Ellen Ripley

By Mike Apotsos

"These people are dead, Burke! Don't you have any idea what you have done here? Well, I'm gonna make sure they nail you right to the wall for this! You're not gonna sleaze your way out of this one! Right to the wall! "


Ellen Ripley first appeared in the film “Alien,” where she held the title of Warrant Officer/Lieutenant (First Class) aboard the commercial towing spaceship “Nostromo.” Her title placed her as the third highest ranking authority aboard the ship. By the end of the first film in the series she is the only surviving crew member. After successfully killing the alien that had hunted down the rest of her crew, Ripley enters stasis with her cat and begins a long trip back to Earth (Scott, 2003).

Ripley never did successfully return to Earth, rather she drifted through space aimlessly while in stasis. She was lucky enough to be discovered by another spaceship, which rescued and revived her from her long slumber. Upon finally reporting back to the company that contracted the Nostromo, Weyland-Yutani Corporation, Ripley is delivered a few pieces of bad news. One, her daughter, who Ripley had promised to be back in time to see her ninth birthday, had already passed away at the age of 57. Secondly, Ripley is informed by a board of executives from Weyland-Yutani that they are highly skeptical of her claims regarding an alien that killed her crew due to a lack of physical evidence, and because of their skepticism they have decided to revoke her space flight license. Lastly, the board of executives inform Ripley that the planet she claims the alien originated from, LV-426, is currently inhabiting civilians “terraforming” the planet for colonization. This last piece of bad news would eventually lead Ripley on yet another quest to rid the universe of the alien species. During her adventure Ripley acts with selfless bravery to overcome the alien swarm terrorizing LV-426, while also growing close to a little girl named Newt who had lost her whole family to the aliens (Cameron, 1992).

Ellen Ripley also appears in the sequel films Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. These films are not important in anyway and are completely disregarded in this article. Whole articles could be written explaining why they do not deserve to be acknowledged, but in summary they are not faithful to Ripley’s character and are obviously just efforts to drain as much money from the Alien franchise as humanly possible.

Trait and Skill Approach

A trait and skill approach to studying personalities entails using a specific list of adjectives in order to outline or depict a person (Friedman, 2009, 257). This approach is ideal for analyzing Ripley’s personality because of her uniqueness as a character. Ripley has always been regarded as a unique character in film because of her portrayal as a strong woman, while also managing to never come off as masculine.

Hippocrates was the first known person to attempt a systematic approach to analyzing personality traits. Hippocrates claimed that human temperament was determined by the dominance of a humors- sanguine (blood), melancholic (black bile), choleric (yellow bile), and phlegmatic (phlegm) (Friedman, 2009, 258). Hippocrates would most likely claim that Ripley is dominated by sanguine, implying that she was hopeful and cheerful. This is evident by not only her moments of cheerfulness when she is not afraid of being eaten by an alien, but also more strongly by her consistent hopeful attitude even in the most dire of circumstances.

Both the vagueness and the lack of scientific support for Hippocrates’ approach is obvious today, but luckily a number of more scientific trait/skill approaches have been developed since then. One such approach is known as the Big Five approach, which is a list of five major personality traits that have been reinforced through extensive data analysis as significant dimensions of human personality. The Big Five include extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness (Friedman, 2009, 267). Ellen Ripley would likely earn a high score for the extroversion scale, though her levels of extroversion do vary between the Nostromo incident and the LV-426 incident. Aboard the Nostromo Ripley is fairly chatty with her crew members. She is assertive of her authority, but in no way portrays herself as drunk with power. A memorable example of her assertiveness occurs just before the alien is first brought aboard the Nostromo. When the creature is first brought back to the ship with a crew member it has latched onto, Ripley denies her three crew-members outside permission to come aboard because of the risks posed by the mysterious creature latched to her crew-member. Of course this is met with harsh protest by the crew-members locked outside. The ship’s captain Dallas even ‘orders’ Ripley to forget contamination protocol and just let them in. Ripley responds by respectfully asserting that she is making the right choice, and points out that since the two highest ranking officers are currently not on board she as third highest of rank is posed to make such a decision (Scott, 2003). Ripley’s handling of the situation demonstrates high extroversion: not only does she assert her authority to her potential superiors, she also talks out her logic to her crew-members is a sensible manner. This level-headed behavior also demonstrates how she ranks according to other Big Five traits, such as her high agreeableness, high consciousness, low neuroticism, and high openness. This situation demonstrates her high openness because Ripley does not merely disagree with her crew-members and stick to her decision, but rather actively listens to their counter arguments, and then proceeds to carefully defuse their demand for irrational and spontaneous breaking of protocol by presenting her irrefutable logic.

