sure no one in their right mind would reject Ripley as their protector. I rally can’t think of an action hero I’ve ever liked more than Ripley, some are funny, some are cool but Ripley is, like, everything.

  • Saw Alien when it was originally released at the cinema. My friend wanted to go see Escape from Alcatraz but I wanted to see Alien and I won out. I was 14 and it scared the crap out of me. It has such well crafted suspense that tends to get lost if watching it at home with the distractions and background noise. It’s great that many people have caught up with it over the years but IMO the only way to see it is on the big screen. Good to see Hoyts put on the Alien/Aliens double feature before covenant came out. Would have loved to have seen it again but I was sick as a dog that night 🙁

  • I have heard that James Cameron can be a real asshole to work for, and he has gone through a few wives, but I have to credit him for being involved with some iconic female roles on-screen. Ripley in Aliens, Sarah Connor in the Terminator films. Rose in Titanic. Even Neytiri in Avatar.

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