There are many great female science fiction characters, and I am sure some favorites are not on this list. I focused on leaders, on characters who demonstrated strength and authority, and on those who left a lasting impression on me. If you think I have left a character off this list, please let me know who and why a certain character should be on this list.
Note: Female characters from fantasy and comic books are on different lists.
10. Samus Aran
Samus Aran is the hero and star of the ‘Metroid’ video game. I remember playing this game for the first time; I didn’t get to play it until a couple of years after its release, but I didn’t know anyone else who played video games, so I was surprised by the ending. In the game, a bounty hunter, Samus Aran, fights Space Pirates, defeats Mother Brain, and manages to escape before the base self-destructs. Samus wears a powered armor suit that covers the entire body. After the game is over, the suit is removed, revealing a woman. The strong bounty hunter skilled with weapons was a woman. I still remember joyously screaming, “I played as a girl!” for a good ten minutes while jumping around the living room after the revelation.
9. Zoe Washburne
Zoe served as second-in-command aboard the Serenity, but there were times when her cool, calm, and rational attitude got Captain Malcolm Reynolds out of trouble. This tough and skilled fighter not only helped run the ship, she was happily married to Hoban “Wash” Washburne, the pilot of Serenity. I have often wondered what Gina Torres could have done with the character if ‘Firefly’ went longer than 14 episodes. We got of glimpse of that potential in the film, ‘Serenity,’ but with no more films or a new TV show on the horizon, we can only speculate.
8. Aeryn Sun
Portrayed by Claudia Black on ‘Farscape,’ Aeryn Sun was born on a Peacekeeper Command Carrier. Raised to know only of duty and fighting, Aeryn believed she was like her fellow Peacekeepers—bred for war. She learned later that she was a child of love. Perhaps this is why she was able to break free of the brainwashing and discover other aspects of her personality. Her time on the Leviathan ship Moya with Crichton, D’Argo, and the rest of the crew allowed her the opportunity to be more than her training. Even when she realized she was falling in love with Crichton, she kept her sense of honor and kept her skills as a warrior honed.
7. Commander Shepard
You can play ‘Mass Effect’ as either a male or female Shepard, but many of us know that the female Shepard is livelier and funnier than the male Shepard. Is it because of Jennifer Hale’s vocal performance? Or could it be because the team responsible for ‘Mass Effect’ realized that a strong, intelligent, and capable female character can carry an epic sci-fi action shooter? The ‘Mass Effect’ team could have gone in a different direction with the female Shepard by giving her a flighty personality and armor with a boob window, but they didn’t. Shepard has a realistic body in realistic armor, and she is the only one who has what it takes to bring together different species and fight the Reapers. (Pictured is my Shepard.)
6. Dr. Dana Scully
Chris Carter, the creator of ‘The X-Files,’ made the right decision when he made the believer the male character and the rational, logical one a woman. Dr. Dana Scully kept Fox Mulder from completely going off the rails, applying scientific reasoning to many of his more “out there” theories. Gillian Anderson made sure Scully wasn’t a woman trying to be a man; she made Scully a scientist who was an F.B.I. agent and a woman. Without Scully, ‘The X-Files’ is incomplete, and other good characters, like Olivia Dunham (‘Fringe’), wouldn’t be possible.
5. Princess Leia Organa
After being exposed to Disney princesses, I never wanted to be a princess until I saw Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in ‘Star Wars.’ She stood up to Darth Vadar, lied to Grand Moff Tarkin, took control after Han and Luke failed to come up with a better rescue plan, and led the rebel forces on Yavin and Hoth. Her diminished role in ‘Return of the Jedi’ is why she isn’t higher on this list, but the early films did give many young girls a fierce leader who was able to focus on defeating the Empire even after watching her home being destroyed.
4. Dr. Helen Magnus
‘Sanctuary’ may not be considered one of the best sci-fi shows ever, but it has given us one of the most fascinating characters ever, Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping). Born in 1850, Magnus has been able to live a long time because she injected herself with a serum derived from pure Vampire blood, which also increased her intelligence. She did not accept society’s limitations on women, and, with her father’s help, she became the only female student at Oxford. She trained her body as well; she is an excellent fighter who can take a punch. Bold, brave, and straightforward, Magnus runs the Sanctuary according to her rules; the needs of the Abnormals come first, even if that means she has to keep secrets from her team. Although she has experience enough tragedy to fill three lifetimes, Magnus still has a zeal for life that many people never have.
Uhura was the communications officer on the USS Enterprise. I know that Uhura never led any of the away missions. The reason she is so high on this list is because she was on the bridge. She wasn’t an officer’s wife or girlfriend. She wasn’t a servant. She wasn’t a flighty or neurotic best friend to some other character. She wasn’t the wacky neighbor. She wasn’t a caricature. Uhura, played by the luminous Nichelle Nichols, was treated with respect. The original ‘Star Trek’ aired from 1966-1969, and Uhura worked as an equal with the rest of the crew. She went on missions; Captain Kirk listened to her and never dismissed anything she said because she was a woman. Uhura was was judged by the job she did. For the first time, I saw a woman on television who was smart, capable, confident, and a valuable member of a crew. The success of Uhura paved the way for more female characters in science fiction, and this is a fact we should never forget.
2. Captain Kathryn Janeway
Captain Janeway is not the first female captain seen on ‘Star Trek.’ Rachel Garrett was captain of the Enterprise-C in the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and other female captains have been seen or mentioned briefly in other shows and films. However, Janeway is the first female Starfleet captain to be the lead in a series. I remember some had doubts if ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ would work with a female captain, but fate would have the role go to Kate Mulgrew, who imbued Janeway with a steely grace that got the USS Voyager through many dark days during the journey home. The best example of Janeway as a great captain is “The Void.” Janeway’s resolve to hold fast to Starfleet principles when trapped in an anomaly that seems inescapable is what saves her crew. Everyone around her is tempted to become like the others trapped in the void, but Janeway’s confidence and her ability to remain rational in the midst of chaos convinces others to form an alliance. By working together, Voyager and a few other ships escape. Captain Janeway’s actions prove that she is as good as Picard and Kirk.
1. Ellen Ripley
I’ve written about Ripley before, and she still deserves to be written about again. The list of her attributes is long: survivor, warrior, mother, leader, strategist, strong, able to remain calm under extreme pressure, resilient, and more. Sigourney Weaver elevated Ripley into legendary status; Ripley is an icon and is considered by many to be one of the greatest characters, male or female, of any genre. Ellen Ripley is an amazing character who will endure for many decades to come.