In Plastic No One Can Hear You Scream
When I was ten years old, my favorite movie in the universe was Ridley Scott’s Alien. The whole franchise at that point was my imagination’s favorite playground. Sigourney Weaver in the role of Ripley was my absolute hero. She’s lost in space, pitted against shadowy, unrelenting death in the bleakest of circumstances. But Ripley fights and she survives. What’s not to love?
Twenty-five years later and I’m still gaga over the film. I’ve written college papers — plural — on it. And over the years I’ve collected whatever memorabilia and ephemera I’ve been able to lay my hands on. That swag includes magazines, comics, CDs, books, and above all else, action figures. Every kid wants to act out their own adventures with their heroes, right? As an adult, it’s both a nostalgic connection with my past and a tangible means of appreciation for a work I enjoy and admire. For Alien Day, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at some of Ripley’s history in plastic.
After the runaway success of Star Wars in 1977, film and toy companies were in a rush to capitalize on the space craze. Kenner, the company that produced Star Wars action figures, figured another science fiction license could only boost revenue. So when they heard about a film titled Alien set to be released in 1979, they latched onto the merchandising rights and sped into production one of the most bizarre and sought-after children’s toys ever:
Predictably, parents were shocked that a toy based on an R-rated film (in turn based on the erotic paintings of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger) was being marketed to their children and sales suffered. At the time Kenner also had a line of 3 3/4″ action figures based on the film’s characters in development, but abandoned production based on the 18″ Alien’s sales.
Fast-forward to 1992 when Kenner decided to try again. This time their line wasn’t based directly on an R-rated film, but instead an animated series based around James Cameron’s 1986 Alien sequel, Aliens. The cartoon, titled Operation: Aliens, was meant to target a younger audience but poor box office sales of David Fincher’s Alien 3 resulted in the series being cancelled before it ever aired. Only a few stills from the unfinished pilot have ever surfaced.
Kenner, however, had already produced much of the toyline and decided to release the figures under the Aliens name.
1992 – Kenner Ripley
Kenner’s Ripley has six points of articulation: hips, shoulders, neck, and waist. Her flame thrower hooks into a pocket on her leg so when you twist her waist, a translucent plastic flame emerges from the barrel. This is an ingenious way to include an “action feature” without ruining the articulation of the figure. Kenner didn’t have the rights to Sigourney Weaver’s likeness, so naturally it looks nothing like her, but the face sculpt is good and the paint apps are neatly applied.
The first wave of the figures came packaged with minicomics from Dark Horse that made a weak attempt to explain why the characters who died in the movie are still kicking around, but mostly they serve as a fun sales pitch for the other figures. What I find most remarkable about these figures is that Kenner was progressive enough in the early 90s to feature a woman and a black man as the central heroes of their toy line. The “boys don’t want toys of girls” attitude is a battle STILL being fought today.
Kenner’s line ran three years and four waves before being cancelled in 1995. The figures aren’t particularly rare and can be picked up carded and in mint condition (or close to it) for around $10 a figure, depending on its relative scarcity.
In 2000 Kenner closed its doors, paving the way for quirky collectible company Super 7 to snag the licensing rights to Alien. However, it wasn’t new figures they wanted to manufacture, but Kenner’s original abandoned prototypes.
2013 – ReAction Ripley
Using actual castings of Kenner’s prototypes as well as reference photos, Super 7 was able to perfectly recreate the line as originally planned. Even the card backs mimic the box art for that first Alien toy. Super 7 dubbed these Kenner-style vintage figures “ReAction Figures” and stylized the logo to resemble Kenner’s.
Ripley only moves at the “big five” – waist, shoulders, and neck, but that’s accurate to the period. Although in the 70s action figures were cast in a single color of plastic and received two spray-on paint apps, Ripley gets three and all are fairly evenly applied. Included with her is the flame thrower Parker cobbles together in the film.
These are still in production and have even spawned a second line which includes Ripley in her space suit from the film’s climax. Each figure retails at $9.99 but I was able to score a complete set on eBay for a little under that.
While the ReAction figures scratched the nostalgic itch in many older fans, there was still a demand for a finely detailed, realistic version more in line with today’s high sculpting and production standards.
2014 – NECA Ripley
NECA is renowned for their talented sculptors, great articulation, and desirable film licenses. It’s a natural fit, then, that they should produce figures in time for Alien’s 35th anniversary. Better yet, the company was able to get likeness approval from Sigourney Weaver herself, making this the first action figure of any of her roles that actually LOOKS like her.
She’s sculpted by Alex Heinke and Adreinne Smith, who have done a remarkable job in the accuracy department. Ripley looks almost exactly like her on-screen counterpart, right down to the detailing on her chest and arm patches. Her face seems to resemble Weaver more at certain angles than at others, but it’s still a commendable job.
This Ripley is a contortionist compared to the previous two. She moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees, and ankles. Many of those points of articulation are ball joints or peg-and-hinges, so her range of motion is really impressive.
Ripley is packaged with her flame thrower again, which is as nicely detailed as everything else. But the really neat inclusion is her cat, Jones. It makes sense, since Jones was (spoiler alert) the only other survivor of the film, but NECA could’ve easily omitted him and still delivered a solid figure for the asking price. Jonesey also gets some articulation at the neck and tail.
The 35th anniversary Ripley is out of production, but she can still be found on various marketplaces online ranging from $20 – $35 in package.
2017 – The Future
NECA is currently on their 7th wave of Alien action figures and recently released a Ripley figure based on her appearance in Alien 3. Last year they began paying homage to the old Kenner figures by releasing a Kenner-style Alien Day exclusive Ripley complete with reproduction minicomic! This year they continued that tradition with Vasquez.
A few other companies have released niche-market versions of Ripley and I can only imagine that will continue down the road. Add to that another forthcoming Alien prequel (ugh) and Neil Blomkamp’s on-again-off-again possible Aliens sequel and we may just see Ripley face off against the xenomorph again, on-screen and down toy aisles.