Once a brilliant young man constrained by his lower class, Ripley slowly worked his way up the class ladder by manipulating and, on occasion, killing any individual who stood in his way. He is extremely refined, and is a very dangerous sociopath whom has constantly alluded authorities.
Tom Ripley was the protagonist of a total of five pulp novels (collectively referred to as the 'Ripliad') written by noted author Patricia Highsmith. Three of these five books have been adapted to screen (two of them twice).
Tom Ripley is a talented and exceptionally devious sociopathic genius whom is recognised for both his exquisite tastes in art, food, music, and literature and his violent methods of obtaining any wealth or status he feels entitled too. Unlike Hannibal Lecter (a near literary kindred spirit), Ripley does not take much pride or joy in killing and sees it only as a desperate, but necessary, means to an end.
Ripley has been portrayed on screen a total of five times, and each interpretation of his character is quite unique. Alain Delon's portrayal in 'Plein Soleil' sees Ripley realised as a charismatic and thoroughly evil Adonis whose villainous deeds are committed with remorseless dexterity; Dennis Hopper's portrayal of the character in 'The American Friend' has Ripley as more thoughtful and worldly, but still thoroughly evil; Matt Damon's portrayal is a radical departure from most of the other renditions, showing the character as occasionally tender and fragile, as well as a serial killer driven more by cruel circumstances and compulsions than elaborate plans; John Malkovich's portrayal has been likened to the character of Hannibal Lecter on a continual basis due to this version's sadism and almost supernatural agility and speed, despite the fact that this version still expresses great reluctance to actually kill; and Barry Pepper's portrayal is quite sardonic and amusing, pushing the homicidal tendencies of the character into the background.
As has already been established, there have been a total of five films made that feature Tom Ripley. Few, if any, of these films, though, are said to be related other than through their respective literary source (Highsmith's Ripliad').