Ellen Ripley was one of the first truly badass female characters in American Cinema. She is a Lieutenant in the Colonial Marines, on the Ship known as the Nostromo instructed to investigate the ruins of a colonial ship. This proves to be a horrible mistake as the rest of her crew, except for Jones the Cat were massacred by a race of Aliens known as the Xenomorphs, hence the name of the movie, Alien.
Originally the screenwriters of Alien had named the character Ripley (or Roby in the earliest of scripts), so that it was unisex and could therefore be cast as either a man or a woman. By the time the final script rolled around and the casting was completed, Ripley was in fact a woman. This was a bold move, as having a female in the lead role of a movie, especially an action/thriller/sci-fi/horror movie. The only time before this movie that women were really cast in a lead role were in romances or comedies (i.e. I Love Lucy). It is, however, not uncommon to have a “final girl” in a horror movie, first theorized by Carol Clover. Where she sees that many horror movies of the time had ended with the sole survivor being “the virgin” female to show that purity would trample all of the evil in the film. This purity would ultimately be thought to help the audience to identify and sympathize with the female character.
Unlike most sole-survivor females in film, Ripley is not overtly oversexualized, but at the same time does become overly masculinized in the process of surviving the film. Carol Clover had theorized that in order to survive the films, the female had to drop some of what makes her feminine in an attempt to become a masculine warrior and go through a transformation at some point in the film. This does not happen to Ripley because form the very beginning of the film, she is shown to be a high-ranking part of her team of colonial badasses.
Also in the vain of sexualizing female for no reason, Ripley does strip down to her underwear and a tank top at one point in Alien, but I would argue that it does not make her a sexual object. I agree with Megan Kearns, a writer on the website www.btchflcks.com, when she says that “she strips down to a tank top and underwear before she enters the cryogenic chamber. But rather than objectifying, to me it seemed to symbolize her vulnerability. The alien stows away in her escape pod yet she doesn’t hesitate, immediately slipping into a spacesuit to battle the alien…Ultimately, Ripley is not defined by her relationship with a man; she defines herself.” (Kearns). This explains how she is different from many writers who try to use the “heroine’s journey” instead of the “hero’s journey” define her. In many ways she is just as, if not more badass, than the men in this movie.
Overall, Ripley is the woman that feminists had always wanted in the movie. Her character is written in just the way that she follows the “hero’s journey” and does not look back. Being a sole-survivor, she doesn’t flinch, running the show on all ends and eventually battling and defeating the alien aboard her ship. So why don’t we seem to celebrate her more than we do? It almost seems as though people are becoming increasingly afraid of making another character quite as complex as her for the leading woman in a film. And most importantly, can there be another character made on par with her as far as her impact and influence on feminism? And if there can, why not try to make that character?
Kearns, Megan. “Ellen Ripley, a Feminist Film Icon, Battles Horrifying Aliens … and Patriarchy.” Bitch Flicks. N.p., 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.