Features and Columns · Movies

A Tale of Two Ripleys: Gender and Genre in ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’

What’s better, a relatable final girl or an ’80s power fantasy? Here’s a breakdown of why each Ripley, in ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens,’ is perfect for her film.
Alien Aliens Ellen Ripley
Twentieth Century Fox
By  · Published on March 12th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the differing portrayals of Ripley in Alien and Aliens.

There are a couple of sure-fire ways to start a fight amongst sci-fi fans. And one of them is bringing up Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) stripping down to her underwear at the end of Ridley Scott‘s Alien (1979).

Within the context of the film, Ripley believes she has vanquished her titular foe. She exploded the Nostromo. The alien was on the Nostromo. Case closed. Finally able to catch her breath from the safety of the escape shuttle, she prepares for stasis. And, as we saw at the opening of the film, stasis is an underwear-only operation. Stripping down to a white camisole and a (pretty loose!) pair of briefs, Ripley slowly prepares herself for a long sleep through space. Only to discover — surprise! — the alien snuck aboard!

The contention about the Ripley underwear affair boils down to whether or not you feel the scene objectifies its female subject. And there are good arguments to be made on both sides. On the one hand, rather famously, the character of Ripley was originally written as male. We also see the male crewmembers in their underwear at the beginning of the film. On the other hand, you’d be hard-pressed to describe the camera gazing on Ripley’s exposed body as anything shy of leering. To argue that this is the alien’s POV is a little…strange.

For Weaver’s part, in a 1981 interview for Films and Filming magazine, she argues that it was actually a cop-out to not have Ripley face the Alien on its own terms. Namely: butt naked. 

In any case, one person, in particular, did not appreciate the fact that Ripley strips. And that person’s name is James Cameron, director of Aliens (1986). The video essay below explores the differences between Scott and Cameron’s respective characterizations of Ripley and how they navigate her gender.

Ultimately, the two films are playing in very different genre spaces (this is, in part, what makes Aliens such a great sequel). And whereas the horror of Alien positioned Ripley as a final girl with vulnerabilities, its sequel’s firm adherence to the 1980s standard of equating girl power to women excelling in traditionally male spaces produced a wholly different heroine.

Watch “How James Cameron Changed Ripley“:

Who made this?

This video essay comes courtesy of Now You See It. They are a YouTube channel dedicated to film analysis searching for meaning in unexpected places. You can follow Now You See It on YouTube and check out their back catalog here. Now You See It is run by Virginia-based software engineer Jack Nugent, whom you can follow on Twitter here.

More Videos Like This

Related Topics: , ,

Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.