When I was a young girl my favourite films didn’t fall in line with those that were subscribed to girls in those days. Films that featured cheesy love stories or inspiring princesses were not compatible to my life or my dreams.
My favourite films, like so many other girls, were filled with excitement and possibility; the kind of films that stayed with you for life, imprinting on you the belief that you could achieve much more than what society had decided.
When I first watched them, sometimes with one eye closed, the Alien films opened up my little world. They were the dark and terrifying films directed by Ridley Scott, the first one releasing in 1979. These films had a massive impact on my young self primarily because I had never seen a female action hero before.
The first time Ripley, played by the amazing Sigourney Weaver, appeared on screen and battled the ferocious creature alien created by H.R Giger, was one of pure pleasure and elation. It helped that the film was a complete masterpiece too and with some unforgettable moments — such as the chest-busting scene of enthralling horror.
It feels as though the 1980s featured more women action heroes than we see on the big screen today. But there are few who could compete with Ripley, in her determination, and often her despair at the men around her who saw only the profit to be gained from capturing the alien, and not the obvious dangers
Recently I had a conversation with my other half about the dearth of female action heroes today and the seemingly increase in geriatric male action heroes gracing, or choking up, the screens (yes, we’re looking at you, Sylvester Stallone). When will they leave the playing arena for the younger generation?
It feels as though the 1980s featured more women action heroes than we see on the big screen today. But there are few who could compete with Ripley, in her determination, and often her despair at the men around her who saw only the profit to be gained from capturing the alien, and not the obvious dangers.
Watching those films as a girl I was struck by the strength of Ripley, not necessarily the physical strength but the strength of her intelligence in the face of horror and death and her ability to think clearly in the most pressurised of situations.
Her survival instincts took over everything else, and especially when she found a little girl hidden among the carnage created by the creature in Aliens, the sequel to the original.
There were three Alien movies, which later spawned a whole series of sequels that became a bit overkill, yet watchable. But the power of the original films remain.
I was also struck by the beauty of the creature. As an art pupil I appreciated the designs and feel of the film, the emptiness of space and the foreboding atmosphere. I was compelled to look deeper into the work of HR Giger and the weird and wonderful images he created.
These days you’d be hard pressed to name many women action heroes. I won’t include superheroes, simply because they’re not human. Another woman I can think of from the genre is Linda Hamilton, from the early Terminator films. She was also a powerful woman who wielded her strength to save humanity after becoming aware of the part she plays in its annihilation.
While there is a scarcity of women action heroes there are some that require a mention such as Charlize Theron, who has garnered a reputation for starring in films that are off-piste and show female strength in different ways.
She’s also a great action hero, and her Mad Max and Atomic Blonde roles are a testament to that. Perhaps I should also mention Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games films. I’m missing out lots of action films in which women kick-butt, however to be an action hero is to have that presence and character that is unmistakable to fans.
We definitely need more Ripley’s on our screens, if not to inspire young women and girls, at least to oust the horrifying images of elderly men jumping off roofs and hanging off helicopters. Please, move aside.
— Christina Curran is freelance journalist based in Northern Ireland.
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