Out of hundreds of fictional characters spanning multiple decades of film, “Alien” hero Ellen Ripley
won the silver medal in MTV’s Greatest Movie Badasses of All Time
poll. Ripley beat out super-studs like John McClane, Rambo and the Reservoir Dogs, but as director
[movieperson id="97929"]Ridley Scott[/movieperson] remembers it, Ellen was nearly another manly man.
“Ripley had originally been a guy,” the filmmaker remembered of the script he was handed in 1979 after landing the gig that would introduce the character. “When I met Ripley, I figured, ‘This makes definite sense — why not make it a woman?’ Particularly a beautiful woman, who’s actually going to start off the story. We’re going to assume, because [Sigourney Weaver] was not a star at this point, that somewhere down that road, she’s gonna die.”
Instead, as the crewmembers of the Nostromo were picked off one by one, it was Ellen who was able to fight off the enormous, slime-spitting Alien. And four films after Scott changed the character’s gender to help surprise the audience, she’s become a cinematic icon.
“Go Rippers!” the director beamed on Friday, when we told him Ellen had beaten out every movie badass with the exception of Mr. “Dirty” Harry Callahan . “I always knew you could. She could always kick my ass anytime.”
Thirty years later, Scott has gone on to bless us with instant classics like “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Gladiator.” But it was the broad shoulders of Ripley that hoisted him up to his first great Hollywood success.
“Ripley became the first really successful, powerful, imposing female as an action hero — not by accident, but by design,” he remembered of his plan at the time. “You’ve got a character who is going to earn the right to be called [a badass]. You’ve got a character who is going to survive three pretty horrible acts, terrible experiences, during the process of the film. … She would earn the right, during the process, to start applying her intelligence and logic.
“Badasses usually are intelligent, not stupid — or they might propagate the idea of being a little dumb, until they start to function logically,” he continued. “I think successful badasses are usually great functionaries in their own art — whether it’s warfare or imposing themselves on a situation — and that requires great intelligence.”
And ultimately, Ridley said of Ripley, it’s that intelligence that she shares with other top badasses like McClane and Dirty Harry. “The great number-one badass, which I think we all accept, is Clint with his ‘make my day’ speech, and then forever thereafter, he always [creates the best badasses]. He is a master.”
Such a master, in fact, that he might even be able to do what the Alien could not. “Without a weapon, Dirty Harry is going to take her out in three seconds,” he said of a hypothetical smackdown. “With a weapon [in Ellen's hand, a more even fight is] probable. You give Ripley a weapon, she’s going to be equal to Dirty Harry, probably. But without a weapon, if Dirty Harry has got his Magnum? She’s going to be dead.”
If she can find herself a cattle prod or a cargo-loader exosuit, however, she’d likely remind Harry that a woman can be a badass too — just as she showed audiences in 1979.
“At that particular moment, when I was doing ‘Alien,’ I had two companies — one company in London and one company in New York — because I had a very successful advertising company,” Scott remembered. “And the people who ran my companies were women. So I had no problem with having a female in the lead. I never thought that was odd at all, because the best had gotten the jobs in my companies, and they both happened to be women. I always appreciate the value — and power — of women.”
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