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The Surprising Inspiration For Metroid's Samus Aran

Back in 1986, players of Nintendo's Metroid were surprised to get to the end of the game and find — if they'd gotten through in under five hours — that protagonist Samus Aran was actually a woman. She was among the first female protagonists in a video game and still remains a popular and influential part of the industry. Even if a perk of finishing the game quickly was being able to see her in a bikini, it was a step forward!

In that first story, Space Pirates have attacked a research vessel owned by the Galactic Federation, which was holding samples of parasitic Metroid lifeforms discovered on a distant planet. The Galactic Federation tries to attack the pirates' base of operation on the planet Zebes but fails. So, it sends in the female bounty hunter to kill Mother Brain, who controls the pirates. Along the way, she also defeats the evil Kraid and Space Pirate commander Ridley. Sound similar to another storyline you know?

The dark, isolationist science fiction setting of the adventure side-scroller and its follow-ups means that the Metroid games evoked a similar feel to the movies that clearly inspired them: Alien, from 1979, and its three sequels. Both series took place in outer space, with large corporations driving the action and shocking parasitic lifeforms causing death and destruction. The monsters, the locations' architecture, and the premise are all comparable. There's another similarity: They both have strong, kick-butt female protagonists. And that's no accident. 

Sigourney Weaver inspired Samus Aran — but so did Kim Basinger

Samus Aran's similarity to the Alien franchise's Ellen Ripley is pretty obvious. In the first Metroid game, Samus Aran appears as a wavy-haired brunette, much like actress Sigourney Weaver. Samus' character arc even grew to resemble that of Ripley's, when later installments of both series are taken into account. Additionally, both Alien and Metroid relied on a gender-flip to surprise players and viewers: Ripley was originally meant to be played by a man, and Samus was also originally male — the female reveal was added to the American version of Metroid as a surprise that worked, as Wired put it, because it "relied on the casual sexism of the era." Metroid creator Yoshio Sakamoto has acknowledged that Alien was a "huge influence" on his game. 

As it turns out, though, Samus was inspired by another iconic '80s actress: Kim Basinger. This is obvious if you look at later iterations of Samus, who is eventually shown with long, blond hair. Sakamoto, after describing Samus as "a bit like Ripley from Aliens (Sigourney Weaver), but a little more extravagant" in an interview archived on the Metroid Database fan site, was asked if there was "someone specific" that informed her image, and he specifically mentioned Basinger. Even Samus' voice was said to have been inspired by the popular actress from movies like 9 1/2 Weeks and My Stepmother Is An Alien. It's a less obvious influence — but once you see it, you'll never unsee it.