30 years after ‘Aliens,’ Sigourney Weaver is still leading the charge

Story highlights

Sigourney Weaver reflects on "Aliens" 30 years after the sequel debuted

James Cameron says Weaver is a big part of why people remember the films

CNN  — 

Everywhere you looked at San Diego Comic-Con, there was a powerful female character making her mark.

Warner Bros. Pictures dropped the first trailer for “Wonder Woman” to rave reviews. Marvel announced Brie Larson would be taking on the role of “Captain Marvel” in the studio’s first female-led film. And “The Walking Dead” star Danai Gurira joined “Black Panther” as part of an all-female group of warriors.

More than three decades after Sigourney Weaver first battled space creatures in “Alien,” the crusade for more female representation in action films is finally being won.

Weaver’s unflappable Ripley, in many ways, marked the beginning of this shift. She was woman who could operate a power loader with steely resolve and showed moviegoers that women in action films could command control.

While gathered with her former co-stars at Comic-Con last weekend to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the second film in the “Alien” franchise, Weaver said it was important to her that Ripley not be portrayed as weak.

“I don’t know that I really knew, ‘Oh, I’m a woman action [star]” because I was thinking of myself as the character,” Weaver told CNN. “I thought of myself as a woman who had to kick ass because no one else has the knowledge I have.”

sigourney weaver ellen ripley heroine

In a post-Ripley era, there are now characters like Lara Croft and Katniss Everdeen driving film franchises. And the gender breakdown at the fan event of the year, San Diego Comic-Con, has become essentially an even split.

It wasn’t until the mixed reviews of the first “Alien” film came out that Weaver said she realized she was “on a path.”

Enter director James Cameron. In the mid-80s, he met with “Alien” filmmakers Walter Hill and David Giler to discuss projects, including a “Spartacus in space” tale. They didn’t love his pitch. But just when it looked like their partnership was a non-starter, they asked him to come up with an idea for “Alien 2.” Cameron, who called the original “a masterpiece,” said his brain “lit up like a pinball machine.”

Just like that, the man who would go on to be one of the greatest directors of his generation, was paired with Weaver – much to his luck, he said.

The result was an Academy Award-nominated genre film that grossed $131 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. It was also widely thought to be one of the rare sequels that managed to eclipse the original film. They will release an anniversary edition of the film September 13.

Cameron credits Weaver’s portrayal as one of the reasons the films have endured.

“She was the sun at the center of that solar system — that’s how I always thought of it,” he said. “We inherited that piece of casting, but it was genius.”

In fact, Cameron said, a major reason he wanted to be a part of “Aliens” was “to continue the idea of a strong female character who is in charge but questioned by the ones around her, but ascends to become heroic.”

In the movie, Ripley and a ragtag crew face off against an alien queen protecting her young. Here – as in the first film – Ripley shows she is “not necessarily just a swordsman who’s physically strong but mentally strong, emotionally strong,” the director said.

“That’s what people really respect about her,” Cameron said. “Of course, Sig is tall and physically very strong as well, but that wasn’t the strength of the character.”

“I’m very grateful I got to play it a second time because I found out so much more about her than I ever would if I hadn’t done the sequel,” Weaver added.

With four “Alien” movies under her belt, Weaver is waiting for the greenlight to step back into Ripley’s shoes. “District 9” director Neill Blompkamp has written a script for a fifth film that the actress calls “brilliant.”

Weaver was there to kick open the door to female-led action films, and intends to personally assure it stays that way.

“He gives the fans what they really love about the franchise but he also breaks new ground in some really incredible ways,” she said. “So eventually we will get back to this.”