Top 10 strong female science-fiction film characters

Who are the finest female characters in science fiction movies? Karla has been answering that very question...

More brains than brawn, the type of strength on this list flies in the face of your perfunctory two-dimensional damsel in distress. For here we present women with fleshed-out characteristics. With brains. With balls of steel.

Where female roles exist at all in science-fiction they are all too often fobbed off as token characters in need of saving. Thrown in to aid the portrayal of the male lead, or to offer light sexual relief. So here we tip our hats to writers and film-makers who dare give female characters some range and guts in the world of science fiction…

10. Rox – Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town Played by Catherine Carlin

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Okay, so the Troma Production Studio isn’t exactly known for its politically correct feminist character portrayals. They’re much more likely to show women in some compromising positions involving tits/ass/gore/blood/mutants/screaming.

But 1989’s Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town, starring a young Billy Bob Thornton, provides some pretty strong female leads. Yes, these are still stereotyped characters, calling themselves the ‘Cycle Sluts’, but the notion of a big group of gun-wielding female bikers saving a town from zombies is pretty radical to me.

The gang leader, Rox, not only wins for best 80’s hairdo, she’s also a lesbian. While it’s possible to find some decent gay characters in SF now and then (perhaps in comics rather than film, such as Northstar and The Midnighter, or TV characters like those in Torchwood), there aren’t too many lesbians. Certainly not tough, foul-mouthed, undead-fighting, biker lesbians thrashing zombies with chainsaws in true b-movie slasher style.

And not one tit or ass in the whole film. Rox rules.       

9. Jean Grey – X-Men Played by Famke Janssen

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Jean Grey in the X-Men comics is probably better interpreted than the portrayal we see in the films. But she is, none the less, one of the original X-Men, a confidant of Professor X and an important mutant doctor at the mansion.

Her powers of telepathy and telekinesis are conducive to female characteristics such as intuition, and Grey is caring, nurturing and intelligent. Her character is lent complexity as it has an affinity with the dark side of the X-Men universe, The Phoenix, and has been the strongest host of this energy throughout the Phoenix storylines.

Grey is also a biological mother to other notable X-Men characters, as well as certainly being a mother-figure to the mutant kids at the school. In fact the only thing which makes me (personally) question her as a realistic female character is that she chose to marry Cyclops instead of Wolverine, who’s madly in love with her.

Saying no to Wolverine? What’s that about?

8. Dana Scully – The X-Files Played by Gillian Anderson

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We loved The X-Files on TV, and, although we’re less enamoured with the big-scene adaptations, Scully remains a stalwart decent female SF character and couldn’t be left off this list.

She doesn’t have to be big and tough with a laser-gun. She doesn’t have to be sexy and blonde with a kid to protect. She’s an intelligent redheaded career woman who runs rings of logic and reason around her ‘spooky’ FBI partner Fox Mulder. Because of these attributes, not despite them, we all found Agent Scully rather hot. Scully provided that rare thing – a good role model for girls along with a good fantasy for guys.

Although Mulder was more the lead character than Scully, they were essentially a double act and couldn’t exist without each other, making her an intrinsic character in modern SF pop culture.

7. Mononoke Hime San – Princess Mononoke Voiced by Yuriko Ishida/ Claire Danes

This tale tells of an epic adventure reflecting the power struggle between mankind and nature. Of course, nature is personified and represented by the eponymous female character, a princess of the spirit forest who has been raised by wolves.

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The plot is complex and delicate, this is no short sharp anime action with giggling girls in school uniforms. Princess Mononoke has depth and integrity, wrapped up in a wide breadth of social commentary. There are no out-and-out good or evil characters. Instead, the message of the film is subtle and nuanced. It is a beautiful piece of cinema that asks questions rather than shoving answers down the viewers’ throats.

Mononoke Hime San is a strong, feminine, brave and smart leader. She fights tooth and nail for her natural life and for the spirit of the forest, with wolf brothers by her side. Little surprise that Princess Mononoke is the second biggest film ever in Japan, and one of the highest grossing animated features in the world.

6. Lisa – The Omega Man Played by Rosalind Cash

When just about everyone in the world has been turned into apathetic, white eyed, brain eating zombies, a lonely and isolated Charlton Heston keeps himself busy driving around the deserted streets of California and playing chess with a porcelain bust. Then one fateful day he sees a mannequin move in a shop and is over the moon to discover there are other humans around. This first human he encounters is Lisa. The lucky so and so.

She’s a beautiful and indomitable character who fled from the zombies and helps run one of the last human communes, where she is devoted to raising the few healthy human kids left. To bring Heston to the commune Lisa saves him from the grips of the oddball light-sensitive zombies and forces him to get on her motorbike at gunpoint.

