In an era dominated by testosterone, big muscles, bigger guns, and the ever present and ultra macho Alpha Male phenomenon, the idea of a female lead in an action role was not just uncommon, but was largely unheard of. Guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Van Damme ruled the box office with their manly mix of tough cop roles, cheesy one liners, and improbable shoot outs; for a female to suit up into a stereotypical male lead ‘hero’ role, in that era, was remarkable. Ellen Ripley, the Warrant Officer on the Nostromo (effectively played by Sigourney Weaver) in the original 1979 film, was a true bad ass.
Everything about Ripley was atypical for a hero lead; she wasn’t bulging with pecs and biceps, she wasn’t trained in any sort of martial art, there were no Matrix style slow mo flip kicks, she didn’t dish out one liners like candy, and she obviously wasn’t a dude.
She did, however, possess an uncommon resilience in the face of unthinkable carnage (standing toe to toe with a dinosaur sized mother alien was pretty damned awesome), and courage that rivaled any character that Stallone or Arnold ever played. Her secret weapon? Her intellect. She outsmarted her alien rivals with true cunning. Who knows, Ripley vs. Rambo may have been a decent duel. At any rate, Sigourney Weaver made that role her own (a role that was originally written for a man); she beat the shit out of gnarly aliens across space and time, and in my eyes, is one bad ass Legendary Hero for doing it.