Capable Women in Sci-Fi [Films]

Recent films have portrayed ‘stronger’ female characters. These films received critical acclaim and were financially successful back to back. This combination is very important. This marks a progressive evolution of the female character in movies which has gradually evolved over the years.


The willingness of movie directors to feature women as stronger characters is due to the obvious financial successes of these movies at the box office which the studios cannot ignore anymore. So what do we mean by ‘strong female characters?’

They are female roles played by brilliant actresses who are intelligent, strong, persistent, and resilient, they strive to achieve their goals. This representation is different from the previous depiction of strong female characters in films which were usually formed after a rape experience, kidnapping or revenge. Now the female roles naturally feature women who can do their jobs without passing through horrifying experiences in the movies as the main reason for their strength.

In the past, some bold filmmakers have attempted to achieve something different with their female characters in their sci-fi stories, but they didn’t strongly succeed in setting a strong trend that could be replicated by the rest.  Not because their stories were horrible, they were actually very interesting, but the studio executives were not convinced that strong female characters would sell. This did not stop other filmmakers to take notes and be inspired to create something different. Slowly these characters became inspirational for people around the world and are still remembered to date. What characters are we talking about?


Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Andromeda Strain, 1956)

Take Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Andromeda Strain, 1956) for example. The intriguing aspect of this character is that it was originally written as a male character. Fortunately, many of the tough features were retained after the gender change. Dr. Ruth was considered as part of the team in the movie, and her character development was alleged to be the most interesting to watch according to the feedback from many viewers. However, this character had little impact on the film plot, but it was the beginning of a change. It’s an interesting Sci-Fi movie to see.


Dr. Ellen Ripley (Alien-1979, Aliens-1986, Alien 3-1992 and Alien Resurrection-1997)

The character Ellen Ripley given having the female lead role came as a complete surprise. She was a woman who didn’t regard other people’s opinions about her, and she dared to do precisely what was necessary to deliver good acting. The character development and the acting performance were excellent.

Ripley is widely considered one of the greatest female characters in science fiction, and her character in Aliens is particularly hailed as influential in future action films starring women. Ripley single-handed dealt with the alien creatures and demonstrated the roles a strong woman can play in leadership, taking intelligent and intellectual decisions, and being courageous even when having little or no support.

The film was a global success, and this meant a lot. It is one of the first films that pioneered the emergence of strong female characters playing lead roles in high-grossing movies. Ellen Ripley was not a damsel in distress who needed to be saved. Instead, she was a tough lady who looked good without wearing heavy makeup or high heels, and she successfully confronted the horrendous aliens. If you haven’t watched it yet, consider adding it to your playlist.


Dr. Ellie Arroway (Contact, 1997)

Another excellent achievement was the female role of Dr. Allie Arroway (Contact, 1997) who was a scientist trying to prove a theory that everyone found ridiculous and difficult to believe. While it seemed like a ridiculous task to make an attempt to prove that aliens existed, she remained undeterred studying the subject by listening to radio emissions from the space SETI program. Dr. Allie encountered many setbacks that would have discouraged anyone, but she remained resolute in her mission. At some point, she could no longer fund the SETI program, but by a stroke of luck, she met with w billionaire who provided the funds to support her project.

After four years, there was still no tangible evidence, and Dr. Allie’s program was about to be terminated, but at the nick of time, she got a breakthrough. She discovered some evidence, but it came at a price. She found what appeared to be a time travel machine and after studying the blueprints, she was determined to take the dangerous and uncertain trip. However, her plans were rejected, and of all things, religion was cited as the reason for her rejection. Dr. Allie’s story is one of perseverance despite all the obstacles she encountered while attempting to achieve her vision. If you like science fiction and drama, you should consider adding “Contact” to your playlist.


Trinity (The Matrix franchise, 1999-2003)

The first Matrix film also featured a dynamic female character named Trinity. She was portrayed as someone who could do more than a hero. Her character exhibited significance at the same level as other male characters including the hero of the movie. The character Trinity was so impressive that she could be considered as one of the leading characters in the story.

Trinity was an anomaly that happened. Interestingly, no other female character in the movie was given the prominence attributed to Trinity. It was a different female character portrayed with so much strength and professionalism that needed no assistance to complete her work.


Neytiri in (Avatar, 2009)

Neytiri was very resourceful throughout his journey and in fact fearless, headstrong with soft at heart. She finds Jake in the forest, protecting him from a pack of Viperwolves, and teaches him the ways of the Omatikaya and other Na’vi. She becomes his guide helping him with his journey. She is capable of defending herself and Jake.


Professor Louise Banks (Arrival, 2016)

We should also consider Louis Banks (Arrival, 2016); she was a linguistics professor who was chosen to lead a group of elite investigators to decipher a gigantic spaceship that landed in 12 locations around the world. In the movie, she successfully convinces the high-ranking officers of her ability to learn and communicate in the alien language. This is one of the stories where the female lead is portrayed as equally qualified as the male lead and in this movie she is seen as ore superior. Her character depicts strength by embarking on a mission that will cause her untold pain in the future. Other people would have made a different choice to avoid the pain.

What do these female characters have in common? They showed remarkable ability and boldness to stand their ground as individuals while following their instincts to make the best and in most cases difficult decisions. For example, in the case of Louise, she makes a choice that will obviously cause her unavoidable pain in the future.


Honorable mention…

Now, before you start I know there is one very popular character that is missing on this list, right? She was very inspirational but there are certain scenes that could have been presented differently. Despite that, her character still managed to surpass the cliches. From the films we have seen so far, we can conclude that she has been brought up as a warrior princess but there is still the helplessness in being captured. Fortunately, this is a small part of the story, we see how she is very capable to stand her ground and do what’s needs to be done. Do you know who I’m talking about? Yes? Let’s see  <The Importance of General Organa>


Final Thoughts

It is obvious that the image of strength attributed to women in popular movies has had an impact on how people perceive women in society. It is generally thought that if a woman is a fighter, she must have passed through harrowing experiences to have become that strong. Why can’t she be raised as a fighter? Tough girls in our societies are teased as tomboys, Why is this so? When will we realize that girls should be raised to have equal opportunities as the boys to choose and explore their paths in life?

Imagine the difference it will make for a young girl to view images of female superheroes on the screen. I wish I had watched films such as Hidden Figures when I was young; it portrayed girls as being capable of training to be scientists and parents who support that. I still remember these characters because of the impact their stories had on me. I also know there are many more movies out there that feature strong-willed, intelligent, and capable female characters. If you know any please share it with everyone. Let’s put them in the spotlight!

Thanks to all the contributors of this article, from those who give me the idea to those who actually helped with the writing. I really appreciate all the help.

Hope this was an interesting read for you. Many thanks for visiting this page. Feel free to leave your thoughts and feedback in the comment section below.


Hi There! I am Sci-Fi Fan who wishes to share the love for Sci-Fi. Whether you know about Sci-Fi or not, on SFM&TV you will find interesting material to explore. I'll be happy to share with you what I know and to learn from you as well.

6 thoughts on “7 Capable Women in Sci-Fi Films”
  1. I think Arrival is the best alien film to come out in years. I loved that Amy Adams carried the lead, and I loved the setup between our worst and best natures: learning and language vs. force and fear. Definitely a male vs. female energy undertone and the film would have just been weird with a male protagonist.

    1. Hi Penelope,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. It was indeed a very interesting movie, one of my favorites of 2016.

  2. I have to say avatar was my favorite by far out of all of these. Really well done, and the girl was great. Thanks for the read.

    1. Hi AJ,

      I am glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting. Are you looking forward to the sequel(s) of Avatar?

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