Kyle: I fully stand by my victory here. Ripley rules. Although I feel like Dan could have taken this one if he had gotten to mention Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and all the additional awesomeness brought to the character.
As it stands, he didn't. But I had some other stuff in my back pocket. For instance, both of these characters suffer from a survivor's guilt brought on by their ordeals. In Terminator 2, Sarah is angry and jaded because Reese died protecting her and no one believes her crazy story. That's rough, but she makes it through and finds closure. Ripley, on the other hand, continues to muscle through a lot more.
In Aliens and in Alien 3, Ripley is twice made the only survivor of the onslaught from her nemesis species. First she must cope with the loss of her entire crew, then she must cope with the loss of her daughter and her 57-year drift through space. Then at the end of the second film, she voluntarily enters another extended period of suspended animation (a direct return to her trauma, and a confrontation of her inability to sleep). To top it all off, she wakes up with a whole new bout of survivor's guilt and the alien menace has followed her. At this point, the toughest person in the real world would curl into a piss-soaked ball and cry themselves to death.
But Ellen Ripley is a special kind of fictional tough.
I also favor Ripley because she commits suicide in order to destroy the unstoppable alien race and save humanity from the dangerous ineptitude of militarized capitalism ... oh, and the aliens.
Sarah Conner would lay down her life for her son. She believes so zealously - just as Reese did - that John will save humanity. But he is her son. That's the main reason why she protects him. Sarah is clearly less interested in society or humanity in general, because she is already convinced that the Golden Child will have that taken care of. Would she die for John Conner? In a heart-beat. Would she die for an innocent, oblivious, admittedly dimwitted stranger? Like, say, John's dingus buddy played by the same kid from Salute Your Shorts? I think not.
Oh, and one thing that I totally didn't realize while we were shooting: Michael Biehn has a thing for rifle-carrying menace-exterminating women. But even using the Sarah/Reese and Ripley/Hicks relationships as a barometer, Ripley still comes out on top even though Sarah actually got on top...hee-hee.
Reese was straight-up manipulated by his future son into a one-sided love affair. His devotion to Sarah is noble, and his love is real. John sent him knowing that he would die, but they both knew that Reese would gladly die for Sarah Conner. That doesn't change the manipulation and weird chronological inbreeding that's deciding the fate of a good man, a dutiful soldier.
Corporal Hicks, meanwhile, takes a real and natural liking to Ripley and makes her safety his responsibility. Not through any obligation, but rather because he trusted her judgment in a time of crisis. And he respected her. Ripley and Hicks get one moment of real intimacy before the acidic blood hits the fan for the rest of the movie. Rather than a passionate kiss to break the tension or take their minds off their oncoming death, the two share a moment of practical thinking.
In teaching Ripley to use the Pulse Rifle and giving her a tracking device, Hicks is telling her, "Look, we're in this together. You are now a soldier. So I should treat you like one. Not like some dumb betty who's gonna get me killed." Ripley reciprocated in a small-yet-profound way by accepting Hicks' help. It's not like she would open up and admit her vulnerability to someone like Bishop or Burke.
What I'm trying to say is this: Hicks and Ripley were in a desperate situation and they connected with each other in a way that helped keep them alive. Was it as passionate (and nude) as Sarah and Reese? Not really. But it said more about the characters and in my opinion made Ripley the much more faceted character.
Anyway, when do we start with the Hicks vs. Reese debate?!