Of course, no list like this would be complete without mentioning Ellen Ripley. Not only is she a central character in one of the most groundbreaking science fiction movies in film history, but she’s the star of an entire franchise. Without Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), the entire Alien corpus would be yet other run-of-the-mill sci-fi horror flick.
So, why is Ripley such a big deal? Consider the previous history of women in science fiction, before Alien debuted in 1979. More often than not, women were helpless bystanders and screaming victims. They might occasionally have found a role as vixens, villainous or not, but sexual objectification was hardly a step up.
Just look at Lambert, the navigator of the doomed ship Nostromo, played by Veronica Cartwright. She loses it when the alien xenomorph makes it appearance, dissolving into screams and tears. To be fair, I’d likely do the same, but it’s still important to see the level-headed Ripley as a counterpoint.
If you could manage to watch Alien without knowing about its subsequent history, though, you might not realize that Ripley is the main character for a good portion of the movie. She starts out as part of an ensemble cast, but as the xenomorph picks off the other crew members of the Nostromo, it’s clear that Ripley is the survivor. That’s thanks largely to her good sense, bravery, and quick thinking. In fact, if the other spacefarers had just listened to her advice earlier in the film, we’d be looking at a very different franchise today.