20 best sci-fi movies featuring women

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From A New Hope (1977). Image is a screengrab via 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm

Women in science fiction don’t have to be villains or victims. Read on to hear more about 20 of the best sci-fi films featuring female leads.

Female characters have a precarious situation in the world of science fiction. In a genre where practically anything is possible, the representation of gender can sometimes feel as if it’s taking its cues from a post-apocalyptic Leave it to Beaver.

In some cases, women are largely helpless, the victims of roving cannibal gangs or alien invaders They often require some serious rescuing by a male hero. Sometimes, they exist only to bolster another male character. They may be a one-dimensional love interest or mother figure. They need to be protected, to be loved, to be romanced, but never, it seems, on their own terms.

Sometimes, these fictional women may be killed off only to provide motivation and a tragic backstory for a hero. Even their deaths are then in service to another character.

Or, perhaps you’ll encounter a “strong female character”. This is an odd sort of facsimile, a woman who hits all of the notes of female empowerment, but with none of the substance or resonance. She may have been created with good intent, but suffers from awkward execution.

The problem with “strong female characters”

A strong female character often ditches all notions of femininity, lest a stray frill or hint of pink betray weakness. It’s rare for this character to appear in groups. Instead, she’s frequently a token, and then “one of the guys” at that. While women can certainly be strong, stoic, and war-like, the stereotypical strong female heroine or sidekick can go just a step too far.

It’s not all bad, however. There are plenty of roles in sci-fi films where women are given respect and dignity. Indeed, plenty of creators have written and directed movies where women are not forced into either helplessness or denial of their own gender. Recently, writers, directors, and other creators have been making more and more space for complex and compelling female characters.

Be aware that some of these entries contain spoilers. I tried to avoid them where possible, but it was sometimes necessary to reveal plot elements to make any sort of sense. Science fiction can be a beautifully weird genre, after all.

Otherwise, read on to discover 20 of the most interesting female characters, featured in some of the best and most interesting science fiction movies.