Believe it or not, Ripley, the gun-toting, cat-loving heroine of the Alien film franchise, almost met her fate long before she would’ve gotten the chance in a lackluster third installment. When Alien invaded theaters across America in 1979, it successfully set up a franchise that now consists of four feature films, two spinoff flicks and a “quasi-prequel,” as well as numerous books, comics and videogames. Had 20th Century Fox accepted Ridley Scott ‘s suggestion for a darker ending, however, seeing Ripley in a sequel, not to mention an entire series, would have been inconceivable.
From the very start of production, an air of uncertainty surrounded what was to become of Ripley’s character, which was originally written as a male. Tom Skeritt was approached for the part but waited until a director was hired to join the cast. During this time, producers Walter Hill and David Giler rewrote the part for a woman, which they considered groundbreaking for a sci-fi lead at the time. Skeritt was subsequently cast as Captain Dallas upon the hiring of Ridley Scott, and the part of Ripley came down to Sigourney Weaver, a little-known Broadway actress, and Meryl Streep, who was about to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses thanks to her role in the upcoming film The Deer Hunter. While Weaver eventually won the offer, one can only imagine how the future of the series would’ve been impacted by Streep’s success.
As production of Alien went on, numerous changes were made to the script in order to please studio executives who worried about the ever-increasing suggestive subject material. Scenes of the crewmembers walking around naked in the Nostromo had to be edited out, but Fox was impressed enough with their early meetings with Scott to increase the budget from $4.5 million to $8.5 million.
After shooting the better part of the film, Scott asked Fox for a bit more money to shoot what he called "a new fourth act" to end his movie with. Multiple finales were conceived between scriptwriting, storyboarding and actually filming, with science fiction historian David A. McIntee documenting what would have been the weirdest ending to the flick in his book Beautiful Monsters: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to the Alien and Predator Films. Apparently Scott discussed killing off Ripley in the final moments of the movie, with the xenomorph creature finally catching the heroine and biting off her head. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, the alien would then record one last entry into Ripley’s log by mimicking her voice before the film would fade to black with a sense of haunting ambiguity. The producers considered this conclusion much too dark, however, and would only finance a new ending if the creature ultimately died.
While the idea of an alien entity mimicking a human’s voice would later be explored in Predator, the sister series to the Alien franchise, it is unknown how an unsuspecting audience in 1979 would’ve responded to such a radical ending. Of course, the talking alien wouldn’t be the only concept to drastically alter the tone of the rest of the series, but the loss of who is now considered to be the best female character in all of science fiction certainly would have had an impact as well. In the end, it is obvious that Ridley Scott made all of the right choices, and though it was released to less than stellar reviews, Alien became a box-office smash and is widely regarded today as one of the best science fiction films ever made.