Of all of the films on this list, Gravity might be the one most grounded in reality. That’s kind of ironic and a bit of a lame joke besides, considering that Gravity is mostly staged in orbit around the planet Earth. Whether or not you rolled your eyes at that, it remains that Gravity presents a female lead well worth considering.
Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a biomedical engineer who’s gained entry into the NASA astronaut program. At the beginning of the movie, she’s a newbie spacefarer on her first spacewalk, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Stone is assisted by astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), an even-keeled veteran.
Alas, Kowalski and Stone are in a movie that needs a plot, and so things soon go disastrously awry. Russian officials have struck a satellite with a missile, starting a chain reaction that creates a cloud of debris hurtling through space. The debris is headed straight for the space shuttle, of course.
Though the crew attempts to prepare for a hasty re-entry, they’re too late. Only Stone and Kowalski survive. Moreover, it appears that they’re stranded. Their space shuttle is useless. With the debris cloud now in orbit and circling around for another strike, the pair’s chances of survival are plummeting.
Eventually, Kowalski heroically sacrifices himself. Stone is left alone. Though she considers giving up, Stone forces herself to keep going. She uses her training and ingenuity to find a still-functioning Chinese space capsule and make her way back to Earth. Gravity is a tense and disorienting film with a realistically capable female character at its center.