Hed: The 50 Greatest Actors Alive: No. 49 Sigourney Weaver
Every week through the remainder of 2014, Yahoo Movies is counting down Hollywood's 50 very best working actors and actresses. Come back every Thursday to see who makes the cut.
Stating the Case: Sigourney Weaver is most commonly heralded as the greatest action heroine of our time for bringing us the iconic E.T.-battling badass Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" series.
But the dramatic chops of the Stanford and Yale-educated actress extend far beyond the realm of spaceships and green screens: Weaver's also delivered over three decades worth of strong-willed, dauntless women in celebrated roles like "Gorillas in the Mist" and "Working Girl" but also lesser-seen gems like "Death and the Maiden," "The Ice Storm" and "Tadpole." As Roger Ebert once wrote of her, "That the same woman could appear as a science fiction icon and the star of [Roman Polanski's visceral drama 'Maiden'] about political torture is remarkable."
In recent years Weaver has taken up the mantle of Elder Stateswoman of Sci-Fi, making fun self-referential appearances in films like "Galaxy Quest," "WALL-E," "Paul" and "The Cabin in the Woods," as well as that little film called "Avatar" (and its planned sequels). Her appearance is each is inevitably a highlight.
Breakthrough Role: Weaver's film career started off on a strong note: She had a tiny role in Sydney Lumet's 1973 cop thriller "Serpico" (an uncredited bit where she meets Al Pacino at a party) and then in Woody Allen's seminal 1977 rom-com "Annie Hall" (standing behind Alvy outside the movie theater). Two years later she'd propel to superstardom as the lone (human) survivor onboard the Nostromo in Ridley Scott's groundbreaking "Alien."
The Best of the Best:
5. "The Ice Storm" (1997): Booze, key parties, deep freezing, and pure family dysfunction collide in Ang Lee's blistering Connecticut-set drama. In the thick of it – and alongside the great Kevin Kline and Joan Allen – is Weaver as a sexually liberated but despondent housewife.
4. "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988): The closest thing to a traditional biopic Weaver has done, "Mist" tells the enriching but ultimately heartbreaking story of naturalist Dian Fossey, champion of primates. Her deep-dive into Fossey is inspiring, and the gorillas are pretty impressive, too.
3. "Ghostbusters" (1984): Weaver is delicious playing the straight woman to Bill Murray's ragtag team of parapsychologists, but her performance is taken to a whole new level when she morphs into The Gatekeeper. Has anyone ever made possession so sexy?
2. "Working Girl" (1988): Before there was Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada," there was Weaver's Wall Street bigwig Katharine Parker, who put Melanie Griffith on track to let the river run. It's a wickedly devious role that Weaver just chews up.
1. The "Alien" Series (1979-1997): The visionaries behind this series wanted to cast a woman in the role of lead Ripley to make "Alien" stand apart from other sci-fi entries. Man, did they choose the right woman. Simply put, Weaver's badassery reshaped what the Hollywood action star could look like.
The BIGGEST Hit: Only the highest grossing movie of all time, "Avatar," that's all, which raked in $760 million domestically and $2.7 billion worldwide over 2009-2010. Weaver was perfectly cast as the brilliant xenobotanist in charge of the whole crazy endeavor.
With Honors: Weaver was nominated for three Academy Awards over the span of three years: Her Best Actress nod for 1986's "Aliens" was considered a landmark achievement for the sci-fi genre, and two years later she'd be a double nominee, in the running for Best Actress ("Gorillas in the Mist") as well as Best Supporting Actress ("Working Girl").
She's also received seven Golden Globe nominations, and in 1988 became the first person ever to win two Globes in the same year (for "Gorillas" and "Working Girl").
Trademark: Weaver's characters are tough-as-nails, mentally and physically.
Best Fan Tribute: It's pretty surprising this well-cut montage of Weaver's roles – set to Madonna's "Masterpiece," natch – only has 367 views on YouTube:
Most Underappreciated Achievement: Weaver can earn laughs, too -- in fact she started in comedy -- as proven in the delectable 1993 hit "Dave," 2008's Amy Poehler-Tina Fey two-hander "Baby Mama," and the under-seen, underrated 2011 indie "Cedar Rapids."
Nobody's Perfect: Weaver has that immaculate voice – unfortunately it could be heard in the $47 million animated fairy tale mishmash "Happily N'Ever After," which did far from N'avi-like business and came well short of recouping its budget.
Moonlighting: The actress headlined the 2012 USA mini-series "Political Animals," in which she played a thinly veiled take on Hilary Clinton. While it's unlikely she'll ever be a First Lady (beyond "Dave"), she wouldn't make a bad Secretary of State in real life. You wanna mess with Ripley, North Korea?
And For Her Next Acts: Weaver teams up with old pal Ridley Scott for his December biblical epic, "Exodus," starring Christian Bale as Moses (she'll play Tuya). She's currently filming director Neil Blomkamp's ("District 9") next sci-fi flick "Chappie," opposite Hugh Jackman and Sharlto Copley, and then of course will return as Dr. Grace Augustine in 2016's "Avatar 2" … despite the fact that her character perished in the first. According Weaver, James Cameron told her "no one ever dies in science fiction." Whatever you need to say to work with Weaver again, Jimbo.
What qualifies actors for a slot on Yahoo Movies' running list of the 50 Greatest Actors Alive? First, we limited the pool to actors who are still currently working. Other factors taken into consideration: Pure skill in the craft; their ability to disappear underneath the skin of the characters they portray; versatility and the range of their roles; ratio of strong performances to weak ones; quality of films acted in; strength of recent work; awards and accolades from peers.