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She’s certainly no shrinking violet and is an integral part of the survival of humankind. She’s also shit cool.

5. Sarah Connor – Terminator & Terminator 2 Played by Linda Hamilton

When we’re introduced to her, Sarah Connor is a jaded waitress in a go nowhere town in Los Angeles. An ordinary girl with a hum-drum life and nothing exceptional in it.

But in one moment of time-travelling-cyborg fury everything changes. At first she’s protected by a hot future-man, Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn) who has loved her forever because she is a legendary soldier and historic figure in his own time. Or at least she will be. When he is killed. And she has their son John Connor. Who is the one who sent Reese to her in the first place. Or something.

Then like an uber-lioness protecting her cub Sarah Connor becomes a fugitive hard-ass like no other in order to protect John, who goes on to free mankind from the grips of artificial robotic Armageddon.

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Of course, being the superwoman that she is, once the notion of someone hurting her kin is on the cards she changes from a timid little girl to a vicious warrior woman who trains herself in weaponry and the art of war.

Not bad for a waitress.

4. Princess Leia Organa – Star Wars Played by Carrie Fischer

So this entry is pretty obvious, but Leia is formidably and ferociously fab.

She’s a revolutionary rebel leader who gives cheek to sci-fi’s most notorious villain and bags cinema’s most gorgeous man. At one point Leia is enslaved by the monstrous and disgusting Jabba the Hutt and, in response to him treating her like a piece of sexy meat, strangles him with her slave chain. Legend has it that George Lucas was inspired for this scene by the sequence in The Godfather in which Luca Brasi is choked from behind.

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Leia displays both intellect and guts when fooling Jabba and bounty hunter Boba Fett into letting her stay in Jabba’s palace so she can help rescue her future husband Han Solo. She is both philosophically and physically capable and proves herself a great marksmen and soldier for the Jedi. Leia’s strong, smart, authoritative, has a great sense of humour and heaps of integrity. Girls want to be Leia, guys want to be with Leia.

3. Leeloo – The Fifth Element Played by Mila Jovovich

What we love about Leeloo is not just the fact that she, being The Fifth Element, will save humanity, but that she does so in the most adorable and modest way. Unlike so many ‘strong’ female characters in SF, Leeloo doesn’t eschew classical feminine qualities like intuition, sensitivity or grace. She is vulnerable and tender while remaining incredibly fierce and smart. She’s gentle and beautiful while also being lethal and kick-ass beyond belief. We just loved the fact that the most intelligent, important being ever to have lived is a woman. Thank you for such a great character Luc Besson (writer/ director).

Of course, Leeloo still needs the love of a good man to fulfil her potential (Korben Dallas played by Bruce Willis), but there’s room within the strong female psyche for some hot lovin’, so who are we to deny Leeloo her bit of action.

2. The Bitch – Aliens Played by the Alien Queen/ Xenomorph

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C’mon. Couldn’t resist! When she’s not busy being the most kick-ass, iconic, evil, alien predator ever to grace the cinema screen, Alien Queen is busy being the ultimate strong woman – having babies and protecting her brood from anything that moves.

Created for the first film (Ridley Scott’s Alien in 1979) by classic fantasy artist H R Giger, the production design, atmosphere and look of these creatures has hardly been matched and has (pardon the pun) spawned a million mimics. Never have two more sassy gals slogged it out on the big screen than Ripley and Alien going for each other.

Which brings us neatly to…

1. Ellen Ripley – Alien films  Played by Sigourney Weaver

Surely one of the best characters in film full stop, Ripley certainly broke the mould for smart, strong, authoritative and independent female roles. Hard to believe, but Alien was made in 1979.

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In the ‘70’s female leads were rare enough, let alone one as the film’s main protagonist who is officer in a large vessel. This role has been lauded for turning such gender stereotypes on their head, and some even say the themes of the films generally allude to masculine dominance and feminine oppression.

Ripley certainly deals with patronising male characters questioning her ability throughout. In the first film she’s a little less confident, but by the sequel she has a child to protect and rises to the occasion with conviction. Ellen Ripley consistently appears in top film character lists, and is often the highest ranking female to appear. For example, The American Film Institute cited Ripley as number 8 in their Greatest Heroes and Villains of Film as part of their on-going ‘100 Years’ series. Our only surprise? She didn’t rank higher…

Honourable mentions…

Makoto Konno – Toki o Kakeru Shōjo (The Girl Who Lept Through Time)Aunty Entity – Mad Max: Beyond ThunderdomeLois Lane – SupermanDola – Castle in the SkyStorm – X-Men   Ursa – Superman IICherry Darling – Planet TerrorDale Arden – Flash Gordon

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

See also:10 most disappointing female characters in sci-fi TV

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