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Fly girls: The fiercest female characters in sci-fi

It’s hard to believe that Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi horror Alien is 40 years old this year. Released on May 25th, 1979, the film was a groundbreaking spectacle for its singular exploration of the horrors of outer space and – with the help of H.R. Giger’s extremely phallic artwork – the hidden terrors of sex.

As well as giving dudes an insight into the monstrous agonies of childbirth with a chestburster scene that put everyone off their breakfast for a few days, Alien also introduced one of the greatest sci-fi female characters ever devised – Ellen “Get away from her you bitch!” Ripley. 

Ellen Ripley has long being celebrated as a feminist icon and one of the earliest female characters in cinematic history to have been an asskicking hero who doesn’t require a dude to save her. Prior to Alien’s release and in the 40 years since it debuted, there have been many fierce female sci-fi characters of whom we remain completely in awe. Including our girl Ripley, here’s our ranking of the ten fiercest female characters in sci-fi history.

10. Sarah Connor: Terminator 2

Everytime we want to get hench we think of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) doing her workouts and how her biceps bulge as we struggle to complete one single chinup.

We’d be useless in a nuclear apocalypse, but as a devoted mother looking first and foremost to save her son (and humanity), Sarah could probably bench-press a nuclear blast into submission. We’re already aware that sentence isn’t scientifically accurate so please don’t hassle us about it.

9. Barbarella: Barbarella

Proving there’s always time to explore your sexuality while also exploring the cosmos, Barbarella’s (the eternally fierce Jane Fonda) unapologetic and brazen sexuality remains a rarity within sci-fi. Strong female characters can get horny, kick ass, and wear tiny sexy outfits too. It’s possible!

8. Kathryn Janeway: Star Trek: Voyager

Leading Star Trek: Voyager Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) remains one of the most confident, cool-headed, and courageous captains in the history of the show. She’s also as graceful as she is full of steely resolve, legit making her the sort of boss you’d want to lead your team (or your planet) in a crisis.

7. Jessica Jones: Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Perhaps more sci-fi adjacent than anything, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is still rooted in sci-fi lore with her strange superhuman powers. Between her reckless drinking, caustic wit, and dynamite fighting skills, she’s also one of the most ferocious female characters on this list, even if she’s grounded on planet Earth rather than outerspace.

6. Zoe Washburne: Firefly

Played by the incredible Gina Torres (The Matrix Reloaded), Zoe may have been second in command onboard the Serenity but her fighting skills, sharp one liners, and tough yet sweet demeanor made her the true leader of the often clumsy Captain Reynolds (Nathan Fillion).

Firefly only lasted fourteen episodes but it was clear there was far more for Torres to explore with the character and many exciting directions Zoe could have gone in.

5. Dana Scully: The X-Files

It goes without saying that Gillian Anderson (American Gods) is a goddess too pure for this planet and her depiction of savvy FBI skeptic Scully is one that lives in the center of our hearts like a damn pearl. The character was resolute and logical – providing the foil to David Duchovny’s paranoid paranormal obsessive Fox Mulder – and could close a case with a mere roll of her eyes. She’s still absolutely everything.

4. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace: Battlestar Galactica

Played by Katee Sackhoff (Riddick) with such volumes of charm that every audience member watching was utterly in love with Starbuck by the end of the first episode (regardless of whether they’re even attracted to women), Battlestar Galactica’s reigning badass is still one of the best sci-fi heroes ever written.

Kara is daring, scrappy, and full of complex flaws – one of the few in TV history who ostensibly gives the impression of true gender fluidity.

3. Leia Organa: Star Wars

From Princess to General, Leia Organa is a wisecracking boss of a character portrayed by Carrie Fisher – a wisecracking boss of a woman. A fearless rebel who isn’t afraid to fight dirty when she needs to or to call out Han Solo (Harrison Ford) for his arrogant bullshit, Leia is the galaxy’s fiercest and most bombastic gem.

2. Uhura: Star Trek

Originally depicted by Nichelle Nichols (and by Zoe Saldana in J.J. Abrams’ cinematic Star Trek reboot), Uhura is obviously worth celebrating for being one of the first prominent characters of color on the small screen.

What made that fact all the more groundbreaking was that Uhura wasn’t portrayed as a caricature of blackness nor was she only on the bridge because she was boning an officer or the captain. Instead the character is smart, capable, and confident and most importantly, she’s respected by her crew for those qualities without question.

1. Ellen Ripley: Alien

It’s difficult to imagine Ripley being played by anyone other than venerated genre powerhouse Sigourney Weaver (Galaxy Quest) and that’s for good reason.

Weaver brought the perfect balance of vulnerability and strength to the role while also exploring the dimensions of a blue collar woman who’s simply in space to do a damn job and get paid. Those qualities add up to a ferocious character who only becomes more formidable as the original Alien franchise progresses.

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