A Ripley Effect: Katniss’s Badass Predecessor






Tens of millions of books in print of The Hunger Games. The movie raking in mega-bucks in mere weeks. The public has once again embraced a kick-ass action heroine. Katniss rules, as she should. But I can never forget my first warrior princess, Ellen Ripley in Alien.

It’s hard to explain what it was like for female action fans Before Ripley. Let’s take a look at the other roles for women in 1979, the year Sigourney Weaver changed the world.

Kramer vs. Kramer, where Meryl Streep abandons her family, cries on the stand and gets her first Oscar.

Rocky II, where Talia Shire stands by her man, much like she did in Rocky One.

Jane Fonda played brittle, ambitious reporters in two films, The China Syndrome and The Electric Horseman, where she stepped aside while the men did the brave thing.

Barbra Streisand did venture into a man’s world as a fight promoter in The Main Event, but she spent more time not wanting to break her nails than she did doing anything cool.

Jessica Lange looked beautiful and embodied Death for Bob Fosse in All That Jazz. Diane Keaton was an adorable sidekick, as usual, in the Woody Allen show (this time called Manhattan.) Nichelle Nichols was her usual proud, sexy self as Uhura in Star Trek the Motion Picture, but I think the ship’s hull got more airtime than she did.

In other words, standard operational procedure for women in the movies.

It’s not that there weren’t good roles for women. The changing definition of motherhood, how a woman navigates the working world. It’s just that most of those characters weren’t the protagonists and they certainly weren’t … wait for it … The Hero.

Ripley was one of the first female characters in a scifi action movie who was the last man standing, the lone survivor, the victor. Never mind that she had to butch up while wearing what I seem to recall Stephen King calling ‘an entrancing pair of bikini panties.’

It was still a watershed moment for so many women who might not have even realized how much it mattered that we never got to be the hero.

Captain Dallas was totally positioned to be the Saver of the Day. Played by tall, dark and handsome Tom Skerritt, Dallas even throws himself protectively in front of Ripley early on. And they don’t show him actually get skewered by the alien. I had seen enough movies to know that meant he was going to pop up later on and rescue the damsel in distress.

But in the end, there she was, all alone, going mano-a-mano against the bad guy, a sister doing it for herself. Much like Katniss in the Hunger Games arena, Ripley has to make do with the resources around her, outsmarting a much more powerful opponent. Even sexist dudes who told Helen Reddy to shut up and called Billie Jean King a bitch were clutching their seat handles going, “Ripley, you’re my hero!”

Glass ceilings shattered. Possibilities sprang forth. A pop culture icon was born. It’s not that there would never have been a Katniss without Ripley. It’s just that Ripley smacked us all in the face first and woke us up to the fact that half of the human population was ready to be part of the story, too.

The part that kicks ass.

Some sisters of Ripley:
Lara Croft
Sarah Connor
The Bride
Xena, Warrior Princess

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7 Responses to A Ripley Effect: Katniss’s Badass Predecessor

  1. Yo, don’t forget Cleopatra Jones! That’s one righteous-talkin’, straight-shootin’, hard-drivin’, disco-dancin’, karate-choppin’ sister. Can you dig it?


  2. My ideal custom bumper sticker:
    Sure, there have been TV shows since Xena: Warrior Princess, but who cares? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    (which would necessitate an “I care. Deeply.” reply sticker for your car) ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

    In all seriousness, “Xena” was the last TV series where I watched every new episode, from 1995 to 2001, on its original date of broadcast.

    The past and the present can be just as “dystopian” as the future…


    • Chris Devlin says:

      Wow, I’ve watched so many series from start to finish, on their original airdate. Buffy, Angel, The Sopranos, Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files…

      Well, too many to mention. Of the new shows, I’m currently really enjoying Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, and Revenge. Those are the shows I watch fairly soon upon airing and I sometimes discuss them online.

      But Xena was great. Well, the later seasons not as much. She sure kicked ass, though.


  3. Great post. Ripley could go mano-a-mano with Batman and maybe win.


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