At first glance some of these personality traits may not appear to have remained consistent during the LV-426 incident, but I will discuss in greater detail later in the article how Ripley’s changing environment influences her behavior. Take for example Ripley’s first encounter with the aliens during the LV-426 incident. Ripley is faced with another situation involving incompetent leadership leading people to their deaths. After being shut out by the military commander when she is giving valuable advice, Ripley acts out by ignoring the commander's rank and takes control of the APC herself in order to save the lives of the surviving members of the commander’s platoon (Cameron, 1992). This scene out of context can portray Ripley as impulsive and quarrelsome, but, again, a Behavioral approach to personality will be used later on to explain these potential inconsistencies in trait assessment.

Behaviorist Approach

Behaviorist approaches focus on the idea that people are controlled exclusively by their environments. This approach compliments the trait/skill approach to assessing Ripley’s personality because it allows insight into how her environment affects her behavior, particularly her behaviors during the LV-426 incident that seem to deviate from her trait assessment based on her actions during the Nostromo incident. Take for example how Ripley treats the android Bishop when she first meets him heading to LV-426; she is extremely hostile towards him, unlike how she treats everyone else she first meets. This hostility is of course due to her unpleasant experience with the android Ash back during the Nostromo incident (Cameron, 1992). This encounter with Bishop is a great example of classic conditioning leading to generalization (Friedman, 2009, 191). Even though Ripley has not experienced repeated pairings of betrayal with androids, as the definition for classic conditioning entails, the single life threatening pairing during the Nostromo incident was more than enough to lead Ripley to be unable to trust an android like Bishop. Ripley is even generalizing across androids in this scene because Bishop tries to explain to her that he is a far more advanced model than the model Ash was and is incapable of such betrayal (Cameron, 1992).
In fact, Behaviorist approaches can explain many, if not all, of Ripley’s changes in behavior between the Nostromo and LV-426 incidences. Ripley’s conscientiousness led her to have all the right ideas during the Nostromo regarding how to handle the alien infestation as safe as possible, but her superiors ignored her rationality, her subordinate Ash the android betrayed her and their whole crew, and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation prioritized the whole Nostromo crew below the task of capturing the alien as a specimen (Scott, 2003). To say the least, the Nostromo incident as a whole has conditioned Ripley to be even more extroverted. In many ways this conditioning causes Ripley to step up to opportunities in many beneficial ways throughout the LV-426 incident. As mentioned before, Ripley saves the lives of several marines when she sidesteps an incompetent military commander’s authority and takes over the APC’s controls (Cameron, 1992). B.F. Skinner may even say that the successful outcomes of such actions reinforce Ripley to act dominantly in such a way in the future (Friedman, 197). This reinforcement is evident towards the end of the LV-426 incident when one of the marines, Hudson, begins panicking about their near hopeless situation. Ripley is quick to calm down Hudson by almost yelling at him how they as a group cannot afford to break down if they ever hoped to survive their unfortunate circumstance (Cameron, 1992). While Ripley’s taking control when Hudson begins to lose control shows a shade of dominance in Ripley’s character, it is also paired with her grounded and cooperative side of her personality through her use of language. Ripley’s calling out of Hudson for panicking does not so much command him as relax him by reinforcing this idea of unity by stressing how they are all in the same terrible situation together. Ripley had tried to calm down several crew-members aboard the Nostromo during their encounters with the alien, but her inability to command leadership as she did in the aforementioned scene led her to always be ultimately talked over, leading the crew to decide on another irrational plan, with little to no unity, that always led to another crew-member's demise (Scott, 2003).


The behaviorist and trait/skill approach are the two best approaches that can be taken when analyzing a character as deep as Ellen Ripley. The trait/skill approach effectively captures Ripley’s unique personality, while the behaviorist approach can explain how Ripley’s environment has conditioned her to behave differently during the LV-426 incident and the Nostromo incident.
Harry Stack Sullivan may have taken a similar yet different approach to studying Ripley’s personality. Sullivan did not see humans as having fixed personalities, but rather termed such a belief as the illusion of individuality. Sullivan saw the environment as having a significant effect on how a person behaves, in a way altering what was perceived as their fixed personality (Friedman,2009, 329). Sullivan may see Ripley’s increase in extroversion during the LV-426 incident as a product of Ripley’s perception of her environment as chaotic, thus driving her to feel freer to just take control of the situation on her own. Sullivan’s person-situation integration approach to personality seems like a more fluid blend of the behavior and trait/skill approaches. Standing back the behavior and trait/skill approaches seem incomplete alone when compared to the person-interaction approach.


Carroll, G. (Producer), Giler, D. (Producer), Hill, W. (Producer), & Scott, R. (Director). (2003). Alien-Director’s Cut [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2009). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Hurd, G. A. (Producer), Carroll, G. (Producer), Giler, D. (Producer), Hill, W. (Producer), & Cameron, J. (Director). (1992). Aliens-Special Editon [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

Ripley and Newt from ‘Aliens.’ (2008). [Web]. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from