Underrated Sigourney Weaver Performances That Prove She's More Than Just Ripley

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Vote up the performances that show off Sigourney Weaver's range.

Susan Alexandra Weaver, better known as Sigourney, made her motion picture debut in Woody Allen's Oscar-winning Best Picture Annie Hall in 1977. It was a harbinger of great success to come. A mere two years later, she played the role that would turn her into a household name, Ellen Ripley in the classic sci-fi/horror shocker Alien. That picture spawned three sequels in which she also appeared. More iconic films followed, notably Ghostbusters and its sequel, and James Cameron's Avatar

Most people have seen those ultra-popular movies, but Weaver has an extensive filmography that covers almost every genre. She's earned three Academy Award nominations so far in her career, and has worked with noted directors including Peter Weir, Mike Nichols, Ivan Reitman, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, and William Friedkin. Audiences may associate her with Ellen Ripley. She can do so much more, though, as the following performances conclusively prove. 


  • 1
    372 VOTES

    Galaxy Quest is such a funny spoof of Star Trek and its fandom that it can be easy to overlook how good Sigourney Weaver is in it. She plays Gwen DeMarco, a former cast member on a popular science fiction TV program. With the show long off the air, she and her castmates travel the convention circuit, trading in on the glory they once had. One day, they're visited by a real alien race who, mistaking them for actual intergalactic heroes, enlist the actors to help them fend off a warlord looking to wipe them out.

    Like Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest is largely male-centered. Weaver is the prominent female. Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, and Sam Rockwell get a lot of the best material, yet Weaver manages to be every bit as funny as any of them. She makes Gwen someone who knows she was treated like “eye candy” on the TV show and strives to break that image at the same time that she also kind of wants to embrace it. In a picture with lots of outrageous humor, she single-handedly infuses it with something more human, all while equaling the boys in the laugh-earning department. 

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  • 2
    307 VOTES

    The vast majority of Sigourney Weaver's movies have been aimed at adult audiences, so it's a little shocking to see her in the PG-rated Disney flick Holes. She plays the warden at Camp Green Lake, a youth detention center in the middle of the desert. This authority figure takes great pleasure in making her young inmates suffer, partially by forcing them to dig 5-foot-deep holes in the ground for no apparent reason. Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) intensely dislikes the warden, and he sets out to prove his theory that she's secretly looking for something that's been buried. 

    With Holes, Weaver takes what could have been a paper-thin villain and gives her a whole interior life. We do indeed sense desperation beneath her malice. That desperation is amped up by Stanley getting wise to her intent, leading her to fight harder for self-protection. Having an antagonist with multiple dimensions like that allows the story to generate the maximum amount of suspense. Perhaps best of all, Holes introduced Weaver to a whole new generation of moviegoers. 

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  • Sigourney Weaver plays Dian Fossey, the famed primatologist who studied gorillas in the forests of Rwanda and Uganda, in Gorillas in the Mist. The movie shows how she forms a bond with her subjects, gaining their trust and acceptance, and essentially living among them as she carries out her research. Realizing there's a danger of them going extinct because of poachers, she takes efforts to preserve the gorillas, only to inflame the anger of those who seek to exploit them. Her death at the hands of those poachers is also covered. Directed by Michael Apted, the film provides an engaging and informative overview of Fossey's groundbreaking work.

    For the role, Weaver received an Oscar nomination. It's easy to see why. She conveys two important qualities about Fossey - the patience that allowed her to get close to the gorillas, and the fiery passion that led her to fight tooth-and-nail against the various entities that were imperiling them. Gorillas in the Mist came out the same year Weaver was also Oscar-nominated for Working Girl, and just two years after her nomination for Aliens. It represents the actress at the precise moment where she established herself as a major star, capable of delivering high-quality, artistic films that also offered abundant entertainment value. 

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  • 4
    189 VOTES

    Dave came out in 1993, but it's a nice balm in this age of extreme political division. Kevin Kline plays Dave Kovic, the owner of a temp agency who works as a presidential impersonator on the side. He's recruited to serve as a double for the real president when the Commander-in-Chief has a stroke that leaves him debilitated. Sigourney Weaver is Ellen Mitchell, the First Lady who isn't told about the switch, but recognizes that her “husband” is different. Dave, for starters, is a lot more charming and gregarious than the notoriously cranky president. The public notices, too, as approval ratings start to rise.

    Weaver makes an important transition Ellen goes through feel emotionally credible. The First Lady is mostly estranged from her husband, staying as far from him as possible and just putting up a front for appearance's sake. When Dave comes on the scene, she treats him poorly, thinking it's the man she's grown to resent. But when he shows support for a homeless shelter she's involved with, her feelings toward him warm up. Together, they work on a new course for America. Dave has a preposterous plot, but Weaver, working beautifully with Kline, makes viewers forget the implausibility and focus on the meaning, which is that decency is a valuable commodity in politics, and in life in general. 

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  • 5
    186 VOTES

    Sigourney Weaver got one of her three Oscar nominations for 1988's Working Girl. The film tells the story of Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), an ambitious receptionist who decides to get a little revenge on Katherine Parker, the stockbroker boss who betrayed her by taking credit for a potential merger she conceived. When Katherine is temporarily decommissioned due to a leg injury, Tess springs into action, essentially stepping into the leadership role and starting to push the merger through. Complicating matters is that she falls in love with Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), a representative from another company. He's romantically involved with Katherine, as well.

    Nasty bosses are a cinematic cliché. Weaver deftly avoids all the stereotypes, though, creating a character shrewd enough to realize that being a no-nonsense shark is the only way to survive in the male-dominated business world. Even as we root for Tess and against Katherine, the actress encourages us to feel a little empathy. Katherine is a three-dimensional character in her hands, so we recognize that she's dealing with her own feelings and ambitions underneath the icy-cold exterior. 

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  • 6
    207 VOTES

    The success of 1991's The Silence of the Lambs triggered a slew of serial killer films that lasted for most of the decade. Sigourney Weaver was in one of them. Copycat casts her as Dr. Helen Hudson, a psychiatrist dealing with the traumatic aftereffects of having been assaulted by one of her previous patients, the deranged Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick, Jr.). She's become agoraphobic as a result. Helen is called back into action when homicide detective M.J. Monahan (Holly Hunter) seeks her help in identifying a serial killer whose modus operandi is to copy the killing style of other serial killers. And when it turns out Cullum may have valuable insight, she has to confront the horrors of her past.

    Whereas many of the ‘90s serial killer flicks were ripoffs of Lambs, Copycat finds its own footing, thanks to Weaver’s dynamic performance. She clearly put a great deal of effort into portraying trauma and agoraphobia accurately. Because she does that, the entire movie has a jittery vibe. We feel Helen's fear, and worry about what will happen as events put her closer to Cullum, the killer, and the realization she can't stay hidden inside forever. Gruesome subject matter makes the film exciting, but it's Weaver's work that gives it a true pulse. 

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